europe,  scotland,  travel

Slainte, Scotland! – Day 11


I was a bit sad to not be able to lounge in our luxurious digs for longer, but we awoke and finished packing up and consolidating our things, as we’d be dropping off the car today. We headed down to the breakfast room for a lovely breakfast, with a friendly, older couple chatting us up about our travel plans. Despite the abundance of castles in Scotland, we hadn’t yet actually gone into any–I think in large part because hasn’t really been that kind of trip. We wanted to cover a fair bit of ground and see the countryside more so than castles, but we felt like it’d be nice to see at least one castle. Crathes Castle was just 25 minutes away from Aboyne and would be a nice side-trip before heading back to Edinburgh.

We made a brief pit spot to get gas (the last of the trip) and wound our way through the countryside to the castle. We heard that the castle gardens were quite pretty, so we started there, while the sun was still shining. While a little past their prime, the gardens were still beautifully-manicured. David was excitedly taking photos and videos of the flowers (and me). We weren’t the only videographers, as the BBC were also onsite filming a segment on gardens. We made our way through the different sections of the garden, reveling in the warm weather and sunshine, before heading into the castle, which was essentially a fortified house in terms of size. It was a beautiful house, with elaborately painted wooden ceilings and spartan, but elegantly-furnished rooms. It had belonged to the Burnett family for nearly 400 years before being given to the National Trust of Scotland.

After we were done with the house, we walked back to the car and sat out in the nearby grassy, park area overlooking hay fields to have a snack. We plotted out our route into town and headed on our way. The drive was a fairly long but easy one, as we were soon on the major dual-carriage A and M roads, which were luxuriously wide though distressingly lacking in speed limit signage. I’m not sure we ever saw a speed limit sign, so we opted for 70 mph, given the speed of the other cars and that 60 mph was the limit on one lane roads. A brief pit stop at McDonald’s woke us up a bit, and we eventually reached the outskirts of Edinburgh. I had Google-mapped more specific directions to the car rental shop, as our map book didn’t have any fine-grained city street maps in it. Amazingly, after a little bit of doubt that we were going in the right direction, the directions coalesced, and we successfully navigated our way to shop without incident.

Fortuitously (or perhaps I’ll take credit for amazing planning), our hotel was just a 5-minute walk away from the rental place. Hotel Twenty was nothing fancy but would serve just fine for our last night in Edinburgh–a bed, bathroom and wifi would be sufficient in the end. David was interested in getting another bottle of Scotch to take home with him. After a bit of searching, we decided on trying out the restaurant Whiski Rooms, which had a whisky shop attached to it. The 20-minute walk was beautiful, as a hazy, dusk light had fallen over the city. D was happily taking videos of the bustling, rush hour city streets, but we eventually made it to the restaurant/shop. In good time, too, as they were closing in about 20 minutes. We chatted with the sales person for a time, getting his recommendations about a good whisky to try from a smaller distillery or single cask that would be difficult to get back in Chicago. We eventually decided on Kilchoman because it was a new distillery, just 7 or 8 years old, and the first distillery to be built on Islay in over 100 years.

Happy with our purchase, we headed over to the restaurant for our last meal in Scotland. We started with wine and a local beer, as D pored over the extensive whisky list. D wasn’t terribly hungry, but I was eager to try their mushroom soup, which was superbly delicious. As I devoured my soup, D decided on a whisky flight, including Ardbeg Uigeadail, Mortlach 10 year, Balvenie Doublewood and Lagavulin 16 year. They were out of the Lagavulin, so they substituted a Caol Isla 12 year, much to David’s happiness, as it is an old favourite of his. He went through his whiskies, gleefully smelling and tasting and analyzing. We were momentarily interrupted by a giant party of middle-aged to older folks seated nearby who launched into what we suspected might have been a Norwegian drinking song. I had originally suspected they were a choir group, and they certainly proved me right, as it was a beautiful (if not surprising, given where we were) rendition. We eventually filled our bellies with pork belly (David) and roast chicken (me) and finished up our drinks.

We wanted to stop in for one last drink at Bramble, our favourite drinking haunt, before heading back to the hotel. On our walk over, we encountered a lively band entertaining a small crowd, including a “flying” Scotsman on a bagpipe, a guitar player and a drummer. I do always so enjoy street music, and I was definitely tickled by the virtuoso bagpiping that I bought their CD for 5 GBP. We descended into Bramble and grabbed ourselves a couple of tasty drinks. I was fading fast–end of trip fatigue setting in–so we didn’t linger long before making our way back to the hotel for the night. A lovely last night to our Scottish adventure!

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