Saturday, 18 May 2019

Elgin to Drumnadrochit

After a great time in Pitlochry we travelled north to Elgin visiting Cairngorm Brewery en route to pick up a selection of beers to try once we're home. We also visited the Speyside Cooperage detailed in my previous post. I will be writing a dedicated post on all the distilleries we have visited so this post focuses on the other exciting places we've discovered.

But first I must mention our Elgin hotel, Mansion House. As you can see it's a grand building and was once a grand hotel. Sadly now it has seen better days; its pool is closed, its pool table has split velvet and its overall decor is in need of some tlc.
Msnsion House Hotel 
That said our room was great; old, quirky but a real treat. Twin beds is not our usual choice but who would say no to a room with two four poster beds! Being on the ground floor gave us a French door leading to the terrace, perfect for enjoying the warm sunny evenings and enjoying a glass of wine.

Our twin four poster beds
Just outside our hotel was Ladyhill, the site of Elgin Castle. Built in the 12th Century there are still a few walls of this ancient stronghold, however it is the 80 foot monument built in 1839 to the 5th Duke of Gordon that now stands high above the town. Climbing the numerous steps to reach the top was worth it for the view across the town and almost to the sea at Lossiemouth.

Monument to 5th Duke of Gordon
At the opposite end of the town stands the ruins of Elgin Cathedral. Alexandra II granted the town royal charter in 1224 and giving land for the cathedral to be built for the Bishop of Moray. Completed less than twenties years later the Cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1270 and sihas been repaired, destroyed, repaired and finally left to crumble. Elgin has played a big part in Scottish history from Macbeth in 1040 to the Duke of Cumberland (who defeated the Jacobites at Culloden) in 1746.

Elgin Cathedral 
It's imposing towers, now in ruins
After two nights in Elgin we travelled on to Drumnadrochit visiting two National Trust for Scotland properties en route. The first was Brodie Castle, a building that has been in the Brodie family for over 400 years. It's had many changes and additions all explained by our guide. The Library was amazing with its wooden panelling and over 6,000 books. The stone staircase caused me a little trouble as it was very worn, having once been an external stairway each step was also quite weathered.
Brodie Castle
Driving on from the castle we were surprised and delighted to see Culloden Viaduct. Its 29 spans cross the River Nairn valley. Covering 549m in length this railway viaduct is the longest masonry viaduct in Scotland.

Culloden Viaduct
Our second National Trust of Scotland property was not a building but a battlefield. The Battle of Culloden is significant in Scottish history, its popularity increased by the Outlander TV series. The battle took place on 16th April 1746 between the Red Coats (British Government) and the Jacobites (those wanting to restore the House of Stuart). The Duke of Cumberland's army won the battle with 300 wounded or killed soldiers; the Jaobite loss was far greater, 2000 killed in a battle that lasted just a few hours.

Battlefield of Culloden 
It was quite moving to see the size of the battlefield, and some has already been built on. Not all the land has been excavated, it is a cemetry for many who fell in battle. The National Trust for Scotland has built a cottage to show how it was at the time, inside is a display showing how they are working to stop more of this important site being developed.

Culloden cottage
Two great visits, there is just do much to see. Drumnadrochit is on the banks of Loch Ness, famous for the sea monster Nessie. The Caladonian Canal starts in Inverness, joins Loch Ness and continues as the canal south of the loch towards Fort William, we'll be travelling this way after our few days here.

Caladonian Canal
Our first view of Loch Ness
We've had beautiful weather so far, perfect for a stroll to the local pub for fish and chips sitting outside in the evening sun ..... and yes we did find Nessie !

Fish and chip supper
We did find Nessie! 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Whisky and cask

Wandering through Pitlochry we noticed a whisky shop that offered tastings .... drawn in like bees to nectar we entered Robertson's of Pitlochry. Neither Hubby or myself know very much about whisky, one reason for this Scottish holiday was to learn more.

The shop was full of whisky bottles from blends to very expensive malts. We were greeted by Ewan who explained the tasting would be a flight of four whiskies that would all be described and presented by Jeff. It seemed the ideal way to start our whisky journey and so we settled into the Bothy Bar with our four Glencairn glasses ready and waiting on their wooden stave. 

Robertson's of Pitlochry
The Bothy Bar - our tasting table waiting
I'm so pleased we met Jeff, his whisky knowledge delivered with such humour and expertise open up a new world to us. I have learnt so much .... most importantly where I have been going wrong in the past.

Firstly malt whisky is never served with ice; the Glencairn glasses are shaped like a tulip to purposefully sit in your hand as whisky should be enjoyed at blood temperature and the best way to reach this is to cradle your glass in your hand. I know now why I have many pictures of my Dad hugging his whisky glass.

Secondly you should not add mixers to cask whisky, save those for whisky blends. Using a pipette you should add a drop of water at a time, an Angel's Tear, until the drink is smooth enough for your palette.

Neither Hubby or myself like peaty whiskies, we find they taste too much like antiseptic so our four tastings were not that style. These are the four whiskies we tasted:

Tomartin - this has been distilled in 2 casks, a bourbon cask and sherry cask. It is the casks that give the whiskies their distinctive flavour. This was a 12 year old whisky with a smooth toffee and vanilla flavour which was from the bourbon barrels and a hint of fruit and spice from the sherry ones.

Dalmore - a 12 year old single malt whisky made using sherry barrels. I needed 3 drops of water added to this whisky, but of the four it was my favourite.

Robertson's Glen Ord - Robertson's buy single cask whisky from specially chosen distillers, develop it to produce their own label whisky. These are limited supply, it depends on the production from the single cask bought, this particular whisky was a supply of 195 bottles. Both Hubby and I liked this immediately, aromas of coconut and chocolate which continued in the mouth, a really smooth whisky even at 56% alcohol.

Robertson's Craigellachie - again a single cask purchased and developed, this whisky had Orange and honey tones with a hint of smokiness. At 57.8% it was too harsh for me, even with 6 Angel Tears.

Jeff with our four tasting whiskies
Thank you Ewan and Jeff for a superb afternoon and for introducing us to the world of whiskies ... a dangerous place looking at some whiskies, I never knew they could be so expensive, or addictive!

Leaving Pitlochry this morning we travelled north to our next hotel at Elgin. On the way we paused at Craigellachie to visit Speyside Cooperage. What an amazing place, I have seen barrels in France containing wine and at Copper Rivet Distillery for their whisky but I had not appreciated how skilled the coopers are. 

After a short film showing how the wood for the barrels is from Kentucky, as these oaks grow taller and straighter so more wood is usable, we moved on to an enclosed viewing platform to watch the coopers at work.

It takes four years apprenticeship to become a cooper, all the work is done by hand and eye. Here the coopers were working on old barrels that distillers want refurbishing. A barrel once made has the insides charred, it is this charring that has an effect on the whisky to give it its flavour and colour. 

To refurbish a barrel each has it's metal hoops removed bar the top one and is then inspected. Any damaged or broken panels are replaced and the hoops put back. The barrel is then recharred before the top and bottom are put back on ... that all sounds simple but watching the coopers work it really is a very skillful job. They work so quickly too, mainly because they are still paid piece work ... by the number of barrels completed, on average 20 barrels a day. 

The Cooperage
A barrel being worked on
The completed barrels ready for the distillery
It was fascinating to watch, I was quite mesmerised. There are many styles of barrels, and as each distiller has it's own requirements it's quite a varied job.

The sizes of barrels 
After learning so much about whiskies at Robertson's and how the casks/barrels have an effect on the flavour and colour was great to see the coopers at work. There are many elements to making whisky, it isn't just the distiller but the farmer growing the barley and the cooper making the right barrel all go to make what I am learning to appreciate is a nice wee dram!

Me and the Barrelman!

Monday, 13 May 2019

Peebles to Pitlochry

Sunday saw us set off to visit a new country ..... Scotland. Travelling up the M6 on a Sunday is the way to do it, not many lorries and quite quiet after Kendal.

Welcome to Scotland
Nearing our overnight stop we spotted Neidpath Castle standing proud above the River Tweed. Without hesitation we stopped and followed a grassy footpath to get a closer look, it was pure joy to just walk along the uneven ground without being unbalanced. 
Nick at Neidpath Castle
Our first stop was at Peebles, a small town in the Scottish Borders just south of Edinburgh, with the River Tweed running through. We stayed at The Park enjoying a glass of whisky before bed and a full Scottish breakfast including haggis.
River Tweed at Peebles
The Park Hotel
Jura and Old Pulteney night caps
Our reason for choosing Peebles was so we could visit Rosslyn Chapel. Only a short drive north we soon arrived at the small in size but huge in influence building. It has connections with the Knights Templars, the Da Vinci Code and I now think Harry Potter.

The inside of the chapel has so many carvings, all of which leave you wondering why they were put there, why they were carved in that way and what the bigger connection is. My reasoning about Harry Potter is the Apprentice Stonemason upset the Master Mason by crafting a beautiful pillar with intricate vines spiralling up it.  The Master Mason was so cross at being upstaged he struck the Apprentice on the forehead and killed him. The Master Mason was then hanged for his crime. There is a carving of the Apprentice's face complete with scar and opposite is a carving of the grumpy Master Mason, who is looking forever at the Apprentice's work. J K Rowling lived in Edinburgh ..... I wonder if she has visited Rosslyn Chapel!
Rosslyn Chapel
Beautiful carvings all around
After the chapel we travelled north, not visiting Edinburgh as we plan to do this as a city break but over the Firth of Forth into Fife. There are now three bridges crossing this expanse of water, the Forth Bridge which is a rail bridge, the Forth Road Bridge which is being repaired and is currently for buses and taxis only, and the Queensferry Crossing which is the M90. Such stunning structures, it was amazing to watch the traffic and trains crossing over the three Forth Bridges 

Our Forth Bridge selfie 
The Queensferry Crossing (which we then travelled over)
and the Forth Road Bridge
Hubby had seen that Loch Leven was on our route so taking a slight detour at Kinross we discovered our first loch of our holiday. We decided to visit Loch Leven Castle where Mary Queen of Scots had been held .... I hadn't realised it was on a small island in the middle of the loch which meant taking a small boat ride. The weather is glorious so being on a boat didn't worry me, the actual stepping on and off did ... or used to. With just a slight hesitation each time to ensure my balance I stepped on, off, back on and off again ... and so we had a return trip to Loch Leven Castle.

Loch Leven Castle
The tower Mary was kept in
Our second stay is at Pitlochry, a couple of nights to explore a little bit of Perthshire. A few miles before the town we spotted a National Trust for Scotland sign to The Hermitage. As National Trust members parking was free so we set off for a quarter mile stroll on a level path through tall pine trees. The stroll turned out to be a little further than signposted but certainly worth the extra as at the end was a beautiful tumbling Black Linn Falls on the River Braan.

Black Linn Falls
Spectacular waterfalls
It's been a superb two days travelling up to Scotland and doing some sight seeing. We've settled in, had a coffee in the garden (writing this) and are now ready to go exploring in search of dinner ... I wonder what we'll discover next!

Monday, 22 April 2019

Easter in Oxfordshire

What glorious weather we've had this Easter, perfect for our weekend away with friends in Oxfordshire., staying at the De Vere Milton Hall Hotel.

Milton Hall Hotel
The hotel is set in beautiful grounds with parkland separated from the lawn by a ha ha ditch. We didn't see any roaming deer but did see plenty of kites flying high, an elusive huge bird of prey that flew just too far behind the ancient beech trees for us to see, and heard a very busy woodpecker!

Saturday we visited Abingdon which lies on the River Thames. My ankle is feeling great, almost back to being my own foot again apart from swelling as soon as I use it and the annoying blood clot in my calf. Visiting Abingdon was the first big walk I have done so far and it felt so good, there was no wobbling on the uneven pavements and I even managed to climb the huge staircase to the top of the Market House - a huge achievement which boosted my confidence that things will be as they were!
Abingdon Market House
Looking down the huge staircase 
The weather vane
All smiles on the roof terrace 
The museum inside had many interesting items, being a craft  person I was very impressed with the celebration quilt, so many significant dates.

Beautiful quilt in the museum
The River Thames looked gorgeous in the spring sunshine, blue skies, still waters, plenty of walkers, dogs and boats. English country at it's best!

River Thames
Such a variety of boats
Enjoying the beautiful weather with a riverside drink
On Saturday our hotel hosted a wedding, perfect weather for enjoying the hotel lawns and capturing great photos  - hopefully we were not caught in any although we did catch them in ours!

Our 'wedding' photo
On the way down on Friday we called at Slurp wine in Banbury who have a huge selection of wine. It's always nice to discover different labels and find a few old favourites.

On Saturday we called in at Majestic wine, more for a browse really but they did have the Bordeaux Hubby enjoys and was out of stock at Leicester. I picked up a breath bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which we enjoyed in the sun at the hotel later.

We also called in to Loose Cannon brewery at Abingdon, great beer, so good that we bought back a 5 litre barrel for our Bank Holiday BBQ. As they also sold their beer in litre bottles the chaps opted for a bottle each to enjoy outside.

Beer and wine in the spring sun
It's was a superb weekend, great food, great wine, great company - I am certainly starting to feel better and am looking forward to the summer.

Monday, 8 April 2019

2 years on ...

Yesterday marked two years since my fall which marred not only Cuvée Reserve 2017 Wine Weekend but has has affected my (and my Hubby's) life since. If you don't know the story this was my blog post back then - Stratford Weekend

It was Grand National weekend and unknown to me I had a horse in the sweepstake the others did as part of their Majestic tasting .... amazingly my horse won! The prize was a stunning bottle of Moet 2008 which Hubby and I enjoyed at my first big achievement - our bed finally moving upstairs after 4 months sleeping in the conservatory - Celebration bubbly

Our friends also gave us a bottle of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc which they had all enjoyed at the tasting. Sauvignon Blanc is my favourite grape and so I have been saving this bottle for a special moment .......

....... yesterday was that moment.

Four weeks ago I had all the metalwork removed from my ankle, a tendon flattened and a nerve repaired. My foot is quite sore as I now have a five inch scar either side of my ankle, however it now feels like it actually belongs to me and is not just a lump on the end of my leg. My movement is returning, I can walk up/down stairs, get my boots on and manage about half way round a small supermarket. It's early days but hopefully once the scars have healed, the swelling has gone down and my mobility increases I will feel like myself again and be back to 'me' before 7th April 2017.

So two years on and starting to feel normal, yesterday was Greywacke day. Hubby and I enjoyed this nicely chilled, initially on it's own and then with our chicken dinner.

It was a lovely wine, great glisten in the glass giving it an inviting appearance. It was full of peach and melon on the nose with a blossom background. It's flavour was soft white fruit and grapefruit, plenty of citrusy crispness with a smooth finish.

I did enjoy this wine, such a shame it wasn't back in 2017 with our friend whose gift was very much appreciated, salute!