Scotland Adventure: Day Two

We arrived at The Hilton inside the Cairngorms National Park near Aviemore at night. We could not see too much of the park because we arrived after dark, yet I knew we were in the middle of nature from the smell of the air. I took a few deep breaths and it smelt … clean and crisp. I expected this but it has been a long time since I smelt fresh natural air out in the wilderness. The hotel was great with great food and a pool that we took advantage of. We used this time to plan out the next day’s activity and to rest up from the jet lag.

After breakfast we went to our first destination. We drove into the park to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, where we would have a short-guided hike up into the hills/mountains were we would see some wild reindeer. The hike was only about 30 minutes but it had snowed in the area and the hiking path was at times about 40 cm wide and we were walking up some pretty steep hills about 200 – 350 meters high. But at the top we were rewarded with some amazing landscapes and of course the reindeer. We learned that the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd, found in the Cairngorm Mountains. They told us that these creatures are very tame and use to people coming up to see and feed them. They currently have about 150 reindeer in two locations. The ones with us in the Cairngorm Mountains were the females and the fawns, the males were about 30 miles away in a different area.

What interested me was the fact that they were quite tame and we were able to feed and pet them. They do not bite because they mostly gulp down their food and then regurgitate it later like a cow. I was able to feed a few and pet them. Their coats were very soft something familiar to a dogs coat but more soft and with no shedding. As great as feeding the reindeers were, the view of the Cairngorm Mountains was incredible. I took a lot of pictures and panoramic photos of the region before we finally made our way back down the mountain to our car.

Our next stop was to a whisky distillery called Tomatin. Yet before getting there I had my first opportunity to drive in Scotland. I did drive on the left side before when I was in Malta, but that was awhile back and I for one enjoy driving. We were fortunate to be driving an E-class Mercedes and the ride was great. Mind you it felt like driving my father’s Buick. Both had a smooth ride and plenty of power, but driving a Mercedes is still fun to say.

After a great drive in the country we made it to Tomatin Distillery where we were able to take in a tour and of course a Scotch whisky tasting. It was quite interesting and I noticed that the process is very similar to making wine. They use barley grown in the highlands and then they smoke the barley with a peat grown in Scotland. It is peat moss and this is what makes Scotch different from other whiskies.

The process is interesting and rather lengthy. I am not going into the full details of the process but what I found interesting is what happens after you boil it. The malted barley ferments and then they boil the contents called wash. The wash is mostly alcohol and since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the alcohol vapours are trapped at the top of the pot still. After it cools, it returns to a liquid form. This liquid is cooled and then collected to be later placed in oak barrels. They said that the first 15% called the head and the tail or final 15% has low alcohol levels and are mixed with another batch. The main 70% of the batch is what you use. They said it is about +94% alcohol or Ethanol. You cannot drink this because is almost pour alcohol. They then place it in oak barrels and let it age to allow they oaky taste to go into the Scotch. The longer you let it stay in the barrel, the more range of tastes you get.

I did taste the 12 and 18 year (they were in the barrels for that long) and you can taste the difference in each of them. The 12-year is a stronger has a harsher taste where the 18-year is a smoother tasting scotch.

I had a few tastings and because of this I did not drive to our next stop, the Culloden Battlefield. The Battle of Culloden was the last major confrontation of the Jacobite uprising. On April 16, 1746 the loyalist/government forces decisively defeated the Jacobite forces. From what I understand the Jacobites were mainly Highlanders, led by Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, the grandson of the exiled King James VII of Scotland and II of England. Their objective was to restore the King to the British throne. The Jacobite army consisted largely of Highlanders, plus a number of Lowland Scots, a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, French and Irish units loyal to France.

Charles Edward Stuart’s cousin, William Augustus Duke of Cumberland, commanded the government army. He was the younger son of George II, loyal to the British throne. The government force were mostly English, plus a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and Highlanders, a battalion of Ulster men from Ireland, and a small number of Hessians from Germany and Austrians.

Jacobites were seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British throne. They gathered at the Culloden Moor to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites. When I look at this battle my military background kicked in and right away I say the colossal mistake taken by the Jacobites.   You never fight a battle on your enemies terms. They let the government forces determine where the battle was to be taken and when that happened the battle was already lost.

It was a solemn place especially considering it was a battlefield cemetery where 1500 Jacobites died to only about 60 – 200 loyalists, the enormity of the slaughter cannot be understated. From this place we made our peace and set off for the Cluanie Inn. However we did stop at Loch Ness to take a few photos of the ruins of Urquhart Castle in the dark. Yet the one thing that got me is that there were very few streetlights. I expected this in the countryside but you are never ready for the shear blackness as you drive to your destination. I too drove to the Inn and I could not see beyond the headlights. When we finally made it to the inn we could not see the countryside. We would just have to wait until the morning to take in the magnificent views that would await us.



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