The Whisky Trail

After waking up at the Aberlour Gardens Caravan park, we started our trip around the Whisky Trail in the Speyside region of Scotland. There are dozens of distilleries all over the region. Driving down the road you keep seeing signs beckoning you to pull down some small road and visit a distillery. They even have a special symbol on road signs so you know its a distillery.

Driving around this area reminded me of driving through Napa Valley in California or the Barossa Valley in South Australia. You drive location to location trying out what they make but in this case you are drinking Scotch Whisky not wine. The other very interesting and different aspect of this area compared to wine tasting is, this is not just any whisky. This is the only Scotch Whisky in the world. If you’d like to have some wine, it can come from any number of countries and even regions within those countries. But if you’d like to have some Scotch Whisky, it must come from Scotland. And Scotland is a little smaller than the state of Maine.

In order for Whisky to be legally allowed to be called “Scotch Whisky”, it has to be made in Scotland and aged in barrels in Scotland for at least 3 years. I also noticed they only call it “whisky” in Scotland. Not “scotch” as we always call it in America.

Just a mile down the road from our camp site was the distillery for one of the premier brands sold world wide — Macallan. We started our trek at Macallan but on arriving before 9am, we were told they were already booked for all distillery tours for the entire day. We didn’t plan ahead. We bought a few things in the shop and then headed to our next distillery.

The night before at dinner at a very small but very nice restaurant in the little village we stayed in I decided to splurge a little bit on some whisky with dinner. I got a glass of 30 year Glenfarclas — a brand I had actually not heard of. This small glass of 25mL was £28 or about $40. It was really great. I really wanted to get a bottle but found out it was nearly £300. Too expensive for me! Visiting this distillery was really nice as its one of the only successful and original distilleries left that remains independent. Nearly all Scotch Whisky distilleries are owned by large multinational alcohol companies. Glenfarclas is still family owned and operated to this day.

We ended our trip down the Whiskey trail at Glenlivit. Glenlivit was probably the best distillery tour we had. By this time we had been on 6-7 distillery tours so we knew the process pretty well.

Visiting this area was a lot of fun and it was great to see where the world’s most famous Scotch Whiskys come from. I definitely stocked up my whisky cabinet for the next few years too. Now to figure out how to get all of this home…

Balmoral Castle

Josie’s got a thing for the royal family. I guess because she grew up in the commonwealth (Australia)? So we had to drop by Balmoral Castle in the lower Highlands. Balmoral has been one of the residences for members of the British Royal Family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased privately by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. They remain as the private property of the royal family and are not the property of the Crown.

Soon after the estate was purchased by the royal family, the existing house was found to be too small and the current Balmoral Castle was commissioned. The architect was William Smith of Aberdeen, although his designs were amended by Prince Albert.

It was raining slightly while we were there, but I think I prefer that to hot weather. When you arrive and pay for your ticket, you get a ride into the estate via a covered trailer hooked to a Land Rover. Once inside you get an audio guide and you begin your self guided walking tour. I imagine they shut down the whole estate when the Royal Family is actually in residence, but Josie told me they only go there a few times a year.

Walking around the estate tour you’ll realize its mostly about the nature and grounds of the estate than it is the actual castle. We prefer the historical aspects to the nature aspects so we sped through a lot of the nature sections of the tour. The estate does have a fully working farm thats constantly growing flowers and even vegetables for the kitchen of the estate.

The castle was really impressive, albeit small in comparison to other castles, and the grounds were beautiful as well so it was a worthwhile stopover. I wish we could have gone through more of the castle, but the family still lives here occasionally so thats not allowed. We were however allowed to walk through the ballroom on the lower floor which had some nice historical artifacts and photos. The ballroom is used for entertaining guests at the estate but its quite small and not really designed to impress. Ultimately Balmoral is a country lodge. It’s an escape from London where the Royal family can hunt, fish, and enjoy the nature of the Highlands, not as a lavish palatial residence.

Midhope Castle

Josie had suddenly become obsessed with Outlander in the past year after reading the first few books and watching the show, so we had to see at least one Outlander set in Scotland. They have whole tours you can purchase that span multiple days and cost a lot of money, but we prefer to do things on our own. Midhope Castle is a kind of obscure one and the tour buses don’t even have it on their list. It is the real castle on the Hopetoun Estate outside of Edinburgh that is portrayed as Lallybroch. Hopetoun House was used in Outlander as well, as the Duke of Sandringham’s residence, and the house and grounds are open to the public. All of this is less than 10 miles from Edinburgh making this a relatively easy place to visit if you are staying in Edinburgh, Fife or the Scottish Borders.

According to the Outlander books, Lallybroch was built in 1702, 1716 or 1721, depending on which you book you read. Midhope Castle was built back in 1582, so it is actually a late 16th century tower house, with a later extension to the side in the 17th century, being a story lower. On the Northern side of the courtyard is an elaborate gateway, which also belongs to the 17th century, and gives that distinctive view that is Lallybroch.

Going here felt a little sketchy as its on a private estate down a small road with several signs that read ‘Private Estate. No Public Access’, but we continued down the road anyway. I parked at the bottom and waited in the car while Josie clandestinely went up the hill to the property to take photos. In hindsight we probably would have been fine parking the van down the hill and walking up there for a while since there was no one else there or anywhere around, but it felt pretty wrong at the time! We’re both not much of rule breakers.


We ended our day by pulling into Edinburgh which is the capital of Scotland. This was the first pretty crazy traffic I’ve had to drive through on the trip. Luckily I’ve driven in several big cities so it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t have a lot of time to do anything getting in at night, so we went straight to our hotel. We had  been camping for almost a week so I decided to book a hotel room as a surprise for Josie. The hotel, The Salisbury Hotel, massively exceeded our expectations. I paid an extra £25 so we could upgrade our room to a “four poster room” which meant a room with a large bed with 4 large bed posts. I think we’d call this a “canopy” bed in America but there was no canopy; just the large wooden posts.

The room was so big and nice that it ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip. It was great to sleep in a little luxury for a night after slumming it in campsites for so long. Josie flipped about the room and I was really glad to see her so excited about it. 🙂