4/9: Looking for Keith

We eventually found someone in Dundee who could tell us where Keith's street was -- but as it was right by the football stadium where tonight's national quarterfinal game (or something like that) between Dundee and Falkirk was being played, we decided it would be crazy to try to navigate that area.

Edinburgh was where we planned to spend our last night, before driving across to Glasgow first thing in the morning. But nothing downtown seemed affordable or worth staying in, and rather than poke around, we decided to head for Glasgow and just stay in one of the hotels by the airport, so as to skip the rush-hour drive. Just as well; there's some construction on the M8, and our drive from Edinburgh would probably have taken much longer in the morning than it did tonight. It was about an hour from the St. James Place parking garage in Edinburgh to the petrol station at the airport, where we topped up the car before we return it in the morning.

Before bed, I called my friend Beth, to whose surprise going-away party I'd been invited but couldn't attend. I was pleasantly surprised to find her cell phone number in my Palm, so I gave her a ring late in the two-hour stretch of evening Sharon had told me the party was scheduled for. Beth was very surprised to hear from me... and very drunk!

4/9: More Distilleries

We got a relatively early start, planning to visit a couple of distilleries, as well as one of the castles Sandy had recommended. Dunottar, on the coastal route to Dundee, seemed as though it would be easy to get to.

We headed first to Glenfiddich, which the guidebooks said opened at 9:30. We arrived just at 9:30, and the signs agreed with that time. We walked in the front door of the visitor center, found no one, and after a few minutes, wandered around a little. We found some folks in what turned out to be the tasting room, but they exclaimed that we shouldn't be there, and we should wait outside until it was time to open and they'd come unlocked the doors.

I was a bit put off by this, as a) it was time to open, and b) the door had been unlocked! We certainly hadn't broken in! More Glenfiddich & the GlenlivetCollapse )

4/8: Huntly Hotel

Our casual itinerary had us driving to the town of Keith to find someplace to spend the night, but a road detour landed us in Huntly as dinnertime approached. We parked in the town square, and wandered over to the tourist center on one side. It was closed, but had a sheet in the window that listed several B&Bs in the (tiny) town, including the Huntly Hotel, with all of ten rooms.

The hotel was right on the square, a few yards from where our car was, so we figured it was worth peeking in. They had a reasonable B&B room rate, had a dining room in which they'd just started serving dinner, and seemed very friendly, so we took it! The Huntly Hotel turned out to be the absolute gem of the whole week!

Dinner, drinks, explorations...Collapse )

4/8: The Distilleries

The rest of the day brought us to three distilleries... two of which were closed but gave us tours anyway.

First up was Dallas Dhu, an old distillery that's no longer actually operating as anything but a tourist attraction. This seemed to be of marginal amusement value, but it wasn't too bad. They let us taste their regular whisky, but we couldn't taste their uber-special-fancy one unless we bought a bottle. more distilleries...Collapse )

Glenfarclas was one of the first good whiskies I had in my own personal collection, thanks to a gift several years ago from my aunt and uncle. I hadn't heard of it at the time, but I quite liked it. I bought a bottle of the Glenfarclas 105 cask strength. (Guess what! They let us taste a couple of different whiskies first.) We learned the next day that Glenfarclas has also temporarily (I hope) stopped production. They're using their production staff as tour guides, and won't be hiring their usual seasonal tour guide staff. They really ought to start investing in promotion. Meanwhile, if you can find some, buy the stuff. It's good.

4/8: Exploring Inverness

We walked into the hotel dining room at 9:59 for the included breakfast that ended at 10:00. (Yeah, we should've gotten moving quicker.) Instead of finding nothing at all, or stuff being rapidly put away, we were seated by a waitress who said "Let me go tell the chef there are more guests." (It probably didn't hurt that we walked in at the same time as another party.) He came out and fried up some more eggs, which were thus nice and fresh. The only thing missing was the haggis; that dish was just about empty, and I got about a spoonful.

The Ramada is really the Ramada-Jarvis, a very old hotel called the Jarvis that recently affiliated with Ramada. The original was destroyed by fire a couple of decades ago, but there's a neat poster behind the registration desk showing what the old hotel looked like, and listing very old room rates.

We left our car in the convenient hotel parking lot (one of the good reasons to stay there had been the free parking) while we wandered back up to the tourist info center and looked things over. We also checked out the computer store across from the hotel, and tried unsuccessfully to find a place I could plug my laptop in for net access. Everyone wanted to sell me time on their machines. The tourist center had net access for about a third the price of the Mailboxes Etc. that everyone had thought would let me plug in the laptop (they wouldn't), so I skimmed mail there.

We poked around the Inverness Castle, which at this point is the sheriff's office and the city court. It opened for tours in the afternoon, but we decided not to wait around. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the McDonald's on the corner for the Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry that Denise had had her eye on all week.

4/7: Arriving in Inverness

Inverness, the city at the northeast corner of Loch Ness, was probably the prettiest city we saw during our trip. (There were prettier small towns, but Inverness is a serious city.)

When we hit Inverness, there were a couple of pretty tiny-looking B&Bs on the outskirts, then we were in city. The little blue "i" signs pointing to the tourist info center were quite confusing, so we pulled into a parking lot and asked a car mechanic for directions. He gave us very clear and good directions, mentioning the "Johnny Fox's" pub on a corner. The tourist center was closed, but we were now right downtown, with several hotels around.

Hotels and hot tub...Collapse )

4/7: Dunvegan and Talisker

Before our drive up the length of Loch Ness (which reminded me a lot of driving up the west side of Cayuga en route to Rochester or Buffalo), we set out to explore more of the Isle of Skye. Having failed in our plan to get to Lagavulin, hitting Talisker certainly seemed like a fine idea! And, while it was on the opposite side of Skye, with no direct road from Portree, you have to keep in mind that nothing in Scotland is that far from anything else.

Alison happily confirmed our thought that visiting the castle Dunvegan would be a good idea. "Dun" means "castle," though interestingly enough, if you go far enough back the word means "heap." Since castles were originally just heaps of stones, that kinda works out well etymologically. More Dunvegan & TaliskerCollapse )

4/7: Loch Ness

Maybe the weather for our trip was too good. Loch Ness, far from the misty mystery one might imagine, was clear and beautiful. If Nessie was home, we saw no sign of her. Most of the drive along the lake was through unspoiled areas with beautiful views. Sadly, though, if not surprisingly, a couple of towns along the lake are pretty heavily tourist-focused.

We also noticed that the prices were a bit elevated in the area, such as gas prices. For the most part, gas was around 80 pence per liter, but it was a little lower in the cities and a bit higher on Skye and in the northwest.

4/6: Port Righ

Portree, where the Dunsgiath B&B is, is spelled "Port Righ" in Gaelic. Aha! It means "royal harbour," and refers to a visit to the area by King James V of Scotland in 1540.

Dunsgiath itself (it's pronounced roughly "dun-skye") is a quiet, nicely decorated upper two stories of one of the pierside buildings that date back to the 1800s. Alison's not sure how long it's been a guest house; she and Nigel have only owned it seven years, having bought it from someone using it as a private home, but they have a very old photo of the house in which it says "Lodgings" over the door.

4/6: Eilean Donan

It was really the first time we randomly stopped to see an attraction off the road while driving along, and I'm glad we did. The beautiful castle just off the side of the road, Eilean Donan, is a restored (rebuilt, really) castle on the site of the ancient seat of the MacKenzies. It was rebuilt over the course of several years, finishing around 1922, by the MacRae family. They still use it for weddings and family gatherings, it seems, but haven't lived there in decades. It's an active tourist attraction, and was seen in the movie "The Highlander," in the scene when the MacLeods are riding out to battle.