Leaving Soon…

Queen
No, not the blog. Though I’m still not posting as much as was previously normal, and I’m not sure when I will be, the blog is not going anywhere. I am though. I am off to London in the middle of the month and will be there for a decent chunk of time on work. The trip will culminate—or so is the plan anyway—with a 10-day jaunt up to Scotland. The plan originally had been to take advantage of cheaper continental travel within Europe and go to Italy or France or Spain or the Netherlands, but if you are an Indian citizen living in Minnesota, getting a Schengen visa is a huge pain in the ass. So Scotland it is and it’s not just a consolation prize. I am telling you all this in order that I may ask for your input on a few things, some whisky-related, some food-related, and some Scotland-related. If you think you are in a position to answer these questions, read on! 

The Whisky Question

I will be taking some samples with me to London for review purposes but my plan for regular tippling there is to purchase six full bottles and slowly work my way down them over a few months. I’ll probably avoid bottles with which I am already very familiar—no Highland Park 12 or Laphroaig 10 and so on. So, the question is this: if you were in London what six bottles would you choose to provide good variety? They should be easily available and ideally should be things that are not easily available in the US. Bonus points if you can make a case for bottles that change interestingly as they stay open over a couple of months.

The Food Question

If you are familiar with London please make some recommendations for Asian restaurants of any type. I am pretty well set for higher-end places, as well as for the big-name Indian places, but are there smaller curry houses or Chinese or Thai restaurants you’d recommend? What are some good places for kababs? Are there cuisines available in London that we don’t see much of in the US?

The Scotland Question

The plan is 10 days in Scotland. No bookings have been made yet but we are thinking we will go from London to Edinburgh by train and spend a few nights in Edinburgh. Then by car to Craigellachie and a few nights there. Then by car to Skye, stopping at Loch Ness along the way. And then from Skye back to Glasgow via Glen Coe, stopping in Inveraray on the way—and then from Glasgow back to London. The kids will be along and so this is not a whisky-focused trip. My plan with the above itinerary is to visit Aberlour from Craigellachie and then Talisker on Skye. That’s probably it. If you’re familiar with Scotland, what recommendations/adjustments would you make for/to this itinerary? Are there castles, lochs, towns we should be sure to stop at? Any interesting food purveyors or bars that we should not miss?

Thanks for any input you can provide on the above. I will still be posting whisky reviews, though probably not at a faster clip than I have been for the last month—there might be a few more at the end of March when I hit the fourth anniversary of the blog. Thanks for your patience and for reading along, whenever you do.

 

24 thoughts on “Leaving Soon…

  1. I’ll try to keep my comments short since from my experience you won’t follow them anyway.

    For whisky I’d say go to BB&R and taste your way through their line-up, and pick 2-3 bottles from there. Then find TWE.

    Scotland is so beautiful & full of distilleries that wherever you go it’s going to be both about whisky & not about whisky. But you shouldn’t miss the islands. On my tour, Islay was the highlight, both for me & my family – we spent 2 nights there. The ferry trip (bring the car!) is easy & a highlight into itself. Isle of Mull is another great option from what I’ve heard. Crossing a bridge does not count. Campbeltown should also be an easy stop. Otherwise, in a couple of years you’ll be kicking yourself for missing all this. The Western half of the country is full of amazing lochs (Loch Ness is cool too) & castles, all popping up in unexpected places, so even if you’re not fully scheduled & prepared there’ll be plenty to draw you – in fact, it may be better to leave room for surprises. Visiting Scotland & its distilleries is a transformative experience for a whisky fan, it was for me, and from reading about Michael K’s & Jordan’s trips it seems that it was so for them as well. Appreciating, for example, the major major difference in look, feel, & spirit between the Speyside distilleries and those in the islands & Western coast can only be done through a visit, however short. The wife & kids will love it wherever you go!

    Maybe Craigellachie is good, but Elgin is an interesting old small city, with an amazing ruined Cathedral – and I’m not talking about the Gordon MacPhail store. Keith is very nice too. Fort William & Oban are worth a stop if on your way. North of Glasgow & Edinburgh don’t expect amazing food. A good B&B should deliver tasty, reliable Scottish Breakfast. I stayed at Glenegedale house on Islay, and loved it!

    You’ll have a lot of fun!

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  2. Not sure how much driving you want to do, but keep in mind, that roads in Scotland are mostly not freeways. For example, it takes much longer than one would think (distance-wise) to get from Edinburgh to Skye. Try to avoid getting into a rush!

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    • I’ve mostly been going by Google Maps’ driving directions to determine feasibility of driving times. For example, it lists roughly 2.5 hours for driving from Glasgow to Kennacraig for the ferry to Port Ellen. Does that sound too optimistic or is it in tune with reality? In other news, I hadn’t realize that the ferry to Port Ellen takes almost 3 hours. I guess that’s the major activity for that day!

      In general, people tell me that we should drive around Scotland as that gives us much more flexibility to stop and explore and be less destination-focused.

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      • Driving is certainly something one should do… and, of course, Google maps is a good idea, in principle. The problem is that roads can be winded and rather narrow and so all it takes is one truck ahead of you to make the your journey significantly longer.

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  3. Whisky: I buy a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 every time I’m in Britain. But you already know that.
    London food: My experience of London food, because of my sadly Americanized British in-laws, is limited to Pizza Hut and Pret-a-Manger.
    Scotland: I recommend working off your pre-existing flab and the flab acquired in London by walking the West Highland Way. It was one of the great experiences of my life, along with losing my virginity and being invited to your monthly whisky tastings.

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    • I would just like to clarify that Rob did not lose his virginity at one of our monthly whisky tastings.

      As the brats will be along, we can’t do long hike-related things, but we do expect do a fair bit of traipsing around the countryside anyway.

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  4. Okay, I think there may be a dramatic overhaul of our Scotland plans. We’re thinking we’ll go to Edinburgh as a standalone long weekend trip from London in early May. Then in June we’ll do the following:

    Day 1: London to Glasgow by train; overnight in Glasgow
    Day 2: Glasgow to Islay, via ferry (2.5 hours drive + 3 hours ferry); overnight in Islay
    Day 3: Islay
    Day 4: Islay
    Day 5: Islay to Oban via ferry and drive (3 hours ferry + 1.5 hours drive); overnight in Oban
    Day 6: Oban to Skye via Glen Coe (3 hour drive); overnight in Skye
    Day 7: Skye
    Day 8: Skye
    Day 9: Skye to Drumnadrochit (1.5 hour drive); overnight in Drumnadrochit
    Day 10: Drumnadrochit to Glasgow (3.5 hour drive); overnight in Glasgow
    Day 11: Glasgow to London by train

    Drive times from Google Maps: do they look plausible? On this itinerary I’d hit up a couple of distilleries in Islay (Lagavulin and Laphroaig probably) and Talisker on Skye. And I’d leave a fuller, more leisurely exploration of the Speyside and environs for a future trip.

    Possible wrinkle: we’d be arriving on Islay the week after Feis Ile. While I assume this will make lodging easier, will the distilleries be open and doing tours or will they all be taking a break from the public?

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    • I wouldn’t worry too much about driving time, while the roads are small they are pretty reliable (and a lot of fun!). However, you’ll enjoy it more if you are not rushed for time. Cambeltown is 40′ away from Kennacraig your ferry port, and it would make sense to at least visit, maybe on the way back before you hit Oban. Especially since you’re focused on the West coast. We stayed in 2010 also at Ardshealach Lodge in Ardnamurchan Peninsula (beautiful scenery, lochs, the whole package!), which had an amazing restaurant, straight out of The Trip, held by a quirky British lady. On the way back to civilization you can stop in Pitlochry and have a Ballechin in its native habitat. I don’t know if you can tell that I’m jealous!

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    • Make sure you reserve a spot for your car on the ferry to and from Islay. The ferries are quite small and there aren’t a ton of em. That was a rookie mistake that I made this past summer on my trip and we had to end up leaving the car behind and hiring a car service for our stay on Islay.

      Oh, and the Laphroaig warehouse tour was excellent.

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  5. As other commenters have mentioned, Scotland cannot be undertaken without some whisky in tow.
    Skye is a must-see and while there I’d recommend oysters. You can go fancy at the Three Chimneys (I’ve been twice and while memorable I’ve been slightly disappointed by the food) or just see what a local pub has recently landed. The Taigh Aileen Hotel in Portnalong above Talisker is very good and has masses of Scottish gins as well.
    When dining in Speyside, I think you’ll be charmed by the Archiestown Hotel (quite modern fare and the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever had) and Taste of Speyside in Dufftown, not fancy food but hearty, well-sourced and with a marvellous chef-host, Sandy Smart. The Dowans Hotel in Aberlour has a cracking whisky selection with some bargains to be had.
    Glasgow is a whisky bar mecca, of course, but many new independent restaurants offering superb local ingredients in innovative ways.
    Enjoy your visit.

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  6. I was impressed to learn that Skye has two Michelin-starred restaurants. But I don’t think we will be partaking at the Three Chimneys with two small kids in tow (apparently they charge a minimum of £25 per kid regardless of whether they eat or not). But we will certainly head to the Oyster Shed directly after I finish the basic Talisker distillery tour.

    Our larger itinerary has pretty much come together. I’ll post it soon and will ask for more specific dining recommendations for other places then.

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  7. Here is our updated itinerary:

    Day 1: London to Glasgow (overnight in Glasgow).

    Day 2: Glasgow to Drumnadrochit (stopping at a castle or two along the way; no whisky stops)

    Day 3: Drumnadrochit (Loch Ness, Urqhart or Cawdor Castle; no whisky stops)

    Day 4: Drumnadrochit to Skye (basic Talisker tour in the afternoon)

    Day 5: Skye (wandering the island at leisure)

    Day 6: Skye to Tarbert via Glencoe

    Day 7: Tarbert/Kennacraig to Islay (basic Lagavulin tour in the afternoon)

    Day 8: Islay (Laphroaig Distillers Wares tour in the morning; wandering the south side of the island in the afternoon/early evening)

    Day 9: Islay (Bowmore Craftsman’s tour at whatever time they offer it; wandering the Loch Indaal area in the morning or afternoon, depending on when the tour is)

    Day 10: Islay to Glasgow

    Day 11: Glasgow to London

    No Speyside or Campbeltown on this trip. I decided to do a longer drive from Skye to Tarbert and be really close to the ferry—that way we can get to Port Ellen noon’ish, which might allow for the Lagavulin tour (and if lightning strikes maybe there’ll be a Feis Ile bottle left in the shop). I had not realized that the ferry only goes across a few times a day (then again, until recently I hadn’t realized it was a near 2.5 hour ferry ride).

    A B&B is booked on Islay (not too far from Port Ellen) and I have a booking at the Loch Ness Inn in Drumnadrochit. Still waiting to hear from a B&B in Broadford on Skye, and from a B&B in Tarbert. For Glasgow I’ll just look for a decent hotel very close to the train station.

    All our eating will be in kid-friendly, casual places. The Loch Ness Inn seems to have decent food; anywhere else in Drumnadrochit that’s of note? The Oyster Shed on Skye, yes; is Taigh Aileen good for kids as well? Also, where should we eat on Islay? Clachaig Inn in Glencoe for lunch on the way to Tarbert?

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    • Ah, I see Speyside has been axed! You’ll have to return and take in the central and eastern Highlands – for a whisky and travel fan the West Coast may have more evident visual drama and big distillery names but Speyside and the East from Fife and St Andrews, up to Aberdeen and Old Meldrum, is powerfully scenic in its own particular way.
      Lunch at Kinloch Lodge a couple of years ago was the best meal I’ve had on Skye but while not kid-unfriendly it may not be a good fit. Taigh Aileen has a fairly small bar area (20 people capacity roughly) and I’m not sure of their child policy. You shouldn’t be troubled by crowds up there in mid-March, though. If you like enormous and insanely delicious baking and chocolates, be sure to check out Jann’s Cakes in Dunvegan. She does an indecently scrumptious chocolate and Talisker truffle. It’s on the left just after the big car park and also does a superb bowl of soup.
      I don’t know Drumnadrochit at all, sadly, but Islay recommendations would be the Port Charlotte Hotel (if under the same crew as when I visited in 2010) and Debbie’s Café on the way in to Bruichladdich. Six years of Feis Iles have doubtless increased the foodie offerings available in Bowmore, Port Ellen etc. so you should be right as rain. My mother worked at the Clachaig one summer in the 1980s but I have no more recent personal experience with it.

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  8. And a minor alteration already: instead of staying in Tarbert overnight before heading to Islay we’ll just take the 6 pm ferry to Port Askaig. This way we’ll have three full days on Islay, which means I might do the Warehouse Experience tour at Lagavulin. In addition to the Oyster Shed on Skye, Ee-Usk in Oban has been recommended highly; accordingly, we will stop there for lunch on our way to Kennacraig from Skye. Recommendations for places to eat/buy picnic lunch fixings etc. on Islay will be highly welcome.

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    • I had a nice dinner at the Machrie Hotel. No fireworks, but it has this great, comfortable, staid atmosphere you get in such Scottish places, with tartan everywhere, well-worn carpets and furniture, shiny taps, and quiet people who look like they got their jobs handed down in a long parental lineage. The very thick whisky list at the bar had low, seemingly random prices such as £1.53, £2.81 and the like (that was back in 2010). Also out of the way. Ardbeg had a very nice, airy, modern little cafe, with soup & sandwiches. I haven’t done the picnic thing but Bowmore is the major urban center (pop. 862) and your best bet for buying food. Islay has beaches, just mind the sheep.

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  9. I know you’ve all been very worried and so I wanted to update you on how the whisky purchasing for local drinking thing is going, now that I have been in London for just over a week. I have purchased a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 and am already about 40% through it. Expect a review soon. Today I also purchased a bottle of the Elements of Islay Lg6 at the swanky Whisky Exchange store in Covent Garden. Which means you should also expect a pictorial report on their shop (which I failed to visit last summer). Further purchases may have to wait till I make it out to Cadenhead’s and BB&R.

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