The adventures of Jasper Part 2.
09.05.2012 - 21.05.2012
Ayyyeeee there ya wee little blog readers, I shall tell ye a tale of scotch, haggis, neeps and tatties. (end scottish accent)
Ahh Scotland, by far the easiest place to fall in love with in the United Kingdom, its no wonder the Scots fought so hard to claim their independence. With a piece of land this beautiful I'd paint my face blue and charge at anyone who tried to tear it from my grasp as well.
Our first stop in Scotland was Edinburgh and in true UK weather style we arrived to prevailing winds and drizzle. Not wanting to let the rain dampen our moods we made a beeline for the first pub that sold Haggis and Scotch by the gallon.
Now Haggis…I had heard a lot about this dish over my many years, in fact as a youngster I can actually remember someone telling me about this fabled dish, made from the stomach of a sheep filled with all kinds of nasties. I actually pictured a firry red haired Scot in a Kilt, bagpipes in hand eating something that resembled the actual bagpipes he was holding….
With my order placed I was nervous with anticipation, would this be the strangest thing I had eaten so far? The mood was tense and my had trembled with every sip of my ale, after what seemed like minutes my Haggis finally arrived, placed in front of me, steam clouded my vision, through the mist my food beamed out in all its glory and it was well… kind of normal, nothing like I had expected. There was a neat pile of mince looking substance, some sweet smelling root vegetable and a manicured pile of potato mash all drizzled with some sexy looking gravy… My mouth watered instantly.
For a second I wondered where this grotesque looking sheeps stomach was, had my order been mistaken? Was I not worthy of such a dish? I turned around to beckon the waiter back to my table, then it dawned on me, almost like a blanket of disappointment, a friend of ours who we had met along the way (who happened to be Scottish) had told me that we would not find Haggis traditionally served in the stomach anymore… devastating! All my disappointment was demolished in a second however as I took my first mouthful of Haggis; the spicy, gamey, a touch smokey and totally delicious flavours filled my mouth and I was hooked – I loved it so much that I ordered it another 4 times whilst in Scotland.
After expanding my culinary career we made our way to the only castle we would visit in the UK, Edinburgh Castle. I’d like to say we could have picked a better day but the reality of it is I don't think Scotland has too many "better" days. During lunch the rain had not subdued nor had the wind, so we donned our warmest non-waterproof down jackets and made our way up the castle. It took us all of around 2 hours before our jackets were soaked through and a soggy Renee and I decided that beautiful architecture and brilliant location could not keep the chill out and it was time for home. Edinburgh castle is stunning however, even if it’s raining.
From Edinburgh we made our way to the next thing you should do in Scotland… distilleries! Like fine wines, Scotch has different regions, 6 in fact. Spoilt for choice, and with only a week to spare we decided to pick only 2 regions; Speyside and Islay both producing vastly different tasting Scotches.
Our trip to the Speyside scotch region was without a doubt the most interesting day of driving and weather we have ever encountered. Not wanting to meander down miles of dull motor way we opted for a more scenic route through the Cairngorms national park. Having no idea of the terrain or the gradient of its slopes we set off in the morning sun, blissfully unaware of the day ahead. As the back roads took the lighter approach and thinned out to what would almost be considered a single lane, the sky closed in over us, casting a dark ominous shadow over the national park that lay ahead. Yet we pushed on thinking nothing of the weather above. First it started raining, nothing that we hadn't experienced before, so we pushed on. The road started winding through small rolling hills, gradually becoming steeper until we could no longer see the end of the road we were driving on. It was absolutely spectacular, low cloud hid the giant hills that loomed in the distance, the air became colder, and the next thing we knew we were climbing very steep hills with only 20 meters of visibility. The rain eventually surrendered to the altitude and temperature transforming into heavy snow flakes. Jasper was in the middle of snow fall! It took us nearly 3 hours to pass through 100 kilometres of national park, having to drop down to first gear many, many times. It’s probably one of the best driving experiences I have ever had!
By the end of the day we found a small picnic area near an ancient 3 humped bridge where we spent the night, ready to hit up 3 of the Speyside distilleries the next day!
Whilst I find distilleries wicked sexy and fascinating, I won’t bang on about them too much. Basically they have been around for donkeys years, you get barley, let it malt, toast it, crush it, add water and yeast, let it ferment, stick it in hand made copper stills, boil it and pour it into casks for a minimum of 3 years (there is a 3 year minimum aging of scotch, and it can only be called scotch if it’s made in Scotland) then bottle it and enjoy (perhaps not after 3 years, it would probably taste like shit).
In the Speyside region we visited 3 distilleries most of you may probably have heard of; Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. Unfortunately for us the latter of the 3 happened to be closed on a Sunday and not wanting to waste any time we took off and decided to have a crack at finding old Nessie.
What started off as a nice windy overcast Scottish morning, turned into (what I'd consider) an equivalent to the "Perth Storm" that all of your survived this year.
The wind and rain picked up around 11am, and by the time we reached the Ness, it was chaos. Jasper could barely drive in a straight line, and the loch was so choppy that Kelly slater could have won a surf competition on its waves. Not wanting to stop and sight see along the loch we headed straight for our campsite, passing the Commandos memorial and several sheep along the way.
With our campsite secured and myself soaking wet from having to check in, we settled in for scotch and Renee's introduction to Braveheart (I actually managed to find a second-hand unopened copy of Braveheart at a market in Edinburgh score!) while the wind and rain made its best efforts to invade every crack and crevice of Japser.
After a long night of howling wind and torrential rains, we woke to an almost clear blue sky and a glassy loch, with a backdrop of rounded hills covered in scars formed by fresh running water cascading down their slopes. Wow!
Not wanting to let such a rare sunny day go to waste we headed to the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis, famous for being, well, the highest peak in the UK and also the set for the filming of Braveheart.
Nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis is the small pub The Ben Nevis Inn (original eh?)
Though we couldn't see the peak of Ben Nevis through the clouds, looking out to it whilst eating Haggis and sipping Scotch was a soulfully satisfying experience. The green, peaty, sheep covered slopes flowed into the clouds above, sun breaking through every now & then creating a green/grey patchwork of land, it was and hopefully will always be truly breathtaking.
Three nights passed at the Bunree campsite and with no real plans on our day of check out we had no idea where we actually wanted to go. The general outline had us heading towards Ireland, but with ferries costing a bomb, and the possibility of having to spend 13hrs sitting in a seat rather than resting our heads in a cabin (due to our unorganised method of travel) I suggested the idea of heading to the small island of Islay.
For those that don't know, Islay is a small Island off the west coast of Scotland, most renowned for its production of Islay Whiskies from the 8 distilleries located on its shores. If it hadn't been for a couple we met at the Glenfiddich distillery, we would have never ended up at Islay. They had suggest we head there if we liked Scotch, I did, Renee didn't, however I managed to convince her it was the cheaper and more interesting route to the one we had previously planned. She agreed and we set off towards the ferry port to Islay, again completely unprepared with no tickets booked and no idea where the ferry port actually was. Arriving at the ferry port with no booked tickets saw us sitting in a queue of 3-4 other cars waiting and wishing for any free space on the ferry. Lady luck happened to be on our side that day and granted us only just enough room to squeeze our van onto the boat with literally only a foot of room to spare.
We landed on Islay greeted by a clear sky and a warm orange sunset, as we drove to the south eastern most tip to scope out a place to park over night as the sun dipped below the horizon creating a vivid silhouette of the Port Ellen malting's.
We woke fairly early the next morning to try and visit as many of the 8 distilleries as we could cram into 1 day, we only managed 2 (again due to our last minute organising skills) Laphroig and Lagavullin.
Once you have been to one distillery, you have been to pretty much all scotch distilleries, whilst many have slight differences they are all the same process. What makes the experience unique is the interaction you get from the staff and the distillery itself. Laphroig distillery had us signing up to their "friends of Laphroig" program. This entitles you to 1 square foot of land at the laphroig distillery and a free small bottle of Laphroig scotch every time you visit the distillery in person. It was a nice experience and a little more personal than other scotch tours.
We spent the night at a nice little beach and the next day checking out another 2 distilleries before we hopped on the 4pm ferry and headed back to the mainland, spending one last night at a picnic area on one of Scotland’s many lochs.
As we made our way towards England, Scotland serenaded us with its final goodbye in the form of a Kilt clad Scot, bagpipes screeching away as stopped for lunch on the Scotland/England boarder before heading back to London. What an unforgettable place!
Sitch Pub score at the end of Scotland:
Joel - 176
Renée - 159