My 35 day stint overseas comes to an end with my week in Scotland. I was able to experience bits of Edinburgh, Fife, St. Andrews, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire during my stay. I was given a “taste” of all these places and that always makes one want to go back. That is a point of a tour we always say!
Edinburgh is quite magical. The buildings and the streets! It reminded me a bit of Salzburg but hilly and easier to navigate. I always look for a point of reference for when I am walking around to use as my compass, per se, and the Edinburgh Castle was that for me. Perched high on the hill, it was helpful when looking for my way back to my hotel. My time in Edinburgh did fly by as I was there for the VisitScotland expo to meet suppliers on behalf of new groups for our company. Since I have never been to Scotland previously, this was a fantastic way for me to learn about destinations and all Scotland has to offer. It is incredible to amount of hotels, shows, distilleries, events, etc. that suppliers have for tourists. It is fun to see how companies are setting themselves apart! We did have a welcome event one evening and that took place at the Edinburgh Castle! How lucky am I? There was food, wine, and entertainment. The entertainment was so much fun being it was bagpipes and tattoo dancing! Very Scottish and I loved being in the mix of experiencing it.
After a successful expo, I continued on with a small group on a tour called “The Flavours of Scotland”. How perfect for my interested (but maybe not so much for the body) being it was all about eating my way through Scotland. Well it was fantastic! Our days are packed and busy but the balance was executed very well and we were able to do and see a lot – even if we were just seeing things through the bus we were in. Our first day was spent in Fife. We visited St. Andrews (where Will and Kate met, yes…oh and the famous golf course) and had lunch and visited the British Golf Museum. It was a brief stop but it was impressive. It was very cool to see the green that the British Open is played on and drive through the city where St. Andrews University is, too. We also saw the coffee shop where Will and Kate always used to go for coffee while dating. I could have spent a lot more time there. Such a cute area! We moved forward from there to visit Glamis Castle for a quick tour, tea and scones. Glamis Castle is considered the most beautiful castle in Scotland and the childhood home for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. It was quite gorgeous and has so much history to it. It is even said that the rooms are haunted!
From there we carried on to Glen Garioch Distillery. It was time for whiskey tasting! You absolutely cannot visit Scotland without tasting a wee bit of whiskey at least. This distillery has been around since 1797 and been handcrafting single malt whiskies for over 200 years. We were able to experience the whiskey through a whiskey a cheese tasting. It was so interesting to see a cheddar paired with a whiskey but went together so nicely. A woman in our group wanted to bring some whiskey home to her husband and so we were able to also see the process that they offer to guests of bottling their own whiskey. She bottled a whiskey that has been aging for 18 years!!! I am not a huge whiskey lover but I can appreciate a good whiskey and let me tell you…wow! It was a memorable experience sampling the “water of life” or “uisage beatha” as the Scots say.
The following day is one I was looking forward to as we started it off with a visit to Dean’s Shortbread. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a variety of warm shortbread and hot coffee and tea. They sure know the way to my heart is through my stomach! It is a family owned and operated business that was started by Helen Dean in 1975 when she was trying to raise money for the Huntly pipe band. The pride themselves on that they really do hand make most of the shortbread that is still being produced from the original recipe. They want to make sure that their biscuits look hand made and not machine made. They only work with the finest quality ingredients and it takes about 1,400 dedicated diary cattle to supply the amount of butter needed annually. WHOA! It really has a nice buttery flavor to it that absolutely melts in your mouth. We were not to see any of the production as they do not produce on Saturday, however, they have an open kitchen so you can see most of the steps. There are a few steps that remain a secret and rightfully so.
From our shortbread tasting we continued on to lunch. Yes, sounds crazy but this day is packed with eating! As we drove to lunch we experienced all 4 seasons in a 2 hour drive. We had rain, snow and sunshine! Our drives were beautiful as we went through the mountains and could watch the highland cows relaxing and the sheep grazing. They were everything and it really was beautiful. They sure did look happy!
Our lunch consisted of soup and tea sandwiches. One thing nice about this tour was that lunch was never huge. The soups were always nice and the sandwiches were a mix of meats, veggies or egg. Always followed with tea or coffee, of course, too. From lunch we went up the road to Cambus O’May Cheese Company for a tour and cheese tasting. This was an experience I will not forgot. We were shown how they make the cheese by hand! They have machines do some of the work but a lot of it is done by hand. Absolutely incredible yet so time consuming. It was really cool to see the stages from beginning with milk to actually tasting their aged product. We walked through the aging rooms and tasted most of their cheeses. One thing that really stood out from James, the owner’s nephew, that stood out was the passion. He loves what he does and you can tell just how he speaks about it. He had a smoked cheese that was my favorite. It is Auld Reekie.
From there we probably needed a snack right? Of course! We traveled through the Highlands to Scone Palace. This is where many King of Scots were crowned and the home of the Earls of Mansfield today. We could not take pictures inside due to it still being a family home. The grounds are beautiful and there are many peacocks that roam the gardens. One important aspect to the Palace and their kitchen is that they grow a lot of their own ingredients in their own gardens. You could definitely taste the difference. We had a snack of shortbread, sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, coffee and tea. It was just wonderful!
Our last day was quick as it was more like a half day. We stopped to see the Forth Bridges at South Queensferry on our way back to Edinburgh before continuing to Prestonfield House for lunch. The grounds here were beautiful and it was a perfect way to toast the end of the tour all finished with sticky toffee pudding.
Thank you for welcoming me with open arms, Scotland. You are fantastic and I cannot wait to be back!