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Gene’s Scotland Journal; 29 April – 9 May 2013

(full set of photos on Flickr here...)

Monday, 29 April 2013 – Leave Woburn

Megan arrived at the house exactly at 1pm, which was the designated meet-up time. She parked in the driveway behind Lynn’s PT Cruiser, we transferred her suitcase to the van, and we were off to the Anderson Regional Transportation Center in East Woburn to catch the 2:00 pm Logan Express bus to the airport. The adventure had started!

We parked the van in the overnight lot ($7 per day, payable on exit), schlepped our bags to the bus terminal section of the station, bought three round-trip bus tickets to Logan ($22 each), and waited for the bus. It was an uneventful bus ride in with little or no traffic, but unfortunately I left my trusty old blue poplin zipper jacket on the bus. Once I discovered it was missing I made a mental note to check to see if they had a lost-and-found bin at the ARTC on the return.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:15 pm, and international flights are more involved, check-in and security-wise, so I wanted us to get to the airport by 3:15 pm. No traffic on the roads, no-one in line at the Aer Lingus counter so we checked in quickly and easily, and the easy TSA security line got us through security in a blink, so we were at our gate two hours ahead of time. The time everything works out perfectly is the time we planned for worst-case problems! Go figure!

Aer Lingus flight 136 (Boston to Dublin) was on an Airbus A330 wide-body, 42 rows, 2-4-2 configuration (AC/DEFG/HK). We had seats 38A, C, and D (a window and two aisles) so we were close to the back of the plane. I had originally booked four seats in row 18 (A, C, D, E) for both flights, but when Dan had to cancel we lost seat D on the reservations. Once Dan had cancelled I called up Aer Lingus to reclaim D for Megan, but the outbound flight seat reservation for D had already been lost, so I had us moved to row 38 to keep the three together. The flight was only ⅓ full, so Megan had her entire center row to herself. During the flight Lynn watched the movie “Parental Guidance” (Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, 2012) on the seat monitor and was laughing so hard tears were streaming down her face! Our in-flight meal choices were Chicken or Pasta (neither very good, as usual), and for breakfast before landing we had a sumptuous cup of orange juice.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 – Dublin, Glasgow, Denny, Stirling, Trossachs, Killin, Fortingall, Pitlochry

In Dublin we had to go through passport control and a carry-on luggage rescan. The line for the rescan was long so they let us jump to the front of the line, possibly because our connecting time for our next flight was so short. The transfer-time in Dublin was barely enough time, but we made it to the next gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

The Dublin-to-Glasgow flight (#3220, departing at 6:50 am Irish Summer Time [IST]) was an Aer Lingus Regional flight operated by Aer Arann. The plane was a 2-engine turbo-prop ATR-72. Glasgow is a small airport, so we got our bags quickly, picked up a SIM card for the Ericsson R520m European cell phone (£0.99, with £5 talk time), and got out to the Enterprise rental-car counter by 8 am. We were second in line at the counter, but our rental car wasn’t ready yet. We had booked a full-size “Ford Galaxy class” 7-passenger vehicle through AutoEurope (headquartered in Portland ME!) to accommodate four good-sized people and their bags. What we got was a monstrous Hyundai i800 8-passenger truck-sized van! Talk about a behemoth! The i800 has a 2.5L 4-cylinder diesel engine, and ours was an automatic (one less thing to worry about while driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the vehicle). There was plenty of room for people and bags, and spare rhinos!

We had pre-arranged a custom itinerary with a husband-wife team operating under the name “Secret Scotland” (http://www.secret-scotland.com/; I had trouble remembering the name the whole trip, so I took to calling it “Secret Santa”). They offer pre-made, pre-planned tours of various durations, and for an additional fee they will customize an itinerary exactly to your desires and schedule requirements. Lynn gave them our “have to be at this place on this day” requirements, our “want to see this while we are here” requirements, and our “we’re interested in these types of things” requirements, went back and forth a few times via email to fine-tune the result, and they came back with a 99-page PDF itinerary with specific driving directions, lists of things to see along the way and things to avoid because they weren’t worth the time or money, lists of good AND BAD restaurants and pubs, side-trip and detour recommendations, and detailed maps. We printed it out double-sided and bound it up for use in the car, and it was the single most valuable thing we had on the trip, aside from our credit cards! It cost £99 (about $150) but it was the best $150 we spent.

From the airport we drove to the town of Denny (ancestral home to the LECKIEs and a COPLAND in Lynn’s family) in the council region of Stirling, to look around and commune with the family ghosts, find stamps for postcards, and buy a snack at bakery shop (mince pie and coffee for me, but not the meatless mince that I was familiar with; tomato and cheese pie for Lynn). We looked for family names on the war memorial plaques but saw none. There was not a lot to attract tourists to Denny; it’s not a quaint or pretty town, it has a mediocre center-area with few restaurants or food shops to be seen. It looked like a typical working-class industrial town.

From Denny we drove to Stirling Castle in the council (like a county) seat of Stirling and parked the land-yacht (£4 to park), but we didn’t take the castle tour (another £14 per person). Instead we walked around the grounds and cemetery, took pictures, bought some postcards, and enjoyed the bright blue sky and warm sun. We ate lunch at the Portcullis Hotel below the Stirling Castle car park.

After Stirling we traveled through a corner of one of Scotland’s most famous national parks: The Trossachs [1] . This national park encompasses a large collection of Lochs, the main ones being Loch Achray, Loch Venachar, Loch Katrine, and Loch Lomond. We stopped for a few minutes at a car pull-off by Loch Achray to enjoy the view and stretch our legs.

From there we drove to the village of Killin, also in the council region of Stirling, where the River Dochart tumbles over rocks and forms the photogenic Falls of Dochart, by a narrow stone bridge. We had coffee and a scone with butter and jam at the Falls of Dochart Inn across the street from the river and just before the bridge. The pub in the Inn has been made to look older than it is, but it still felt the part with an open fire in a suspended hearth-grate, dim lighting and a "wee old lady" (mannequin) sitting by the fire.

We stopped to view the Fortingall Yew in the churchyard in the village of Fortingall by the River Lyon. The Fortingall Yew is an ancient yew tree in the churchyard. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years, but it is more likely to be nearer the lower limit of 2,000 years. This still makes it one of the oldest known trees in Europe. The yew's once massive trunk (52 feet in girth when it was first taken notice of in writing, in 1769) with a top of unknown original height, is split into several separate stems now, giving the impression of several smaller trees, with loss of the heartwood rings that would establish its true age. This is a result of the natural decay of the ancient heartwood, which reduced the center of the trunk down to ground level by 1770. Other than this the tree is still in good health and may last for many more centuries. By 1833 it was noted that "large arms had been removed and even masses of the trunk carried off, to make drinking-cups and other curiosities." It is protected by a low wall erected in 1785 to preserve it but it can still be easily viewed. Fortingall is also worth a visit for the unusual thatch roofed cottages and the excellent Fortingall Hotel beside the churchyard, with an attached pub mischievously named the “Ewe.”

We tried to visit the Croft Moraig Stone Circle, near Aberfeldy, with its concentric stone rings and outliers on an artificial platform, but the area is now on private land and there were barbed wire and NO TRESSPASSING signs all around; it was not inviting, so we chose to gaze at it from a distance. The history of the site is known from an excavation in 1965: about 5000 years ago, a horseshoe arrangement of fourteen wide wooden posts was erected in an ellipse 7 meters by 8 meters. This was surrounded by a ditch. The posts were later replaced by eight stones of graded height. Another smaller stone stood just outside. Some Neolithic pottery was found related to this phase of the site. A rubble bank was created outside the stones and cup-marked stones added that aligned with the southern moonset and the midsummer sunrise. A twelve-meter diameter circle of twelve large stones was constructed and a couple of large outlying stones added.

We had a bit of trouble finding our guest house in Pitlochry (the Bendarroch House), but the gentleman at the Pitlochry information center gave us Google Map directions. We thought it was in Pitlochry town itself, but it is situated at the foot of the Grampian Mountains, on the banks of the River Tay between the towns of Pitlochry and Aberfeldy on a back road off the main road. The land-yacht barely fit in the driveway

We went to McKays Pub & Restaurant in Pitlochry for dinner. Megan had haddock fish & chips, Lynn had Haggis & Tatties [mashed potatoes] and Neeps [mashed turnips], and Gene had a lamb steak and chips. Pints of beer and two scotches (Aberfeldy 16 year for Gene and Glenrorach 12 year for Megan) finished the dinner off, and it was back to the Bendarroch House for the night. Gene stayed up doing picture annotation and journal entries until ~11 pm.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013 – Queen’s View, Blair Castle, Highlander Inn Craigalachie, Elgin

We had a great breakfast at the Bendarroch House the next morning, with good conversation at breakfast with fellow travelers from Kentucky who were also visiting Scotland for the first time. The weather was moving quickly through rain and sun and back so we had to plan for all options. We packed up and hit the road about 11 am.

Our first stop (4 miles off the B8079 main road on a narrow winding road called the B8019) was a short distance from Pitlochry, the “Queen’s View,” one of the best known viewpoints in Scotland; it offers a great panorama over Loch Tummel. The loch is traversed by roads on both north and south banks, offering splendid views of the surrounding countryside. The best is probably this “Queen's View” from the north shore, which Queen Victoria supposedly made famous in 1866. It offers a magnificent vista over the loch with Schiehallion (a prominent mountain) in the background. It is also claimed that the view was originally named after Queen Isabel, wife of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329.

We hit off-and-on showers from the guest house all the way to the Queen’s View parking lot, but while we were climbing the 200 yards up to the lookout point it started raining hard, and then sleeting, and then hailing! We didn’t stay up there very long and the pictures we took were not very good. We scooted back down and into the gift shop for postcards and tchotchkes and to wait for the rain to let up. In typical fashion, the rain let up and it partially cleared within a few minutes, so Megan ran back up to the lookout point and snapped a panorama with her smartphone that came out quite good!

From Queen’s View we drove back out to the B8079 but just before reconnecting with that road we stopped at the Garry River Bridge for a photo-op.

Once back to the B8079 we went north to Blair Atholl and spent a few hours at Blair Castle. We saw a piper serenading visitors, accompanied by a power-washer, took a self-guided tour through three floors of the castle, saw lots of guns and swords and deer antlers in the castle, and toured the Hercules Garden. We also ate lunch in the cafeteria-style restaurant at the castle, JUST before a full tour-bus of Germans descended on the restaurant and made a quiet lunch into a mob-scene!

By then it was after 3 pm, so we hit the road from Blair Castle with the intent of driving straight through to Elgin and our hotel for the next two nights. We drove through the ancient Caledonian forest of Rothiemurchus, where we saw lots of tall Scot’s Pine trees. Rothiemurchus Forest is a remnant of the Caledonian Forest near Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey, in the Highlands. The forest is popular for recreation, but contains some of the most important wildlife in Europe, including osprey, Scottish crossbill, capercaillie [2], crested tit and wild cats.

Stretching from the River Spey to the high mountain plateau, Rothiemurchus forms one of the most treasured areas of the Cairngorms National Park. Its natural splendor of forest, loch, glen and mountain has attracted visitors for centuries. A living Highland estate in the ownership of the Grant family since the 16th century, it is cared for today by Johnnie Grant, 13th Earl of Dysart and 16th Laird of Rothiemurchus, his wife Philippa and their family.

We stopped for dinner at the Highlander Inn in Craigellachie (we all had soup – carrot-orange-tarragon for Megan and Gene and leek and bacon for Lynn; Gene had a sirloin steak [not very good] with chips, mushrooms, and whisky sauce; Lynn had salad, Megan had black pudding; Lynn had a caramel thingie with ice cream for dessert) and some more single-malt (Lagavulin Undercover [3] 14-year and Balvenie Portwood 21-year), and continued to Elgin and the Premier Inn on the edge of an industrial park, a fairly large city.


Thursday, 2 May 2013 – Whisky Fest, Train, Glenfiddich, Gordon & MacPhail, Granary, Mansfield Inn

The Premier Inn is a chain of European hotels that reminds me of the Red Roof Inn or Motel 6. No restaurant or extra amenities. Breakfast was next door to the Premier Inn in the Linkwood Lodge. It’s a utilitarian place to stay; someplace to sleep, a bathroom, a TV, spotty Wi-Fi, a place to park your vehicle, a vending machine for drinks and snacks; not much else, not even an elevator.

After breakfast we called for a taxi to Keith for the “Glenfiddich Explorer Tour by Train” event, one of our two ticketed events at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (http://www.spiritofspeyside.com/). We had to wait at the Keith station for the Whisky Train. The Keith and Dufftown Railway opened in 1862 through the Morayshire countryside from Dufftown over the Fiddich Viaduct and via Loch Park, Drummuir, Towiemore and Auchindachy to Keith Town Station. The line shut down in the 1960s but was reopened in the 1980s by the Keith & Dufftown Railway Association, which is run entirely by volunteers and operates the most northerly heritage railway in the United Kingdom.

The Whisky Train from Keith to Dufftown left at 12:05 pm with 25-30 people and a BBC film crew documenting the event. Whisky drams with shortbread or whisky cake were served while we traveled the eleven miles to Dufftown. For two groups who booked the entire experience (us included) a light lunch (soup and finger sandwiches) was served in a non-rolling train dining car, then we walked the third of a mile from the train station to the Glenfiddich Distillery for our first of eventually four distillery tours and tastings.

After an introductory video in an auditorium, we followed our German guide (Katharine Pohl?) deep into the Distillery. We saw where the barley is prepared and fermented. We walked through the Still House and found out how Stillmen capture the sweetest part of the distillate from unusually shaped copper stills. We went to Warehouse 8, home to the Solera Vat where whiskies aged in different barrels are “married.” We finished with a tasting of whiskies in the VIP suite to appreciate the full taste of the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old whiskies.

After the tour we walked back to the Dufftown train station for the ride back to Keith, and took a taxi back to our hotel. After a short rest we took another taxi to the Gordon and MacPhail Whisky shop for the “Sweet Drams – Whisky and Chocolate Pairings.” We sampled five whiskies (Balblair 10-year, Glenturret ??-year, Mortlach 15-year, Macallan 10-year, Caol Ila 10-year) paired with five truffle chocolates (lime-filled chocolate for the Balblair, caramel chocolate for the Glenturret, raspberry chocolate for the Mortlach, pineapple chocolate with the Macallan, ginger chocolate with the Caol Ila) and compared tasting notes among the 30 or so people around the big conference table. We learned a lot about how to taste as well as what we were tasting.

After the whisky-tasting we bought a few things in the Gordon and MacPhail shop (Megan liked the Caol Ila 10-year from the tasting so much she bought a bottle to bring home) and headed out into Elgin for dinner. We tried to eat at the Thunderton House pub but they did not serve food after 7pm, so we walked next door to the Granary for dinner (Gene and Lynn had “Balmoral Chicken” [chicken with haggis], Megan had a green salad with chicken). After dinner we walked to The Mansfield Inn for more whisky, had a Caol Ila and a Bruichladdich.

Then we took a taxi back to the Premier Inn to plan tomorrow’s drive and get some sleep.


Friday, 3 May 2013 – Culloden, Inverness, Loch Ness, Fort William, Glenspean Lodge, New Whiskies

We slept in a little later this morning after all the whisky and running around at the Whisky Festival; we woke up at 7:45am, and had breakfast at the restaurant beside the Premier Inn again.

We got on the road by about 9:30 am, gassed up at an Esso station (not Exxon!) on the A96 road not far from the hotel (£1.37 a liter, £67 total for a half-tank fill), and drove to the Scottish National Memorial Culloden Battlefield, where we toured the visitor’s center and then Megan and I walked the battlefield in a light rain. The Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) was the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. On 16 April 1746, the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart (a.k.a. “Bonnie Prince Charlie”) fought loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, in the Culloden Moor near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The Hanoverian victory at Culloden decisively halted the Jacobite intent to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne; Charles Stuart never mounted any further attempts to challenge Hanoverian power in Great Britain. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil. Afterward we had lunch in the cafeteria.

From the Culloden Battlefield we drove to Inverness and through the downtown of Inverness (a bigger city than I expected). Then from Inverness we drove the A82 along the length of Loch Ness, with low-hung clouds and a light to moderate rain the entire route. We stopped to take the obligatory photos of the famous Loch Ness, looking for its secretive resident.

We arrived in Fort William and the Distillery House Guest House to find that our reservations did not start until the next day, and there was a huge bicycle rally for fund-raising for cancer in the area so most other B&Bs and hotels were booked up. Luckily, we found rooms for the night about 15 miles away at the Glenspean Lodge hotel in Roy Bridge. It was a “Best Western” hotel by association, but unlike any Best Western we’ve ever stayed in or seen! Spectacular building that had been originally built in the 1880s as a private hunting lodge for Laird Macintosh of Macintosh, the property has been added to over the years and extensively refurbished. This place can be accurately described as luxurious, with modern amenities and an awesome restaurant and whisky bar!

We had a delightful dinner in the hotel bar (Gene and Megan had venison on clapshot [mashed turnips and potatoes] with a red current reduction sauce, Lynn had slow-roasted pork on mashed potatoes with a "Swedish" sauce), followed by one dessert (Rhubarb tart with cream sauce) tasted by all but mostly for Lynn, and seven whiskies passed around by the three of us; a Dalwhinnie, an Edradour 10, a Longmorn 16, and a set of three Edradour cask-strengths: Portwood (twice), Chardonnay, and Sauterne.


Saturday, 4 May 2013 – Glenfinnan, Mallaig, Fort William, Crannog

Breakfast at the Glenspean Lodge hotel was great – I had poached eggs on haggis, Lynn had poached eggs on black pudding, Megan had smoked salmon on scrambled eggs. Then we packed up once again and drove back to Fort William and out the A830 to the Glenfinnan Monument Visitor’s Center to view the Glenfinnan Monument and the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the stone-arched train bridge seen in three of the Harry Potter movies. The view of the viaduct from the Visitor’s Center was nothing like what we expected. The curve of the raised train tracks was imperceptible from this vantage (all the postcards show an aerial view like in the movies, probably from a helicopter), and the restored heritage steam-engine train that gives rides across the viaduct didn’t start running until late May so we struck out there, too. (On our return stop at the visitor’s center Megan found a muddy slippery path up the hillside that offered a better view of the monument and the viaduct, but still not like the postcards)

From the visitor’s center we continued on the A830 to Mallaig (via a detour along the A8008, a narrow coastal road) where we ate lunch (a delicious prawn and scallop chowder) at the Fishmarket Restaurant.

After lunch we drove back along the A830 back to Fort William, but stopped again at the Glenfinnan Monument Visitor’s Center for a quick catnap for the driver and some coffee, and where Megan found the path up the hillside with a better view.

We checked into the Distillery Guest House in Fort William and while Lynn took a quick catnap before dinner, Megan and I walked across the street to a tourist’s mall with all sorts of touristy “stuff” from whisky to shortbread to kilts to CDs. I bought some clan books and a clan keychain, some CDs and a few nips of whisky for “emergency” purposes.

For dinner we headed to the Crannog Seafood Restaurant on the Town Pier in Fort William, where we had Inverlochy Salmon Parcels (flaked salmon wrapped in cold smoked salmon with marie-rose and a beetroot salsa verde) and West Coast Mussels (steamed with white wine, garlic and cream) for appetizers, then I had Dover sole with capers in pesto and olive oil, topped with asparagus, arugula and chard, Lynn had Sole Fillets served with asparagus, spring onion mashed potatoes and lemon hollandaise, and Megan had John Dory [4] fillets on a leek and smoked haddock risotto.

Back at the hotel we sat in the lounge off the breakfast room and planned out tomorrow’s agenda while sipping some Edradour 10-year whisky bought as a nip from the tourist mall.


Sunday, 5 May 2013 – Ballachulish, Castle Stalker, Dunstaffnage Castle, Oban, Temple Wood, Ferry, Islay

We had breakfast at the Distillery Guest House in Fort William, then checked out and hit the A82 along the shores of Loch Linnhe to Ballachulish. We connected up with the A828 to Oban, and then stopped at the Ballachulish Hotel for scenery photos when the sun finally came out for a few minutes.

We also stopped at Castle Stalker (“Stall-ker”) for photos. Castle Stalker (Scottish Gaelic: Caisteal an Stalcaire) is a four-story tower house or keep picturesquely set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet off Loch Linnhe. It is located about 1½ miles northeast of Port Appin, and is visible from the A828 road around mid-way between Oban and Glencoe. The name "Stalker" comes from the Gaelic Stalcaire, meaning "hunter" or "falconer", and should therefore be pronounced stall-ker, with the L sounded, not as in the pronunciation of the English word that sounds like "stocker." In recent times the castle was brought to fame by the Monty Python team, appearing in their film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (the Castle Aargh! at the end of the movie was Castle Stalker). The castle also appeared in the film “Highlander: Endgame.”

After driving over the Connel Bridge (an odd 1-lane bridge with old roadbed and new-ish steel superstructure) we hooked up with the A85 towards Oban. On the way we stopped at the Dunstaffnage Castle. The castle dates back to the 13th century, making it one of Scotland's oldest stone castles. Guarding a strategic location, it was built by the MacDougall lords of Lorn, and has been held since the 15th century by the Clan Campbell. To this day there is a hereditary Captain of Dunstaffnage, although they no longer reside at the castle. Dunstaffnage is maintained by Historic Scotland, and is open to the public, although the 16th century gatehouse is retained as the private property of the Captain. The prefix dun in the name means "fort" in Gaelic, while the rest of the name derives from Norse stafr-nis, "headland of the staff". The castle is in ruins, but has enough of its walls remaining intact to enable you to get a good sense of how it might have looked in its better days. We didn’t pay to go in to the castle, as the nice lady collecting money for tickets in the gift shop counseled us out of it. She reminded us that it was a castle ruins, and had no roof, so we were going to get wet in the rain no matter what. She suggested that we visit the chapel through the woods (which was free) instead, which we did.

In Oban, we stopped at the Ee-usk restaurant on the North Pier in Oban for lunch. The views from the restaurant over Oban Bay to Kerrera and the Mull and Morvern Hills are magnificent. Ee-usk means 'Fish' in phonetic Gaelic (the actual Gaelic word is “éisc”). Gene and Megan had fishcakes - fresh and smoked salmon blended with potato, served with salad and cucumber mayo. Lynn had haddock fish and chips. Megan finished with a “Chocolate Shot” for dessert, listed as being "deliciously intense for chocoholics only."

In Kilmartin after lunch, we visited the Nether Largie Standing Stones and the Temple Wood Stone Circles. Nether Largie standing stones are composed of four menhirs (tall upright stones of a kind erected in prehistoric times in western Europe), arranged in pairs approximately 230 feet apart, with a single menhir in the middle, around which are seven smaller stones and one fallen one. Another menhir is 330 feet to the northwest leading towards the circle.

Temple Wood (or Half Moon Wood) is an ancient site also located in Kilmartin Glen. The site includes two circles (north and south). The southern circle contains a ring of 13 standing stones 40 feet in diameter. In the past it may have had 22 stones. In the center is a burial cist surrounded by a circle of stones about 10 feet in diameter. Other later burials are associated with the circle. According to the Historic Scotland information marker at the site, the southern circle's first incarnation may have been constructed around 3000 BC.

The northern circle is smaller and consists of rounded river stones (which also fill the southern circle). In its center is a single stone; another stone is found on the edge of the circle. This circle may have originated as a timber circle. The name of the site originates in the 19th century (coinciding with the planting of trees around the circles) and has no relevance to the purpose of the site.

From Kilmartin we drove to the Kennacraig Ferry Terminal (run by Caledonian MacBrayne, the major operator of passenger and vehicle ferries, and ferry services, between the mainland of Scotland and most of the islands on Scotland's west coast) to get our van in line to load onto the ferry for Islay. The ferry ride took 2 hours, while we rode in an enclosed cabin in a lounge with bar and gift shop on one deck and a lounge and cafeteria on the another deck. We had beer and whiskies on the ride.

Once we off-loaded from the ferry into the town of Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay, we drove the ten miles across the island (and through the peat-cutting bogs) on what’s got to be the straightest road in Scotland, to the village of Bowmore. We checked into the Lochside Hotel and had a great meal in the hotel restaurant, then hit the bar for a whisky or two.


Monday, 6 May 2013 (Bank Holiday) – Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Islay Woolen Mills, Port Charlotte

We had breakfast at the Lochside Hotel in Bowmore where we were staying, then were off to Port Ellen on the other side of the island (over that straightest road in Scotland again) to the Lagavulin Distillery north of port Ellen for a 10:30 am Warehouse Demonstration Tour (£15). This tour examines the journey of Lagavulin whisky through the maturation process. We started off with the “new made” spirit and tasted that, and worked through samples drawn, right in front of us, from duty-paid casks of 3-year, 8-year, 15-year, and 31-year whisky; 5 generous drams in all (the 31-year costs £50 a dram usually). The Lagavulin Legend, Iain MacArthur, hosted our tour. The tour included a complimentary tasting glass. I audio-recorded the whole presentation. I had originally booked the Warehouse Demo Tour at 10:30 am and a standard tour at 11:30, but the tour coordinator said that we wouldn’t be back from the warehouse tour in time for the 11:30 am standard tour, so we cancelled it.

From Lagavulin we headed for Ardbeg distillery (just up the road a mile) to get some lunch at their café. There was some concern among the other passengers whether or not I was capable of driving a gi-normous van on the wrong side of the road after five generous drams of high-alcohol whisky before noon, but I was perfectly fine. The café had a wait and lunch took a little time, so we were in a rush to get over to the other side of the island (near Port Charlotte) for the 3pm Bruichladdich tour. We barely made it. The tour, given by Julie ???, was also great, with more samples – and another tasting glass – at the end.

From there, we drove to the Islay Wool Mill in Bridgend (I bought a hat, Lynn bought some stuff too), where the mill owner regaled us with stories of the high security in evidence when Prince Charles once visited, compared to the casual unimposing visit from the Queen. This wool mill made all the kilts for the movie “Braveheart” and others.

From the mill we doubled back past the Bruichladdich Distillery to The Port Charlotte Hotel for dinner. We ate in the “Conservatory” which is the usual breakfast room because the upstairs pub was full. It was like having a private dining room with an ocean view!

From there we headed back to Bowmore to the Lochside Hotel for one more night, with a few drams in the bar as a nightcap first.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013 – Ferry, Tarbert, Loch Lomond, Edinburgh, Wedgwood, Royal Mile

We had an early (7:30 am) breakfast at the Lochside Hotel so we could check out quickly and drive to Port Ellen for our ferry reservations on the 9:45 am voyage. We missed the sign at the desk asking people who had to catch an early ferry to check out the night before, so we had to ask the bookkeeper to tally up our bill the moment she came in (evidently the night staff is supposed to do that the night before, but it’s often overlooked). Check-in for the ferry is required by 9:15 am, and we were about 20 minutes early so our van was in the front of line 5 of 6.

The ferry landed back in Kennacraig at 11:50 am, and from there we drover to Tarbert to look for a particular craft and artisan gallery and shop, then to Inveraray for lunch at Brambles Restaurant (had another potato scone and some great sandwiches) and we did some whisky shopping at Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inveraray, described as a “Wee” shop with a massive collection of whisky and a free dram for visitors, where we bought a beautiful bottle/decanter of Edradour 14-year cask-strength Sherrywood-finished whisky. We then hopped in the van and drove straight through to Edinburgh, with one stop at a park on the shores of Loch Lomond.

We checked in at The Lairg Hotel (11 Coates Gardens) and grabbed a cab to “Wedgwood, The Restaurant” at 267 Cannongate on the Royal Mile, where we had grabbed their last reservation slot before 9 pm. We had a spectacular meal, one of the prettiest – and best tasting – we’ve ever had anywhere, and then walked up the Royal Mile to the castle before hiking down the hill to Prince’s Street where we flagged a cab to take us back to our hotel. Our room was literally right off the foyer (but I wasn’t bothered by any noise), and Megan’s room was in another building down under the front door in a row of brownstone-like buildings!


Wednesday, 8 May 2013 – Edinburgh, Royal Mile Shopping, Canon’s Gait, Drive to Glasgow

I was up early at 6am so I worked on my photo annotation, and we all met for breakfast at 8:30am. We had parked on the street which costs money from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm each day, but we had arrived after 6:00 pm so we didn’t have to pay the night before. We weren’t going to check out until after the pay start-time, but I forgot about having to “pay and display” for on-street parking that morning. Luckily Megan remembered and we got paid up just before getting a parking ticket!

We packed up the van, checked out of the hotel, and headed out to find the parking lot the Russian manager/owner of the Lairg Hotel told us about. Lots of streets are under construction in Edinburgh (they’re building an on-street tram line) with some of them totally blocked off, but we finally found the parking lot (more like a dirt parking “field” with ticket machines to pay at). We didn’t have enough coins to “pay and display” for the entire time we planned to stay there, but we did the best we could. One has to take a few risks once in a while!

From the parking lot we walked to the “Bagpipes Galore” store to check out the bagpipes and chanters and bagpipe-CD selections. We bought some new CDs, and I bought a replacement reed for my chanter at home and an “En-Chanter” tin-whistle-style chanter. After that we took a cab to the bottom of the “Royal Mile” by the Palace of Holyroodhouse (where the Queen stays when she’s in Edinburgh) . Megan took off to climb Arthur's Seat (the main peak of the group of hills which form most of Holyrood Park, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design") and Lynn and I spent the afternoon strolling up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle (a fortress which dominates the skyline of Edinburgh, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock).

The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh. The thoroughfare, as the name suggests, is approximately one mile long and runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace. The streets which make up the Royal Mile are (west to east) Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Cannongate and Abbey Strand. The Royal Mile is the busiest tourist street in the Old Town.

We popped in to a bunch of shops along the way, including three whisky shops looking for the Edradour Portwood whisky, which we finally found in the Royal Mile Whisky Shop. We ate lunch in the Canon’s Gait (a play on words for the street name) – pork and haggis sausages on mashed potatoes with a Guinness to wash it down for Gene, and Leek and Potato Soup with a great salad and a Guinness for Lynn.

Around 3pm we stopped at the Missoni Hotel on King James IV Bridge for tea and coffee and scones with clotted cream, then we finished the climb to the castle where we met up with Megan and caught a cab back to the parking lot where we left the van. From there we drove the 50 miles or so (through a few significant traffic backups) to Glasgow Airport via the M8, where we checked into our hotel (a very nice Holiday Inn), ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, and packed our bags with souvenirs and dirty clothes for the flight home tomorrow.


Thursday, 9 May 2013 – Drop off van, Fly Home

We rose and tried to shine at 5 am for a quick shower and got dressed and finished packing. The whisky bottles had to be carefully cushioned in one suitcase, and the whisky glasses carefully cushioned in the other. We scattered the tchotchkes among both bags.

No-one wanted food or coffee that early so we packed the bags back into the van and drove literally “around the corner” to the rental-car drop-off. Enterprise Rent-a-car wasn’t open that early so we parked the van in the lot and schlepped our bags and carry-ons across the street to the Enterprise check-in terminal where we dropped the keys in the early-bird drop-off box. There was only a one-person Aer Lingus counter at the airport, but it wasn’t crowded (maybe 3 parties ahead of us), so we tie-wrapped the suitcases with the liquid gold as an attempt at thwarting thieves and sent the bags on their way, all the way to Boston (my suitcase locking mechanism had broken when I pried off the tie-wrap on arrival so I had the glasses and CDs and tchotchkes that hopefully wouldn’t be attractive to baggage-handling thieves).

Glasgow airport is like an Ikea for duty-free shopping; you HAVE to go through the extensive duty-free shop (whisky, beer, jewelry, cigarettes, clothing, and on and on) to get to the gates. Clever marketers, these Scottish!

Both flights were uneventful. The main flight wasn’t quite as empty as the flight over, but there were still plenty of empty seats for those that wanted to relocate. We landed at Logan about 1:15 pm EDT, disembarked, headed to the luggage carousel which disgorged our bags fairly quickly (that’s not the Logan I remember!), hit the rest rooms before passport control, then customs, and out on the street waiting for the Logan Express Bus to Woburn before we knew what hit us! We had to wait for the bus a bit – maybe a half hour – then off to ARTC. Checked at the lost-and-found to see if my jacket had been turned in from the trip to Logan (no luck), got the van out of hock (11 days at $7 a day), and drove to the house. We got home about 3pm.


The End!


[1] The Trossachs National Park encompasses around 720 sq miles of some of the finest scenery in Scotland and is split into four distinct areas; Loch Lomond, the Argyll Forest, the Trossachs (the wild glens and sparkling lochs between Callander and Aberfoyle), and Breadalbane (where some of Scotland’s finest Munro [3000 foot or higher] peaks line the route from Tyndrum to Killin and down through Glen Ogle).

[2] The capercaillie is a bird the size of a turkey that lives in the Scots pinewoods in the north of Scotland. They became extinct in Britain in 1785 and have been reintroduced at various times since 1837. The capercaillie is well known for the strange clicking, gulping and saw whetting calls that males make when they display at clearings in the woods known as leks.

[3] At the whisky festival in Gent in 2009, whisky was bottled with labels that gave no indication of the distillery, and the professional "noses" were challenged to identify the distiller. Although the distillery names are undisclosed, some hints on the labels (and extra hints from the nose of the whisky) make it pretty easy to guess some of them. Only 196 of the Lagavulin Undercover 14-years were bottled.

[4] John Dory, also known as St Pierre or Peter's Fish, refers to fish of the genus Zeus, especially Zeus faber, of widespread distribution. It is an edible benthic coastal marine fish with a laterally compressed olive-yellow body which has a large dark spot, and long spines on the dorsal fin. The dark spot is used to flash an 'evil eye' if danger approaches the John Dory. Its large eyes at the front of the head provide it with binocular vision and depth perception, which are important for predators. The John Dory’s eye spot on the side of its body also confuses prey, which are scooped up in its big mouth.



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