Our favorite part of the vacation was our stay in the Scottish Highlands. There are so many gorgeous places, but due to our interests in whisky and wilderness, we chose to stay in Speyside-- an area along the river Spey. This is the malt whisky capital of Scotland due to its good water. Its also nestled in some beautiful countryside, right next to Cairngorms National Park.
Hiking in the Cairngorms
One of the highlights for me was our first whisky distillery tour and tasting. There are so many distilleries in this area, and many of them offer a free tour, but I really recommend springing for the Aberlour Warehouse No. 1 tour if you're planning on Speyside. Our guide was hilarious and we learned about the different factors that make whisky taste the way it does. When you do a tasting, they typically give you a place mat with several small glasses of different whiskies, but our first glass had a clear liquid in it. Our guide, Dennis, explained that he wanted us to taste the pure spring water that went into the whisky. We all tossed it back, only to discover that it was actually the super-strong "wine" part of the whisky before it is aged in the casks. Dennis was very funny.
Another great part of the trip was the village we stayed in, Dufftown. We were right on the main square of this busy little town. Its very well set-up for tourists, although there were hardly any. All the restaurants around the square were super, including a very interesting Scottish/French fusion place. Dufftown has events many nights of the week, so tourists will find plenty to do. Our favorite was the Stramash, a gathering of local musicians in the British Legion Hall. We had a drink and chat with some locals and enjoyed wonderful music all night. We had to leave early the next day, but found ourselves saying "one more song, then we'll go" several times before it stuck.
the clock tower on Dufftown's main square
We wrapped up our trip with a visit to Edinburgh for The Fringe Festival, and popped down to London to visit my friend, Bonnie. We saw lots of theater and enjoyed catching up. I typically think of my ideal vacation involving beaches and drinks with umbrellas, but despite a certain chilliness and no pool boys, Ireland and Scotland made a wonderful vacation. Writing about it all now makes me want to go back soon. I would definitely recommend it, Speyside especially.