Scotland Part II

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We woke up early (4 AM) to see the sunrise. We saw a deer or an antelope. It was cold. It was pretty. Then we went back to bed for a while.

We got up and had breakfast with other guests, a family of three from Florida. I noticed a certificate on the wall that said something like “Thank you for your participation in the 1984 Olympics!” with our hostess’ name on it. Sure enough, she’d gone to the Olympics twice for pistol marksmanship and gotten 12th place once.

We packed our bags and then wandered around the area a bit, seeing little of interest, before getting back in the trusty Insignia and driving to the Aberlour distillery. We were early, so we loitered, chit-chatted with staff (learning that Aberlour rhymes with flour, not with floor), perused the gift shop, and grumbled as apparent frat bros accumulated to join us on the tour. We marveled at the selection of whiskys available, and bought “ZeTol” — a box of empty bottles in which I could take my whisky samples to-go, since it was morning and I had a lot of driving to do that day on the wrong side of the road.

The tour was great. Our guide, Emma, was awesome — she’d spent her entire career working for distilleries; her father had worked for Aberlour (and broken his shoulder on his second day when a barrel rolled into him). I enjoyed confirmation of my ridiculously simplified whisky making process: “Make beer; distill; age in wood barrels.” This is exactly how whisky is made.

I was surprised that the “ferment” step was super fast — less than three days, to create a 9.5% abv beer (with no hops), which I believe they call the wash. I was also surprised to learn that Aberlour produces more whisky than Talisker (barely) or Oban (by a lot), since I feel like it’s lesser known. I really enjoyed an extension of something I hadn’t consciously thought about in brewery culture: Whisky makers are fans of other whisky makers. They talk about what others are doing that they like or find interesting, and for the most part have positive words about their competitors in the industry.

We also learned that the UK taxes distilleries 79% on all whisky sold, and has an arcane law dictating that the stills’ output must go through a “spirit safe” which belongs to the government and can’t be opened by the distillery — consequently, if something breaks, the distillery is shut down until the government sends someone out for repairs.

As far as the tasting goes, they gave us a sample of the Aberlour 12 year at the beginning of the tour, let us dip a finger in the “wash” and taste the beer during the tour, and gave us a sample of the raw spirit, Aberlour 16, Casg Annamh, American Oak, and a distillery exclusive single cask. KrisDi learned she liked some whisky. We packed my samples up in the ZeTol bottles, bought a bottle of the American Oak and the distillery exclusive, and walked into the town of Aberlour.

We went to lunch at the Mash Tun. KrisDi had steak, onion, and cheese on a baguette with chips and “dressed leaves.” I had chorizo stuffed chicken wrapped in serrano ham, covered in a cream sauce. Both were very good. However, the sticky toffee pudding was one of the best things we ate on this whole trip.

We then walked around town, along the river, across the footbridge that Aberlour’s founder and commissioned. Found this rickety little bridge which rocked and wiggled as I walked across it.

We walked back to the distillery and picked up our car and drove to Inverness. We stayed at Ardentorrie Guest House. After we checked in and parked our car (with maybe less than an inch between ours and the next car over, requiring brokeback snaotheus to crawl over the stickshift to get out the passenger side), we walked to Inverness Castle and paid 5 pounds to got to the top of the tower, where we took pictures of the town. We walked around and perused local tourist shops for a dress for Chilkat and a sporran for Chilkoot. We ended up getting it custom fit — the guy behind the counter was super dedicated to getting us a sporran that we thought would fit our five year old. Busted out pliers and cutters to custom size the chain. We also picked up a purse for Popita.

We had dinner at the Castle Tavern. I had risotto, KrisDi had haddock and chips. It was very good. We of course also had some beer.

Then we went back to the room to drink our Aberlour ZeTol thing.

We got up at 7 and had breakfast (smoked haddock, fried eggs, and tomatoes). We drove to the Loch Ness visitors’ center and learned of all the exciting ways people have possibly been fooled into believing they saw Nessie. Waves…a swimming deer…an unusual fish…a stick… It was interesting, but mostly because of the surprisingly large effort that went into ruling something out.

Then we went to Urquhart Castle. Formerly a huge structure, blown up by its occupants (the Grants)in the 1600s or something by packing the tower with kegs of gunpowder and igniting it, leaving cool semi-ruins for us to look at (and a trebuchet!). The touristy intro video taught us (nearly quote), “It’s really easy to take a castle, and really hard to keep it.” Which seems a bit counter-productive. The Grants decided to blew it up so they’d stop losing it and having to retake it.

We left for the next castle, but stopped at a random roadside location (later identified as Eas Nan Arm Bridge) because it was convenient and beautiful. We talked briefly with a Norwegian travel photographer; I’m not sure if he had planned to stop there, or like us, took it as a target of opportunity.

We got to Eilean Donan Castle, which is super cool and in a beautiful location. We ate in their cafe. The tour was really guided, and they didn’t allow much photography. If I remember correctly, this castle is still owned by an individual, and there were pictures up in some of the rooms of her nieces and nephews and grandkids.

We drove on to the Isle of Skye. We saw lots of sheep, including some cute lambs, and road quality declined rapidly. We hit the end of two-lane roads with 8 miles to go to our room. Luckily, they had lots of passing places (outdents in the road to allow one driver to pull over and let the other pass), so we rarely had to back up. But, there was a surprising amount of traffic. I remember when we first found the road, we pulled over to take pictures, and there were like five cars headed our way. I thought, “Let’s let these folks pass, and then I’m sure the road will be clear and we can drive on uninterrupted.” But more came. And then more. And then more…

Eventually we got to the room. I didn’t get to sight see, because I had to pay attention to the road. Our B&B was named Hazel Bank. Agnes was our hostess — an elderly but feisty Scottish grandmother whom I want to adopt. One of those people who is immediately super comfortable to be around. Also, this room had maybe the best bed we slept on during the whole trip (if you ask my back).

It seems like everyone in the Isle of Skye is running a B&B out of their home. But there are only like four restaurants. Consequently, you need reservations. We tried to make reservations at a place, but they never responded. Agnes advised us to go to Edinbane Inn and sit at the bar, where we could get seated without a reservation, but still get the regular menu. She even gave us some handy GPS code that took us to a completely wrong location, only a few miles from our actual target.

30-40 minutes of harrowing one-lane-and-passing-places to get there, forty-seven u-turns to figure out the incorrect GPS code, and we made it. Dinner was good. Pork Pie for KrisDi, Scottish Beef Roast for me. And beer. Weird cooked pear and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Good, but not Mash Tun.

After dinner, we attempted to visit Dunvegan Castle, but failed because it was closed.

The we followed more of Agnes’ advice (but not GPS codes) to go visit Neist Point — a light house under a cliff — another 45 minutes of harrowing country roads. It was beautiful and awesome, but muddy, windy, cold, and it started to rain pretty heavily before the sun could set. We fled.

15 more minutes back to the room, and we pretty much went straight to bed.

Posted by snaotheus

1 comment

Somehow, having chorizo in Scotland seems very, very wrong.

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