– By Brittany Seki, Senior Editor –
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Experiencing the Scottish culture and quiet life on Islay had been a privilege. But all good things must come to an end and it was time to move on to mainland Scotland. We drove an incredible distance from Kennacraig – after the ferry dropped us off from Port Ellen, Islay – all the way north to Inverness (about a 7-hour trip including the ferry ride). This is where the rolling hills of the highlands seemed to emerge out of the horizon, growing into ominous cliffsides after each mile we passed. Before heading further into the mainland we made a stop at the picturesque Crinan Canal (opened in 1801), located between Crinan and Ardrishaig. The canal is interspersed with 15 locks for boats to pass through, where each retractable bridge is opened and closed manually. We followed the canal out to the sea for a beautiful snapshot of one of Scotland’s many places to set anchor.
We left the canal, stopped for tea and scones and then made the long drive to Oban, passing many sport touring motorcycles along the way (Scotland is also a rider’s paradise). The city was bustling on a gorgeous, sunny summer day, which was an almost rude awakening when coming from the peaceful towns of the isles. As whisky lovers however, we couldn’t miss the chance to visit Oban Distillery. Literally at the heart of the city, the distillery plays an important role within the community. The Stevenson brothers founded the distillery in 1794, and as a result the community grew from a small town to the busy city of Oban today. Unlike the smoky peated whiskies from the isles, this whisky is unpeated and has wonderful light and fruity flavors. After enjoying a couple o’ drams, we left to find our hotel. Unfortunately the only one available was the size of a closet and surrounded by pigeon poop on the window ledges, so we left Oban to stay at the Lovat Hotel in Beauly.
Before we made it to our hotel, we had to fit in a castle! As we passed by Portnacroish, we pulled off to get a view of Castle Stalker on Loch Laich. This castle was made famous as Castle Aargh from the 1975 comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The fortalice was built around 1320 by the MacDougalls clan on a small island in the middle Loch Linnhe off of Loch Laich. Nowadays it’s privately owned and open for tours by appointment only. After we experienced our fill of Castle Aargh, we drove to the quiet little Lovat Hotel in Beauly to turn in. With whisky always on the mind, we visited a few more mainland distilleries over the next few days. We visited Glen Ord in Muir of Ord, and then toured the big city of Inverness. That night, we stayed in a beautiful hostel/lodge near Carrbridge, called The Slochd Mhor Lodge (located in Cairngorms National Park). Skiers mainly stay in the lodge during the winter months, when cross-country skiing and other snowy activities are widely available. But since it was summer, I felt like I was “glamping” and I loved it. The natural setting allowed for some much needed shut-eye, especially for our early start the next day.
In the morning we drove north to Aberlour to visit Macallan Distillery, where we witnessed the traditional methods of the whisky making process. Some men in the warehouse filled oak casks manually, while others set casks that had been stored for years above a drainage system to be emptied after maturation. After Macallan, we headed to the infamous Glenfiddich Distillery near Dufftown, where I had the opportunity to merry my own whisky. At this point it was safe to say I was becoming a whisky expert! Oh and did I mention I got to spend the night in a castle? Well, it looked like a castle anyway. The Dowans Hotel in Charlestown of Aberlour was a place out of a princess fairytale (my room was at the top of a tower too). The hotel also had an amazing library of whisky to choose from. Not a bad way to spend our last night on the mainland! The next morning we’d be up early to head to the Orkney Islands, which you can read all about in Road Tripping in Scotland Part 4.