Scotland - Land of the Gods (Part II)
From Oban, I left my lodgings and rolled my gear around to the bus stop, to catch the first of two buses on my way through Fort Williams to Inverness. Each leg was 2 hours in length, and due to a road accident midway (well ahead of us,) the 25 minutes I expected to have at the midpoint was cut to about 3 minutes. Making my connection, however, was most important, and I bided my hungry empty tummy. I did manage to get a few shots between the rain showers, including some along the shores of the Lochs of Lochy, Oick and Ness.
Once in Inverness, my planning allowed me to easily roll to my lodgings, the Waverly Guest House. Close by, but reception was a long flight of stairs up, and then I had another set of stairs to the room. Fortunately, I got some assistance moving the larger roller.
Once I'd dropped the bags in the small room, next to the single bed, I headed back to the bus terminal. I had about 40 minutes to wait, so I got a late breakfast of eggs, sausage and potatoes in the station cafe. With a ticket good for three legs, I set off for Rosemarkie.The Ross Cathedral had occupied the site where the present day Church of Scotland presently sits until 1214. From what I could tell from visiting the church and speaking with the volunteer greeters, no excavations have been done, so no foundation stones are visible. It's a nice church, and the yard is well tended.
Next on my list was Fortrose, which is about a mile away. With the next bus 40 minutes away, I chose to walk the flat stretch. Then, in Fortrose, I was able to visit the remains of the Ross Cathedral.
The sacristy, originally set off to the side of the sanctuary, still stands as a standalone building. Also still standing are the left aisle and the tower. Excavations have allowed the historic organiations to mark out the footprint for the actual building. I had to wait a bit while an Austrian couple, with their son, moved on from trying to fly the youngster's drone, which needed a software update download. It stood as a cathedral from about 1225 until 1689.
Finished with the day's agenda, I went to the bus stop. The next bus was due shortly, but never arrived. The following bus also went missing. Finally, the last bus, after nearly 2 hours, picked me up to take me back to Inverness. Had I known that this delay would happen, I would have had a few beers with the locals at the pub across from the bus stop.
Now feeling like eating, I crossed the street from the hotel and had two whiskys at The Gunsmith Bar: Aberfelty (Highlands) and Bowmore 12 (Isley): the latter was peaty, and not really to my taste. Then I went, on the bartender's recommendation, to The Malt Room, where I did a nice flight of five midrange (price) whiskys: Glenmoragie 18, Clynelish 14, Balblair 15, Dalmore King Alexander III, and Old Putney Huddart. I was sitting in a single seat at a table across from a loveseat, so when a younger couple came in, I offered to share our small table. Jasper and Salina were visitng from Breda (The Netherlands) and each did a 3-pour tasting. We chatted for a good while, comparing notes and talking about my cathedral obsession. It made the evening stretch out nicely, and I truly enjoyed their company. And, by the way, I liked all my tastes, particularly the Dalmore. I guess you could say I drank my dinner.
When planning my return to the Highlands, I was looking forward to visiting and photographing the ruins in Elgin. However, there is a bit of history related to this Diocese of Moray. Initially , the bishop's seat was based well south in Birnie from 1140 until 1184. Then it was moved up to the northern coast in Kinneddar (now the town of Lossiemouth, of RAF fame) from 1187 until 1208. Then the bishop moved the seat to be closer to his palace/castle in Spynie, where the cathedral was from 1208 through 1224. Finally a grand cathedral was built in Elgin and stood from 1224 until 1560 and the beginning of the Scottish Reformation.
Seeking a guide who could drive me to each site (hopefully with some preparatory work) and then, after lunch, take me to a few Speyside whisky distilleries, I began researching. My go-to private guide site, ToursByLocals.com came through with a near match. I began emailing Gordon Davidson, spec-ing out my interests and needs. We worked it out so that I would take the train from Inverness to Elgin, saving him some travel miles, and I met him at the depot in Elgin.
Into his wife's SUV, we immediately headed to the Elgin Cathedral site. Scaffolding would mar getting the classic shot of the empty rose window over the east entrance, but I marvelled at the many recovered remains that filled exhibition spaces , climbed the tower, and walked around the remains looking for my perfect shot. We'd entered at opening time, and I had to dodge a few fellow tourists that had arrived on a tour. Gordon and I continued a banter, as he wanted to know more about my cathedral obsession. Besides the pair of towers at the west end, the octagonal chapter house is the only remaining standing structure.
Departing, our next stop was the cemetery in Spynie, which is presumed to be the location of the cathedral. It sits on a rise opposite the bishop's castle, A quick visit, after looking to the sky as three fighter jets took off, as there didn't really apear to be any indication that a building had been on the site eight hundred years ago - no excavations were visible. So Gordon drove me around to the access to the Palace, where I tromped around remains and tried every door, hoping to get into the tower. Rather impressive in size, the bishops lived large.
Our next stop was near the RAF base. The old cemetery proportedly includes a mercat, a cross that is the only remanent of the cathedral in Kinneddar. Gordon and I walked around the walled space, looking for a Celtic-type cross. Finally I spotted a stone cross on a plinth which seemed remarkably out-of-place. We decided we'd found the mercat.
Back into the car, Birnie is south of Elgin. We drove to the Church of Scotland location, which is where the original Cathedral of Moray had been situated. Now a small building with only a single small door and one window, research placed it over the orignal site.
From there we stopped at the nearby Pluscarden Abbey, still an active monestary, where we were able to enter the church and explore the nave. Founded in 1230, it is a Benedictine Abbey and only active monestary in the United Kingdom.
Time for lunch. Gordon took us to The Mash Tun, having called ahead from Birnie with our lunch orders. With a Belhaven bitters, I had the special, a pulled pork meat pie, followed by a dram of Glenfarclas 25 whisky. Food was great, the ambiance superb. The Mash Tun is quaint and full of locals.
Gordon had set me us for a tour at 2:30 at GlenAllachie Distillery. I tasted 4 of their whiskys first, the blue label 15 year old, the 2008, 2012 and 2007 bottlings. I believe we were about a dozen.
From there we headed to BenRaich, missing the tour, but I was allowed to taste 3, including the distillery exclusive Moscato barrel aged, which I purchased.
Back to the train station, I boarded with my bottle and great memories. Back in Inverness, I returned to the hotel. Grabbing my Chromebook, I went to the lobby (wifi is better) and proceeded to deal with a fraud charge on a Citibank card. All resolved, I returned the computer to my room and headed out to Bella Italia for chicken carbonara, a mixed salad and a rather thin, weak Montepulciano. The pasta needed a lot of grated cheese, the salad had too much red onion (something I'm finding is a UK trend?)
Packing the night before, I was awake early, out early and to the train staion with half an hour to spare. Once on the train to Glasgow, I relaxed, enjoying memories of my prior trip to Scotland as we passed through Dalwhinnie, Dunkeld/Birnie, Perth and Stirling. About two-thirds of the train emptied at Perth for the train to Edinburgh. The sun peeked in and out, there were a few periods of light sprinkling, but all-in-all, a good trip.
Planning my 2-day stay in Glasgow, I'd picked the Millenium Hotel as it was between the train station I'd arrived at, and the bus station I would leave from. Apparently since my reservation, the Scottish government had asked them to house Ukrainian refugees, so when I arrived, I was sent to the other inner city train station to check into The Central Hotel. My room 403 was at the end of the hall, near the lifts, and with sufficient floor space.
However, after a nature call, I left my gear and headed out for a 2pm tour at the Clydeside Distillery. I decided to walk, as I should have enough time, but Google Maps was a bit confusing, and I wound up heading to a hotel to get a cab to complete my trip. With 18 people on the tour, it was too large a group, but fortunately, I was on my third distillery in 2 weeks. The inital portion of the tour involves self-educational reading of wall-mounted information in two rooms. Adam, our guide, seemed to have a patter down, and with his Scottish accent and speaking a bit too fast, I'm sure I missed some of the presentation. An hour long tour, we had two tastings upstairs (from bourbon barrel, oloroso sherry barrel), and then came down to taste the final blended product. Still a single malt, as it was all from whisky distilled and aged in a single place. I wound up speaking with Patrick Keller, funeral director in Tipperary, who offered me a bed when I get to Kerry.
With a second tour an hour later, I sat in the cafe and had Boston chicken chowder, and 2 whisky tastes: an 18 year old Jura and an 18 year old Auchentoshan. Both felt a bit "oily" in the mouth, but the Jura was sweeter. The soup was much better with adding ground pepper.
Austin, a rather young Englishman, was the guide for the whisky and chocolate tour. A dozen of us, we repeated the distillery tour without the tasting, and sat at a long table with five pieces of boutique chocolate morsels.
The first taste was Stronachie 10 (bourbon barrel) which was paired with a milk chocolate filled with strawberry and rose in a white ganache, with pink sprinkles. The second, the first of three "Cask" offerings was from Speyside, a 10 year old aged also in bourbon casks; it was paired with a white chocolate ball of lemon yuzu ganache and covered in powdered sugar. Starcross's 3 year, 9 month bourbon/sherry Clydeside (first tour's #3) was paired with dark chocolate with gingerbread caramel filling. An Orkney "Cask" with 18 years (smoky/peaty) was paired with milk chocolate filled with smoked pineapple ganache. (The more bizarre of the pairings.) The final pairing was a Islay "Cask" with 8-9 years aging, paired to a dark chocolate with dark Brazilian chocolate center and chocolate powder coating. The last was my favorite. And I didn't take any more pictures. ["Cask" is an offering where a producer's barrel aged whiskey is transferred to a third party, who maintains the uniqueness of the distillery, but may blend several barrels from those locations.]
Back down in the sales room, I chatted with the staff and a few other stragglers, and was offered two more tastes (clear, distillery exclusive.) They called me a cab and I headed back to the hotel for some water and to begin unpacking. Once I was settled, and handled a few emails, it was time to conside dinner. When Mandra and I had been in Glasgow three years ago, we stayed at Rab Ha, and have fond memories of our meals and drinks there. I decided to return, taking my journal and phone. A Thursday night, the place was full, so I wound up dining at the bar. Mandra had raved about the Cullen Skink (soup) and I remembered great fish and chips. I had a Jura 12 double and a glass of water. Great meal, but I was tired and "boozed up" so headed back to sleep.
Awakening to my phone alarm at 7:15, I was down for the breakfast and had some scrambled eggs, a sausage link and OJ. On my way out I grabbed a pain au chocolat and wrapped it in a napkin. I headed off to the Queens Street Station, only to find that my 8:47 train to Largs would leave from Central, practically where I started. Once on board, I sat and talked with a younger Philippina architect who wants to open her own firm once her apprenticeship completes. We parted once the train terminated at Largs, with her heading to a client and me looking for the ferry to Cumbrae.
From the ferry landing on Cumbrae, it was about 2.5 kilometers south to the main town of Millport, where the Cathedral of the Isles is located. A handful of the ferry passengers opted to catch the bus (like me,) while another group started the hike there. I saw them arriving as I concluded my visit to the cathedral.
The church is set up a hill and behind a low wall, rising further above the street level. Two academic buildings of the College of the Holy Spirit are perpendicular to the east-west axis of the cathedral. Very narrow, the postings indicate it is the smallest of the British Angilcan cathedrals, typically seating 80. With unadorn white walls, the elaborate patterns of the floor tiling, and the tiles against the eastern wall were notable. Various paintings, including triptychs hang on the walls. There are four keyboard instruments in the church, and while I was there, an English couple (sailing the Irish Sea) entered, and he proceeded to uncover three and play: Bach on a harpsichord, Mozart on a pianoforte, and Lizst on the Bosendorfer piano. He decided against trying to fire up the organ, although I probably would have died and gone to heaven had he shown those skills.
Once they returned to the bicycles they'd hired, I continued to poke about, and then went out into the garden and burial site, looking for an ideal angle. Due to the sharp drop into a garden below, best shots eluded me. I returned out the forest and through the stone gate, walking down to the harbor. I strolled to the far end, chatted with a woman proprietor of a collectibles store, and returned along the shoreline. I found the "crocodile rock", and then walked through the museum. Looking for lunch, I went into The Newton Bar for fish and chips, and learned that the prior weekend had been a country music festival, while that weekend would feature mod musicians, as well as the "parade of scooters". Vespa-like single passenger motorbikes would queue up and circumnavigate the island on Saturday.
The bus came through and returned me to the ferry landing, and I soon was crossing the Firth of Clyde back to Largs. Not anxious to return to Glasgow, I wandered the shorefront, intrigued enough to walk into one of the three Churches of Scotland, that of St Columba once I'd finished my dish of ice cream from Nardini. It was an impressive building, has a stunning organ, carved wooden pulpit, and brilliant modern stained glass.
Exiting, I sought out the other large CoS church, which was locked. Heading to the train station, I caught the train back to central and returned to my room to do some blog work. After an hour's nap, I headed out to find a light dinner. At the Atholl Arms I had a bowl of soup, a steak and ale pie with a John Smith's ale.
I had booked a privately guided pub crawl, and Ferenc met me in a black SUV across the way from the bus depot I'd use the next day. We proceeded to visit (or attempt to visit - two locales were closing as we arrived) where I got a sampling of night life in Glasgow. Bars in a brewery, a former church, an elegant club, a pocket pub. Our last, the Irish pub Waxy O'Connor's was my favorite, as it didn't have the "selfie" crowd.
Back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the Irelands. Checking the watch for steps (first day of use) I had walked 17,540!