Days 16-17: The Scots like their Scotch

And, of course, so do we. So, Friday morning we were up at an early hour to enjoy breakfast in Pitlochry before heading out to discover one of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, Scotch whisky. This was the part of the trip The Husband had been waiting for! Over breakfast, we were treated to several guesthouse guests and the owner discussing the upcoming vote for independence from Britain and how it might affect local businesses. It was an interesting start to the morning. Having finished our first meal of the day, we head down just past the center of town to Blair Atholl Distillery. Blair Atholl offers tours and tastings every day, showcasing their lovely operations and ending with a small sampling of their finest single malt. It was still fairly early in the morning, so our tour group was on the smaller side and I thought it a wee bit early for a dram. But apparently, there is no such thing as too early for alcohol in Scotland!  As someone who isn’t really a brown liquor drinker, I was pleasantly surprised to find  that I enjoyed most of the whiskies we tried over the course of these two days, including the one at Blair Atholl.

Each distillery tour (we did 6 altogether) was very similar as the actual process for making Scotch is pretty standard. However, each distillery does delight in telling you exactly how it differs from their competitors, and it’s really interesting to see those differences first hand. For example, did you know that the shape of the copper stills that every single distillery in Scotland uses are completely unique to each brand? Seriously, every single distillery has its own specially-designed stills- some are fat, some are tall, some are bell shaped, others have multiple curved areas. Those were definitely something to take note of on each tour. Most of the tours lasted about 60-90 minutes, and they all ended with tastings (some more generous than others). Also fun to note, only 2 out of 6 tour guides were actually Scottish. The rest were Canadian, American, German, and English. I just thought that was funny.

After having our tasting and making a small purchase, we next decided to hike our way through Black Sprout Woods to Edradour Distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland. Yes, we hiked. Not on a path. Through brush and grass. Through plants that had sharp prickers on them. Through fields with no discernible sense of direction. Here is where I will insert that I hate Rick Steves. I have perused some of his books for years. When planning our Italy trip a few years ago, I used some of his recommendations and was NOT impressed with his restaurant recommendations, nor with his guided tours of the Forum and St. Peter’s. So why I thought I would try trusting him again with this trip is beyond me. According to Rick, there is a footpath to follow in between these two distilleries. It should have been an half an hour of an easy wooded walk. NO. NO. NO. It was not pleasant. Those plants pricked me through jeans, Rick! I think I’ll just stick to my trusty Frommer’s and Eyewitness Guides from now on. Regardless, we eventually made it to Edradour and their picturesque distillery. I did appreciate that we got a choice of a couple of different whiskeys to try during our tour so I enjoyed a dessert cream whiskey similar to a Kahlua- it was delish.  I really liked their unique lay out and it’s the only distillery we visited that actually allows you to take photographs at nearly every step of the process. So, below are a few pics from Edradour.

aging barrels of Scotch

aging barrels of Scotch

lots of barrels filled to various levels depending on how long they've been sitting around, the rest lost as the "Angel's Share"

lots of barrels filled to various levels depending on how long they’ve been sitting around, the rest lost as the “Angel’s Share”

the cooling system that uses water from the nearby stream

the cooling system that uses water from the nearby stream

overlooking part of the interior's second floor with the tops of the wash backs and stills

overlooking part of the interior’s second floor with the tops of the wash backs and stills

one of the copper stills

one of the copper stills

one of the wash backs, where the fermentation process begins

one of the wash backs, where the fermentation process begins

another step in the process

another step in the process

the spirit safe- which separates the whiskey suitable to be called whiskey from that which is either too weak or too strong

the spirit safe- which separates the whisky suitable to be called whisky from that which is either too weak or too strong

Having purchased another bottle from Edradour, we headed back down a slightly more used footpath (that was actually sign posted) and passed by a lovely waterfall on our way back to the car. From there is was on the Dalwhinnie distillery, a personal favorite because their tastings were accompanied by chocolate! This tour was the same information but still really interesting and we got to keep the Glencairn tasting glasses that they used in our tastings. At Dalwhinnie, you do get a free tasting on the tour, but you can buy extra tastings in the shop. so that’s what we did. (Plus, chocolate pairings!) Then it was on to our home for the next two nights, RossMor house in Grantown on Spey, a tiny hamlet in the center of Scotland’s famous whisky trail. The owners of RossMor, Karen and Neil are such incredible sweethearts and they run a lovely guesthouse. Karen was kind enough to offer dinner suggestions and also made reservations for us for the following night. We had a top floor room with lots of space. That evening for dinner, we headed out to The Craig Bar, a small pub with a lively proprietor and barkeep where we made quick friends and enjoyed a few pints of ale along with delicious meat pies.

To start our day the following morning, I had to have Karen’s full Scottish breakfast, including haggis- a first for me. I will say, it wasn’t bad. Kind of like a loose sausage. Mind you, I didn’t feel the need to order it again the following morning, HA, but still, when in Rome and all that. From there we headed out to Glenlivet Distillery. Now, Glenlivet was famous enough that even I have heard of them. They have a small museum in the visitors’ center where you can avail yourself to the history of whisky before you distillery tour. After the tour, The Husband was able to fill his very own bottle of cask-strength whisky straight from the barrel, complete with filling out his own label and corking and sealing his bottle. His dream come true! From Glenlivet, it was on to Glenfiddich, another popular selection. The Glenfiddich people take themselves VERY seriously and start their tour out with  a short film telling the story of the founder’s family. The copper-roofed buildings were interesting to see, and at the end of this tour, you get a prolonged tasting of three selections of Glenfiddich whiskys (a 12 yr, 15 yr, and 18 yr). I learned that I appreciate an 18 year old Scotch more than a 12 year.

Finishing up at Glenfiddish, we headed to our last distillery of the trip, Glen Grant, which is smaller and set on lovely grounds that include a small park complete with hiking trails. While we waited for our tour to begin, we explored the grounds and walked up to a small waterfall passing by another couple with the guy sporting a VA Tech sweatshirt. By this point, we definitely we familiar with the whisky-making process, but The Husband got any remaining questions he may have had about the process answered on this tour. Our tour guide did take us into the brand-new state-of-the-art bottling center that was recently constructed at the distillery. And at the end of that tour, more tastings! For their tastings, Glen Grant basically hands you a glass and a bottle and lets you pour your own dram. They were givers! Drams were drunk, more alcohol was purchased and then it was on to our final stop of the day, Duffus Castle (next post).

For your visual delight, here is a pic of the whisky collection that came home with us.

 

Buy ALL THE WHISKEYS!

Buy ALL THE WHISKIES!

You’re welcome, Husband!

Day 15: St. Andrews

Day 15 started with the super-delicious breakfast of fancy porridge from Stuart (at least for me) and of course more tea. Then it was off to the races for a new day. Leaving Stirling, we headed towards small town Dunfermline and their ruined abbey. We had already visited King Robert the Bruce’s buried heart, it was time to see the rest of him.

Religious structures have stood on the site of Dunfermline Abbey for nearly a thousand years. In the 12th century, King David order the construction of the ‘current’ Benedictine abbey. The church would eventually become ground zero for the worship of David’s mother, St. Margaret. The abbey ruins did house a small royal palace for the kings and queens and its grounds contain more Scottish royal tombs than nearly anywhere else in Scotland. The remains of Robert the Bruce (except his heart) are buried under the modern, current church’s altar. The royal palace at Dunfermline also saw the birth of King Charles I, the last king of England to be born in Scotland.  Most of the grounds are in ruins which are fun to explore, but there is also an intact abbey church with an older Norman section and a much more modern chapel that is still in use today. It was a great place to visit.

Dunfermline

Dunfermline

Those stairs used to lead somewhere.

Those stairs used to lead somewhere.

Standing in the ground floor of the royal palace.

standing in the ground floor of the royal palace

Part of the ground floor vaults that still stand.

part of the ground floor vaults that still stand

If you look at the walls, you can see where the doorways and fireplaces once stood on the second and third floors.

If you look at the walls, you can see where the doorways and fireplaces once stood on the second and third floors.

Inside the old church. Those columns are OLD.

Inside the old church. Those columns are OLD.

Exploring the Old Church.

exploring the Old Church

The final resting place of the Bruce.

The final resting place of the Bruce.

After visiting the abbey and a brief (angry) call with one our banks regarding their not letting the Husband withdraw any moneys via local ATMS, we were on our way to beautiful St. Andrews.

My modern-day royal lovers will know St. Andrews as the college town in which Kate and Wills met and dated (and I assume earned degrees). One of the coffee shops in town had a huge banner reading, “Where Kate and Wills Met for Coffee… once.” Loved. We only spent a few hours in St. Andrews but I absolutely loved it and would go back in a heart beat. I would love to use St. Andrews as a base for exploring more of the general eastern area. It’s just such a quaint, quiet, perfect town. While there, we walked just a bit around the historic area near the coast, visiting the old castle ruins, the cathedral ruins, and of course, part of the golf course. Another thing I loved about St. Andrews? It’s right on the coast. As soon as you exit your car, you are greeted with a rush of salty sea air, like every beach vacation I’ve ever gone on, and it’s invigorating. I swear, one day the Husband and I will own a beach house! But I digress…

Our first stop was at the castle which was not actually a royal castle, but rather a stronghold for the rich and powerful bishops of the area prior to the Reformation. Much of the ruins that you visit today are from the castle rebuild of around 1400. Earlier versions of the castle were lost in the struggles with England. During the Reformation battles of the 16th century, several mines were carved into the undergrounds of the castle and you can climb down into some of those mines and counter-mines today. It’s a bit claustrophobic, so the Husband had to venture part of the way without me, but that was alright as I found a large rock bench that offered the perfect ocean view of castle and water.

 

approaching the castle

approaching the castle

the central court- you can climb the walls on the far side to get a great view of the ocean

the central court- you can climb the walls on the far side to get a great view of the ocean

the abbey is just down the street a bit

the abbey is just down the street a bit

There is a public swimming "pool" that is filled by ocean water when the tide comes in.

There is a public swimming “pool” that is filled by ocean water when the tide comes in.

part of the 16th century mines

part of the 16th century mines

After visiting the castle, we headed down the street to the ruined St. Andrews Cathedral next. This cathedral was originally built in the mid-12th century, building upon a tradition and community already worshiping some of Saint Andrews relics at the site. It fell into disuse after the Scottish Reformation and now lacks most of its prior structure.

wall from the nave of the church

wall from the nave of the church

looking back towards the church entrance

looking back towards the church entrance

approaching the altar

approaching the altar

one of many tomb areas

one of many tomb areas

looking towards the back front of the church

looking towards the back front of the church

and again through one of the entrances

and again through one of the entrances

St Rule's tower

St Rule’s tower

St. Rule's tower existed prior to the building of the cathedral and was incorporated into the design.

St. Rule’s tower existed prior to the building of the cathedral and was incorporated into the design.

looking back towards the castle

looking back towards the castle

Empty tombs. In one area of tombs like this, there was an obnoxious family of tourists allowing their children to play and climb inside the sarcophagi. I gave them my best side-eye, because, come on, how do you let your kids climb in and out of someone's grave?? Also, trivia for you- that hole in the center is for the decaying remains to exit the tomb and enter the ground.

Empty tombs. In one area of tombs like this, there was an obnoxious family of tourists allowing their children to play and climb inside the sarcophagi. I gave them my best side-eye, because, come on, how do you let your kids climb in and out of someone’s grave?? Also, trivia for you- that hole in the center is for the decaying remains to exit the tomb and enter the ground.

With both of those major sights done, we headed down the village streets towards the most famous golf course in the world. They say that St. Andrews is where golf was born. It was a sport of kings and queens, and now you too can play the Old Links that have been in use for 600 years. We walked just a bit of the course to head down to the main clubhouse so that the Husband could pick up some sort of golfing memorabilia with the St. Andrews logo on it. I stick to mini-golf myself, but the Husband does occasionally play the real game. Although I think mostly those excursions are just an excuse to miss work and drink beer with a bunch of guys… but that’s just between you and me! ;-) If we had more time, we could have played a bit on the mini-course they have where anyone can putt 9 or 18 holes, but maybe next trip. It looked pretty crowded out there! Hungry from all that walking we headed back into town for lunch at a deliciously modern little restaurant tucked away in a back street. It was so good and the local ale that I had was exceptional. After lunch, we were off to the next town, Pitlochry, for the evening. We stayed at the Craigatin House and Courtyard and could not have had a more lovely stay. They were quite a bit larger than I anticipated for a guesthouse, but our room was excellent, the hosts were amazing, and breakfast was delightful. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. After checking in, we headed out for a walk around the town and ended up taking a footpath that takes you out by the local river dam and salmon ladder. The Husband tried to educate me on fish ladders and we spent a bit trying to find any fish currently moving through the river (spotted a couple!) before heading to dinner at this odd restaurant that blended Italian and Scottish. Despite dinner being odd, Pitlochry was a lovely town with a great main street teeming with shops and plenty of spaces to explore. It was getting late by the time we finished dinner, however, so we walked back out to the guesthouse and settled in for the evening. I think the Husband was pretty excited by that point, because we were about embark on “his” part of the trip- whiskey distilleries!

looking out over the golf course

looking out over the golf course

part of the Old Links

part of the Old Links

a couple of golfers finishing up

a couple of golfers finishing up