For anyone who has and uses GPS in their vehicles, you’ll likely be familiar with the sound of a Siri-like voice (or in our case “Sid”) chanting “rerouting” at you, when you deviate from her chosen course.
On this day, (Monday September 10th), we didn’t need any help from Sid to tell us that some rerouting was in order. We had a great night’s sleep in our riverside cottage, and Mary remarked that the Loch Lomond Inn Hotel was one of the top three places we’ve ever stayed, and considering where we’ve been in the last 20 years (Venice, Tahiti, London, Rome, New York, etc), that is saying a lot.
We had awoken to on-and-off rain, and it had absolutely “poured” over night. Over breakfast, we checked out the weather in the Scottish Highlands for the coming week, and the forecast was for non-stop rain. Our original plan had been to drive to the top of Loch Lomond at Tarbet, and turn west towards Inveraray. From there we hoped to begin a five to seven day stretch in the NW corner of Scotland that would see us visit the Isle of Skye, Lewis & Harris, and drive a stretch of highway called the North Coast 500. It has been described as jaw-droppingly beautiful, but we realized we wouldn’t see much in the pouring rain.
The weather on the east side of Scotland looked decidedly better, so we made the decision to take advantage of good weather over in Dundee and Aberdeen, and head up the NE side of Scotland to “land’s end”. Our hope was that in doing so, a seven-to-eight day delay in touring the Highlands might work to our advantage. In the mean time, we’d follow the sun.
In order to head east, we would first have to drive up and around the north end of Loch Lomond, before heading east through the town of Crieff. The good news though, was that would take us directly past the Famous Grouse Distillery, and that was all Mary needed to hear.
As we hit the highway for the first stretch of the drive, it started to rain, and it did not let up for the next ninety minutes.If we needed any further convincing that “rerouting” was in order, roadside crews were putting up mobile signs along the road that said “warning, very heavy rainfall ahead”.
About 20 minutes before arriving in Crieff, we drove out from under the rain, and emerged in bright sun. We immediately felt very smug about our decision to change course, and as we turned a corner in the road, this is what we saw.
We signed up for a tour of the Famous Grouse/Glenturret facility, but had 15 minutes to wander before it began. We walked among rows and stacks of casks, and just in front of the gift shop, we came across a statue of Towser, a Guinness record-setting “mouser”. According to the plaque, in her almost 24 years of patrolling the still-house, she caught in excess of 28,000 mice.
Back in the visitor centre, Mary met up with the largest whisky bottle in the world. Whether it was the 12 days of driving on the wrong side of the road, or just the simple fact that Mary likes Scotch, she seemed somehow drawn to it.
The tour was great, and even though we’ve been through other distilleries over the years, most recently in Ireland in 2017, this was very enjoyable, primarily due to our tour guide James. He was not only knowledgeable, he was also a bit of a “performer”, and that made the experience a lot of fun.
Oh, and along the way, we met two of Towser’s modern day successors, Glen, and Turret (cleverly named after one of their signature brands), and the picture below shows Glen catching a few rays, before hopping down from his rocky perch, and heading back through his own personal entrance into the still-house.
As we paid for a couple of purchases at the end of our tour, I remarked to the guide that back in 1983 and for the next several years after, I placed all the print ads in Canadian magazines for Famous Grouse as an import brand in Canada. (It was an account I worked on at Baker Lovick Advertising in Vancouver). I noted that I’d had a long relationship with the brand. Mary one-upped me by chiming in with “I’ve had a long relationship with the brand too – I’ve been drinking it”.
Just down the road from the Famous Grouse distillery was the Crieff Visitor’s Centre, which was also billed as the “home of Caithness Glass“. We weren’t real keen on stopping but since there were signs all over town pointing to it, we decided to have a quick look. The parking lot was jammed, and there were several big tour buses in varied stages of loading and unloading passengers. We scooted up to the front door like a couple of running backs spotting a hole in the defense, and got into the store before a busload of German tourists.
There was a glass-blowing tour advertised inside, but as you can see from the picture, the artisans were all at lunch. Caithness Glass has a worldwide reputation for its products that take their inspiration from the colours of the Scottish landscape. We perused all the items in the glass shop, and no surprise, there were Robbie Burns items on display, front and center. There were some very attractive pieces for sale, but we are entering the downsizing phase of our life, so this was just a “look-see, no buy” adventure for us. As the shop began to fill up with another bus-load of visitors, we knew it was time for us to move on.
Next planned stop was the historic Scone Palace, just outside of Perth, but before we could see it, we needed something in our bellies. About halfway between Crieff and Perth, Mary spotted a sign for the Gloagburn Farm Shop and Cafe, and we could see a lot of activity going in and out. It was one of those “why not” moments that turned into a delightful surprise, as the food was absolutely great.
The Gloagburn Farm Shop and Cafe had started out as a small free range egg business back in 2003 and it serves homemade soups sandwiches and home baking. Everything is made on the premises, from the pastry to the jam, all of which was super yummy. We entered via a farm shop (similar to Ralph’s for those who live in the Langley area) and it features a broad range of homemade products, all of which caused Mary and I to remark ” we would so make this our store of choice if we lived in this area”.
Well-sated from a lovely mid-afternoon lunch, we asked “Sid” to set a course for Scone Palace (pronounced like scoon) , a historic house and major tourist attraction that is steeped in history.
Scone was originally the site of an early Christian church, and later an Augustinian priory. In the 12th century, Scone Priory was granted abbey status and as a result an Abbot’s residence – an Abbot’s Palace – was constructed. The Abbey was severely damaged in 1559 during the Scottish Reformation, but after undergoing signficant repairs and alterations, the Abbey in 1600 became the secular Lordship (and home) to the Earl of Mansfield. It is still the family home of the Earls of Mansfield to this day, and the current Earl, the 9th, is Alexander David Mungo Murray, who is 62 years old.
What makes Scone Palace so historic is the fact that between 1249, and 1651, five different Scottish Kings were crowned here, the last being Charles ll, in defiance of Oliver Cromwell who already controlled the southern part of Scotland. In the years since, the home was host to Queen Victoria on multiple occasions and more recently, the Kings of Sweden and Spain, the Emperor of Japan, HRH Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth ll who visited during her diamond jubilee year in 2011.
As with all the private homes we’ve visited, we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but it is totally worth a visit, if you are ever in the Perth area of Scotland.
Mary had been watching the dark clouds in her rear-view mirror all day, and when we emerged from Scone Palace at 4:30, the wind was slashing rain across the lawns and we were smacked with a hard cold wind. You can see from the expression on Mary’s face below, exactly what she thought of it.
Sitting in the parking lot at Scone, I looked at all the available accommodations in Perth, and seeing nothing I liked, I suggested to Mary that I would find a place in Dundee, just 30 minutes further along the way. It is also where we intend to spend a good chunk of time tomorrow (Tuesday), so going that extra little distance seemed worthwhile.
The place I booked was the Alberta Guest House (seemed like a no-brainer with a Canadian name like that) and I should note that the picture below is from their web-site. It was raining when we arrived, and it was rush-hour, and I could not get across the street to take a picture. It did not look like this in the rain – trust me.
It is in fact a 115 year-old house that the owners are renovating, (Margaret, a Scot form the Island of Mull, and Ira, a very tall Colorado-born professor, who teaches at the University of Dundee). They were terrific hosts, and while Margaret took a keen interest in our travels and offered up some helpful suggestions, Ira was delighted to talk to a couple of Canadians about Baseball, the size of Canada and the U.S. compared to Scotland, and his love for Rugby that has blossomed during the 16 years he has lived in Dundee. He also told us he was grateful we weren’t American, and that he didn’t have to spend time discussing what he thought about Donald Trump, and it was said with a head-shake and a roll of his eyes.
Shortly after dinner, the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and our weather app told us that tomorrow was going to be clear and mostly sunny. We settled in for the night, and just before going to sleep, we quietly applauded ourselves for our cleverness in “re-routing”.