Scotland Stories and Tips

Whiskey Trail and Castles

Shack at the visitor centre, Cullodden Photo, Inverness, Scotland

Weather is chilly and looks overcast. We stopped at the James Pringle woolen mill that had a bit of an exhibit and someone to tell you about tartan making which I didn't stay to listen to. This James Pringle factory was very good and the prices seemed very reasonable so I did buy a couple of small things and then went outside to get some air before we had to be back on the bus. The factory is outside the city and sits on the River Ness, a very pretty view. Across on the other side of the river was a man fly fishing in the cool morning air.

By the time everyone got done we were about 15 minutes late leaving, thus arriving at Cullodden 15 minutes later than expected. The weather is clearing up and by the time we got to Cullodden the sky was blue and it was gorgeous. I had been here before so I decided to have a look into a small stone thatched roof cottage, called Leanoch cottage. It was a reproduction of one that might have been there and used as a first aid station for wounded British soldiers after the battle. Wounded Jacobites were killed.

On my first visit here in 1993, the weather was overcast and gloomy and lent an eerie air to the battlefield and the clan graves but today the sun was shining. Just the same, I find this place a bit spooky. I went down by the graves to pay my respects and walking back I thought I heard a scream, twice. Now it was probably a tourist or a bird but your imagination takes flight in a place like this after hearing about the doomed crusade and the slaughter. I'm sure the wee ghosties still walk here.

On to the Glenlivet whiskey factory where we got to see whiskey being made in the huge vats and storage barns. We had our wee dram after the tour and grabbed a bite in the lunch room. Carole and I walked down the driveway to get a closer look at the highland cattle penned across the road. They are shaggy and horned and so unusual looking from what we are all used to. They are specially bred for the cold north of Scotland.

No sooner did we get back on the bus to leave then the clouds gathered in for a shower. It rained for the next hour or so as we drove through the Grampians, up and down narrow roads through the mist and rain along the pretty Spey Valley. There was a windy photo stop on the hill above Corgarf Castle and a brief visit to Crathie church near Balmoral. It's a nice little stone church, a couple hundred years old and quite elaborately decorated, more than usual for a Presbyterian church but Royal family members have donated things to it over the years.

It wasn't far to the hotel from there, in Braemar. What a lovely hotel! It's a large turreted Victorian heap and looks like a castle from the outside! There are large lounges and several bars and a big dining room with fireplaces and soaring ceilings. The rooms are tucked away in all sorts of corners and warren-like hallways and ours was really pretty, with inlay wood on the closet doors and desk and fabric covered padded headboards with pretty sprigged wall paper and matching chair covers. The little window looks out across a field and you can just see Braemar Castle in the distance.

Our bags were delivered to our room in record speed and we decided to go into the village for a browse before our evening tour. Braemar is a pretty village with the River Dee running through it , lots of stone houses which all seem to have such lovely flower gardens around them. We looked in a couple of the stores still open.

Braemar castle has a long history and belongs to the Erskine family, the Earls of Mar. We heard all about the history by the caretaker and then were allowed to wander through the areas open to the public. The castle is tall and not very big, with a star shaped wall around it. There are turrets in the corners and a narrow spiral staircase up the middle with only a few rooms on each level. There were about a dozen rooms to see including a photo display in the lower level. There were so many wonderful antiques and the rooms were a delight to see.

We drove to Ballater to see the Royal Warrants, which are coats of arms of various Royals who patronize the shops or services. This town has the highest concentration of warrants anywhere. Not particularly interesting to me, but there was a pretty little church there that I would have liked to have seen more of. We walked round the corner and all had free drinks and snacks and sat and had a lovely chat and a few laughs with our new friends.

Back to the hotel for dinner in the elegant dining room. We retired to the lounge for our coffee and teawith some tour members. Tomorrow is a later start then a tour of Glamis Castle. On to St. Andrews and ending in Edinburgh.

We didn't have to be to breakfast until 8 and we left at 9 for Glamis castle which didn't open until I think 10 or 10:30. Weather is as usual, light rain and heavy mist and fog on the hills.

Glamis is quite old though some was rebuilt after a fire in the 1800s. It's the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, today the Bowes-Lyon family. The oldest part of the castle is from 1427 and the castle is still lived in by the family.

We had a guided tour of the public rooms which spanned various eras, the grand dining room with a table that can seat 35 and a huge silver ship as center piece, given to the Queen Mother's grandparents by the estate workers. There was an old stone walled room filled with armour (Victorian replicas) and stag heads and game antlers. Some of the rooms had fireplaces so large you could move in! There was a nice private chapel with the walls and ceiling full of painted panels and is said to be haunted. The private apartments built for Elizabeth and George, Duke of York was really nice, very warm and cozy and very live-in-able! All the rooms were filled with paintings, mostly portraits and lovely old wood furniture.

We had lunch in the café which is in the old kitchens. The big wall oven was still there and there were copper pans hanging and buzzers/lights on the wall that would summon a servant to one of the rooms.

Off again, the rain has stopped but it's still not looking too promising but there was finally a patch of blue here and there by the time we reached St. Andrews. It didn't last! Not being interested in golf, for which St. Andrews is famous, Carole and I walked down the street that parallels the cliff along the harbour, through the ancient university campus to the ruins of St. Andrews castle. We paid to go into the castle grounds and climbed around the ruins for a bit. The castle has been in ruins for about 400 years and seems to have been several hundred years old by the time it was dispatched. There are explanatory signs around and diagrams and it was kind of interesting. We thought it was kind of odd that, though university was in session, there weren't many students around the campus buildings. Some of the old buildings were really lovely, one had little square instead of round turrets and was being used as the Moral Philosophy department. Kind of appropriate for a building that had little flights of fancy in its architecture like that!

The drive through Fife and Dundee was not all that interesting. We arrived in Edinburgh in good time and are staying at a Jury's which is right off the Royal Mile. Can't get much more central! The room is a good size and the hotel is quite new. The bathroom is small with a corner shower stall but at least it has glass doors, not a flighty curtain! Tonight's "excursion" I think was the Scottish night out with highland dancing and haggis. We declined to join so had to find a place for dinner ourselves. Up the Royal mile we went, checking out menus and decided on a small narrow Italian restaurant after passing by a number of pubs and places that were either too crowded or too smoky. This one was called Gordon's Trattoria and had really good wood fired pizza , we had the veggie version. The Royal Mile at night is very quiet, quite a contrast to the daytime when it's busy with traffic and tourists.

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