Vandana Om Kumar
This year when our family sat down to vote (rather democratically) on our much looked forward to summer vacation destination, Scotland came up a big winner. The header of this article gives a good idea why; there were amazing things for everyone to do!
Malt Whisky; all it takes is yeast, water and barley!
And yet one wonders how all whiskies are so distinct in their flavours. We learnt from our insightful whisky tours that while the process of making the whiskies is quite similar, the distilleries are very particular about their water source. Then tweaks here and there, (like the method of drying the barley, temperature of water added to the grist, the size and shape of the stills, types of casks used and many more such factors) add up to make each whisky unique, as the tip of your tongue will discover in in each of the tasting sessions.
We loved the ceremony by Nick at the Glenlivet store, when he created our very own private label for our Glenlivet bottle, and presented it to us with all the pomp it deserved!
The tasting session at Aberlour deserves marks in sophistication, and the shop at Cardhu was one of the best stocked; but if you have to take the kids for one educational tour (and believe me one and only one tour is just about right for kids!) Macallan is a clear winner. A fantastic tour guide (Roy), a tour plan that paid attention to each detail of the process (even the manufacture of the casks), concluded by a relaxed tasting session (adults only!) made it our most favourite tour of the ones we took!
Views, Spectacular Views
One of the conscious decisions we made for our Scotland holiday was to avoid the big cities and hit the back roads to discover its delightful small towns along the way! Keeping with this thought, we rented an Airbnb property in the lovely little village of Keig. Close your eyes now, and image this; a scot style villa flanked by fields of white flowers on one side and forest on the other, all enveloped with the sounds of silence! Long moonlit walks around the area revealed gated communities of gluttonous cows and sheep, and innumerable flower varieties, many of which we discovered for the first time in our lives.
Driving through the Scottish towns displayed neatly laid out rows of brick and stone houses, decorated with colourful bursts of flowers. A closer view would reveal historical buildings and architecture, all unassuming in their grandiosity. Each town of course had its signature pub, a great place to go to, to do what the locals do!
The drives out to the Malt whisky trail from Keig were long, and picturesque. Quaint back roads through fields easily accommodated the children’s’ frequent requests for stops to feed the cows who were rather friendly, and chase the sheep since they were woefully shy! There were also wildflowers to pick, spectacular valley views to be reverently gazed at, and windmills to be counted!
Here’s a tip: If you are driving a rental, and plan to hit the hills, renting a GPS is an excellent idea since mobile service (and hence Google maps) fail at many spots.
Inverness was the biggest town and tourist centre on our trip plan. Just the right place to pick up souvenirs; magnets, cashmere scarves in typical red Scottish prints and a whole range of merchandise dedicated to Westies, Scotland’s much-appreciated gift to the doggie world. After a casual lunch stopover at Riva (top marks for food, service and location) and a walk around the tourist quarter that took us along the banks of Nessie to the perimeters of Inverness Castle and St Andrews Cathedral, we took the scenic route to Urquhart castle.
Along the way there are road stops with stairs leading down to the lake; these will forever remain etched in my children’s’ memories as the place they were patiently initiated by their father into the noble sport of skipping stones.
There is a reason the Urquhart castle is popular with tourists; its rolling greens fill you with a feeling of calm and peace. But of course, when the younger one sighted the sign advising everyone to keep off the grass, all hell broke loose as he launched himself down one of the slopes!
Up hill and down dale
Harry Potter fans would well be aware of the Jacobite Express, the famous train that starred in a meaty role as the Hogwarts Express in all the Harry Potter movies! There’s a lovely old world charm to the steam train, as it chugs out clouds of steam over hill and dale, through tunnels and more famously, over the Glenfinnan viaduct.
Should you plan to go, book well (months!) in advance. We just about managed to get ourselves tickets for the circuit from Fort William to Mallaig, with a leg-stretching stopover at Glenfinnan! Do be warned though, that the stopover is not long enough to accommodate a hike to the viaduct, and if you would like to stay and explore the area, it’s lovely villages and the distilleries of the Isles of Skye et all, book your train tickets accordingly!
A few more tips to make the Scotland trip more exciting for the family:
- Spend at least a night in a real castle; you are in Scotland after all!
- This is the place to satisfy a lifetime of desire for fish n chips!
- If you have the time, drive, and if you drive, stop to smell the flowers and run in the fields!
- We found that getting a tour guide to plan our holiday was our best decision. Time schedules of whisky tours, castle visits, train journeys keeping in mind our desire to take it slow were all beautifully managed to create just the right holiday itinerary for us. There is after all so much to see, do and experience in Scotland!
Vandana believes that travellers should get the best out of each trip that they make. This is the underlying philosophy of tourHQ, the company she has founded.
Photos Green Views (c) Janmejay Singh Rest of the photos (c) Vandana Om Kumar