Scotland

Land of the tartan kilt, various clans, war torn medieval castles, The Military Tattoo, haggis neep and tatties, black pudding, shortbread, Loch Ness monster, scottish tablet, iron bru, bag pipes and most of all whisky. This is Scotland and boy I can’t wait.

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Many more things I could mention in this amazing country and one I’ve always wanted to visit with my dad proudly talking up Scotland at such a young age. As you know Joker is a little sick and in need of some TLC and will be out of action for roughly 3 weeks, once fit and ready we will make our way back to Germany. Meantime we are going to make the most of the time in Scotland staying with a friend of Karen’s in Callendar 1 hour drive from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Arriving in Edinburgh airport first point of call was our hire car, now make of it what you will whether coincidence or not it was quite astonishing to realise our little Vauxhall corsa is bright green…. Much the same as Joker. There is not a single other car in the parking lot this colour and instantly brought about laughter from both of us, still sinking in to this day. So off to see Edinburgh we take a tram to the centre of town and make our way up to a place called High Street known as the Royal Mile. As we wander around this town I instantly take in this place as being a very social and accepting place, a good night life good times. Pubs never ending, food palours everywhere and shops its very active and very historical. First historic structure to come across was St Giles cathedral and like all the other churches is very old. This church doesn’t really have a square to itself to take in the surroundings, this just pops up out of nowhere in the street next to all the other buildings. It is part of the surroundings and I like this its all compact and making use of space. In one of the touristy shops in the bottom of the church I ask for advice on where to go to look up my ancestory, given directions the place where we need to go is known as the Scottish Registery. My dads side of the family having Anderson as my last name and Gilbert and Robert in the family is very prominent, so was very interested to find out what my trails are and connected to whom. I remember vividly my dad passing down to me the Anderson tarton scottish tie and I always just thought I was in someway associated with the Andersons, the main motto is “stand sure”.

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So upon going to this scottish registery I was informed on what information I need to do and a bit of homework is in order. Onwards down high street again this place is heaving as it is school holidays and luckily we were in for sunny blue skies that is generally rare here, souvenir shops are in abundance, with proper to cheap and nasty tartan kilts and Scottish nicks and nacks. Trying on tartan kilts for the novelty I got my first real chance to do so and I must say I quite liked it, whether I buy a proper one or not its something I need to figure out if I would ever wear it! Time for food and refuel before heading to Edinburgh castle. Ive known this castle quite well as my dad would passionately talk about the Tattoo that is famously held here every year, and I’m a big fan of the bag pipes such an amazing instrument and the sound is awesome.

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Walking upon the Edinburgh castle it’s often known that this is strategically built upon a mountain of volcanic rock and is very well fortified with stunning 360° views. This was a pretty cool castle and by far the best one I’ve seen so far. This is the mighty fortress the defender of Scotland, this castle has been exposed to alot of seiges through the centuries. It is a very significant site for Scottish history along with one other castle in Scotland named Stirling castle. The history of Edinburgh castle dates as early as 12 century but recorded evidence is that this has been a fortress many hundreds of years before then. This castle contains many artifacts and the main ones that take your eye are the honours of Scotland crown jewels and historic Stone of Destiny. Another thing that took my eye is the The Great Hall with the original hammerbeam ceilings this was quite a sight and awe of how they made this, hopefully the pictures do it justice. I can go on and on about this castle we must of spent a total of 2 hours here. Was well worth the visit! We from here planned to walk the Albert seat but was quickly getting dark this will be saved for later in our travels in Scotland. All in all extremely lucky to have clear blue skies with occasional showers for middle of winter it couldn’t be a better day to see this amazing city.

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The following day we are off to see Stirling castle and once again treated to great weather for such a standout castle upon another rock formation. Onced we had climbed up the scenery was breathtaking again a perfect 360° panoramamic veiw of Stirling even better than Edinburgh castle. Across from Stirling castle is a monument thats stands out on top of a hill this is William Wallace memorial where he had won the battle against the British down below on the bridge of Stirling river. Stirling castle was the home for alot of the kings in Scotland, from anointed kings to born right kings, from childhood this was where they looked after them. Stirling castle is the symbol of Scottish independence and went through many turbulent wars highlighted with William Wallace & Mary Queen of Scots. The site of Stirling Castle is recorded thus far as early as 1100 and has since expanded and built up even more. The main stand out of many is the Royal Palace which was the work of King James V’s, the work was a reprensentating of power, riches and artistory. One of the finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings in Great Britain. King James V spoke 7 languages and married his second French wife Mary of Guise to strengthen ties with France. The castle itself is adored with such sculptures that tell a story of James V and the benefits he feels can bring to Scotland. In the castle itself it is proposed that the centre pit surrounded by on looking buildings was for the Lion they owned at the castle. I could easliy mention alot more about Stirling castle, if you get the chance its a must see. Moving on and it was time to do a tour at Deanston distillery.

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As we made our way to a little town called Doune here lies the Deanston distillery alongside the river Teith just out side of Callender where we are staying. This old factory was originally the Old cotton mill for 180 years and converted to a Whisky distillery in 1960’s by Deanston distillery. It has been using traditional methods to distill its whisky ever since and will continue to do so. This is a highland single malt whisky that is crafted only by hand and no modern technology is used in the making of this fantastic whisky. The turbine house which previously contained the waterwheels powered the cotton mill for 118 years, was errected in 1830’s and was the largest in Europe and second largest in the world. The water is used from the river that flows past the distillery called the river Teith that is filtered through the granite stones of that river to provide the soften water, the old water turbine that was used for the cotton mil is now powering and supplying water for the whisky. They generate all their own power and sell extra energy off to the grid. This whisky is a un-chillfiltation whisky meaning that this whisky is best served room temperature as the oils will solidify or separate if cold. At the end of the tour we had some tastings. Different types of whisky are made with different styles, first of the 3 I tried was their signature whisky. This was produced using barrels from America that were used for bourbon whisky, Deanston whisky is left to mature in the barrells for 12 years. The second whisky was the zesty Deanston Virgin Oak this whisky was originally maturing in the bourbon whisky barrels to then be moved in new barrels of Virgin oak. Finally the Deanston toasted oak is delivered using the Bourbon barrels to take the ends off each barrel and burn the stains to caramelize the inner barrel then sealing it up again ready for use to mature for 9 years then transferred for a further 6 years in an ex whisky cask this subsequently gives the whisky a much darker finish. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to buy a bottle of Deanston single malt whisky 12 years, to describe breifly it offered its delicate taste of sweet, honeyed fruit and gentle warmth not even a hint of smoke. Smooth, easy and an absolute delight. As things go for exploring distillerys in Scotland I wanted make sure I see the local ones that are not big names and feel you get a more personal touch. No doubt as we travel to the north I will in counter some big name players.

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Time to pack and begin a journey north west of Scotland a place called Isle of Skye. What a spectacular place this is so raw and barron the place exposed to the harshest elements jaw dropping scenery with atmospheric weather we drive over the Skye bridge and make our way to Portree. Arriving here, the evening the sun shining a hue salmon haze we make way down to the fishing port. Quaint restaurants fish & chippy’s alongside the water front this was a remote fishing town, was nice to get coastal again and take in the remote wild coastal weather that is north of Scotland.

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The hostel we stayed at was Portree independent hostel and was by far the best hostel I have stayed in, really well cared for and were made to feel very welcomed. A jamed pack day insued for some solid sightseeing first point of call is Coral beach, as we head towards Dunvegan there is a castle that we drive past that was the stronghold of the Macdonalds, this clan was known as notoriously fierce and always blood thirsty for war and ransacking as we found out upon a castle we visited later on in our trip. We walked on from the carpark to coral beach in torrential hail, sunshine and howling winds, this was definitely exposure to the elements of winter Scotland. We are not sure to this day if we made it to Coral beach with no signage or clear pathways very boggy sponge like fields we turned around. The beach itself is supposed to depict a white sandy beach with cristal clear water, but this would be highly unlikely today as the weather was all over the place. Still as things stand it was a pretty cool walk for the scenery on offer and you don’t seem to get wet when it hails!

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Back in the little green Vauxhall we head to the far north west of Skye to a place called Neist point, here is a lighthouse that would top any other in terms of taking the elements of the weather. This extremely dramatic landscape, with such ever changing weather patterns one minute blue skys warming sunshine to howling winds with a torrential down pour followed by snow or hail, this could all happen in the space of 5 minutes and then change again! I’ve not seen scenery like this before and it just sits you flat on your ass and tells you to take it in for a moment to adjust to this majestic horizon. We walked over the top and the lighthouse sits all by itself the scenery was stunning looking around and it’s as isolated as you can get. Words don’t really describe what I saw but if ever you get the chance come to Neist point it really is spectacular.

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Now back to business and there’s a whisky distillery on the coastal waterfront the only one in Isle of Skye and that’s situated in Carbost west of Skye, this is as far north as Alaska and is one of the most remote and northerly distilleries in the world. Talisker has been crafted since 1830 and gets its water source from a spring not far from the distillery the soft peaty water they use is drawn from 14 underground springs that rise in Hawk Hill beside the distillery. Fortunate enough to see this place and it would be rude not to try some whisky right?

The first I tried was their standard Taliskar 10 year old which went down a treat! Alot stronger than your standard whiskys which most distilleries bottle at 43% ABV as in order to call a scotch whisky has to have a minimum alcohol % of 40. Taliskar main bottlings are at 45.8% ABV. The second dram is a new whisky called Taliskar Storm this had a much harsher taste and could smell a mile away, probably not my drop but glad I tried it. To the counter and I purchased a wee bottle of Talisker 10yr for the journey around Europe, would be rude not too!

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Last stop was Fairy pools at the heart of Cuillin Hills, these hills are the highest in Skye measuring at highest peak of 993m. Isolated is one word to describe this vast grassy land the surroundings are gorgeous, walking to the creek we endeavor to find these fairy pools and have a vague idea what they look like. Onwards and we walk in sunshine rain and hail which just adds to the whole atmospheric feeling that we are in an angry valley yet hint of silence and calm. We must of walked a near solid hour along this pretty creek to the base of the mountains and realise maybe we have already seen the fairy pools. Me and Karen geared up in waterproofs and thermals some people just don’t realise the significance this makes to the climate you embrace. One man in blue jeans and cotton hoody walking the same track could of experianced a very different situation. People are frequently rescued due to poor equipment or lack of as spoken by Anita’s partner who volunteers in search and rescue. Anyway it turns out we walked too far and hadn’t missed the pools as they were right by us all the way along. Any how we were treated to such brilliant scenery to top the day off it was well worth the effort. What a day to take in the harsh realitys of Isle of Skye this was truly impressive and so glad I got the chance to see it. One day there comes a time to come back and take it all in again. It’s moments when you feel so insignificant to your surroundings and just have to sit back and admire what is around you. Time to make our way to Loch Ness.

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Driving up the coast of Loch Ness this lake had some distance! Steep hills inclined to the deepest part of the lake which is to be 227m, they say is likened to twice the average depth of the north sea, hearing that made me step back. This lake is not wide either so just to grasp how quickly it gets deep in this Loch is impressive. It is the deepest Loch in Scotland which was carved out by glaciers in the ice age. Driving just over half way up we pull over to see another castle called the Urquhart castle, this castle has seen seige forever in a day and shows it! Dating back to this site it is said this was the spot St Columba worked miracles in the 6th century. The views from the base of the castle are second to none and is clear why this spot was ideal to defend. This castle was extremely hard to defeat. This was the struggle for a lot wars for the crown of the Macdonalds clan who regularly seaked to topple this castle and in the end would wreck havoc on the community. 1296 would be the start of the Wars of Independence with England erupted, with King Edward I taking ownership. In 1297 Sir Andrew de Moray a powerful local nobleman attacks the castle at night but fails to capture it, later that year he links up with Sir William Wallace who then together defeat the English at Stirling bridge this was a historic victory for the Scots. For the next 30 years Urquhart castle passes back and forth between the Scots and the English ‘like a bone between two dogs’. This was quite a place to read and learn the history and feel and see what had happen over last 1000 years, it had undergone so many seiges and unrest and was seen as the perfect place to have this momentous castle renowned as a stronghold that the invaders could not capture by force.

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Onwards to Iverness where we stayed here for the night and had some food and drinks in town. Lets start the night off with a dram and some local pubs, we head down a narrow lane to the sound of Wagon Wheel being played live. This is 6pm… And we approach this small little pub heaving with hen do’s and blokes on the piss and more older people than young folk! So why not as we squeeze our way through the mass to order some drinks, so they think theres a drinking culture in NZ… Well to compare to up here there is no comparison! Onwards to a recommended local bar and restaurant to try some good old local tucker, Haggis Neep & Tatties were had and boy what a meal. I vaguely knew what I was eating and thought why not ask a few questions about this stuff before eating it, to then being told just eat first ask later basis haha. Well I basically knew it was cooked in Sheep’s stomach and was made of offal and oats. Just wasn’t sure if any other finer details were missed! This was had at Hootananny bar and restaurant washed down with black local ale it went down a treat. Tis a good grub! Hootananny certainly left its mark on us what a cool scottish bar I recommend it to anyone heading north. On the look out for more places to drink, and now don’t get me wrong I like a good drink anyone who knows this knows me well but even I was staggered to see how many people men and women were stumbling around drunk and it was only 9pm. This is a country that has issued a law, zero alcohol tolerance when driving, not even one drink! So walking about me and Karen amused by the drunkenness a bloke approaches me from behind in a Celtic top not looking the flashish, greets me to then proceed to shake my hand having said he was not from around here. I quickly say the same and stop him short of a handshake. “What happen to your hand mate?” knuckles bloodied this guy been up to no good, he suggest can we buy him a hot chocolate to which a flat sorry mate can’t help ya insued. Moving on quickly and its apparent how drunk this place is, and I’m not judging this town for what I see was probably just a unlucky night of random shinnanagins. We find a small local pub down a side street and this was as local as you get. Walk in and get the looks of who the hell are you… This looked like a family of people who have been drinking for years. Young members with their older counterparts family who were all smashed to there hearts content, photo’s of all locals who obviously had some good times together through the years. Even a chair with a plaque in remembrance of a local couple. Theres not getting much localler than this thats for sure. Had our table and drinks in peace was quite a sight to how life is in front of you. Walking around and we find one last pub to finish the night off and its an irish bar, during our trip I will note we have seen an Irish pub in every main city in Europe. Fact! So we wait at the bar to order a drink and this sweaty fat bloke in his late 50’s ask if I take pictures. “what?” …. Stumbling to get his words out he meant are you into photography. This conversation lasted 5 minutes to really not getting anywere at all. Much to the sorry onlookers of the bar staff pitying our situation it was clear as day he likes crisp pictures… Right ok, you have yourself a good night mate, and off to the otherside of the bar! Last drink and that was our interesting night in Inverness.

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Setting off we heading down past the biggest national park in United Kingdom the Cairngnorms, unfortunately it was a bit of a snow storm to do much and decided to proceed south to a distillery called Dalwhinnie.

So a little history on this distillery, located 1073 feet above sea level it is the highest distillery in the highlands. Dalwhinnie can be the most exposed and hostile place in the country. This distillery had gone through many ups and downs when first operating in 1897, ranging from the whisky market slid into recession in the following year to a fire in 1934 that severly damaged the distillery and destroyed some 3000 gallons of proof spirit. It was rebuilt in 1938 to only close again for the war years. This distillery had character and an ever changing history it would be ashame not have a few drams to toast how well they have overcome adversity.

So this is not like other tastings that we had done, no no, this was different, chocolate truffles is accompanied with the whisky you try and mate how these chocolates fit so seaminly well with my drink was astonishing. Upon entering the distillery with my friends of distillery passport I was intitled to a free dram of friends of the classic malt 48% accompanied with an orange chocolate crunch. Time for tastings of more whiskys with the first 3 whiskys I tried was a 1997 single cask 56%, this had some guts! And accompanied with a Dark velvet truffle, this whisky is chosen from their warehouse, unbottled and only for tasting here and now. You can never buy this whisky.

Next was the Dalwhinnie 15yr old 43% and was accompanied with a cocoa dusted velvet truffle this went down real nice! Finally was the Distiller’s edition 43% double matured in Oloroso cask wood, followed by Strawberry & Star anise truffle. Top class this was a solid afternoon of some choice as tastings, highly recommend it and fittingly being at the highest distillery with a rough snowstorm outside. That concludes Dalwhinnie Distillery.

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Back in Callendar and we recharged a little bit before setting off to the William Wallace memorial, this memorial was errected 500 years after his death for the remembrance of this Scottish hero. This monument sits upon a hill and overlooks where Sir William Wallace won the battle at Stirling bridge. Here this monument is sectioned to 3 rooms with also a look out point up top. With steps in total of 246 to the very top stunning views but sadly the weather was a little worst for wear. The first room called the Hall of Arms and this explored the remarkable life of William Wallace and his endeavers. He along with Andrew Moray led and defeated the English at Stirling bridge in 1297 which was the unlikeliest victory for the Scots. He went into hiding and was found by a fellow Scotsman who handed him in to King Edward I of England, who had him hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians. The next level up was the Hall of Heroes with poets and writers having their stories told of the man himself William Wallace this was also the site were his sword lays which is a staggering 1.67 metres long. Next level is the royal Chamber and here lies the history of how this monument was built, this monument was well worth the visit and was great to get an insight to the man himself.

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Finally on our last day in Scotland coming to a close we finish off with a last stint in Edinburgh. Here we booked to do the Auld Reekie tour which is of the old underground vaults where the poor, criminals, murderers and witches lived, this was a very different world. You were given a pile a hay put in the vault and you had to set off and make yourself a bed, this place was stuff of your worst nightmares. 1700’s this had come about and was witness to murder, rape and witch craft this place was plain spooky. Just to imagine life being spent under here is remarkable, originally the vaults were used for shops, businesses and storage but quickly abandoned due to the poor air quality and flooding as the bridge was rushed to be built and never got sealed to prevent water coming in. There are numerous encounters of ghost sightings within these vaults and not surprising either! One last feed of haggis neep and tatties with a dram before setting off to the airport. This concludes our amazing time in Scotland and would not hesitate to come back.

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