Monday, May 31, 2010

Scotland Part Three - the Highlands and the Isle of Skye

There was a great day in Edinburgh before Dan and I set off for the Highlands and Skye, but more on that later.

Dan cleverly reserved an automatic car rental for us, which we picked up at the airport. We were assigned a very smooth-riding VW Golf. Yep, two Jews riding in Europe in the Car of the People! Gotta love it. Here's the sign that greeted us as we exited, lest we forget which country we're driving in:

Once we were on the outskirts of the Highlands, there was a scenic beach where we found a food cart run by this very cheery couple. Dan insisted I try the national breakfast sandwich of square sausage, bacon, egg and cheese. I actually felt my arteries congealing as I ate, but it was delicious. The square sausage, made from Highland beef, was especially good. Hey, I'm on vacation...

The sky turned on its mood clouding just in time for our approach.

Of course, no visit to this part of the world is complete without one of these guys. I stayed a safe distance. So no, I did not pay the piper.

Then the sun came out and we could see the Highlands in their glorious beauty. We had some time to kill before our ferry to Skye, so we decided to get a pot of tea. We found this this weird little B and B that was playing selections from country music soundtracks mixed in with live Rod Stewart tracks. After some time in that purgatorial lobby, we escaped to wait out the remaining time on a nice beach.

Then after a short ferry ride, we made it to Skye. But it was a bank holiday and the only place to stay with vacancy was a 4-star hotel and the only place to eat was a 1-star Michelin-rated restaurant, the Kinloch Lodge. Daumage... We had a good, if not slightly precious meal, where we met this very outgoing older Aussie couple who had been traveling round the world, as Aussies do. After some conversation, they wanted to buy us all drams so Dan and I could give them a quick lesson on single malts. Fun had by all. Here is the scene outside the restaurant as dusk settled on this beautiful land.

The next morning, after a yummy two-course breakfast of yogurt and berries, then peat-smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with toast, we set out on some sight-seeing before our 1:30 appointment at Talisker. Of course, the only few minutes it rained hard is when we had wanted to hike at the Old Man of Storr mountain, which we ended up not doing. But here's a look from the road.

As we drove off, this silly cow tried to cross the road.

The sky cleared a bit, and Dan showed me one of his favorite scenic views, with green hills, a waterfall, and of course, sheep.

We drove down the road a piece and more stunning views of cliffs and greenery. But first, a warning sign if there ever was one.

Here's me at the other view. Thirty degree difference between this day and the day before. And I HATE posing for pictures like these!

We then set off for Talisker. But there was another cool lookout point, so we stopped, and I snapped more photos of little sheep.

Here's a shot from the bridge approaching Talisker. I think this shot is very impressionistic, very Lamby Van Gogh.

So here we are at Talisker. A place I've always wanted to visit.

Our Diageo connection, Spike McClure, set up this appointment for us. We were to join the Connoisseur's Tour. So it was us and several paying visitors, mostly French. Not nearly the personal and intimate treatment we got at Auchentoshan. And because the distillery is owned by such a big corporation, certain bits were off limits. In fact, because of something going on at the time that wasn't fully explained, we couldn't even see the stills. But Lesley, our tour guide, was quite charming. Despite being somewhat programmed to discuss only Diageo-owned brands when talking about malts. The tasting at the end was generous. Six good-sized drams. The non aged white spirit so we could taste it, the 10 year, the 18 year (my personal favorite), the Distiller's Edition, the 25 Year and the new 54 North.

Here's the cooling vat, which we viewed in lieu of the stills.

And here's a shot of a 1979 Distillers Edition barrel in the warehouse. Behind glass. The warehouse is bonded and visitors are prohibited beyond the glass.

Then we set off on an afternoon drive to see more beautiful Skye scenes before our reservation at the Three Chimneys.

...and sheep....

Amazing dinner at the Three Chimneys with more peat-smoked salmon, langoustines, oysters with fresh mint sauce and creme fresh as a genius palate cleanser, lamb and souffle with Dambouie sauce. Great, young, English sommelier who among other great suggestions, gave us glasses of an oaked Albarino for the seafood and a glass of one of my favorite Chilean Syrahs, Viu Manent Secreto, with our lamb. Here's what the sky was doing as we ate.

Sadly, because Dan needed to get back to Yvonne and her family (her grandmother's funeral was the next day), we had to cut our Highlands trip short by one day. So we set off back to Edinburgh, stopping at Edradour Distillery on the way.

Clearly, the sheep didn't want us to leave just yet.

On the way, we passed Eilean Donan Castle, but didn't have time for a tour.

We also passed Dalwhinnie distillery as we left the Highlands.

And then we were at Edradour. Because we had no set appointment, I had to pay the 5 pound entry fee to see it. Dan had already been many times. The fee is a new thing, supposedly to keep out stragglers just in it for a free dram. But we were a little miffed that Dan couldn't even visit the shop without paying the fee. Still, it was a most pleasant tour. The guide, Liam, was fun and engaging. And it's a cute operation. I've always like their 10 Year. On the way out, I caught up with Dan, who was chatting with the owner, James McGown, and his pal Dougie Maclean, the Scottish pop star, who visits once a year to choose a label for the 12 year bottling, the Caledonia, which is an annual malt made in his honor, and his quiet teenaged son. I have to admit I had no idea who he was, but he was fun to talk to.

The stills (double, not triple).

The big sack of barley grain.

And the big red grain mill, aka, the "Moulin Rouge."

Then it was back to Edinburgh, where I would have that night and all of the next day and eve to myself. Actually, it was quite fun! More on that later.

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