Monday, May 30, 2011

Scotland, Day Six: Whiskey, pigs, and Pitlochry

Day Six was a traveling day. After another breakfast of eggs and salmon, we left our Inverness B&B, headed for Pitlochry. But the kids had been reading Rick Steves and shortly after 10:00 a.m. I found myself sipping whiskey at the Tamotin Distillery. (I am a confirmed white wine drinker and noticed throughout how sophisticated my kids are—they sipped whiskey, discussed the bouquet of the red wines they ordered, consumed a gallon each of cappuccino, compared the taste of ales, and ordered sangria with their tapas.)
Tamotin was once the biggest distillery in Scotland and is the only one where most employees live on the grounds. Housing was built years ago so that if a storm stranded employees, they were close to home. No tours were offered that day, but we watched a video and talked at length with the hostess in the hospitality room. I found this whiskey a bit less biting than my previous drink, but it’s not my drink of choice.
Next stop was Blair Castle, which we just sort of happened on—after all, we didn’t have our sights on a castle for the day. Although Rick Steves doesn’t mention it, Blair is a magnificent, beautifully maintained castle. But it’s more like a museum, with each room containing a display of clothing, pictures, artifacts, etc. One room had furniture made entirely from birch wood, which was unusual. From the moment you walk in, you’re aware that the Blairs were great hunters: the grand lobby is full of long rifles, swords, spears, etc. Every hallway in the castle is lined near the ceiling with mounted antlers crammed together, and other trophies can be found in various rooms. I heard my only bagpipers of the trip at Blair Castle—they were in the courtyard three floors below us, practicing for a wedding to be held at the castle that night. The wedding would apparently be in the great dining hall, a huge room but again one lined with weaponry and souvenirs of hunting. Megan murmured, “I wouldn’t want to be married in this room.” But attached to the dining hall are a cafeteria with kitchen (yes, they ordered cappuccino) and a reception area, so you can see why people rent the facility.
I had been told that Pitlochry was the most charming town in Scotland, and research on the Web confirmed that it is picturesque and interesting. In reality, it was a disappointment, a tourist-oriented town that reminded me of the negative aspects of the plaza in Santa Fe. And crowded? Don’t ask. Steves said good restaurants were plentiful, singled out one or two, and we tried. No room, so we ended in the Old Mill Inn which was picturesque enough until we were seated in an annex without a bit of character. What happened to all those leather chairs and the dark wood paneling of the front room? Colin enjoyed fish and chips, and Megan and I had ordinary sandwiches. 
Colin and Megan traipsed across a parking lot to see a salmon ladder, but it was raining and I'd seen a salmon ladder in Oregon. I waited in the car with my book.

The highlight of Pitlochry for the kids was the Eduadour distillery, the smallest in Scotland. I elected not to go on the tour (lesson: wear thin socks with athletic shoes—blisters were hurting me!) and sat in the hospitality room, a bit alarmed when they began turning off the lights. Megan came to get me just in time. Colin and Megan thought this whiskey the best they tasted and the tour really informative. It was conducted by an older woman who, they said, had a terrific sense of humor.
Megan had decided to cancel our overnight reservations in Pitlochry, since we weren’t as enchanted as we expected, and push on to St. Andrews where she had made new reservations. As we left Pitlochry, she said, “That’s where we were going to stay. We’d be home by now.” The drive wasn’t long and, as it turned out, our accommodations at Vicarford were well outside the city. In fact, they were pretty well outside the village of St. Michael’s. As we drove into the country, Megan began to hope our reservation, which she’d made through a service, hadn’t gone through, but it had. We were expected and welcomed; the hostess suggested that the food at the St. Michael’s Inn was good home-cooking and less expensive than where we had reservations in St. Andrews. She even called ahead to put the innkeeper on the lookout for us, and again we were warmly welcomed. Colin and I had bangers and mash with more roast onion whiskey gravy. Delicious and something I can fix at home. Megan, who never was as taken by Scottish food, had lentil soup.

We couldn’t decide if we were staying on a working farm or not, but it looked suspiciously like that. Next morning I looked out, and the field beyond the driveway was full of hogs. I wondered if we were on a pig farm. Megan thought she could smell them. Neither of the kids liked this B&B but aside from the fact that it was expensive, I thought it was fine and the hosts most cordial people. We had separate rooms—Colin tried to say we should split up by boys and girls but Megan insisted I take the bedroom with one bed. She didn’t want to hear me snore.
Our trip was winding down.

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