We took our second road trip through Scotland, but this time with company and a different itinerary. We met my sister and brother-in-law, Janice and Mike, at Gatwick Airport, and rushed them off to the train station to board a train for Saint Pancras and then a switch at King’s Cross for our long train ride to Glasgow. Ken and I were well-rested after a night at the Marriot (on points, of course), so didn’t mind the 6-hour train trip. Our travel partners had just completed a 9-hour flight but still managed to appreciate the interesting vistas provided by the train ride through the English and Scottish towns and countryside.
We arrived in Glasgow at 9:30 at night and made our way by taxi to our AirBnB, all of us hopeful for a reenergizing night’s rest in preparation for a one-day tour of this city.
We didn’t make too many plans for the day. I had at the ready a map of Glasgow’s City Center Mural Trail but, unlike our friends (Retired Roamers), we didn’t put in the effort so only caught a few examples of this city-wide art exhibition.
Our day started in George’s Square and then we walked down the pedestrian-friendly Buchanan Street to the subway—possibly Europe’s oldest—for a ride partway around the noisy circular track to the Hillhead area.
One target was The V&V, a vegan café we wanted to try for coffee. Since no animal products are used in this café, we tried oatmeal milk in a cappuccino on the recommendation of the server. He was right—it was very good, and I really couldn’t tell the difference.
From the café we wandered through the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, across the River Kelvin, eventually arriving at the River Clyde. We wandered along the banks of the Clyde back to town.
The following day, we called an Uber to take us to the rental car agency, picked up our car and charted a course for Speyside. As we headed out of Glasgow, we took the time to stop at the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies, two sites we had enjoyed in October and wanted to share with our travel mates.
On our drive north, just before Cairngorns National Park, we stopped at Edradour Distillery, the self-proclaimed smallest traditional distillery in Scotland. Though they were hoping for a quick visit and taste, Ken, Janice, and Mike signed up for the A Taste of Edradour tour. The tour leader, John, was quite a Scottish character and he has oft been quoted by our crew since that session.
To get the full effect, read the following sentences with a Scottish accent and in a slow, breathy, story-telling voice: When you’re back home in your bed, laying your head on your pillow, and you’re remembering all the highlights of Scotland, you won’t remember the castles. You won’t remember the mist. You won’t remember the green glens. You’ll go off to sleep with a tear rolling down your cheek, thinking of [pause for effect and say the next word slowly and with feeling] Edradour. Ken says that the only reason he’ll have a tear running down his cheek is if his glass is empty.
We spent 3 nights in Nairn in the Speyside region. Our AirBnB had an over-the-fence view to the ocean beyond a pleasant green space. Nairn was a really good location from which to visit several distilleries and to enjoy the windy seaside.
When Ken was booking tours and tastings ahead of this trip, they were mostly fully booked on our first full day in the area. Instead, our first day became our castles and beaches day, beginning with a visit to Cawdor Castle.
The next day was to be a full 5-stop schedule. As we reviewed it the day before, though, I realized that there would be a greater than 2-hour drive to be completed in a 1-hour slot between bookings. Oops. Sadly, Ken had to call and cancel one of the planned visits.
Our first stop was to Aberlour, where Ken and Janice (the committed scotch drinkers in our group) had booked the Casks from the Past tutored tasting session that included scotch not available to the public. Ken and I had visited Aberlour on our first turn through Speyside but, being offseason, there were no tours or tastings available. This was a relatively pricey tour but an eagerly anticipated treat. Mike and I walked to the nearby river and into town while our spouses imbibed.
Mike and I came back to the distillery ready to head off to our next booking, but no sign of these two. An hour tour turned into almost 2, but when they did finally emerge they were both effusive about their event (perhaps the scotch talking?) and felt that it was worth the price.
We reworked our schedule, stopped at a local shop for lunch items to go, and headed to the next tour at Glenfiddich. After this one, Mike had now joined the committed scotch drinkers team and I was on my own as the only non-scotch-drinker and, therefore, designated driver.
Our next tour didn’t involve tasting. Instead, we visited the Speyside Cooperage where we learned about the heritage of the cooperage industry and how whiskey casks are made and repaired. Cask-making has become a competitive event now, and our guide told us we were watching the Guinness World Records holder (fastest time to build a 190-litre barrel)
Inverness to Oban and back to Glasgow
We left the Speyside area and headed toward Oban with a stop in Inverness, a drive by Loch Ness, a peek at Urquhart Castle, and a quick, canal-side lunch at Fort Augustus.
We popped into another distillery, Ben Nevis, but weren’t that impressed with what was there. So we skipped the distillery and stretched our legs at Ben Nevis castle instead.
As we approached Oban, we couldn’t resist another few quick stops to drink in the scenery.
In Oban, we enjoyed watching the boating activity from down on the pier and from the colosseum-like McCraig’s Tower (AKA McCraig’s Folley as it was never completed). The pier has several shops and a wonderful and busy fresh seafood outdoor-dining and takeaway shop. We probably wouldn’t have found it if we hadn’t known to look for “the green shack” since its name, The Seafood Hut, is nowhere to be seen.
The afternoon Oban tour and tasting was a success. A small distillery with only 2 stills, Ken had a chance to chat with a worker and learn a lot about how the stills are used. The tour provided a good explanation about how peat is used in scotch making, even though Oban uses very little.
The following morning we said goodbye to Oban and drove toward Glasgow. We managed to schedule one more distillery visit at Glengoyne, about 40 minutes outside of the city. This time, we arranged a tasting only and were led into a snug, a cozy tasting room with just our crew. I wasn’t tasting but was able to sit in on the session, which was led by a pleasant young Californian woman who had come to Scotland to study and hadn’t left.
After the beautiful spring tour we enjoyed, we can understand why.
- Rental car: Europcar Glasgow. Base rental price, which we booked online through gotrental.com, $179 CAD for 6 days. At the car rental agency we paid the extra for a second driver (me) since Ken, the usual driver, was going to be scotch tasting along the way. £89.50 for 6 days ($158.79 CAD). All costs were split between two couples.
- Edradour: Tour & Tasting £10 ($18 CAD) each
- Aberlour: Casks from the Past (Susan) – £35 ($63 CAD) each
- Speyside Cooperage: Tour £4 ($7.20 CAD) each
- Glenfiddich: Explore Tour £10 ($18 CAD) each
- Oban: Sensory & Flavour Finding Tour £10 ($18 CAD) each
- Glengoyne: Tasting in a snug with a young woman from California £15 ($27 CAD) each