Our Honeymoon in the Land of Monsters, Castles and Scotch Whisky
On a beautiful autumn Saturday in early November, hubby and I spent the entire day with friends travelling towards The North, first on the 8.30am train from Kings Cross Station and then, via hire car, to a tiny village called Kilconquhar in the county Fife. We were about 90 minutes’ drive north east of Edinburgh and in the beautiful Scottish countryside, a getaway sponsored by our friends with a time share villa (thank you Ala and Steve!). We made it to our comfortable villa just in time to have a rare quiet Saturday night in over a glass of scotch whiskey and a pizza.
The Kilconquhar Castle Estate is a large family resort situated only a 15 minute drive from St Andrews. It offers self-catering villas, cottages and apartments, and a leisure centre equipped with a swimming pool, snooker tables and a games room as well as putting greens, a driving range and a tennis court. The grounds boast rolling green hills just moments from the North Sea and the castle itself provides a beautiful backdrop for any family holiday, cheeky romantic getaway or a group of friends that are after some adventure. This time, we were the latter.
Hunting for Monsters
Sunday morning saw us heading north on a windy rural road at dawn in the hunt for monsters. Admiring the beautiful autumn countryside on the 3 hour drive, we by-passed Perth and Inverness and continued to drive down the east bank of the Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is a large freshwater loch located in the Scottish Highlands about 167 miles (270km) or a 3.5 hour drive from Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. The cold, murky Loch stretches southwest for 23 miles (37km) from Inverness and is best known around the world for alleged sightings of the (mythical) Loch Ness Monster, known affectionately as Nessie.
In our little Fiat we crawled along the east bank of the Loch, stumbling upon a fantastic photo opportunity of the stunning Loch in all its’ glory and a small waterfall. The beautiful greens, reds, oranges and yellows of autumn had provided an incredible backdrop to what must be one of the most scenic routes in the world. Then, after we posed for awkward selfies and announced to the world via Facebook of our current location, we backtracked to Inverness to explore the west bank of the great Loch.
A Scotsman’s home is his Castle
One mile past Drumnadrochit we came across the ruins of Urquhart Castle along the west bank of the Loch Ness. Dating from the 13th and 16th centuries, the castle had a history of raids and destruction until it was left to decay after 1692. Urquhart Castle was one of the largest and is one of the most beautiful castles in all of Scotland. The impressive stronghold boasts a brilliant view from the Grant Tower battlements and visitors are able to scramble over the remains of the gatehouse, chapel and hall range with the scenic Loch Ness backdrop. It is no wonder that now, more than 300 years after it was deserted, it is also one of the most visited castles in Scotland.
(Urquhart Castle is 174 miles/ 280km from Edinburgh. It is open until 6pm April – September but closes earlier during winter months. Last entry is 1 hour before closing time. Entry is £7.90 per adult/ £4.80 per child)
Stirling Castle, the stunning Royal Palace of James V, is situated high on a grand mountain in Stirling’s Old Town, 37 miles (60km) North West of Edinburgh. We visited Stirling Castle on our third full day in Scotland, hoping that the rain would hold off long enough for us to explore the gatehouse erected by King James IV in about 1506, the King’s Old Building (circa 1497), the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the Chapel Royal and artillery fortifications dating back to the 1550s. Almost all of the present buildings were built between 1490 and 1600 for the Stewart Kings James IV, James V and James VI. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs and on the fourth side by Stirling Old Town.
We enjoyed exploring the museums and learned much about how the Castle has played an important part in Scottish history, specifically the crowning of Mary, Queen of Scots and during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Much of the Palace has been redecorated with tapestry and bright colours in the way that they believe it would have once been adorned.
(Stirling Castle is 40 miles/ 65km from Edinburgh. It is open until 6pm April – September but closes earlier during winter months. Last entry is 1 hour before closing time. Entry is £14.00 per adult/ £7.50 per child)
On our visit to Edinburgh Castle, perched on the rocky cliffs 130 meters above in the very centre of Scotland’s capital, we discovered a historic fortress dominating the skyline and commanding stunning views across the city. The oldest building in the castle is St Margaret’s Chapel, which dates back to the early 12th century. However, archaeologists believe that there was some form of human occupation on Castle Rock from the 2nd century AD.
The Great Hall dates back to the early 16th century and sits on the cliff side adjacent to the Scottish National War Memorial, the Prisons of War and the Royal Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James, future King of both Scotland and England. If you do visit, try to arrive for the One O’clock Gun, fired every day at precisely 13.00, excepting Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
(Edinburgh Castle is open until 6pm April – September but closes earlier during winter months. Last entry is 1 hour before closing time. Entry is £16.00 per adult/ £9.60 per child)
(An Explorer Pass will give you free entry into Historic Scotland’s 78 properties, a 20% discount on audio guides at Edinburgh Castle and express entry to Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. They can be purchased for as little as £29 per adult for 3 days of free entries.)
A Taste of Scotland
When I visit different countries and cities, I like to sample the local cuisines and experience the local fare. Scotland was no different, so during our stay I was lucky enough to taste succulent Aberdeen Angus beef and ventured north to the small town of Crieff for a Scotch whiskey distillery tour.
The Glenturret Distillery, established in 1775, offers a range of tours and samples of The Glenturret Highland Single Malt. On the “Taste of Scotland” tour we were guided through the distillery where traditional methods and equipment are used to produce The Glenturret Highland Single Malt, used in The Famous Grouse blended whiskey. We sampled The Famous Grouse blended whiskey and The Glenturret Highland Single Malt before our guide matched three Highland Single Malts with different food samples designed to enhance the whiskey’s unique tastes. The Macallan Gold was a personal favourite of mine… and not just because it is the whisky featured in the recent movie Skyfall. The Highland Park single malt was also well worth a try!
The Glenturret Distillery is home to the Guinness Book of World Records authenticated largest bottle of whiskey in the world and has a great bar/restaurant and gift shop where you can sample and purchase your scotch whisky of choice. As a souvenir of our tasting experience I took home a personalised bottle of The Famous Grouse complete with my (new) surname!
(Tours start at £9.95 per person. The “Taste of Scotland Tour” with 5 samples is £25.00 per person. Personalised bottles of The Famous Whiskey are £21.95)
Other Scottish Adventures
We had no luck tracking down Nessie on Sunday, so on our second day in Scotland we ventured north to Kenmore, Perthshire, to the Mains of Taymouth Stables. The country estate offers trekking and hacking for beginners and experienced riders amongst forest tracks and rolling hills, guided by stable manager Katy. Katy’s warmth and enthusiasm was much appreciated since none of our party had much experience with horses. She professionally paired us with our horses, Star, Poni-o, Connie and Lou, and guided us along a picturesque track with the most spectacular views over the quaint village of Kenmore and magnificent Loch Tay. The Mains of Taymouth Country Estate is an expansive estate complete with 5 star accommodations, campervan accommodation, the stables, a golf course and many more activities in this perfect setting – well worth a visit!
(A 1 hour, one-way horse riding trek was £27 per adult)
On our last morning in Scotland the male half of the party decided to try their hand at clay target shooting, a popular sporting activity in Scotland that can be traced back the early Middle Ages. We ventured to Chesterstone Farm located near Upper Largo and situated on a hillside overlooking Largo Bay, Elie Point and, on a clear day, the magnificent coast line across the Firth of Forth. Chesterton Farm also offers self-contained cottages for holiday makers looking for a place to stay with plenty to do. Bill, one of the farm’s owners, drove us across the paddocks to a safe area of the farm where the boys learned the art of clay target shooting. I have to say, they didn’t do too badly!
That afternoon we visited Edinburgh Castle before departing on the train back to London. Our 5 day holiday had been full of activities and adventure, but I still feel that I will return some day, perhaps to stay at the The Mains of Taymouth Country Estate or Chesterstone Farm Holiday Cottage. Next time I hope we get the chance to explore the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. I hear there is a great tour beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile that explores the Underground Vaults and Edinburgh’s old historic town.
The ride home on the East Coast train is comfortable and somewhat peaceful. Daniel is annoying me while I try to type this latest piece about our adventure in Scotland. I can’t hear him over the music that is pumping through my headphones, but I think he is disappointed that he is missing the Arsenal game that is being played presently. But I think it was worth it… we had such an incredible week!
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