Traveling to Scotland – Part II

The following day we drove from a small seaside town named Nairn – with a Gordon Street – to the Culloden Battlefield. For those of you that watch Outlander, it is a real place. And quite amazing to see in person. It is a wide open field full of marsh and bog lands. There are the markers everywhere for the various clans. And of course the large memorial for those that died that day. The sense of history throughout the country is just amazing, but this really hits it out of the park. Simple yet strong in it’s silence.

  
From Culloden we drove through the beautiful countryside to Loch Ness. My wife is a believer and I wanted to share in her excitement for it. It was breathtakingly beautiful all around and the history and scientific research was rather amazing. My wife even got a copy of one of the books signed by the author who just happened to be there. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to cruise the lake, which is huge to say the least. If I was a Loch Ness Monster I couldn’t think of a better place to live out my days.

From there we rode the train – we both agreed that was enough driving – to Stirling where we visited Castle Doune and castle Stirling. Again, for your Outlander fans Castle Doune is quite amazing to see first hand. It is not large by any stretch of the imagination. But, you can just feel the history and imagine how the clans and their people must have lived in the 1700’s and well before. It was a foggy morning so we were not able to visit the William Wallace memorial, but by the time we were ready to leave the city the fog had cleared so we could see it. Castle Stirling was another example of the history of this country and how the lairds didn’t rule, but took care of everyone like they were family.

Our last two days were spent in Edinburgh and it was an amazing way to end the trip. Seeing this large city, and yet still feeling like we were in a small town at times. The new pubs, and expensive shops surrounding the Castle on the Hill. Once again, we can see how the castle wasn’t just for a laird but it was a huge part of the city. We were lucky to be there for the daily 1pm cannon firing and even that gave us a sense of history. Not that the cobblestones, small stone buildings, or tiny little chapel didn’t lend to the history. It was amazing to walk through these buildings and see the city from the top of the hill.

  
I started off thinking this was going to be a nice vacation. A good time for us to get away for a few days and enjoys the time away from work. But, it turned out to be an incredibly special trip. For example, finding a small Writer’s Museum. The Balmoral was quite the hotel and the bar had over 400 varieties of scotch. Of which the barman helped you find one by learning what you normally drank.

  
Every one we encountered was not just nice, but very friendly and eager to help. I will always remember the rolling hills, the snow capped mountains, the history, the scotch, the sheep, and especially the people. We were constantly on the move and it was tiring, but it was a great trip. For anyone considering a trip to Scotland I would highly recommend it. Bring your walking shoes and your camera, because there is a lot to see and you will not want to miss a thing.

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Traveling to Scotland – Part I

About a month ago my wife and I traveled to Scotland for about a week. I was looking forward to getting away and visiting a country I had never seen before. I had read a couple of travel books, a website or two, and looked through several travel websites. I sort of knew what to expect – a country with big cities as well as small cities. A country known for it’s Scotch, for it’s history, and for it’s Loch Ness Monster. A country known for it’s clans, for it’s kilts, for it’s sheep, and for it’s mountains, and stone formations. And as I learned for very good shortbread biscuits and a good rail system as well. One other thing I knew about Scotland – they drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. Both opposite of the United States, where I have been driving for several decades.

We flew into Edinburgh and took a train to St. Andrews. The home of golf and this year the home to The Open Championship. The weather was typical for Scotland – which means it drizzled and rained. But, it didn’t matter – we were in Scotland on vacation. The Old Course Hotel was quite nice with a mix of new and old. We didn’t stay but after a short walk around town and the course, we had a nice relaxing tea looking out over the course. The train was delightful and rolling along through the countryside was a great way to travel and see the country. We rode along the coast and watched the small farms go past. The mountains, the hills, the green fields, and the sheep. All of which I was to learn where plentiful in Scotland. 

 We spent Friday night in Aberdeen near the airport so that in the morning it would be a quick walk to pick up our rental car. Yes, this was the start of a two day adventure behind the wheel of a car. The best way to describe driving in Scotland for me was – awkward. But, I got used to it and just had to keep telling myself – turn right, stay left. It was something we joked about doing, but I really enjoyed it. Mostly. And got used to it rather quickly. And even my wife – not a great passenger – said I did well. Saturday was to be “Gordon” day and it turned out to be so much more. And the weather turned out to be very un-Scottish – warm and sunny.

In the morning we went to visit the Gordon Highlander museum, as they are known for their military and strategic prowess. It was amazing to see the uniforms from Napoleon’s days and from all of the wars since. It was interesting to learn more about the history of the Clan. Everyone was so incredibly nice and helpful – especially Jeffrey Gordon (not my son). Words and sayings such as “When you burn our kilt you roast our pride. You can take away the tartan but you cannot quench the spirit of the Gordons.”

  

From there we drove to Glenfiddich (pronounced Glenfidick) Distillery which I really enjoyed. We did a two and half hour tour of the distillery and I was surprised to find that they still do a lot of things in the traditional ways. Something a lot of distilleries don’t do as much. One interesting note is that while it was formed by the Grant family, the Gordon’s married into the family and have been a large part of the success and growth of the distillery. It was a Gordon who started the “Single Malt” category of scotch. And it was a Gordon who took the scotch to the world. At the end of the tour we got to not just sample different barrels of 15 year old scotch, but got to blend our own.

A few notes about the distillery – they go through 400 tons of barley in a day. The land around the distillery was purchased specifically because of the fresh spring that ran through it. They use American oak – bourbon barrels and Spanish Sherry barrels.  Both of which give the scotch a very distinctive taste. And blending the different barrels makes for a very unique taste. I was also honored to share the tour with a descendent of the Grant family, and since the next day was my birthday he gave me his blended scotch.