Scottish Road Trip final days - Speyside, whisky and Pictish stones.
Have you heard of the North Coast 500? It's an amazing road trip which starts in the northern city of Inverness, weaves along the west coast to Applecross and then northwards towards the towns of Torridon and Ullapool. (If you watched 'Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby', you may have seen the beautiful Torridon Hotel, sister to The Lovat where we stayed at Fort Augustus). From Ullapool, the NC500 ventures to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland, passing by Caithness and John o' Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness.
When we arrived back in Ullapool from Harris it was obvious that there were a lot of people re-fueling in sporty little numbers of all vintages; enjoying this leg of the route. And rather sweetly, there were children waving at them as they revved their engines, and roared out of town.
We set off towards our last hotel in Scotland, the Craigellachie in the heart of Speyside, the home of the malt whisky trail. On the way we stopped at the old packhorse bridge at Carbridge; the oldest stone bridge in Scotland. Carbridge is not named after the bridge though, Carr meaning 'boggy area' in old Norse. It's pretty spectacular, but I wouldn't recommend walking over it let alone taking a horse over!
We received a lovely warm welcome, and settled into the comfortable room; a delightful mixture of vintage and modern furnishings. Likewise, the sitting room managed to be both comfortable and elegant, and full of beautiful coffee table books. I could just imagine settling in here for a good read on a winters day.
I'd booked dinner in the Copper Dog, the hotels very own pub. With the distancing rules, it was full, and I would say that booking is essential. The staff were friendly, the service good, and my lobster special of the day was delicious. After dinner we retired to the The Quaich, which is the world’s leading whisky bar, housing over 900 single-malt whiskies from across the globe (you can see some of them through the whisky glass photo). With such a huge selection it was very difficult to choose, so we took the advice of Lyndsey Gray, the manager at the Quaich. It was rather lovely to find a woman expert in this field, as whisky can so often be seen as a men's drink. This one was a 14 year old Balvenie Caribbean cask. After a couple of nightcaps we retired and I have to say, slept very soundly. It was a bit of a pain to have to book a time slot for breakfast, and it meant that we got off to a slower start than we'd intended the following day.
We stopped to view the old bridge of Livett, dating from the 16th century. It originally had three graceful arches, but a flood in 1829 saw a great deal of damage to one of them, and this is all that's left now. Again, it's not for use, just for admiring.
It wouldn't be a trip to Speyside without visiting a distillery. I don't think that any are offering tours at the moment, but some have the shops open. That was the case with Aberlour; we were able to book our visit from the car, and popped into find a gift for my 92 year old whisky loving father. Listening to his taste in whisky, we were given great advice as to which he'd be likely to enjoy and purchased a sherry-casked bottle.
We were also intrigued to see signs to Pictish stones, and took a detour to see them. The Picts lived in north and east Scotland in the 3rd to 9th centuries AD. Very little is known about them, the Romans called them Picti which means the decorated or painted people. It is thought that they integrated with the Scots to fight the common Norse enemy and lost their separate identity. What they have left behind are a number of symbol stones, a small collection of which was discovered at Inveravon Parish Church. Those which had remained outside are rather weathered, but those that had been re-purposed have survived in better condition. They were discovered when the pretty church was re-built in 1806, and are now housed in the porch of the church to keep them protected from the weather.
Can you see the eagle on the centre stone? The symbol above it is a mirror case, and below there is a mirror and comb. We will probably never know the exact meaning behind the symbols, but it's fascinating all the same.
Our trip took us over the stunning Caingorms, past now-quiet ski resorts, and provided another excellent driving experience. We stopped for lunch in Braemar, passing the castle with its message of hope.
And then onwards to Whitby and out of Scotland. Do please join us next for a gothic trip to Dracula's landing place in England.