Monday, June 25, 2012

For the Love of Scotland

I’m home from a 10-day island-hopping extravaganza in Scotland. It was wonderful. Scotland is always wonderful. In my most humble way I’ll say that this is my 5th trip, and I am busily planning for trip 6. If I could afford to buy a place there and spend months at a time, I would, that’s how much I love being there.

So, the latest trip. This trip and the last 2 were with a group of friends, who are part a of a scotch-drinking group at the Dundee Dell here in Omaha. The Dell has over 800 open stock bottles of scotch and hosts a scotch tasting on the 1st Sunday of every month. Yes, I like scotch. Do I like it as much as these other guys? Wellllllll, maybe not at that level, but I do really enjoy a good dram, and I enjoy tasting different ones.

Every 3 years this group goes on a distillery tour of Scotland, and I jump on those coat tails for a trip to Scotland. Sure, it’s not the trip I would plan out for myself—not a single woolen mill or yarn shop on the list. However, I’ve been all over Scotland, so it’s been worth every tour.

This latest trip was a bit of a diversion. Normally, they’d be going next year on their regular distillery extravaganza, but we all wanted to go to the Islay Whisky and Music Festival, Feis Ile. We also wanted to go to some of the islands in the Inner Hebrides, specifically Mull and Skye. Everything about this trip was different from the others, and that’s a good thing. Sure, we went to distilleries, but we also had more time for shopping and just walking around, doing touristy things. It was awesome!
Let me give you the down and dirty outline of what we did. Later I will do posts dedicated to different aspects of the trip.
We landed in Edinburgh and immediately headed to south to Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay. The first rule of traveling the islands: Don’t Miss the Ferry! We docked in Port Askaig, Islay, and said “Hello old friend!”
We dropped the bags at the Bowmore Hotel, then walked down to the Bowmore Distillery for their open day. Each distillery has an “open day” which is their celebration and each distillery produces a special festival bottling, available on that day. We were way too late to get a bottle, but we did get in a tour, a few drams, and listened to some great music. Dinner at the hotel, then we all crashed.
Next day was the Kilchoman (keel-ho-man) Distillery’s open day, and we went early for a tour. Then, we joined the line to buy the festival bottle. Well, my husband and one of the other ladies from the group stood in line. I walked around and did other shopping in their gift shop and got the hubby a cup of coffee and a slice of sponge cake. He stood in line for an hour, the least I could do was feed him some refreshments. After that, we ate a delicious lunch at the Bridgend Hotel (where I’d like to stay next time), then headed over to Bruichladdie (brook lahdee) Distillery for a tour with the manager, Duncan. Bruichladdie is one of my favorite distilleries and I always recommend it as a place to tour. Then we had dinner at the Harbour Inn. We continually go there and it is continually way too expensive. Tasted good, though.
Next we went on the Ardbeg boat ride, as in a boat ride sponsored by Ardbeg Distillery. We left from Ardbeg on a powerboat that took us out onto the MacTaggart estate to a bothy cottage where we had lobster for lunch and a whole lot of Ardbeg, including the festival bottling. 

After that we made a whirlwind tour to other distilleries to buy whisky. We went to Laphroig, Caol Ila, and Bunnahabain, which was winding down its open day. That night we had dinner at the Indian restaurant in Bowmore, which we will never do again.
Next day was Ardbeg’s Open Day, so we, of course, went and got the bottle, while some of the guys played golf. Ardbeg’s activities had an Olympic theme, so there were games and a parade of nations, which we participated in. We marched to the Proclaimers’ “100 miles” with a guy from Colorado who held the flag. We finally ate at the café (always wanted to and never had before) and had delicious soup and a sandwich. Afterwards we went to see the Kildalton Cross and the cemetery. The wonderful people at the Bowmore Hotel squeezed us in for dinner, even though they were swamped with a birthday party. And it was delicious.
Early morning to catch the ferry the following day. We drove up to Oban, getting there early enough to explore. We went to the Oban Distillery, did a tasting, and bought a bottle. I kind of like this pattern of no tours, just drinking and buying. Anyway, Oban is a tourist trap—it’s population triples in the summer. There are 2 great knitting shops, but it was Sunday, and they were closed. Later we took the ferry to the Isle of Mull. We got to the Western Isles Hotel just in time for dinner—the most amazing dinner with the best view.

Mull is gorgeous and has a cute village with some nice little shops. It also is the home of Tobermory Distillary, where we had a great tour. We had time to do some shopping before getting on the ferry back to the mainland for a very twisty, curvy road up the western coastline to catch the next ferry to the Isle of Skye. We got to the Advasar Hotel and hung out in their pub and had dinner.
I wish we had had more time on Skye. It’s a gorgeous place. We toured the Talisker Distillery, which is a fabulous whisky but a horrible tour. We drove around some, did some shopping in Portree before going to Uig to catch the ferry to Isle of Harris, where we, again, got there in time for dinner at the hotel.
The Isles of Lewis and Harris are the same landmass, but they are vastly different. Lewis is more rocky. We went to St. Clement’s Church then headed over to Harris and toured the Abhainn Dearg distillery. This was a real treat because they are just getting started. It’s very compact and laid back. I felt lucky to have seen it and bought a bottle of their 3 year old. We drove around a little more, then headed to our hotel, the Thorlee Guest House for the night.
The next morning we took the ferry to Ulapool on the mainland and started our gorgeous, scenic route across the northern coastline to Thurso, waaaaay on the other side of the Highlands. It’s at Thurso that the hubby and I met knitter/podcaster Louise and went to her house for dinner with her husband and kids. It was one of the best times we had on the trip.
The next day we headed south, stopping at Old Pultney Distillery and The Dalmore Distillery to do some shopping, before stopping in Inverness. We stayed at The Glen Mhor Hotel, a lovely place on the river, and had a great dinner after a day of shopping and just walking around the city. After being on the remote islands, we felt a little claustrophobic until we got used to it.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed to Edinburgh. Even though we got stuck in traffic for some bridge repair, we got into Edinburgh early enough to walk around the Royal Mile, do some shopping, do some sightseeing, and have dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, before going to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, called “The Vaults.”
All too soon it was time for one more sleep then back to the airport to fly home.
That is more than enough for one post! Did I lose anyone? The posts after this will be more focused. Hope you come back!


KathyA said...

I've always wanted to visit Scotland -- it's on our 'list'. I can understand why this has become a favorite place for you. Let's hear it for trips # 6, 7 & 8!!

Caffeine Girl said...

Thanks for taking us along. I've always wanted to get to Scotland. I know so many Americans who love traveling there.

moira said...

you make be proud to be scottish! I'm glad you enjoy my country - it is an amazing place