On the Sunday before last, I was lucky enough to be coasting through the Highlands of Scotland. It was green as can be, except for periodic dustings of snow. I’ve never been one for tours – or, at least I didn’t think I was. Steve turned me around. He was our tour guide and the profession fits him just perfectly. A lovely old man now, he was born in Scotland and has lived in the country for most of his life. He has the frolicking accent to prove it.
Our day took all day: a tasting tour at Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery, lunch and walks around the Loch Lomond, and an evening to explore Stirling Castle. In between destinations, Steve narrated the story of Mary Queen of Scots to us while we looked out big glass windows at the “hills” and grazing sheep. It beat any history lesson I’ve ever attended. Steve kept referring to the Highlands as the “hills”… to me, they are huge, snow-capped mountains. I sat next to him at lunch (he ordered a meat pot pie). He told me a lot of cool things, the stuff that spews from a wise man when he’s talking the thing he knows best. Two points stick out: 1) While all the land in the entire country is owned by less than 10 individuals, Scotland still maintains an open access land policy. This means there are no No Trespassing signs. Anyone is free to roam the country as they please (you just can’t go within 50 meters of a house without permission.) “So, camping?” I asked. “That’s exactly right… you’re allowed to pitch a tent for up to 2 nights anywhere in the country,” he said. And, 2) In England, the Queen is called “Queen Elizabeth.” In Scotland, the Queen is called “Elizabeth, Queen of the Scots.” She answers to the people.
Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery was our first stop, no mind the early hour. The Distillery is almost 200 years old. They pride themselves on making the slowest distilled single malt whiskey in all of Scotland. We walked through each part of the process. I can’t tell you how good it smelled! And I did finished my (very very very strong) whiskey (albeit in tiny sips) ’cause I knew my dad would ask.
We arrived at Stirling Castle while the sun was still out and left in the dark. Steve said the Castle is usually the first stop in the morning, but that because of the road’s steep hills we would go there last. The town had yet to spread salt over the snow and ice that fell the night before, and he didn’t want us and the bus to slide down backwards. (He was right to wait, the town of Stirling is like a cobble-stoned spiral staircase). He told us the darkness would be just as magical – the whole castle would be lit by floodlights come sunset. Oh, little Steve. Right again! The moss in the nooks & crannies of the castle may have been my favorite part.
During the day, as we drove along, sometimes we would be following a footpath that hugged the side of the road. Other times I’d look down and the footpath would have disappeared, presumably in another direction. Steve said that footpath is 97 miles long; it goes deep into the Highlands where, I kid you not, he said: “there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of.”