Day 17 cont’d: History Appreciation

Having enjoyed several fine Scottish whiskies, the Husband was on Cloud 9 and I was ready to visit one of the places I had most looked forward to on the trip. A few years ago, I started to research my genealogy to get a better appreciation of our family history and where we came from. In part of that history, I found that on my paternal grandmother’s side, there was a long line that led back to Scottish, English, and French aristocracy (and far enough back, royalty, natch). Part of that ancestry included the vaulted Moray clan from northern Scotland where they made their home at Duffus Castle.

Duffus Castle is known for being one of the best examples of motte and bailey castle architecture in medieval Scotland. The first castle on that site was believed to have been constructed in the 1100s, but most of the stone ruins that stand today are from the 14th century. While it stands in ruins today, Duffus Castle is a true testament to a bygone era and the beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

Now for the pic spam:

A brief history lesson before heading onto the grounds

A brief history lesson before heading on to the grounds

what's left of the moat

what’s left of the moat

approaching the castle which was built atop a small hill (key point in the motte and bailey structure)

approaching the castle which was built atop a small hill (key point in the motte and bailey structure)

The walls of the castle area extend father out and would have previously encompassed a small village.

The walls of the castle area extend father out and would have previously encompassed a small village.

I promise the camera was not sideways for this picture. Part of the castle has sunken into the ground at an angle.

I promise the camera was not sideways for this picture. Part of the castle has sunken into the ground at an angle.

Looking up at what was once the second story.

Looking up at what was once the second story.

You can see just how badly the foundations have shifted over the centuries.

You can see just how badly the foundations have shifted over the centuries.

walking the hallways

walking the hallways

looking up at the second story hallway which would have lead from the great hall into private chambers. The charred walls are evidence of a large-scale fire that once consumed the castle.

looking up at the second story hallway which would have led from the great hall into private chambers. The charred walls are evidence of a large-scale fire that once consumed the castle.

back down the hallway towards the dungeon cell

back down the hallway towards the dungeon cell

It's lighter here because so much of the remaining walls are missing.

It’s lighter here because so much of the remaining walls are missing.

walking away from the castle, down into what would have been the village

walking away from the castle, down into what would have been the village

looking back at the main castle

looking back at the main castle

stone floors and walls still remain in village structures

stone floors and walls still remain in village structures

a good map of what the area would have looked like

a good map of what the area would have looked like

standing in one of the storehouses, looking back towards the castle

standing in one of the storehouses, looking back towards the castle

part of a great hall

part of a great hall

wall foundations

wall foundations

one of the remaining gates that still stands in the surrounding wall

one of the remaining gates that still stands in the surrounding wall

the castle from afar

the castle from afar

That hill was a fairly steep climb.

That hill was a fairly steep climb.

From the outside, you can see cracks in the castle walls and how windows have shifted.

From the outside, you can see cracks in the castle walls and how windows have shifted.

the castle

the castle

one last peek at the remains of what was once a great stronghold

one last peek at the remains of what was once a great stronghold

After visiting the castle it was time to head back to Grantown on Spey for dinner and rest before our final full day in Great Britain.

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!