Scotland is a quite magnificent country. Invitingly wild and almost mystically charming it reaches north as if making a bid for freedom from the the rest of the United Kingdom. When you’re in the highlands and the glens miles away from the clock watching heartbeat of city life, you can’t help but become caught up in the romance of this rugged yet captivating land.

Visiting all the way from Waveland, Mississippi, Susan had said she wanted to go to Scotland and do the Malt Whisky Trail. Unlike Susan I am no fan of the traditional Scottish drink, but as a backdrop to a trek through the highlands of Scotland visiting various whisky distilleries didn’t seem like a bad idea, and besides, having come so far how could I decline my visitors one request?

With no timetable, appointments or reservations, Susan and I simply got in my car and drove north. By late afternoon we had made excellent time and decided to stop at Stirling Castle which overlooks the historic battlefields of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. There, under a statue of one of Scotland’s greatest kings and finest warriors, Robert the Bruce, we could see across to the nearby Wallace Monument from which William Wallace (Braveheart) was said to have watched the gathering of the army of England’s King Edward I, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. (Click the picture of the monument below to see a larger version.)

The Wallace Monument commemorates the 13th century Scottish hero William Wallace.

As the day drew on and the shadows began to stretch we continued north at a leisurely pace eventually stopping in the Highland Perthshire town of Pitlochry. There we checked into a local bed & breakfast before heading out for dinner.

Susan decided to be brave and sample haggis, a traditional Scottish dish that consists of a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt mixed with stock. That alone is enough to put me off the dish but what makes haggis special is that all those ingredients are boiled in a sheeps stomach for approximately an hour. Having eaten haggis in Scotland last year I didn’t feel the urge to try it again, though I did take a small bite and will admit this haggis was much better.

The proprietor of the B&B had told us of a small distillery not far from the town so the next morning, after a hearty breakfast (at which Susan had a bowl of whisky porridge), we headed to our first distillery.

The Edradour is Scotland’s smallest distillery by a long way. The Single Malt Scotch Whisky is hand crafted by just three men who use methods and equipment that have remained largely unchanged since the day the distillery opened some 150 years ago. Matured in Oloroso sherry casks from which much of the flavor comes, The Edradour declares itself to be “a rare pleasure for a fortunate few.” Producing just 12 casks of whisky a week, such a claim is not without merit.

Steeped in tangible history and tradition this was the perfect distillery to begin our malt whisky trail. I’m no expert but it wouldn’t take a connoisseur to see that there process by which Edradour is made comes as much from passion as it does from experience and expertise. Speaking in her soft Scottish brogue our tour guide walked us around the picturesque distillery showing us the processes and introducing us to the men who produce the whisky.

Back on the road heading north we came upon Blair Castle, a regal white château style stately home which is the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. In the grounds we took a short walk through Diana’s Grove, a small wooded area originally laid out in 1737 by the 2nd Duke of Atholl. The grove is full of trees that one might not expect to see in the area, Larch, Norwegian Acer, Douglas Fir, Giant Sequoia and Coastal Redwood to name but a few.


The advantage of not having a timetable was that we were able to unhurriedly yarn our way from place to place. If a road looked interesting, if a location looked appealing, we would simply go there, and while time wasn’t of great importance we had to be mindful of it’s slippery nature on these lush and colorful hills.

With every passing mile the landscape seemed to change like the twist and turns of an encapsulating story that was unfolding before our very eyes on hillsides and graggy mountains where the past and present meet like spies. In her travel journal Susan wrote; “Whatever picture you have in your mind about Scotland; magnify it times 10 and it might measure up.” She’s not wrong. (Click on the picture above to see a larger version.)

The road into Dufftown. Set in the famous Glen Fiddich, or valley of the deer, it's home to some of the world's best-known malt whiskies including Glenfiddich, Glendullan, Kininvie, Mortlach, Balvenie and Dufftown-Glenlivet.

The next stop was Dufftown, a small town set in Glen Fiddich which proclaims itself on the town sign to be the “Whisky Capital of the World.” Here we managed to catch the last tour of the day around the Glenfiddich distillery which produces more Single Malt Scotch Whisky in a single week that The Edradour produce in an entire year. (Click on the picture above to see a larger version.)

Although the feel of The Glenfiddich distillery was far more “industrial” it still maintained its sense of history. Indeed the company continues to be directed and managed by descendants of William Grant who built the distillery by hand back in 1886.

That evening, after dinner in a small French restaurant, we began what became somewhat of a quest for somewhere to stay. We looked at and politely declined a couple of B&B’s in the town before driving to the larger town of Elgin where we also struggled to find anywhere with rooms available.

In the end, after some help from a hotel clerk, who Susan claims was charmed by her southern drawl, we arrived at our accommodation for the night which turned out to be a Castle, or more correctly, a victorian folly! To my delight the hotel had a snooker table, so with our bottles of Glenfiddich close to hand, and the night porter lurking like the games umpire, I taught Susan how to play this very British game.

The following morning we set off for the one distillery Susan couldn’t leave Scotland without seeing; The Macallan. By now, having myself become rapt in the wonder of this Whisky Trail, I was almost as excited as Susan was to be at The Macallan distillery, home of what is widely regarded as the finest Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and most certainly Susan’s favorite. Unfortunately there were no tours that day, but we were able to walk around the impressive hilltop grounds that overlook the River Spey in the Easter Elchies Estate.

Of course, we sampled the whisky’s at the tasting bar despite the fact it was barely past 10 in the morning, and for the first time after ‘nosing’ a few whisky’s on this trip, I swear I could actually smell the oak this time. However, the actual flavor of whisky no matter how fine, has yet to win me over.

Knowing that I prefer the sweeter tasting liqueurs made by the distilleries, Susan very generously bought me a bottle of sumptuous maple syrup smelling Amber, the first liqueur developed by Macallan and currently only available in test markets in the United States. But while it was by no means cheap it didn’t cost the £5,399.99 ($10,967.91) that some people are prepared to pay for a bottle of 35 Year old Macallan from 1938! Regardless of this though, I shall most likely save opening my bottle of Amber for a special occasion.

And so began our slow meandering journey southwest in the general direction of England but still a very long way from the border and further still from home. With the roof down we weaved our way through the glens and occasional rain showers on narrow roads that might have seemed more like pathways to Susan. Buses would pass without showing the merest hint of slowing, causing Susan to look away and put her trust in the fact that we’re used to this kind of driving in Britain.

Again we stopped numerous times and of course I would take pictures. But notwithstanding some pleasing results the truth is that no photograph could completely capture the awesome nature of this beautiful scenery that has inspired so many people though the years. Looking across a hills and valleys carpeted in natures perfect cover we often stood in silence knowing that no words worth uttering could serve these moments justice.

Cille Choirill church sits on a hilltop in the Braes of Lochaber overlooking Glen Spean. Dedicated to St Cairell, a sixth century Irish bishop, the earliest church recorded on this holy spot is said to have been built by a 15th century Cameron chief. However, the site was probably hallowed ground long before this date. For centuries Cille Choirill has been the ancestral burial place of the MacDonells of Keppoch, many of whose monuments still survive. The famous warrior-bard Iain Lom MacDonald who died in 1709 is said to lie here.

In the Braes of Lochaber on the road to Fort William and the nevis mountain range we spotted a hilltop graveyard and church. At the end of a narrow track and with spectacular views over Glen Spean was the tiny church of Cille Choirill which has a history dating back to the 15th century. Many of the graves were unreadable and to my surprise the earliest grave we could read only dated back to 1826 despite the fact that the site has been a burial ground since 600AD! (Click on the picture of the church above to see a larger version.)

One unassuming headstone read “In memory of Donald McNeill who was accidentally drowned.” This rather to-the-point description of how the graves occupant met their end was not uncommon on the headstones, however this particular grave went on to read; “Inserted by his Mother, Sister & Brother.” It rather made us wonder whether perhaps his unfortunate demise might have been avoided had his Mother and siblings not “inserted him.”

The dramatic Castle Stalker is a four story medieval tower-house or keep set on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, an inlet off Loch Linnhe. Its history dates back to around 1320 when it was a small fort built by Clan MacDougall who were then Lords of Lorn. Around 1388 the Stewart's took over the Lordship of Lorn, and it is believed that they built the castle in its present form around the 1440s.

After a night spent in the rather forgettable Fort William we continued south making stops at a number of castles. The first of the day was Castle Stalker, one I had seen before on a trip here a year ago. I knew this castle to be especially striking as it’s set on a tidal islet and surrounded by the waters of Loch Laich. When one pictures a classic Scottish castle in their mind this is probably the very scene they imagine.

Parking the car in a position that hid the castle from view I told Susan to not look up until we walked a very short distance to a point where the castle looked most striking. Susan played along and looked up when I told her to. She actually gasped when she saw it, a reaction not unlike the one I had when I first saw the castle last year. (Click on the picture above to see a larger version.)

As we went into the evening of our last day in Scotland there was time enough to make one final site-seeing stop. We had already had a full day and along the way had explored the ruins of Dunstaffnage Castle and Kilchurn Castle, but we wanted to pry every last moment of magic out of this trip. And so Inveraray Castle became our final stop.

A gothic palace on the banks of Loch Fyne where it meets Loch Shira, the castle is the seat of the Chief the southern branch of the Clan Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, and today though partially open to the public, it remains the family home of the Duke. It was a beautiful evening as we left the castle with the top down on the MG. We were still a long way from England and almost 300 miles from home, but we didn’t care, this was top-down driving weather and we were going to enjoy it.

We said goodbye to Scotland after dinner on the darkened banks of Loch Lomond. It had been an amazing few days packed with so much that it made our trip to Wales only a few days before seem like a distant memory. All too soon we were back in England and early the next morning Susan was boarding her flight to New Orleans and home. She told me that she thought this vacation might well have been the best ever, and to someone who loves being a host and tour guide this was exactly what I wanted to achieve.

One thing’s for sure though, of all the pictures and souvenirs you take from Scotland, the one you’ll treasure most is the part of Scotland that you take away with you in your heart. But don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself.

Undiscovered Scotland
The Wallace Monument
The Edradour (Whisky)
Diana’s Grove at Blair Castle
Glenfiddich : Every year counts
How Single Malt Scotch Whisky is made (Bowmore Distillers) Part 1
A US TV feature about Scotch
Single Malt TV (A web TV channel about whisky!)
Scotch blog
The Macallan
Castle Stalker
Inveraray Castle
[Video] Edradour tour guide