Sunday, June 6:  Robert’s Birthday, Speyside

We’d been warned the night before by Richard that the Forth Road Bridge had been very congested on Saturday due to road works, and the constriction would continue today. So we were very nearly packed and made it to breakfast just as it opened. But before that we let Robert open his birthday presents. Chocolate and a St. Francis medal (from Assisi) from David, a West Highland Terrier model and a Leonardo daVinci book (from San Gimigiano) from Pat, and a United Kingdom flag from me (in addition to the Manchester United kit from Bath).

Getting away at 8:30 AM, traffic through the center of Edinburgh was manageable and we found our way back out again with good directions from Richard. There was no line at the tollbooth for the bridge, and we crossed at the construction zone speed. To our right was the Forth Train Bridge, looking very strong, as was the intent, since the Tay Train Bridge had collapsed just a few years prior to its construction. However, it was not near as massive looking as the exaggerated print in the hallway outside our rooms in Edinburgh.

Made a stop in Pitlochry, a cute town. Hit the TI as it opened. The world’s smallest distillery wouldn’t open for another hour and a half, the summer concert was in the evening, and nobody else wanted to see the salmon ladder. So on we went. Just shy of Inverness by about 20 miles, we spied the turn-off to the Malt Whiskey Trail, the long route through the area around the River Spey. We spun a U-turn in the highway to take the exit. Twenty-five miles later, we followed the Spey from one distillery to the next. Our first stop was at Glenlivet, where we had a quick and filling lunch, followed by their tour. There was no production on the weekend, and they buy their barley already roasted, but we were able to stick our heads into one of the washback bins and smell the brew from Friday at the last stages of intense fermentation. “Be careful, a fellow fell in and drowned in there once. Took two weeks though. He kept getting out to go to the loo.” We tasted the malt to sample its sweetness, and the odors through the distillery were familiar and pleasant. We also toured the bonded warehouse, where we witnessed a cask filled in 1962. With a loss of 2% a year (the “angel’s share”), there can’t be too much left.

Further down the road, we stopped by Glenfiddich, in hopes of perhaps seeing a malthouse. No luck. But in the gift shop we did see see a bottle from a 1937 cask, on offer for 10,000. And the boys bought me a wee present. Liquid, I think. Unclear if it is for Father’s Day, my birthday, or a consolation prize for being the only one without a real birthday on the trip. (Photo 198)

Just outside Inverness, we stopped at the Culloden battlefield. Here, in the 1700’s, the Bonnie Prince Charles lost his nearly successful bid to restore the Stuart monarchy, when 9,000 English defeated 5,000 demoralized Jacobites and then slaughtered many of the remaining Highlanders. Subsequently, the English outlawed many aspects of the Highlander clan culture, such as bagpipes, kilts and tartan. The visitor center had some good exhibits and demonstrations, but the battlefield itself was underwhelming. The Prince retreated and eventually fled to France with assistance from Flora MacDonald.

In Inverness we made a couple of circuits before finding our street. We even resorted to asking pedestrians. The two 16-year-old girls were hopeless. A senior citizen took great joy in pointing across the intersection at a sign with our street name on it. We’ll overnight at the Crown Hotel, where we have two rooms and a spacious lounge at our disposal. We walked down to Castle Street, where we had a nice dinner at the Number 27 bar. As we started dinner, Pat hatched a plan to attend the “Scottish Experience” show at the Ramada down the street. Show started at 8:30 PM, and we had placed our food order at about 8:05 PM. It became clear everybody wanted to see the show, so we resigned ourselves to just arriving late. We got the check while eating, the boys (and me) wolfed down our dinners, and off we went. Only about 5 minutes late for the show, and we inquired at the desk about getting in late. “Why, the show starts tomorrow!” Just a bit too early for the tourist “season.” They’d just finished their dress rehearsal a few minutes before our arrival. Oh, well. So we wandered up the street to the “castle,” which looked rather ingenuine, owing to its 1838 construction date. A plaque said there had been a castle there since the 12th century though. Out front was a statue of Flora MacDonald.

As I write, Ardbeg in hand, the boys and Pat are watching a D-Day documentary, and I am looking north at the ever-present cloud cover. We have had good weather in Scotland, only occasional sprinkles, but its is perpetually cloudy with frequent sunbreaks. Its about 10:15 PM and there is only a hint that dusk is approaching. Tomorrow we turn slightly south, but mostly west so we should have another late sunset tomorrow.

Photo 200  Oban Harbor
Photo 201  Oban Sunset