I first visited Scotland at the ripe age of 17, my first time ever leaving the states or traveling without my parents. In an emotional adolescent love triangle, as well as burdened by thoughts and hopes of ending high school and beginning a college career, the land haunted and calmed my nerves. More than 15 years later, I could barely recognize any features of Edinburgh or the land. Lucky me, spending more than two days in Edinburgh and another 2 in the highlands, this traveling was eclectic, educational and enlivening. Here are my top 5s (things I’d recommend!)
1) Attending Tattoo…a magical musical military artistic production. For over two hours, in the seat of Edinburgh castle as the day comes to a colorful close, we enjoyed bagpipes and drums and the visual lines of moving military bands. My favorite aspect of the performance was the spectacular drum line. Superb skills and movement and evoked energy and awe in me.
2) The people of the Highland and visiting a Highland Games. The games celebrate culture and have been honored for the past 700 years, particularly as a way for Scottish to learn prowness as they weren’t allowed to have weapons. Oh my! How awesome it was to watch them THROW POLES (Caber toss)! Toss large cowbells and put stones. Also, the people were SOOOOOO Friendly! One lady chatted me up while waiting for drinks at the bar, and then bought me a scotch. A few days later, the woman who ran the B & B (a lovely place called An Cala) came and picked us up after a long hike. The people exceeded my expectations with how honest and open and positive they were.
3) whiskey tasting. We had three different whiskey tasting experiences. The best tour, was the first. The first tour of any specific production is always the best as it sets the foundation, and our was the Glenfiddich tour. Here are some whiskey facts we learned:
Glenfiddich uses 88 tonnes of barley every day, much but not all of it local. Mills in two mill rooms work 24 hours a day.in the mash tun, 11 tonnes of grist are stirred with hot spring water over the course of a day. At this point, the mixture is known as the wort.
Whiskey is made from two distillations, separating the middle portion, the “heart” with it’s perfect amount of alcohol—from the “head” and the “tail” which are both sent back the be distilled again.
The liquid is then highly alcoholic….around 70 percent, which is then kept in barrels. These barrels a either American bourbon casks or Spanish sherry/port casks for at least 10 years. Aging decreases the amount of liquid (called the “angels share”) and alcohol content.
I got a lesson in tasting profiles in three different tasting sessions. 1) Glenfiddich—the best in my tastes was their 16 year old with hints of spice and vanilla 2) Aberlour—their abundah has a lovely callback to traditional favors from 150 years ago and is very fruity and smooth and 3) the whiskey castle. Mike’s ib personality and know how was both fun and informative. He sells independent whiskey made from individuals that age and bottle their own productions. I learned that cold filtering may reduce the flavor of the wood and the smoothness of the finish. I walked away with a very strong smoky whiskey with a sweet undertone from the sherry cask. Lovely and precious.
4) Haggis! Yep some fun food experiences but the tastiest was gourmet haggis and a lovely night out a The Dogs, in Edinburgh.
5) Hiking and Morning Jogs
One day we walked around the Dufftown Spur, on the Speyside Way. Around 11 miles, this lovely route takes hikers around distilleries, fields, rivers, and yes! Castles.
We tactically stumbled upon Ballindoch Castle by the Glenfiddich distillery. 4 euro provided access to a well preserved castle. Ballindoch gives a good visualization of what life 800 years looked like in this era. I particularly liked seeing the large fireplaces where bread was baked. The light was moving. We learned from our Sandeman’s tour in Edinburgh that rob Roy author Scott romanticized the abandoned castles in the country side. It might have been an exaggeration, but there was something wondrous about going in this place.
The next day, we hiked from glen levit, which owns a 500 Acre estate in the highlands to tomintol, around 10 miles. The most beautiful summit served as a motivating middle point. The ruggedness, the sharp air, and the clear blue sky settled me. A precious moment of finding these trail posts and getting a bug to straddle them…only 7 feet high, I shook and smiled and with help, stood….for about 5 seconds. Pure entertainment and enchantment. Free and unplanned.
Morning jogs….imagine chugging through royal parks around statues, plodding around working distilleries with the smell of yeast fueling your lungs and plowing through scenic highland river banks. No speedy monster here, as I donned hiking north face trainers, but the relaxation of the early mornings set my spirit up for the pleasures of the day.
That is the high of life For me. There is a large payoff for these active vacations for me. I feel adventurous, sure, but enlivened and free and strong.
I know that I am blessed…to travel, to taste, to take and to treasure.