Spring Break 2018: Speyside!Edit Post
Contributed by on Sep 12, 2018
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After our beautiful 24 hours on Islay, the Spring Break 2018 trip to Scotland continued from Glasgow as we headed north to Ballachulish.Exiting the airport in the rented Land Rover was… challenging.We weren’t on Islay anymore.There were other cars to tailgate, pass, ward off and not hit.Yet, no cows or sheep which was a big plus.I think.
The screams of “STAY TO THE LEFT!” from my co-pilots (Mrs. Satellite Engineer, Teenager Daughter #1 and Teenager Daughter #2) were taken a bit more seriously this go around. The rumor is true. Everyone really does drive on the other side of the road in Scotland. I thought maybe it was a cute little Islay thing from days long ago when horse and buggies ruled the world. I was actually hoping that was the case. And speaking of go around… ROUNDABOUTS!
The nice British lady stuffed into the dashboard alerted me with “At the next roundabout, take the second exit” which was very kind and almost didn’t scare me.She sounded very nice, yet a tad authoritative for my liking.We’d battle for days as she nagged and nagged.
The drive was gorgeous with a variety of greenery abounding from the road up into the hills as we trekked the A82 through the western side of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.Snow covered mountains were upon us before we knew it.Snow?!This was going to be a great drive as long as I STAYED TO THE LEFT.And it didn’t snow.
The goal on this day was reaching Ballachulish. We were staying in the Craiglinnhe House, a bed and breakfast, on Loch Linnhe’s southern side.Built in 1885, this Victorian home is across the road from the loch and was a splendid and comfy place to rest our weary heads for a few nights as we explored the Glencoe and Fort William areas.Owner Lawrence Hughes is the nicest of hosts offering help of all sorts, tourist tips, and tasty full breakfasts with warm and and pleasant attention.The bedrooms were quaint and warm.The sitting room was cozy and, much to my delight, stocked with a table of spirits, wines and mixers to pour oneself to relax with.And after a day of driving, I warranted, daresay deserved, some relaxing.
Our stay in the area led us to a gondola ride up Ben Nevis (recommended by Lawrence) where there was still a fair amount of snow.The Beast of the East had played havoc with Scotland in much of January and February so it’s not certain if the white stuff we tromped around in was remnants of that bizarre storm pattern or just normal for the country’s tallest hill.At over 4,000’ it’s tough to call Ben Nevis a mountain where it would barely make the top 50 highest in California.But it was majestic overlooking the Highlands valley below, and shocked us as a ski and snowboarding destination.
We also had a couple nifty views of The Castle of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, i.e. Castle Stalker situated in an inlet of Loch Linnhe.It looked rather menacing at 600 years old.But who wouldn’t?A long guided hike in Glencoe’s Highland Reserve got us out into nature.And in the little village of Banavie we took a pleasant walk up Neptune’s Staircase, the longest staircase canal lock in Britain, showing us a fascinating industrial side of the area as well as (and more importantly) many dogs!
After our second day’s breakfast at the Craiglinnhe House and our goodbyes to Lawrence, we headed again up the A82 north towards Inverness.A stop at Urquhart Castle was a chilly and breezy one along Loch Ness.A busy place with tour buses and visitors from all over with Germans leading the numbers, Urqhart was interesting as our first “touristy” stop (we happily avoided any of the Nessie stops).The ruins are intact enough to see how the Scots and English lived at the fortress.My guess is that it was no 13th century version of the Craiglinnhe House.
Mrs. Satellite Engineer and I get a kick of ruins and she had more interesting ones in mind.The daughters would have to deal with it. Corrimony Chambered Cairn is west of Loch Ness outside of Drumnadrochit which is just fun to type.Corrimony is a burial cairn site, oh, about 4,000 years old for those of you scoring at home.A domed construction made of rocks and out in the middle of nowhere, it’s a place I’d like to be buried if you can keep the sheep out and guarantee that some joker won’t take the rocks as souvenirs.Bastards.All three women in our party climbed into the small passageway towards the middle never to be seen again…uh, I mean, and were heard laughing and shrieking scaring the nearby sheep as I walked back to the car pretending not to know them while apologizing to the sheep on the way.
A bit more driving via Inverness and we were in Speyside.Brown Malt Whisky Trail roadside signs popped up and I knew we were in a good place to be on our planet.
On the recommendation of a friend who we will meet in a bit, we made our way to the small town of Rothes.It could well classify as a village but I’m not sure what the Scottish definition is.Night skies were upon us as we parked at the Station Hotel on the side street adjacent to the hotel.There was a small parking lot right across the street that was interesting since it had a large copper still in it looking like a monument of sorts.Hmmm.As we unloaded the car to check in, it was hard not to miss the factory behind the hotel not a few steps from where we parked.Forsyths was the name on the sign.Yeah, that one.The one that makes the majority of the copper distillation vessels for the whisky industry.Huh.Right behind our hotel.Go figure.
At the registration lobby and our brief look into the hotel, copper seemed to be a “theme”.And a Forsyths company brochure laying on a table brought more head scratching.The Station Hotel was beautiful and our two room family suite was roomy and quite elegant.After a quick unpacking we headed back to the hotel pub, Toots Cafe, for some dinner.A lively group filled the tables.Football on the big screen.It was like any bar at home almost.The menu was full of many choices but the whisky list was…heavy on the “many”.Oxford Dictionary heavy but with bigger font.This was going to take awhile to peruse.Order some food, family!I’m reading!
The hotel’s whisky bar, The Spirit Safe, a few turns aways from Toot’s has 500 or so whiskies and…a spirit safe made next door at Forsyths.A unique drinking space, the front of the bar is adorned with a copper silhouette of a still for each Speyside distillery.Speyside has 60 distilleries.That’s a lot of silhouettes.As we learned that night, the Forsyth family owns the Station Hotel.An old hotel in need of repair, Richard Forsyth and his wife took it upon themselves a few years ago to restore it back to its former grandeur.And they have.The food, drink and accommodations were superb.Five star in my book.This was not a sleepy roadside motel.There was a quiet elegance to it and a highly recommended stop by us.
Glen Moray Distillery
The next morning after a delicious breakfast of oatmeal, salmon, eggs, toast and tea in the hotel, we headed back to Elgin about 20 minutes away.First stop: the Glen Moray Distillery.On my last trip to Scotland with the Single Cask Nation boys, they took us to Glen Moray for a fun visit that included a tour led by Master distiller and distillery manager Graeme Coull, a blind tasting to choose a cask for The Jewish Whisky Company, and then an entertaining dinner out with our group, Graeme and his wife, Faye, and their visitor center manager, Iain Allan.I’ve kept in touch with the Coulls and after various exchanges, a visit again was in order.
The drive to Glen Moray is a bit of an eye opener and a wee bit confusing.Did this woman in the dashboard know where she was going?Why are we in a neighborhood?With houses.And trees. And frontyards. And rubbish and recycling containers. We all know neighborhood bars but Glen Moray is a neighborhood distillery.Faye and Graeme actually live on the premises in a house next to the distillery shop.
The lovely Faye met us in the shop and it was like seeing an old friend.She welcomed the family with open arms asking all kinds of questions about our trip to date.She was a trove of information too.And truth be told, she recommended the Station Hotel (thank you, Faye!).She also gave us great ideas for lunch that day and dinner later on (keep reading).
Iain then Graeme made their way into the visitor center and it was just great to visit again with them.The boys as affable as I recall.The shop is half whisky-centric and half cafe.But I found the cafe area almost more interesting.As we stood and chatted, the cafe slowly filled up.It was 10:00 am.A stream of locals were making their way in for their morning tea, scone, or whatever was on the menu.Yes, there was potato leek soup (The National Soup of Scotland).We weren’t on a desolate piece of farmland or in an industrial strip of warehouses.The Glen Moray Visitor Center is a hangout for the neighborhood which made it feel hyperlocal and even more welcoming.
The distillery has been undergoing a wealth of construction and upgrades to increase capacity.And much like here, the wheels of progress grind to a halt waiting for permits from the local government offices.Graeme had his hands full this morning so he put us in the vary capable hands of Ionna to lead us on a private tour of the distillery.This “special” treatment didn’t go unnoticed by the girls who like their mother was agog at the industrial science on display.After a tour of the “hardware”, Ionna led us to a warehouse that was undergoing a roof replacement – bit breezy and chilly in there with the blue skies above.She popped opened a few casks so we could put our noses in.Mmmm.
Back inside the visitors center, it was tasting time (and shopping).Since I had driving to do, Ionna and Faye kindly packed me some to-go samples for later while Mrs. Satellite Engineer sampled at the counter.We spent a “few” pounds in the store of course on whisky and stuff because we’re very good at spending money in foreign countries on stuff.We’re pro-globalism and the economic “benefits” of it.We did our best to prop up the Elgin economy.A bottle of the Glen Moray cream whisky liqueur that I’ve been jonesing for since my last visit, a 100% Chardonnay cask expression; a 22 year old that spent the last six years in an Islay cask from an “L” distillery (you guess which one); and a 13 year old bourbon cask pour-your-own which I poured and the teenagers labeled and sealed under Iain’s guidance. I sense internships in their future.
As I expected, the good folks at Glen Moray were simply kind, wonderful hosts and great ambassadors for Speyside.The neigborhood is lucky to have them and we’re lucky to have Graeme, Faye, and Iain as friends.
Next stop on the Old Ruins Tour (without Ozzy) was Duffus Castle between Elgin and Lossiemouth.Built around 1150, this ancient motte and bailey style castle is but ruins now, and one of those landmarks that seemingly doesn’t get many visitors if the size of the car park is any gauge.Atop a big grassy hill in the middle of somewhere with the North Sea in the distance, the ruins are desolate, breezy, and peaceful.There were a few informative signs of what this wall or that wall were long ago, just enough to fill one’s quest for some answers.It’s a vast property that takes some imagining to wonder about how the castle looked and functioned centuries ago.On this day it functioned admirably as a dog park as we met a couple walking their two retrievers, Sam and Frodo.The two hobbit dogs were much like their owners; as friendly as can be.
The quiet of the visit was interrupted every five or ten minutes by a very loud blur in the sky.The Royal Air Force’s Lossiemouth airbase lies between the castle ruins and the North Sea.Lossiemouth is home to the RAF’s Typhoon fighter squadrons responsible for intercepting Russian aircraft per Sam and Frodo’s master.I wasn’t doubting him since breakfast was whisky and eggs, not borscht and vodka.The jets took off and landed in easy sight distance.Scorching across the skies with regularity, the nearby sheep barely cared obviously feeling very protected from enemy foreign rustlers.We drove by the airbase that was built in the late 1930’s and could see the castle not far back in the rearview mirror.Bet those kings would have liked to have these flying machines at their disposal.
Off to the quaint coastal town, again a suggestion from Faye at Glen Moray, we found ourselves mesmerized by the homes overlooking the rough North Seas.We could have driven up and down every little street all day. Moray Golf Club hugged the sea and duffers battled the winds on this links course.This was golf in the traditional Scottish way, no doubt, and for a bit, was played under no sunshine either.We made it to “downtown” Lossiemouth and walked the