A short plane ride, brief chat with immigration and suddenly I have been catapulted from the ranks of illiterate immigrant to native speaker, able to read, write and sing along with the lads. After more than four months of being unable to ask a complex question nor understand the answer to a simple one, it's a pleasure to be in an English speaking country again. I can even customize my meals, “May I have some horseradish for my haggis balls?”, and once again it's easy to get a glass of cold, tap water with my meal. The answers to my questions may come wrapped in a Scottish brogue and the men wear skirts but none the less it feels great to understand the verbal and written world around me.
We had our doubts about spending October in Scotland due to the weather but have no regrets now after being here about three weeks. Similar to Autumn, Winter and Spring in Portland or Seattle most days here come with some clouds and rain but the people, castles, hills, glens, lochs and cultural attractions easily make up for the dark skies. Also the crowds are gone and the prices are down. The Scottish Youth Hostel Association is offering 30% off at selected hostels and many of the shops in Inverness dropped their prices by a third during our visit.
Inverness, located in the Scottish Highlands at the mouth of the river Ness is a pleasant, walkable city with a small but interesting free museum and gallery. The old castle perched high above the river now functions as a court house and from the overlook you can watch for Nessie as she swims upstream toward Loch Ness. Or you can walk into town and easily find some live music to go with your pint.
Inverness is also a good base camp if you are interested in touring some of the famous “Speyside” Whisky distilleries. There are dozens of Scottish whiskys and the Scots can talk whisky like a Chicago Bears fan can talk football. We began our whisky education at Glen Moray Distillery in the town of Elgin. There were only two other people on the tour, Emily and David from California. They were a lot of fun and well versed on whisky and because of that our simple three whisky tasting for four pounds ballooned into eight (or maybe it was nine) for no extra charge. That was more whisky than I have drunk in my entire life. But the unusual, smokey tasting, peat distilled whiskys come primarily from the west coast of Scotland not the “Speyside” region. To see what those tasted like the four of us walked downtown to the Elgin whisky shop where they took us through another tasting.
To my surprise I really could appreciate a difference between the whiskys and not just the dramatically different peat vs the non-peat but even the more subtle 12 vs 16 vs 30 year old ones. I found the Scotch whiskys significantly smoother and more pleasant than the Bourbons I tried on a tour through Kentucky a few years ago. Of course after that many tastings everything becomes more pleasant, funnier, etc. and I was happy we were going back to Inverness by bus and not driving.