Neolithic Sites
Roman Sites
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Index by Date




Elgin Cathedral
Glen Moray Distillery
Spynie Palace
Glenrothes Castle
Macallan Distillery
Speyside Cooperage
Balvenie Castle
Speyside Scenics
Auchendoun Castle


May 07

Surprisingly un-hung-over, we scrambled down for breakfast and got an early start - lots to do today! We spent out breakfast admiring the lovely decorated dining room and bright morning sunshine--and listening to an American woman complain about absolutely everything in a loud, flat, insistent voice. I wanted to stab her with a fork (and I'm sure her husband, did, too. He sat there absolutely silently, nodding occasionally at her more insistent comments.). She was negative about absolutely everything -- food was awful, yogurt was not organic enough, weather sucks, people were rude, service was slow. She was talking just to talk, I think, just to hear her own voice, but every sound out of her mouth was a complaint about something. Every single bad stereotype you can think of about an American tourist, she was it. I felt the almost irresistible urge to apologize to the Germans and the English couple sharing the breakfast room with us. Dear lord, woman, if you are that unhappy on this sunny, beautiful day with a lovely breakfast and spectacular view….what in the hell would make you happy?

We laughed about how her vacation must be such a huge disappointment to her, what with her not being treated like the Queen, and took our leave to get a start on our day. One of the other hotel guests in town for the Whisky Festival strongly encouraged us to go to the Glen Moray distillery for their tour, up near Elgin - raved about it, and so off we went. Stopped for fuel: 73 pounds for a tank of regular. Eek!

Best Distillery Tour

The Glen Moray Distillery is really small, and tucked back in a residential area of the town, and despite having put the waypoint in the GPS, we drove through Elgin about four times before we hit the right exit on the roundabout. We thought that we'd be able to follow the signs, but we were hopelessly lost after a few wrong turns. We pulled into the local library, figuring they'd have good Internet access so we could look up the location. It wasn't open yet, but we got to see the orange-vested nursery school crowd arrive in clumps of three or four, walking up the road in neat little lines of adults pushing strollers and holding the hands of the older kids. Everyone had orange safety vests on, and we marveled at the hardy Scottish children, red-faced in the wind and wearing just a sweater to keep out the cold, but laughing and running around as if it was a balmy summer day. Nary a hat in sight.

We were actually a little TOO early! Needing to waste some time before the distillery opened, we drove back through Elgin and stopped to visit the Elgin Cathedral,. Braving the astounding wind, we walked around the ruins of the church, poking in the chapels and even climbing up the twin-spired tower to get a look over the town. I went about 2/3 of the way up, Mark braved the teeny little circular stair to go to the very top of the tower and stand out on the wall to take pictures. He said he had to keep a good grip on the railing in the gusts of wind - he compared it to standing on the wing of a plane! It's a beautiful day, really --blue skies and sunshine, with wisps of clouds scudding by a t high speed, of course. We found ourselves ducking into corners just to get some relief from the noise. It's not the force of the wind that's hard to deal with, it's the deafening sounds of it. There were times I wished I had ear-plugs.

Glen Moray has only recently started doing tours (perhaps just with the Festival? I'm not sure) and I will second the recommendation for the tour: absolutely fabulous. We got to poke in every nook and cranny, take pictures everywhere, taste things at every stage of the process, stick our heads into the big vats for a heady noseful of the fermenting wort…much, much more in-depth and personal than any other tour we did on our trip (and we did quite a few: Macallan, Glenlivet, Highland Park, Oban, Glenkinchie). Our tour guide was one of the higher-ups at the distillery (and we also had a chance to talk to the Master Distiller, although he did not really participate in our tour). I can only hope that they retain the small, personalized feel -- this was probably the most informative of the tours we did. We learned a ton about the different stages (wort, wash, blending), about barrels (that bourbon must use new oak barrels, which supplies the barrels for the scotch whisky industry, in most cases, and that the casks must be oak to be called whisky), about aging and blending and bottling.

We had the opportunity to pull our own bottle at the end of the tour, from a single cask they had tapped. We opted for two different 'expressions' -- a 16 year old sherry cask, and their limited release Mountain Spring, neither of which are available in the US. The Mountain Spring bottling is not exported at all. Hah!

More Misguided "fixes"

Since it was nearby, we drove to Spynie Palace (really a bishop's house and tower house, not a palace of any sort) for a quick look-see. We often stop by sites we have visited previously, just for a quick look around. Since we are members, it doesn't cost us anything except a little time, and it's extremely interesting to me to see the differences since our last visit ten years ago. In this case, the change is quite dramatic--since we were last here, they have removed the roof and all the windows have been taken out of the tower. They had been added in the 80s as a way to protect the original plasterwork inside the tower house, but the humidity retained in the building because of the plastic/perspex roof and all the windows (effectively sealing up the building for most of the day) were actually causing MORE damage to the plaster than the rain storms that often soaked the site. The rain was actually less of a problem than capturing the normal daily humidity of the closed building. It wasn't breathing well enough, despite instructions to open al the windows and get cross-ventilation going each morning when the site was opened. So, a few years ago, they removed all their additions and left the roofless tower open to the elements, hopefully enough to dry it out and stop the disintegration of the rare plaster walls.

It was still so windy that getting up on the alls was a bit hazardous (and I was shocked to learn that earlier in the day, the safety inspector for the cables and wires on top of the tower had been dangling off the walls in a safety harness! ) We poked around the tower and talked to the caretaker about the plans for roofing material and if they were going to try some other conservation method for the walls.

The Macallan

Months ago, we had bought tickets to a Macallan Precious Tour -- a special, in-depth tour/tasting only available during the Whisky Festival, and we had only an hour or so to get to the distillery. On the map, it looked as if it should take about ten minutes, but I'm learning to at least double my estimates for time. Mark needed to stop for something to eat, if we were going to taste whisky again, so we popped into a shop for a couple of sandwiches. He brought out a ham and cheese sandwich, and a chicken sandwich with sweet corn for me. Seriously, sandwiches here are quite strange - odd combinations of sweet and savory stuff that is definitely odd to my American tastes (I've been told since that our staple, PB&J, is usually viewed as exceedingly weird by the English). Sometimes I think they just open up the fridge and pick the first two or three things they see and put it between slices of white bread for sandwiches. Ham and fig. Pickle and Mayo. Tuna and Mango. Ham and chutney. Most are quite good, but the combinations are always a surprise.

I tried unsuccessfully to get Mark to stop at Rothes Castle (which we could see from the road!) but we didn't see any obvious way up to the ruin and zoomed by. I did make him stop briefly so I could walk back and take a picture of Glenrothes estate, a stunning Victorian house, which was lit just perfectly by the afternoon sun. He submitted with somewhat ill grace and was feeling quite vindicated when we arrived at the Macallan distillery barely in time to join the tour.

The tour here was not as personal (or even in-depth) as the tour we had at Glen Moray, and we were prevented form taking pictures anywhere inside the buildings, except for the tourist-display on the second floor. It was an interesting tour, with the opportunity to go through a 'smell hall' to sniff some of the primary aromas that appear in whisky -- vanilla, anise, pepper, citrus--before we adjourned to the tasting room to have a guided tasting of several of the different offerings from Macallan. The Macallan is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, second only to Glenlivet, I think. They are expanding aggressively, too --parts of the site are off-limits due to construction. They are going to double e in size in the next couple of years. As for most distilleries, the bulk of their spirits go into blends, but the single malt market is growing rapidly. We were told that the largest market for single-malt Macallan is Taiwan. They consume more single-malt whisky than the US does. Not per-capita, mind you. In total!

Leo and Petra (from the Quaitch Bar last night) were in our tour group. We enjoyed comparing notes in the tasting, where we each got a chance to taste new spirit, 12-year, 12-year fine oak, 18-year and 30-year fine oak. The fine-oak expression is a new one for them; they are experimenting with new oak barrels (vs the bourbon casks or sherry casks of their signature whisky) and the rougher, more acidic taste is extremely popular in Asia and especially Taiwan. I'm not sure why, really. I don't like it at all. It tastes and smells very much like acetone to me, nothing like the smooth, butterscotch-ish taste of the sherry cast aged whisky. Out of all the whisky we've tasted, Macallan 18 is still my favorite.

There is a bridge on the logo for Macallan -- this is the 19th century Telford bridge in Craigallache, we can see it from the hotel. We agree that we should stop to see it.

Uuitwaiien galore!

We had plugged in Dallas Dhu in the GPS as our next stop, but were sidetracked by the storage yards of the Speyside Cooperage and stopped to take some pictures of the thousands of casks stacked in truncated pyramids on the site. We drove along the back side of the cooperage, marveling at the number of casks. Realizing we'd be pressed for time to get to Dallas Dhu before it closed, we decided to go to Balvenie Castle instead, since it was closer. (And, not for the last time, I bitched about the short opening hours for the Historic Scotland sites - everything closes at 4:30 or 5:00. It's light out until almost midnight! C'mon!)

Balvenie is a neat castle - we barely made it inside, but since we were the only ones there, we got to poke around while the caretaker of the site closed up her booth. We still had half an hour or so to walk around, and climbed all the towers and staircases. It's easy to see the different phases of building in the castle yard, from the oldest drum towers to the new, square-topped stair tower attached to rather nice lodgings. This would have been a very comfortable and well-appointed house. There are a lot of decorative details on the outside and in the main courtyard. While it had some fortified walls, this was definitely built as a house and not a fortress. I bought a couple of books in the shop before we left, prompting Mark to comment that we were going to need new luggage to get home.

I located Achindoun Castle on the map only a short distance away, so we drove off I the general direction, stopping here and there to enjoy the absolutely stunning green scenery. We couldn’t see the castle from the road, but did see a teeny-weeny little sign with an arrow pointing up a steep gravel path (and warning us that no vehicle traffic was allowed). Sure? Why not? What the hell, Adventure Girl is here!

We assumed that the castle was over the top of the hill, and trudged doggedly up the path between the fields…to reach another field and a gate and a wee sign. We continued along the obvious path for another mile and a half before we sighted the castle on a hilltop. The ruins sit on a huge motte with many ditches and we had to pass through another flock of sheep and a ruined farmyard to get closer. We caused a bit of ovine panic as we passed through, of course. Sheep do not like it when you walk between them and the rest of the flock. They start running in a bleating panic until all the sheep are clumped together, eyeing you suspiciously. It's fairly comical.

Remember when I was saying that it was windy before? It was NOTHING compared to the howling gale that we tromped through on the way up to the castle. (I discovered later that local readings had clocked 80mph straight-line winds) It was impossible to talk to each other, and occasional gusts would nearly knock the wind out of you. It was fun to lean into the wind and walk at an angle, although I was a bit afraid of being blown backwards if I'd opened my coat like wings, as I am usually wont to do. I think they'd have found me the neighboring county! We startled the sheep on our way up to the gate and finally clambered up to the castle itself and immediately ducked inside to get out of the wind and catch our breath. Mark rather sadly wished that is uber-spiffy watch had an anemometer. The wind was picking up rocks from the nearby field and making the wire fence whistle and hum. We'd step out into the face of it and stagger our way to another corner of the castle wall, laughing breathlessly. Uuitwaiien (walking in windy weather for fun) at its best!

Achindoun is a great castle, though, and the location is perfect--defended on every side by steep ditches , there is really only one approach to the castle walls, and you can see miles in any direction from the top of the motte. Most of the curtain wall is intact (well, short, but still there) but sections of the tower have fallen. There is the stub of a tower, possibly a gatehouse, on the way up the hill. Despite the ferocious wind and milling herds of sheep, this was well worth the hike.

We're singing a theme song for Adventure Girl who keeps wandering off the beaten path for miles of hiking to get places. 'Adventure G-iiiiiii--rrrrrrrrrl is out in the wilderness! Adventure G-iiiii-rrrrrrr-l is ready for any-thing…" OK, yes, it's far more amusing to have been there. There was a little dance, too. I need a cape.

And a superpower. I really want a superpower.

Sharing a companionable dram

Vowing to stop at the bridge near Craigallache (craig-AL-akee) in the morning, we head straight back to the hotel to attempt to comb the rats out of my wind-blown hair, and make our dinner reservation on time. We popped into the Quaitch bar (the hotel follows the quaint custom of letting you sip a pre-dinner drink and peruse the menu, then takes your order before ushering you down to the table) and shared a Guinness while we waited. In the bar, there was a man from Switzerland (a salesman, we later found out, although we could have guessed) who was really, really, REALLY into Scotch and kept buttonholing the bartender to talk about his own bar in that overly earnest way that only the really fanatic have. He was obviously very knowledgeable, but listening to him bloviate on and one in salesman style was quite amusing. He just seemed to like to listen to himself talk, and make grand pronouncements about how much he knew, and how his tasting ability was so refined. We just chuckled quietly into our ale and eavesdropped throughout dinner, too.

Dinner was, as before, excellent. I ordered the same salmon dish I had last night, it was so good, although this time I started off with a roasted mushroom dish. Mark had the roast special of pork belly and pork loin, with potato and leek soap. We almost didn't make it to the chocolate mousse for dessert.

Upstairs in the bar, we met with Leo and Petra again and relaxed, talking about travel and language and stereotypes and sipping different whiskys. Leo is a font of funny travel stories - he and Petra have traveled all over the world. He recounts the story of an "American Style" bathroom in Japan that was so small that he had to step into the hallway to remove his trousers, and then back into the teeny closet. It may have been smaller than the smallest bathroom I've ever seen, from our trip to Ireland: an actual closet turned into a full en-suite bath with a toilet, sink, and 20" square shower. The room was so small that the tiny sink met the closed door, and you could sit on the undersized toilet, lean over the sink, and turn on the shower. Smaller than any airplane bathroom that I've ever been in!

Mark stayed in the bar while I escaped to take notes and write on the blog and assure people that we're not dead. He tried a 15-year-old Balvenie single cask, and the house scotch, a bottling that is very like Jura (or so says the bartender), both lovely. I had ice water. I've had enough whisky today.

It took a bit of persuading to get Mark back to the room, where he fell asleep and snored almost instantly.