D&J Scotland Whisky Tour 2009 travel blog

Old Elevator, Now Phone Booth, In Parliament House Hotel, Edinburgh

Old Bottles of Blended Whiskies from Late 1800s at Glenkinchie Distillery

Still Room Minature with Real Copper Stills

Ungerminated and Germinated Barley

Tasting Room at Glenkinchie Distillery

Royal Mile Whiskies, Edinburgh

Mary King's Close Apparition Photograph

In Front of Floral Clock, Edinburgh

Jeanette in Front of Edinburgh Castle and Gardens Below

Allan, Amanda and "Baby Bump" in Edinburgh

This morning, after a cold buffet breakfast in the restaurant, we were back on the coach heading to our final distillery, lowland Glenkinchie Distillery, about a 45 minute drive out of Edinburgh. The area where we drove was gently rolling pasture with bright green crops and fields of sheep and cattle. It looks like pretty fertile land.

Glenkinchie is very prettily set in a little hollow with a small stream in a stone channel running alongside it. The stone buildings are very tidy and well-kept.

We first went into a room that had displays on the making of whisky, and another room that had a diorama of each area of a whisky distillery, complete with miniatures of the equipment and fixtures, such as the copper stills. It was very well done. We learned that it was made in the1920s for an exhibition then put away and forgotten about, and found again in the last few years in the distillery, so they decided to put it back up. Doug got some good photos of that.

I opted to sit the tour out and wait in the tasting room, as I was feeling a bit tired. A few other wives had also decided not to take the tour, so we just chatted and waited for everyone to meet up again. They were very generous at the bar, and Doug was able to sample quite a few whiskies, although he didn’t purchase anything. I suspect he is already over his luggage weight limit with the bottles and other souvenirs he’s purchased to date.

After the tour was over, we got back on the coach again and headed back into Edinburgh. The group was to meet at the National Museum for a talk from a document archivist after lunch, but we decided to skip the Museum visit, go for lunch and call Amanda so that she could have time to head into the city while we ate.

We ate at a nice pub called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar, which is right by the little bronze statue of the faithful Greyfriar’s Bobby, a terrier which kept waiting at the same corner for his owner, even after his master had passed away.

I had fish and chips for lunch, and Amanda came after an hour. By this time, it was absolutely pouring, so we waited until the worst had passed until we ventured out. We decided just to meander around along the Royal Mile for the first little while, among the many other tourists, and we poked around a few shops (including Royal Mile Whiskies, where Doug purchased a bottle).

I had heard that The Real Mary King’s Close walking tour of the underground city was quite good, and so we decided to take that. They had a tour opening in an hour, so we booked that, and decided to go for a coffee and pastry at a little café right next door to the youth hostel were Amanda stayed when she first moved to Edinburgh.

We came back for the tour, and had a little look through the shop, which sold a few interesting souvenirs, some with a Halloween theme, I guess because the tour is a bit creepy. Our guide, who was in costume as a domestic servant, led us down the dimly lit stone staircases to the small rooms and narrow passageways that make up Mary King’s Close. It was a bit disorienting, as it was so dark, and there were no windows or no moving air, and the rooms and passageways were only lit by small flickering (electric) lanterns.

She told stories of the lives of some of the people who lived in the close, who they researched as they uncovered the warren of rooms. It was a very miserable existence, with no plumbing, rats and creepy crawlies, and disease in abundance. On top of that, the rats down there spread the bubonic plague, and many people died in the squalor, so much so that people had to be quarantined, and you could be arrested for going within a certain distance of a quarantined house or person.

The tour was very good, and made use of light and shadow, along with tableaus, to tell a very realistic story. It was not difficult to imagine what it had been like to live in these dank underground rooms. We ended the tour by posing for an infrared photo in the sloping Close, and then our guide led us into a room where she had a large photograph, in the same place we had just had our photo taken, of the empty Close (or so they thought…) while a staff member was checking out the equipment after it had closed for the day. In the photograph, you can see a transparent apparition of what looks like the upper body of a wigged man wearing a cape of sorts. Whether it was merely a reflection or a camera malfunction, or a previous resident of the Close, who knows… It was creepy and fascinating, either way.

What was really interesting was that they are still excavating this underground city of sorts, and we could see even further down below where they were presently working. It makes me wonder how deep these rooms and passages go…

After the tour was over, we went outside and found that the sun had come out a little, so we decided just to walk around some more, and went into the gardens below the castle. The view of the skyline, with Edinburgh Castle and the other Georgian buildings high on the Royal Mile, was stunning, especially with the gardens below and the steely grey clouds in the sky.

Allan came after a while and met us in the gardens, and we decided to go to an Indian Restaurant called Khushi for dinner. Apparently, it used to have a much larger restaurant in the centre of town, but was destroyed in a fire in December 2008, and they’ve just reopened in a new location. I had king prawn korma with basmati rice for supper, and a pina colada smoothie. The food was excellent, and it was nice to chat with Allan and Amanda.

Afterwards, we meandered back to our hotel through the city, admiring the architecture and the pretty gardens. We met a fair number of other people in the group doing the same thing.

Right across the road practically from our hotel was a cemetery, and since I had yet to go into one on this trip, we decided to take a stroll through it. Many of the tombstones and mausoleums were blackened, worn and broken, but we could still read some of the inscriptions. It reminded me again how modern health care and information about diseases and nutrition has dramatically improved our quality of life and increased our life expectancy, even from just a few centuries ago.

We said our goodbyes to Allan and Amanda, and went to our hotel room, where we packed up our stuff for our departure the next day. We turned out the light fairly early, as we had a good day of walking to make us tired.

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