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Two Yanks in Scotland – Part Two

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And so we continue our Scottish adventure…

DAY 4

KIRRIEMUIR – BON SCOTT STATUE

Bon Scott statue, Kirriemuir

Bon Scott statue, Kirriemuir

Okay, I’m a HUGE AC/DC fan – I grew up with this music. I was delighted to hear there was a Bon Scott statue in Kirriemuir, so I had to stop there! Fortunately it was only a short diversion on our way to Aberdeen and only 20 miles from Dundee. While Bon fronted this Australian band, he was actually born in nearby Forfar and spent his early years in Kirriemuir. As you can imagine, at 8.30am on a Sunday morning, we had the place to ourselves. For those about to rock, we salute you!

STONEHAVEN – DUNNOTTAR CASTLE

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven © Christian DeBaun

We were on our way to Aberdeen and as we had a bit of time we decided to pop by Dunnottar Castle. We were very surprised to find two tour buses in the parking lot on a Sunday morning – but then again, it’s a very popular place. One of the guides told us that later in the day, it’s not uncommon to have 20+ tour buses.

We didn’t visit the castle proper, but simply had a nice view from the cliffs – the smell of fresh salt air and the opportunity for a quick photo. The sun was rising behind the castle, and it was simply magical. If we had more time, we would have done the full tour.

ABERDEEN – COCOA OOZE

Our next stop was Aberdeen (about a 1.5 hour drive from Dundee) to visit Jamie Hutcheon of Cocoa Ooze, for a chocolate-making class. Rochelle (who has a culinary degree) was the chocolatier and I was the video guy.

Jamie, who set the business up in 2008 when he was just 17, is an amazing guy – filled with energy and a true entrepreneur. He delighted us with his skill, expertise, and joyful ebullience. He has a lovely shop, and sometimes offers chocolatier classes, so check his schedule. He’s a terrific fellow with a big heart, fun and effusive. You’ll learn a lot. Thanks Jamie!

ELLON – BREWDOG BREWERY

Some tasty BrewDog beers!

Some tasty BrewDog beers!

So how much could we pack into one day? A lot, as we scurried from Cocoa Ooze to Ellon (about 30 minutes away) for a tour of the BrewDog Brewery.

We had a tour around the craft brewery and their new LoneWolf Distillery, which produces Scottish gin and has just started producing whisky. Rochelle and I loved the fact that this company is socially minded, eco-conscious, LGBT aware (and supportive), and that they don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of them. Social warriors to be sure and I applaud them!

They started up in 2007 with two employees/shareholders (and a dog) and brewed 1,050 hectolitres of beer. By 2017 this jumped to 1,000+ employees (and a dog), 70,000 shareholders, they brewed 343,253 hectolitres beer and operated 46 bars. They also have a crowd-funded US brewing operation in Columbus, Ohio and hold the record for the world’s strongest beer. These guys are bad ass!

OLDMELDRUM – MELDRUM HOUSE HOTEL

The bucolic and lovely Meldrum House Hotel

The bucolic and lovely Meldrum House Hotel © Christian DeBaun

We stayed at Meldrum House Hotel this night, which was VERY nice. In fact our suite was large and wonderfully accommodated. If you are an avid golfer this is the place to stay. Their course, designed by Graham Webster, is sculpted to perfection in breathtaking scenery and is one of the most beautiful parkland courses in the country. Neither of us are golfers (I used to be), but it’s one of the best places in Scotland for golf.

Day 5

FORRES – BENROMACH DISTILLERY

From Oldmeldrum, off we went (about a 1.5 hour drive) to the Benromach Distillery. Founded in 1898, it’s one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries and produces several excellent whiskies, which we got to sample. Benromach is part of Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail, and the distillery is independently owned by a family with proud, enduring roots in Speyside. Our gracious thanks to the team here for the special and memorable tour.

NEAR DUFFTOWN – AUCHINDOUN CASTLE

We had a wee bit of flex time on our way to Inverness, so we got an early start to hit Auchindoun Castle on the way. It’s off the beaten track and rarely visited – so we had to go! After pulling into the tiny parking lot, it’s about a 1 mile (15 minute) hike to the castle proper. The ruins stand alone in a spectacular setting amid a landscape mostly devoid of settlements. It’s a lonely, romantic location and more than worth the walk. A hidden gem for sure.

INVERNESS – DOLPHIN SPIRIT CRUISE

Dolphin Spirit at Inverness Marina

Dolphin Spirit at Inverness Marina © Christian DeBaun

Inverness was our next stop (about a 1.5 hour drive) to catch the Dolphin Spirit cruise. This was a wonderful two hour excursion out in the bay for some dolphin watching. Dolphin Spirit Inverness has two purpose-built boats which provide a unique experience, with the hope of seeing the resident dolphins. We really enjoyed this, and the weather was perfect!

NAIRN – SANDOWN GUEST HOUSE

We opted for the PERFECT Sandown Guest House in Nairn, for our overnight, where we met owner Liz Burgess. It’s a quick drive 16 miles east of Inverness and a fantastic place, with incredible and well-appointed rooms. Hands down it was our favorite place to stay during the trip. Liz and her husband have put scrupulous detail into every room, and it’s the little touches that make it so fantastic. Bring a good appetite to breakfast, because it’s remarkable.

NAIRN – THE CLASSROOM BISTRO

Cullen Skink and cheesy bread at The Classroom Bistro, Nairn

Cullen Skink and cheesy bread at The Classroom Bistro, Nairn © Rochelle DeBaun

For dinner we had a nice 20 minute walk to the center of Nairn to eat at The Classroom Bistro. What a perfect place for nosh after a busy day. And yes, I finally got my fix of Cullen Skink, along with cheesy bread, a glass of lager, and a dram of whisky!

Day 6

TRAVELING DOWN LOCH NESS

Jacobite Cruise down Loch Ness in 2016

Jacobite Cruise down Loch Ness in 2016 © Rochelle DeBaun

A fairly long drive was planned for the day to end in Glen Coe (about 2.5 hours) so we got on the road early, which allowed us to explore things along the way. Basically we drove down the west side of Loch Ness, which is what I like to call “pay attention” driving. Though the roads are two-lane, they’re narrow – and passing trucks and tour buses make it tight sometimes, all while zipping along at 55 mph.

We had fond memories of our Jacobite Cruise down Loch Ness in 2016 – there’s no better way to see the loch, than on a calm and peaceful cruise. Even though we didn’t spot Nessie, I did manage to spot a wee dram on the Jacobite boat then which has a tiny bar!

FORT AUGUSTUS

After heading down Loch Ness, we had a little bit of time for lunch in Fort Augustus (1.25 hours south of Nairn/Inverness). It’s a wee town of about 600 people, and everything revolves around the boat locks that cut right through the middle of the village. It was amazing to watch the lengthy (and fascinating) process of boats navigating through the six locks from Loch Ness into the River Oich.

GLEN COE – CLACHAIG INN & GLEN ETIVE

Fort Augustus was a lot of fun, but we pressed on and finally arrived at the Clachaig Inn (our second visit here), late in the afternoon. We were tempted to just kick back and enjoy a cocktail, but really wanted to squeeze in another one of Scotland’s hidden gems – Glen Etive.

Many people don’t even know about this hidden road, and its heartbreakingly beautiful views. Many think that the A82, which cuts through Glen Coe, has the killer views but the Glen Etive road beats this. Heading east from the Clachaig Inn (about 7.5 miles) you’ll see a tiny sign directing you down the Glen Etive road. It’s a narrow single lane drive, 11 miles each way and quite slow – an almost two hour round trip to the loch and back – but simply amazing. There are no words to properly describe it and we had perfect weather and fantastic light.

GLEN COE – CLACHAIG INN

The Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe

The Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe

We returned to the Clachaig Inn from our previous trip in 2016, and we simply love this place! It’s a great inn for backpackers and outdoor adventurers, and we were warmly met by owners Guy & Katie Daynes. They have one of the best pubs in Glen Coe, with an astonishing variety of ales and great food, along with live music and ceilidhs.

DAY 7

GLEN COE TO ARDGOUR

The Corran Ferry and Ardgour

The Corran Ferry and Ardgour

From the Clachaig Inn, off we went to Corran just 7.5 miles to our west, to pick up a sweet little ferry to cross over to Ardgour. The car loading takes 10 minutes, and the ferry ride itself is about 2 minutes (ha!), so very short.

ARDGOUR TO LOCHALINE

The quiet A861 road to Lochaline

The quiet A861 road to Lochaline © Christian DeBaun

This is possibly one of the most remote parts of Scotland we have ever visited. Whether you are religious or not, you would have to call this ‘God’s Country’. The drive is remote, quiet and bereft of much traffic, with long stretches of empty single lane roads with few ‘Passing Places’. If you had to define this drive, it would be equivalent to the American ‘badlands’. A part of Scotland that is totally empty and totally magnificent.

LOCHALINE – WHITEHOUSE RESTAURANT

We had some fantastic meals in Scotland (too many to count), but the Whitehouse Restaurant in Lochaline was one of the best. Sarah Jones and Jane Stuart-Smith have been running the place since 2003 and the food is amazing for a small settlement of 100 people.

Much of their greenery comes from a wonderful garden run by Sarah’s mum, Lesley, who also looks after their flock of chickens, with the help of 12 year old Archie and 8 year old Eadie. They make all of their own super delicious bread each morning using organic flour and they recently won the Scottish Sourcing category for the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards 2018. Don’t miss this wee place, it’s fantastic.

ISLE OF MULL – FISHNISH TO FIONNPHORT

Fionnphort sunset, looking west across the bay to Iona

Fionnphort sunset, looking west across the bay to Iona © Rochelle DeBaun

After our delicious lunch it was time for a short CalMac ferry ride over to Fishnish – slightly longer this time (about 15 minutes) – on the Isle of Mull. This stunning island is full of breathtaking scenery and is almost 90% single lane driving, with quite a bit more traffic. By then I had gotten pretty used to using ‘Passing Places’ and the simple ‘wave of thanks’ after passing each car. The drive south to Fionnphort is a little over an hour, but it’s a leisurely drive with lots of opportunities to stop and enjoy the landscape.

We stayed in a lovely little B&B called Caol Ithe Guest House, run by Cathy and Mike Drury. This was perfectly situated for our next’s day ferry trip to the Isle of Staffa, as the guest house is only a 5 minute walk from the Iona and Staffa ferries. Rochelle had a lovely walk around Fionnphort after dinner and captured this spectacular sunset. Best photo of the trip!

Find out how our trip finished up in Part 3, check out the first few days of our Scottish adventure in Part 1, and find out what I really thought of Scotland in my follow up observations post.

You can also read more about the great road trips and city breaks you can enjoy throughout the country.

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