Central Scotland: Whisky & William Wallace

As I prepare for my next big adventure (Ecuador, here I come!), I wanted to squeeze in one more post about the always awesome Scotland.  When I was planning my time there, the space between Inverness & Edinburgh was always a bit of a black hole for me - I just couldn't figure out where to go and stay.  There are tons of options, but I decided to keep it simple with some whisky tasting, an overnight in Perth, and then a tour of some sights associated with Braveheart himself- William Wallace.  That meant missing out on things like Balmoral Castle and St. Andrews, but alas- you have to make choices sometimes.  Plus, as always, it gives me extra incentive to go back!

After my slightly subdued & foggy morning at Culloden, the sun came out and I enjoyed one of the prettier drives I had on the entire trip!  As you head south out of the highlands, the hills become greener and more rolling, and it's really just lovely.  Rick Steves suggests a whisky walk in/around Pitlochry, and I can really see why.  However, not being a whisky fan AT ALL, I decided to just visit one, and again, based on his advice I picked the smallest distillery in Scotland:  Edradour.  Just like the surrounding territory, this place was adorable.  Whitewashed historic-looking buildings with bright red accents, all set on a picturesque little stream.  We were taken on a very interesting tour of the distillery, learning about their nearly-all-natural processes, lead off by a tasting of two different whiskys.  (FYI- in Ireland it's whiskey, but the scots drop the "e"...)  I actually didn't hate the tasting, which is impressive for me, but maybe I was trying to impress the awesome be-kilted grandfatherly tour guide.  He was maybe the greatest part of the tour, to be honest.  In any case, as with learning about the production of anything, from wine to cheese, visiting an operational distillery was super informative, and a great way to spend a lovely afternoon!

I had chosen Perth for my overnight mainly because I found a highly rated B&B there and it seemed to be in the right spot for reasonable drive times, but I was really very pleasantly surprised by this little town!!  I don't think there's anything really "major" to see there, but even just wandering around the old town and the riverfront was a nice look at every day Scotland.  My B&B, Pitcullen Guesthouse, was absolutely worth the overnight.  It was literally everything you could want in a B&B - extremely comfortable & clean room, an absolute wealth of information available in a small "reading room", tasty breakfast, and really lovely hosts.  They even parked my car in their driveway for me!  It was a few minutes walk into town over the famous old bridge, and I will say that it was really a quiet town in the evening, but I found some good grub & had a really nice night.  Here are a few shots of the town:

On the way to Edinburgh, I knew I was going to be stopping at Stirling Castle, but on the way I found out that I just had to stop at William Wallace's monument.  Well, "had to" means I really wanted to squeeze all the Braveheart nostalgia out of this area as possible.  There is no doubt that Wallace was an extremely important man in Scotland's history, and this monument just shows how beloved he is.  However, it's just a big tower with a somewhat odd exhibit or two in some of the lower floors.  I mean, maybe if I was there on a lovely day (it was cold, gray, and rainy, as so many in Scotland had been) the views over to Sterling castle & around would've been worth it, but even a cute history lesson/costumed demonstration that was performed for some visiting school kids at the base of the tower didn't really make it an impressive stop on my tour.  It did at least get my heart beating- I elected to hike up from the parking lot (rather than waiting for a shuttle), and then of course there's no elevator for the 246 steps up to the top of the tower.  Between the wind whipping around the open top floor and my shortness of breath, I really almost got dizzy up at the top! 

My final stop before arriving in Edinburgh was the great Sterling Castle.  (Note- the last pic in the group above is the view of the Wallace tower from Sterling on a miserable day...)  THIS thing is what you expect a castle to be - huge, imposing, fortified with cannons, and full of history.  The coolest part about this particular castle is that they've restored the rooms to their 16th century appearance.  SO, instead of walking into a big empty room and learning that "this is where Mary, Queen of Scots slept", they have actually put in furnishings and decor as it would've been at the time.  Of course, the historian in me didn't love the "faux" aspect, but as I kept going from room to room, I got used to it and really appreciated seeing the painted ceilings and bright tapestries, all painstakingly researched & meticulously re-created.  Plus, you still walk by things like a giant wooden door that's been in use since like 1450 or something, so it's not stripped of the original history by any means!  It was also neat to see how each section of the castle was distinct, from different periods & monarchs.  Odd and not particularly aesthetically cohesive, but cool overall.  Finally, the vaulted wood ceiling in the great hall (again, a re-creation of the original) was maybe even more impressive than the one at Hampton Court Palace.  I highly recommend taking one of the included walking tours, as it's short but really helps put the history in perspective.

With that, I said goodbye to the statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (in the courtyard at the entrance to the castle) and was off to the many, many pleasures of Edinburgh.