A Caledonian Experience--- 2
Scottish Highlands, Castles & Whisky
As our guide drove towards the city of Stirling, he told us about Scottish Highlands-Lowlands divide and their history . We approached Stirling Castle through the wynds of the old town. The attractive 14th century castle atop an intrusive crag appeared to be sheltering and dominating the old town with ancient buildings and cobbled streets. It was windy and drizzling. Inside there were the wonderfully preserved Great Hall and Great Kitchen of the Royal Palace built by King James V. Mary, Queen of Scots, is among the many Kings and Queens of Scotland who have been crowned as well as lived there. Even the legendary hero of the folklore King Arthur’s name is linked. Although a 5th century character, King Arthur’s Round Table was discovered on the castle ground by archaeologists. Despite the naturally strong and defensive position of the castle, history recorded eight sieges. Only Romans bypassed Stirling. Instead, they built a fort at Doune. Through a haze of mist and drizzles the view from top of the fort area was amazing. The Loch, the Highlands were all visible through a veil of fine water droplets. Next, the bus moved down the winding hill roads to Doune Castle lying in ruins far below the crag where Stirling Castle stands. From the 13th century castle we started our journey to Loch Lomond. On our way we stopped for lunch at Drymen, a cute little Scottish village. The village square where we stopped, exudes an old charm and has only one proper restaurant and pub. The shop located on the other side of the square happened to be a general store with very little choice for eatable items. We opted for the restaurant Clachan Inn. Little did we know that this cosy restaurant is also steeped in history like the village. When we came out after savouring a delectable lunch and wine we noticed an inscription showing ‘Licensed 1734’. Another surprising discovery in store for us was that Rob Roy way started from the very doorstep of this pub ,which happens to be the oldest Ale House in that region. Rob Roy is a legendary outlaw turned folklore hero of Scottish Highlands. The wilderness of Scotland surfaced as we approached Loch Lomond. Being the largest freshwater Loch, about 40 km long and housing 30 islands, it has all the nature’s charms one is looking for. Surrounded by mountains, glens, woodlands and other smaller lochs, and small water ducks swarming the shores with their entire family the area presented a picturesque view of wild Scotland. We wandered in the wilderness for about an hour before proceeding to the last lap of our journey to my dream destination – Scotch Whisky Distillery. Glengoyne is a beautiful, traditional distillery. Seeing the entire process and tasting a dram of finest single malt taken right from an exclusive single cask was a lifetime cherished experience for a whisky lover like me. . On our return to Edinburgh, the bus dropped us at Waverley station. It was around 7, quite an early in the evening there. Full daylight despite cloudy sky and intermittent drizzles. In eastern part of India where we live, this time of the day is well into night sky. A long wait till almost midnight before our train departs for London. So before moving down the ramp from Waverley bridge into the station complex we decided to idle away with some refreshment and Scottish beer in a huge café on the bridge.The café throbbed with people, most of them in groups – eating,drinking,chatting,debating and laughing loudly thus creating a perfect ‘Adda’ atmosphere, which is normally seen in Coffee Houses all over India. Added to it the hustle bustle of trams and buses over Waverley Bridge, Edinburgh castle dominating the skyline, the old and new architectural splendours around the station, provided an unforgettable moment over a glass of beer. Dusk descended, we moved down to the station. Wait till midnight was still quite long. But when we entered the station’s waiting area we were surprised to find that the place was equally pulsating. The 19th century station had all provisions like eatery, a pub where we spent sometime when my wife’s mobile had drained out totally and had to be charged , and a grand piano at the centre of the seating area. A young girl was playing some lovely tunes when we entered. The bold painting on the floor ‘PLAY ME’ was a welcome invite for any visitor desirous of trying his/her hands on the piano. Although a basic learner I was also tempted to go up and play a Rabindra Sangeet ‘Anando Loke’. My wife took a video on her mobile and shared it on her Facebook.It was a thrill to hear someone come and play ‘Auld Lang Sye’. Coincidentally, Tagore composed ‘Purano sei diner kotha’ based on this tune. It is said that the early nineteenth century Scottish poet Robert Burns who penned ‘Auld Lang Sye’ inspired Tagore. Finally we also enjoyed watching a couple perform ballroom dance to some lilting melodies played by an experienced pianist. Finally the platform was announced for the 11.40 CALEDONIAN SLEEPER. It was on the platform nearest to the station waiting hall. The pretty looking deep blue train exuded the exclusivity of a royal look. It is difficult to get reservation on this train. It is only for our dear friend Kanchan Dasgupta who works and lives in London that taking a ride in one of Scotland’s Royal train was made possible. He not only suggested but also got the reservation done much before we landed in UK. We were booked in Chair Car. Fortunately for us they had some problem with the AC in the Chair Car on that day. So they upgraded and shifted us to first class sleeper. It was indeed a dream trip in 2-berth sleeper coupe.Comfortable well laid out bed,a beautiful take away journal 'Nocturne',wake up call,Scottish breakfast and above all the hospitality and royal treat from the staff made the journey unforgettable. Caledonian Sleeper terminates at London's Euston station at 7 in the morning.
|Outside Stirling Castle|
|Interior of Stirling Castle|
|Interior of Stirling Castle|
|The 18th century Clachan Inn Doorway|
|The town where Clachan Inn is located|
|Inside Clachan Restaurant|
|Wild Ducks at Loch Lomond|
|Glengoyne Distillery founded in 1833|
Scotland has abundant water resources in the form of rivers,loches,streams. Since the Scottish water is soft with significantly lower mineral and calcium contents, and has high peat content due to water running through natural peat bogs the flavour of whisky produced has earned the fame of Scotch Whisky. Distilleries are located near the water resources running over peat bogs.Single malt and single grain are the two types of Scotch Whisky produced. Single malt is produced by malted barley and water in a single distillery,and contains no other cereals.Rich complex flavour is created by maturing in sherry and bourbon casks. It is then aged in oak casks. The depth and intensity of whisky is said to increase each year of its storage in a cask.
|Whiskies matured in different casks show how the colour deepens with ageing.|
|Duty Free Warehouse|
|Whiskies aged for 35 years|
|The Distillery premises|
|Wetherspoon's pub and cafe on the bridge over Edinburgh Waverley station|
|Inside the coupe|
Photographs : Arundhati Sengupta
Plan your trip to Scotland
If you are planning a short trip for a day or two from London, the most recommended option is by train. There are some comfortable, high speed trains run by Virgin East Coast. These trains start from Kings Cross station in Central London and takes around four and a half hour to reach Edinburgh. Since demand is pretty high for these trains, it is suggested to book tickets in advance, which can be done online from any part of the globe through the site www.thetrainline.com. The most comfortable return journey from Edinburgh to London is the famed Caledonian Sleeper which departs at midnight from Edinburgh and reaches London early in the morning....