While I enjoy exploring a country by immersing myself in the local culture and day to day life, occasionally a tour is a blessing.
On our Scottish adventure we took part in a variety from self led to booked-to-the-minute guided tours. In this post I will go through a few of my favorites, including the best Scotch Whiskey Tour.
Our first night in Edinburgh we were fortunate enough to enjoy a walking tour led by a friend who lives there. This was a fabulous tour grounded in our love for Harry Potter and our desire to get a general overview of the city. Edinburgh is one of the few cities I have visited that offers free walking tours covering a variety of interesting topics. The people leading these tours seem to be well informed and thorough. If we had not been with a friend we would have joined one of them.
Doune Castle outside of Stirling is a tour I would highly recommend. This castle is not only historically interesting, it is also a filming location for Outlander and Monty Python. It is a self led tour so you receive as much or as little information as you want. The recordings you hear have characters from both enterprises. It is equal parts entertaining and informative.
Culloden, near Inverness, is an incredible experience. While Culloden was a pivotal point in Outlander it is also a battle with immense historical significance. While I enjoyed the Outlander addition to Doune, I was pleased that it only made an appearance in the gift shop on this tour. Initially, you are set on a self led tour through a gallery. On this walk you hear from both the Scottish and the English sides. Following this quick debrief of events you are sent on to the battlefield itself.
The field is being regrown into the bog it would have been in 1745. There are flags to identify whose line you are on and plaques every so often telling you which part of the line you are in. The number of men in the area, as well as, the number who died is listed. On the Jacobite side the clans are listed. In the middle of the field there is a monument and grave stones with clans names. Powerful bits of poetry and side stories are littered throughout. The whole set up and the way you engage with it is emotionally powerful. Despite the fact that you are adjacent to a roadway you almost feel like you’re back in 1745.
This experience may leave you wanting a drink. Scotland is regaled for Scotch whiskey. There are many regions of whiskey but the most robust is Speyside. A key piece of information to know is the drinking and driving rules in Scotland are extreme. It only takes about half a pint for a person to be over the limit. Due to this hiring a driver for the tour is essential. The guide we chose is Duncan Cartwright of Highland Spirits Tours. We made an excellent choice. Not only are Duncan’s prices very reasonable but he works with you to coordinate a tour that suits your needs. Ours included Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, the new Macallan visitors experience, and the cooperage.
Duncan supplied us with tidbits of information about each brewery before we got there. We stopped at some picturesque points along the way, learned a bit of Gaelic, and about his other favorite whiskeys.
Glenfiddich is the only family owned distillery that we visited but their tour is very commercial. They have an amazing restaurant where we stopped for lunch and artists in residence that supply them with phenomenal works. The grounds are gorgeous.
Glenlivet had the best tour guide of the day. He was so passionate about his job and his company. We could see the distillery through his eyes. He made sure to answer all of our questions and when we ran over our time a bit, packed up our tastings for us.
Finally, Macallan. This is a new visitors experience that opened in June. It is extremely modern with the building appearing to be underground. Offset, somewhat comically, by their herd of highland cows. This tour was hyper modern with interactive stops all controlled by iPads. This tasting was the most involved with a bartender walking us through each dram. He would tell us the best way to taste each dram to get maximum flavor and go through their individual profiles.
While each tour had its merits it was so interesting to hear about each distilleries water sources and how the three are giving back to their neighbors and Scotland as a whole. These tours were eye opening to a person who previously discounted scotch. Not only do I have a new appreciation, thanks to Duncan, I even found a few brands outside of the distilleries we visited that I know I enjoy.
So while in Scotland, immerse yourself in the culture and day to day life but if you feel so inclined I hope you try and enjoy these tours!