Sunday, March 23, 2014

Scotland, A Castley Day (Part 1

So, near the end of February I went on another excursion with my friends James and Nina. This time we went to Scotland, UK. We had originally wanted to fly to Portugal, or somewhere warm, since this was in February and we all have heard horror stories about how dismal Scotland can be in the summer, let alone the winter. As it turned out, we ended up deciding on and flying to Aberdeen, Scotland. Aberdeen, happens to be the third largest city in Scotland and has a neat trait that the majority of it's buildings were built out of a grey granite that has mica flakes in the granite itself, giving the entire city a bit of a sparkle when the sun is shining on it. It was really quite cool to see. Unfortunately, when the sky is overcast then the entire city seems to blend in with the grey clouds and it seems rather sad.

When we flew in Friday night, we took the taxi to our choice of residence for the weekend, which was the Hilton Garden Inn in the center of Aberdeen. It really was a fantastic location, within walking distance of a lot of cool sites in Aberdeen. We immediately checked in and went walking looking for something to eat, even though it was around 2130 in the evening. Unfortunately, every single place we tried to get food at, on the local popular scene on Belmont Street. Unfortunately EVERYONE's kitchen was closed around 2130 on a Friday night... Really disappointing. We again had trouble finding food after 2100 on Sunday night after getting back late from a tour. If you want to eat in any of the tavern/pub style restaurants, make sure you get there around 1900 or the kitchen's may be closed.

The next day we started our excursion around Scotland. For starters we had booked a tour through a private tour guide named Karl Fisher Executive Hire. Let me just say, that Karl was fantastic. The tour we booked on Saturday was to go to three different castles in Scotland. The first castle we visited was Dunnottar Castle, and on the way Karl gave us tons of interesting facts about Scotland, from the history of Aberdeen to stopping in Stonehaven for a picture opportunity of the coast.. 

Dunnottar is a castle ruin that sat on the edge of a cliff in Scotland with a magnificent view of the coast and looked like it would have been the place to live in it's hay day. Unfortunately... while this particular day was beautiful and almost completely sunny, it was VERY windy. And just as we arrived they closed the inside of the castle due to danger from high winds. I guess some of those ruins and stones were barely standing after so many hundreds of years. Even though it was closed, we hiked down to the castle and took some awesome pictures of everything from a waterfall, the castle, coast and odds an ends along the trail. Even with the castle entrance closed, this was a fantastic stop. Before we started off to head to the next location on the tour, Castle Crathes, our tour guide surprised us by bringing out a bottle of scotch and providing a small dram (really, only a drop) of 17 year old scotch by a distillery called Glenn Keith that was mothballed previously and in the process of being reopened. It had a pleasing flavor and was a neat and unexpected experience.

Then we headed off to the next location, which like I said was Castle Crathes. This had a number of awesome pleasures. The first thing we noticed was that there was a Sequoia tree that had been planted there. Completely unexpected, especially this is where I learned that the Sequoia has a very sponge like bark that you can punch fairly hard and not get hurt. I went all the way to Scotland to punch a Sequoia, now that's an icebreaker. After visiting the gift shop and punching the tree, we walked by Crathes' garden which looked amazing and if we had more time I would have liked to visit. We went into the castle and took the guided tour. It's interesting to note, that after visiting this castle we learned that Scotland has a definite pension for ghost stories and loves to have them. There were at least 2 distinct ghost stories that I can remember from the castle itself, one about the green lady and the other about a small boy. It's an interesting twist to the normal routine in castle tours. Going on a Scotland tour is a nice change from the rest or Europe, where english is spoken everywhere. There was also a lot of cool information about the castle. Finally, to wrap up our time here we went to the local cafeteria for lunch and enjoyed some local cuisine while getting to know the two other people that were on our private tour with Karl Fisher.

Once we were done we headed back to Karl to head to the next destination, Drum Castle. Before we left, our tour guide again brought out some beverages to share with us. This time he started with another scotch called Glen Garioch (Pronounced Glen Geary, weird right?) and Lord Lovat Ginger Liqueur. The liqueur was something I had never had before and basically tasted a lot like ginger lemonade, if you have ever tried that. In addition to these beverages Karl also gave us samples of some of the ScottishWalker Shortbread cookies, which were FANTASTIC. After we tried these tastes, we headed to Drum. This was a more modern castle grounds where the castle had actually been kept up and was currently used for weddings and as a hotel. Unfortunately a lot of the castle was currently being remodeled so we didn't get a good view of it. While wandering the grounds Karl told us a lot more history of the castle, Scotland and even showed us a little hidden cemetery near Drum that included a pet cemetery with some amusing names. Before leaving Drum, Karl once again introduced us to two more beverages made in Scotland, including Bowmore 15 year hold, which is a very acquired taste and most people probably won't like it. Also, the Scottish equivalent of Bailey's (which I thought was actually better) of Heather Cream Whiskey Liqueur.

Oh, I just remembered.  Along our trip through the castles, Karl also showed us a neat little river called the Water of Feugh which was a neat stop to use the restroom.  Back to the rest of the day plans, we started our trek back to Aberdeen. All along the way getting more history and really fascinating facts from Karl until he dropped us off at our Hotel in Aberdeen. The experience that we had was such a good experience, and we didn't have anything formal planned for Sunday, that we asked Karl if he was willing to give us another tour on Sunday, which he usually ran his "Mystery Tour". After asking if there was anywhere in particular we might like to see he agreed to pick us up the next day and take us on another adventure.

After we got back we decided to try some of the local Fish'n'Chips that we'd heard so much about in the UK. We ended up going to a pub style restaurant called Slains Castle. This was actually an old Church that had been converted into a pub style restaurant that even had a live band playing music that valentine's day weekend. Remember when I commented about ghost stories? That's how Slains was decorated, with all the ghost stories and mythos of Scotland all around it's walls. It actually made for quite a bit of enjoyable time to pass by while we wandered around reading all the ghost stories. Oh, and the fish'n'chips was actually pretty good too. I recommend visiting Slains (tavern) if you have a chance. It is just a neat experience. After that we headed back to the hotel, to get a good night sleep before heading on our next adventure.

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