My Sincerest Apologies
The last blog post definitely contained too few distilleries — I apologize for that — but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort on our part. Trust me… there just weren’t any. I think I might write to the Scottish board of tourism and share my concerns about that section of the North Coast 500 and its distinct lack of distilleries. On that note, though, it was with great joy that we drove out to the Isle of Skye to visit the Talisker distillery and down to Oban to visit the Oban distillery. We were back in the land of the national 80 proof beverage… single malt!
***BTW, these maps are super cool and can be zoomed and panned!***
North Coast 500: Part 4
Scotch Flavored Air Fresheners
After a restful sleep, a beautiful morning in Lochcarron pried our sleeping eyes open. We packed a little picnic and jumped into the Scottish Porsche — at a fairly early hour by our standards — since we had important business to attend to… a distillery tour!
In a strange twist, wonderful weather accompanied the beautiful scenery on the drive to Carbost on the Isle of Skye. As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of our drive, Talisker appeared before us. After barely parking the car, we rushed inside the distillery and inhaled deeply, as any lover of scotch would do. Ahhhhh… perhaps they should make distillery flavored air fresheners. We signed up for the tour and had an hour to kill before it began, so we found a picnic table near the water and had our lunch.
Mix Ingredients, Ferment, Distill
The tour was well done, but really, the process didn’t change much from distillery to distillery. I would definitely recommend doing one tour, but after that, I’d suggest visiting the distilleries and doing just a tasting and picking the barkeep’s brains. (Insider info: We didn’t find out until Talisker that there is a frequent visitor card for all of the Diageo distilleries. You can get free tours! Be sure to ask for one at any Diageo distillery.) Interestingly though, Talisker receives their peat-smoked malted barley from Glen Ord where we took our first distillery tour. We already knew that little bit of info and impressed the guide and tour-mates with our knowledge. We’re so smart…
After the tour and tasting, we loaded ourselves and our 750ml acquisition into the car. We would have hung an air freshener from the rear view mirror if there had been one on offer. I really do think they are missing a great opportunity there. We headed back to Lochcarron for the night.
In Search of Seafood
The next morning, we left Lochcarron for Oban. Guess what’s there! We made absolutely sure that we remembered to pay our B&B host this time. We didn’t want to be chastised by another snooty bank teller for walking into the Bank of Scotland rather than the Royal Bank of Scotland. Judean People’s Front. People’s Front of Judea. Splitters!
Nationally, Oban is known for its seafood in addition to its distillery so we made it to town around lunchtime. A guy in a pub in Ullapool had given us a tip that there was an excellent seafood stand down by the ferry landing, so we ditched the car and set off on foot to find it. We were both starved and in our haste, wound up at the wrong seafood stand.
The food was fine. We both had scallops which are Pat’s favorite seafood, with chips, and peas, but after lunch, we continued our walk and saw the “real” seafood stand. Crates of live crabs, oysters, scallops, salmon, mussels, lobster, prawn — you name it — lined the walkway around the stall. Nothing deep fried there, no sides, just seafood. All of it was served steamed or raw. It was beautiful, but we were too full to even find room for one oyster. Do not make our mistake!
Pièce de Résistance
Oh well, we had bigger fish to fry… a distillery needed our attention! Oban Distillery was conveniently located in the center of town, so we didn’t have to worry about driving back to the B&B and we could have a proper tasting! The gift shop was on the first floor and the second floor had a small tasting bar where we could order a generous taste of whichever whiskey we wanted to try. The rest of the room was full of informational displays that were interesting to read. We sampled two of the whiskeys and chatted with another couple who were on an extended trip… and their fourth taste. Did I mention that the pours were generous? We laughed… a lot.
Oban was a wonderful town for walking, eating and drinking and we had excellent accommodation at the Tanglin Guest House. The only regret I have is that we didn’t work in the steamed seafood feast from the stand at the ferry landing. We tried to pick up a platter to take for our lunch on the way to Glasgow, but we were too early and all they had ready were prawn sandwiches and smoked salmon sandwiches. We grabbed one of each and set off slightly disappointed. It turned out that the sandwiches were excellent!
Saying Goodbye is the Hardest Part
After our lunch stop, we continued on to Glasgow to return the Scottish Porsche and officially complete our tour of the North Coast 500. Pat was starting to look a little misty-eyed. He really liked the Mazda S6 and, heck, at $US15/day, what’s not to like? We successfully returned the car and were awarded our full deposit after inspection. We high-fived. Pat wept. The woman thought we were a bit off our nut and offered to take us to the nearest train station so we –would not scare her anymore- could get to our hotel.
We spent the night at the Premier Inn right above the Charing Cross train station. Premier Inns are all over the UK and Ireland and are a great value. Sometimes they are even less expensive than an Airbnb private room and all of the ones we stayed at were clean and comfortable. The only knock is that the free wifi is a little slow, but you can upgrade it if you need faster internet.
Time to Let Someone Else Do the Driving
After a good night’s sleep, we packed up and went downstairs to the station to catch the train to Edinburgh. That was convenient! We checked into the Edinburgh Marriott just about an hour later on the last of our Marriott Points. It was a sad day in that respect, but we didn’t dwell on it. We had a city to explore!
Most notably, Edinburgh’s architecture was amazing. There was an enormous castle that loomed over the entire city and a large Old Town with well kept old buildings and narrow street. People packed the streets, pubs, and parks for the Fringe Festival. Everywhere, there were events, performances, and displays. And… rain. I’m not talking about the misting, drizzling sort of rain. I mean full-on downpour. Thankfully there were pubs.
During one downpour, we ducked into a pub, but we weren’t the only ones with that bright idea. It was packed cheek to jowl with sodden patrons. We squeezed our way toward the bar and managed to get a couple of pints.
After squeezing our way away from the bar, we found a place to stand and then eventually scored a couple of seats at a tiny table. The guy sitting next to us wanted to hear how we liked his country. We told him about the excellent time we had on the North Coast 500 and I mentioned John o’Groats. He started laughing for no reason that I could determine, then he asked me to say it again. “John o’Groats,” I said. He nearly laughed himself off his chair. We started laughing because he was laughing. His wife smacked him and I never did figure out how I was mispronouncing it. It was all in good fun so we stuck around for a second pint.
Maybe There Won’t Be As Much Rain in Dublin…
That wraps up our time in Scotland. The North Coast 500 was beautifully brutal and Edinburgh was a stunning city. If Scotland isn’t on your bucket list, you should consider adding it and doing the North Coast 500 soon. Next, we are off to Ireland!
Hike Drink Live Laugh
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