William Wallace, Haggis, (scotch) Whisky. What’s not to love about Scotland? This was one of our favourite places and we’ll definitely return in the future.
Here’s your very brief history of Scotland:
We started off Edinburgh with, what else? The free walking tour. Sabella, a Spanish native, gave a great rundown of the great looking city.
In the old city centre you really get the feeling not too much has changed in the few hundred years. The city has an interesting mix of surprise bridges, tiny and numerous alleys, and many hikable hills.
Just outside Edinburgh old town, you have Arthur’s seat, a huge hill that rises out of the city. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon as you’re rewarded with some expansive views from the top. As Norway Ben recommended, we nourished with Haggis afterward, and man was it good. I have no idea how haggis got a gross reputation, it’s like a more flavourful Shepard’s pie.
The next day we joined up with my uncle’s Sandy Tour group, and learned about the Clearances; a pretty terrible event which basically led to either the fleeing or destruction of the Gaelic people. Up to 25,000 people fled to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (among other locations), my ancestors included. So in a strange way I kind of owe my existence to this event.
Scotland has a lot of history, it also has a lot of history buffs who are proud of their heritage. Foremost among these characters is the one-of-a-kind Ronnie Campbell. He was a guide for part of the tour leading everyone on and off the tour bus, up and down the hilly grave yard and even helping push a bus out of some mud. He is also 87 years old, quite the character.
The Sandy tour group lunch we were treated to had a surprise to go with the scones. A sampling of FIVE different, rare, and some very expensive whiskies. Since I was driving, I solemnly figured I could only at most sample two of the five whiskies.
Unfortunately, Scotland has had a difficult history with alcohol, this has led to some of the toughest drinking and driving laws that I’ve heard of. If you blow any amount over the limit, you have your license immediately revoked for one year, fines of over $10,000 CAD, and potential jail time.
The limit is 0.022%, which basically translates to one half pint of beer. The bus driver on the tour appropriately and strongly warned me that having two of the samples would probably put me over the limit. I cried inside, and then moved on.
We drove by Loch Ness, it’s a nice lake, I didn’t see any monsters. If you go to Scotland, don’t make it a point of the trip to see Loch Ness, it’s a very nice lake, but that’s it!
We stayed two nights in Inverness, a nice little town. I developed a pretty bad fever one of these nights so I didn’t see too much of the town.
I was dead set on getting some whisky tours in Scotland, we had already had one with the tour group at Ben Nevis distillery, but I wanted to see more. My spirits we’re pretty low on account of feeling so crappy from the fever, but after popping some pills I was starting to feel better! So onward with the whisky tours!
If whisky is your thing, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to spend some time than Aberlour. Aberlour sits on the river of the same name, and is in the heart of Speyside, home to the highest concentration of distilleries in the world.
Because this is kind of a classy area of Scotland, there is no cheap lodgings, so we had to break the bank at a fantastic place called the Dowan’s Hotel, a very welcoming and pretty place. That being said, we would definitely go back, hopefully with more money.
We went on tours at Glenfidditch, Strathisla, and then had samples at Aberlour and Glenlivet. The history, tradition, and methods of whisky production were amazing to witness on these tours and experience through being in the region.
We left Aberlour, overnighted in Perth at a fantastic AirBNB (beautiful accommodations, hospitable and interesting hosts who offered us wine and whisky) and headed on to Glasgow.
After some minor navigational glitches which put us through a no-traffic zone of downtown, and subsequently into a high traffic zone of downtown, we arrived at Robbie’s place in Glasgow (we had no GPS capabilities in Scotland).
Glasgow is, but more used to be, an industrial city. It has a strong ship building history from WW2, which led it to be a bombing target for the Nazis, leaving some heavy scars by the end of the war. Glasgow also was a “Yes” city, meaning it favoured separation from the UK in the recent referendum. Like all of Scotland, we really liked Glasgow, it is a very multicultural and large city, with a population close to 2 million.
For our second stint in Edinburgh (it’s so nice to come to a place where you already know your way around), we did a “dark side of Edinburgh” walking tour, and a pub crawl (crawl, not tour).
Edinburgh, even compared to the rest of Europe, seems to have a pretty scary history. A few items on the list:
I think this was the longest blog, but man was Scotland great. Put it on your list to rent a car and drive around Scotland. If you can afford it, drink whisky and hire a driver.
That’s it! Homeward bound, so to speak. After a quick stop in Italy we’ll entering Slovenia tempormanently. Jobs? We’ll see. Sleeper hit of Europe? Definitely.