August 17, 2013

Wild Skye, Whisky, and Robert Burns

“Sky(e) lies open to the west and north to a vast extent of ocean…from the autumnal to the vernal equinox, a dry day is hardly known, except when the showers are suspended by a tempest.”  From the journal of Dr. Samuel Johnson, 1773

Carol writes:  The western coast of Scotland is known for its incredible natural beauty.  One of the crown jewels in this area would have to be the Isle of Skye, a large, rainsoaked peninsula of land sticking out into the Sea of Hebrides.  Some of its most spectacular scenery and unique geologic formations can be seen on a 40-mile loop drive around the Trotternish Peninsula, so that is where we aimed our travels.  Some of the more interesting geologic stops along the loop drive were at the Old Man of Storr,

Kilt Rock, with its layers of vertical volcanic lava columns, and the view of the Outer Hebrides Islands across the inland Sea of Hebrides near the crumbling remains of an ancient MacDonald clan castle.


Scotland is known all over the world for its famous whisky—whisky without an “e” is the way it is spelled here.  The next day we took our first whisky tour to see how famous Scottish whisky is made at Talisker’s Distillery, a presence on Skye since 1830.

The drive along the way to Talisker’s displayed some marvelous whisky humor.

Since I knew next to nothing about how whisky was made, the tour taught me a lot about how complicated and special each step was along the way in the secret process of distilling an excellent whisky.  Talisker whisky is known for its strong smoky flavor due to the use of peat smoke during roasting of the barley.  We sampled a wee dram of a 10-year Talisker whisky at the conclusion of the tour.  Although Al was not so fond of the strong smoky taste, I found it to be rather pleasant.  What wasn’t so pleasant was the price for a single bottle of the 35-year-old Talisker’s.  Are there really that many whisky drinkers who would pay upwards of $850 for such a bottle?

OK, we are visiting Scotland, we have to see Loch Ness and discover what is so special about it, right?  Well…I’d advise anyone with time in Scotland to skip all things connected with Loch Ness.  The ‘monster’ stuff has largely been shown to be a tourist-grabbing hoax.  The drive along the shore of Loch Ness was a nail-biter with very narrow two-way lanes, fast drivers, many large trucks, and no extra space on either side of the road.  Trees obscured most of the view of Loch Ness, except in a few coveted pullover spots.  We got our obligatory picture, but I will have to resort to some prankish photo shopping and draw in ‘Nessie’ to make the picture interesting.  There were much prettier drives along other famous Scottish lochs, such as...   

scenic glacier-carved Glencoe Valley,

also known as the ‘Weeping Glen’ because of a terrible massacre of the Campbell clan by the MacDonald clan that occurred on February 13, 1692.  Clan history and rivalries were taken seriously and could be very bloody.

One of our last nights in Scotland was spent in the town of Ayr, best known as the birthplace of Scotland’s beloved national poet Robert Burns.  Among all other famous names in Scottish history, Robert Burns has been voted the most popular.  To this day, every January 25th on his birthday, Scots gather in pubs to read his poems and sing his songs. 

The museum dedicated to Robert Burns had many original manuscripts in his distinctive handwriting.

His writing desk and chair were lovingly preserved in a playful display.

Most interesting for us was fact that the 800-year-old bridge

and the old kirk (church)


that were mentioned prominently in his poem “Tam o’ Shanter” still exist and can be visited.  Memorial nods to the poetry of Robert Burns were displayed in many ways—as a giant mouse

and in nifty windblown Tam o’ Shanter weather vanes.

We also visited the Burns Cottage, which has been nicely preserved.

The bed where four of the Burns children were born had an eerie artistic display of floating baby gowns representing Robert and three of his siblings who were born in that bed.

From our brief stay in Ayr, it was obvious to us that Scotland is indeed still in love with Robert Burns.

This brings us to our last night in Scotland for a while.  We have booked a ferry ride for early tomorrow (August 15th) that will take us across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland.  We plan to return to Scotland in a few weeks to visit Edinburgh, after the tourist crowds have lessened a wee bit.

“Haste Ye Back.”  Goodbye seen on many road signs as you leave Scottish villages

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