We booked a 1-day tour out of Glasgow to give us a taste of the highlands, and of whisky via Rabbie’s Tours. They max out at 16 people, which ensures you get some attention, except for when your group also includes two incredibly loud, rude Portuguese women and a group of Italians who have more interest in smoking than in national trust buildings.
Stirling Castle is much photographed and frequently visited. It’s the historical navel of the country, so to speak. James VI really spiffed up the place, though his first wife never got to see the final result. Being a good planner, he was sure to situate the mistress quarters well by the King’s and at the far end from the Queen’s.
Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned there (though Mary of Guise her mother ruled on her behalf for 17 years). The chapel is pretty intact with original paintings and trompe-l’oeil. There’s also a cool project underway right now to create reproduction tapestries showing a parable of Christ’s life – and as in medieval times, the weavers are using the faces of real people who work at the castle in their work.
My father would well appreciate the ceiling in the banquet hall which has also been restored recently. It’s comprised of about 350 oak trees without any nails. And then there’s Douglas garden, a “peaceful” place so named because a poor fellow named Douglas was chucked out the window after the King murdered him. Good fertilizer and all that, I suppose.
We spent a good few hours at the castle, along with eleventy hundred other people. Wallace is a big hero here – close by Stirling is where is supposedly weakened a bridge, allowing half of the English force to get across before it collapsed, effectively splitting the attack force in half. And Robert the Bruce is also a superhero, and it’s his statue that gazes out over the hills at the entrance to the castle. Bannockburn isn’t that far away.
Aberfoyle, where we stopped for lunch, reminded me a lot of Lunenburg, NS, a town where the houses are quaint and the only business is tourism, thanks to Scott’sThe Lady of the Lake. We had some fish & chips, sadly without newspaper, but it was piping hot and sufficiently salty and vinegary to satisfy the craving. At the tourist center they had sheep-herding demonstrations as well as birds of prey on display – owls are unnerving – heads shouldn’t be able to do that.
From there, our little bus wound around little roads going higher into the hills around Loch Lomand. Our guide Juliette was doing her best at this point to shush/ignore the Portos who were loudly talking on their cell phone for Pete’s Sake. It was hot and sunny, and there were campers at every lookout where we stopped. We also saw some Highland Coos!
By the time we got to Loch Lomand, it was mid-afternoon, and with the sunny weather and tour bus trade, the place was packed. Some foolhardies were even trying to swim, though I imagine the water was still at March temperatures. The loch itself is Scotland’s biggest in size (not volume – that’s Loch Ness), and its many islands contain everything from summer cottages, to wallabies, to a nudist colony. We did a fairly steep hike with the guide up to the top of one of the hills, along with a few others from the group. Very nice view of the loch, and then around the lochfront on the way back to the pub, where Melle drank a pint in about 90 seconds flat before we had to board the bus again.
And then we were off to the whisky :) The distillery tour was at Glengoyne, which produces a non-peated whisky. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, since I like my peats, but the 17-year in particular had a nice finish. The distilling process was interesting, and I tried the 10-year, 17-year and 21-year, but no certificate! You’ll have to take my word for it that I’m a certified whisky-taster in 2 countries now.
After I had my fill of tasters, it was back to Glasgow. Dinner was at The Dhabba, an Indian restaurant also in the Merchant District – the hot dishes weren’t so hot by Canadian standards, but the ingredients were genuine and the server was very pleased that we knew the dishes and the fact that it was Northern cuisine.