Scotland is one of our preferred destinations. Our last visit to Scotland was already three years ago, therefore a road trip was overdue. We flew in to Glasgow from where we drove to Stirling, the Highlands, Speyside and the Isle of Mull.
Start of the trip
Unfortunately traveling by plane is not that comfortable anymore after Covid. A flight from Amsterdam to Glasgow only takes one hour 20 minutes but with long cues at both airports due to the lack of staff. The trip took us around 8 hours from the moment we entered Schiphol until we drove away from Glasgow airport in our rental car. Not pleasant and maybe we should consider taking the ferry for a next trip.
We traveled at the end of September / early October and thus avoided the peak season. The weather was still fine. Nevertheless, it rained at times but that is normal in Scotland.
Our first stop was Stirling, a lovely town and an easy drive from Glasgow airport. We stayed in the Fletcher’s Hotel close to downtown. A perfect place with a nice restaurant that gave us the opportunity to taste the local food: Fish and Chips (of course with vinegar) in the evening and Haggis in the morning. Haggis is not all that popular with tourists which probably has to do with its main ingredient (leftover parts of the sheep). Haggis does not look that inviting but I really enjoy it.
In the morning we had a nice walk through the old town and the impressive Stirling Castle which dates from the 12th century. Most of its present buildings are constructed between 1490 and 1600. It is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. The castle sits atop Castle Hill and is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it in the old days a strong defensive position. If you are not that familiar with castles, Stirling Castle should be high on your list.
Next to the castle stands a proud statue of Robert the Bruce, the king that threw out the English some 700 years ago. A further twenty minute walk from the castle stands the “Old Bridge”. Albeit not the original wooden bridge, still a reminder of the battle of Stirling of 1297 which was won by the famous William, Braveheart, Wallace.
Close to the castle you find the Church of the Holy Rude which has its roots in the 12th century and is one of the oldest buildings in town. The church is surrounded by a beautiful old cemetery. The ladies who were at the entree of the church are staunch royalists so be aware if you want to have a conversation about Scottish independence.
Before leaving Stirling we visited the William Wallace monument which stands at the north end of town. It is a steep climb from the parking lot to the monument but worthwhile. Not many places honour heroes who where born around 750 years ago. William Wallace was fighting for an independent Scotland, a fight that somewhat continues up to today. We visited this monument as well some twenty years ago and at that time a statue of the actor Mel Gibson, who played William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, was placed at the entrance of the William Wallace monument. It has disappeared and replaced to a less heroic place. Rightly so, playing in a movie is quite different from beating a large English army.
Whisky is one of the pleasures in life, so Scotland is the place to be. Our first tasting of this trip was when we traveled north towards Inverness; the Dalwhinnie distillery. The distillery is beautiful and so is the whisky. In other words we enjoyed the tasting. Delwhinnie is a smooth whisky typical for the Speyside area, an easy drink. The great things off these kind of tastings is that you not only drink the standard whisky but they usually also serve some specials which are not commonly available. The location of the distillery is quite nice, in a typical rough Highland setting.
We rented a a nice apartment in Inverness some 15 minutes walk from downtown. The city is not particularity pretty but it has sufficient restaurants and shops to make life comfortable. It remains surprising that most of the downtown shops close at 5.30 pm, as if they don’t want to do business. One evening we had dinner downtown at the Jamaican restaurant Kool Runnings which was surprisingly good. Caribbean food and cocktails on a cold rainy october night warmed our hearts.
Otherwise we did not see much of Inverness. Of course it has a castle but among all the castles in Scotland this one did not look all that interesting. We mainly used Inverness as a hub from which we made day trips.
On our first day in Northern Scotland we took a trip east and followed the coast line. Very pretty country side with several small coastal towns. We stopped at the fishing town of Portknockie (around 1 hour 15 minutes drive from Inverness) as we had planned to see the Bow Fiddle Rock, an arch rock out in the sea. It certainly did not disappoint and a prime spot for making pictures.
The town of Portknockie is small and uneventful but had a surprisingly charming bar at the Victoria Hotel. We had some great coffee with cakes but more importantly a nice chat with one of the regulars and with the owner. Highly recommended.
In the afternoon we felt it was the right time for some more whisky. Our initial stop was at the well known Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. This was a great disappointment. There was no opportunity for whisky tasting as they were short of staff. As Dufftown has the highest concentration of distilleries in the world, we drove to the neighbours, Mortlach distillery. The whisky of this distillery is a key component in several of the Johnnie Walker bottling, but it also makes a good single malt. The chief operator of this plant personally come to explain that there are no tasting at this plants but he called the Cardhu distillery, a few miles down the road, and made reservations for us. Great service.
Cardhu is a lovely distillery which makes a good Speyside single malt whisky. Moreover, the bottles look great. We tasted four great whiskies. One of these contained 62% alcohol which is quite a lot. One would think that the alcohol would dominate the taste but that is not the case. The whisky was fruity and smooth. A happy ending to a great day.
The next day we drove north of Inverness. Basically we had two visits planned that day: Dunrobin Castle and the Glenmorangie distillery. On our way to the distillery we made a quick stop for a cup of coffee with scones at the small quirky town of Tain. The two ladies of our group had scones every day and became quite the experts. Tain is still somewhat of a pilgrimage town. We visited the small old church were I found the greatest tombstone ever:
Mr David Ross must have been a great person. He is described as: “and affectioned father, an indulgent husband, a warm friend and AN HONEST MAN”. What a great eulogy, I hope that when it is my time I will be remembered in the same way.
We had booked a tour for the Glenmorangie distillery. This distillery is owned by the French luxury goods company LVHM. A wealthy parent makes for beautiful distilleries.
What sets Glenmorangie apart from other single malt whiskies is that they experiment with flavours. They use barrels that previously have been used by port or sherry makers which adds taste to the whisky. An afternoon well spent! For the real whisky affectionate the company offers the possibility to dine and stay at their highland home next to the distillery. What a great experience to be emerged in the malting / whisky smell for a full 24 hours.
Dunrobin Castle, just north of Glenmorangie, is spectacular. The inside of the castle is like many others with paintings of Dukes and Kings long dead and a variety of furniture from day long gone. What sets this castle apart is that it it situated right next to the seaside. The castle resembles a French chateau and the view from the seaside is very pretty. The oldest part of the castle is from the 13th century. It is a cool place to visit.
The Isle of Mull
From Inverness we travelled to the Isle of Mull, a three hours drive by car. We traveled the road next to Loch Ness. Of course we looked out for Nessy but maybe due to the heavy rain we did not spot it this time (if we would you would have seen it on every news channel around the world). It rained and stormed all the way to Oban where we took the ferry to Mull. When we arrived at the ferry we had just enough time for a quick bite. We had been in Oban before so we knew that the fish stand at the port next to the ferry is the best. A simple place but it serves great food. In my view their rollmop and oysters are best!!
Due to weather Calmac had canceled all ferries in the morning but when we arrived the weather was a bit better so they sailed. The sea was still quite choppy. Carolina does not have sea legs so she had to stand outside the whole 40 minute trip focused on the horizon. Without any embarrassing moments we safely arrived at Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Our first impression of the island was that it was rough, wild and sparsely inhabited. Exactly what you expect from an island on the Scottish West Coast.
We just had one full day at the island. In the morning we drove to Calgary beach, according to travel websites one of the best beaches in the UK. It is a nice white sand beach but nothing like the beaches you will find in the Caribbean. The sea is rough and the wind blows in straight from the Ocean. Nevertheless, the views are extremely nice. Such a beautiful scenery. We decided to follow the road and stay close to the shoreline. A very pretty drive with many opportunities to shoot some good pictures. We were lucky and saw a few eagles (at least we thought they were eagles) which made the trip even more exiting. All the driving is on a single lane road so every car coming from the opposite sight is a challenge. Thanks God, not many people travel this road in October but I would not to like to drive here in the summer and be stuck behind a camper van. The road ends in Salem where the local cafe sells some great scones.
The afternoon was the highlight of the day with a vist to the small port town of Tobermory. It is a very good looking and friendly town with a few places that serve good food. With its colourful houses it is probably also one of the best looking small town in the country.
The Tobermory distillery is the only distillery on the island. The distillery is established in 1798 and was called Ledaig, similar to the smokey whisky it produces today. The distillery had been closed and re-opened several times over the past 100 years but today it produces some of Scotland’s finest whiskies, six months a year it distilled the smooth Tobermory whisky and the other six months it produces the peaty Ledaig whisky. Especially Ledaig is an acquired taste.
Mull does not have that many restaurants but close to our Bed and Breakfast we found a great restaurant right in the middle of nowhere: Am Bodin. The place is so far off the beaten track that it does not have cell phone connectivity and thus we had to pay cash. It must have been years that I had to pay cash in a restaurant and we just managed to find enough cash in order to avoid having to do the dishes.
Before flying home there was one last distillery to be visited: Oban. It was three years ago since we last visited this distillery. At that time we took the tour and I remember well the story the guide told us that his granddad of almost one hundred years old drunk every day half a bottle of whisky and shared his drinks with a 20 year old dog. For this Scottish guide it was the ultimate proof that drinking whisky was not only an enjoyable experience but also good for one’s health. The old Scotsmen always knew this as the Gaelic name for whisky is “Uisge Beatha” which means “Water of Life”.
Oban is more than the distillery, it is a quaint town with a pretty port. After London and Edinburg it is the third most visited place by foreigners in the UK. Yes it has some nice restaurants, pretty buildings and stores but for me Oban will be for ever associated with its water of life. It is a heavenly drink.