It is no lie that the Scottish Highlands come with a certain mystery and charm. The rugged and remote and the great unknown are all thoughts that come to mind.
With Rough Guides voting it the most beautiful country of 2017 and the blockbuster TV show Outlander tempting us all, it is hard not to write Scotland and indeed the Scottish Highlands on the top of your bucket list.
Even with its new and flourishing tourism, Scotland has remained close to its roots and catching an authentic Scottish experience is always in the cards.
We discovered the ins and outs of Scotland as we took on a volunteer position in a backpacker’s hostel nestled right in the middle of the Scottish Highlands.
We immersed ourselves into the Scottish way of life and now feel we need to share the most important things to remember, to try and to indulge in on your trip.
It wasn’t our original goal to live and work in Scotland, but as they say, some of the best experiences are completely unplanned. Now, we wouldn’t change the experience for the world and it was an absolute highlight of our 2017 adventures.
So, let’s get into it. We are going to share some stories, some tips and some advice about conquering the beautiful Scottish Highlands.
Firstly, hiking is life in Scotland and almost 95% of travellers to Scotland go for the hiking. ‘Munro baggers’ as they are called are travellers/hikers/avid walkers who climb peaks over 3000ft.
Scotland boasts over 282 Munros and most of these are indeed in and amongst the Highlands. Ben Nevis is of course the highest peak and if you are as crazy as we are, we decided starting there was incredibly smart.
Our biggest tip for climbing any peaks in the Scottish Highlands is be prepared for four seasons in a day.
No joke, in the space of 6 daylight hours climbing Ben Nevis, we had perfect sunshine, bitter sleet and snow and were soaked to the bone by rain and wind.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter because those views are breath taking.
Inverness is the capital of the Scottish Highlands and within a 2 hour drive you can reach the most incredible spots and places we would highly recommend particularly for hiking.
The Scottish love their drink. A dram here and there never goes astray and washing it down with some pork scratchings isn’t far off a typical afternoon in the Scottish Highlands.
Whisky may not be everyone’s drink of choice, but gosh, the Scottish were onto a winner when they harnessed their incredibly fresh water and turned it into alcohol.
Something you may not have known is that the Scottish spell it ‘whisky’, whereas the Irish spell it ‘whiskey’. Little local knowledge for you there.
Equal to their love of the drink, comes their love of food. Shortbread, Haggis+Neeps+Tatties, Porridge and Bangers and mash. What is not to love? Vegan or vegetarian – have no fear. There is a Vegetarian version of the famous Haggis+Neeps+Tatties, so give it a go.
Another lesson I learnt was when asking for a cup of tea, make sure to say, ‘Scottish Breakfast’ not ‘English Breakfast’, as they do indeed brew their own. I kind of think I offended the lovely Scottish lass not asking correctly.
Scotland makes grey, dreary and bleak look incredible. Their buildings wreak of history, probably literally too.
Countless battles with invading Romans and the English have seen Scotland take quite a battering, but these people are hands down the proudest that we have ever met.
They are so passionate about being a Scot that it is contagious. I want to buy a kilt, join the Highland games and throw a log – all in the name of celebrating Scotland.
It is hard to understand the sheer, rugged remoteness of Scotland. It is a country the size of an American state and only has 5 million people living there, of which most live in either Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Fairy Glen, Isle of Skyle
The weather for almost 4-5 months of the year means that a lot of businesses ‘close up for winter’. So, when planning your trip just make sure to read opening times, seasonal times and prices.
It is not hard to see why so many film, and television companies make the trip to Scotland to shoot the scenery because it is out of this world.
For the adventurous traveler out there, you will be happy to know that hitchhiking is a thing in Scotland.
I don’t know whether it is their dashing good looks, their incredible hospitality or all the above, but, Scotland is an incredibly safe place to hitch-hike and in fact it is very easy to do so.
Although public transport is quite good, it is difficult to get out to the show-stoppers on a bus. So, if you can’t afford a rental car, then hitch-hiking with a local is the next best thing.
If you do have a car though, you must check out these stops along the way as they will quite literally take your breath away.
Don’t miss these Scottish Highlands road trips!
This is one of the highest drives in the whole of the UK and is often called the ‘edge of the world.’
A local Scot told us that it had won an award for the best drive in either Europe or the UK.
It has hairpin turns like you have never seen before and sheer cliffs that drop off underneath the car. Found in the Wester Ross (hint: Game of Thrones) region of Scotland, it is truly magical and would probably be one of the highlights of our entire 2 months in Scotland.
Driving from Inverness to Edinburgh through the Cairngorm National Park is a must whatever the season. We drove through as the first snow had fallen for winter just the night before.
Spot some stag, highland cows and of course rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Travelling the Scottish Highlands – Applecross
Remember that the Scottish Highlands are vast. There is West Highlands, Central Highlands, North, South and everywhere in between.
Move beyond the tourism centre of Loch Ness, yes, it is a spectacular body of water. But there are TWO lakes in Scotland that are bigger, wider and deeper.
Plus, we spent 2 months searching for that monster and it disappointingly didn’t happen.
It is so important to not only appreciate and respect the way of life in a country, but to also immerse yourself into it. Scotland is an incredibly vast and magical country with people who will brighten up your day with their hilarious banter and accent.
Make it a priority to get to Scotland for your next adventure.
The Affric Kintail Way, the long distance trail from Drumnadrochit at Loch Ness to Morvich in Kintail
Lauren and Kieran are the team behind the travel blog, Stamping the Passport. Originally from Australia, Lauren and Kieran relocated to the United Kingdom on a 2 year visa to make Europe more accessible to start their world travels. They packed all their things into 2 bags and ventured off on a one-way ticket. Early in their travels they created ‘Stamping the Passport.’ Originally a way to keep family and friends updated with their travels, it quickly turned into their passion. Stamping The Passport is a travel blog focused on part-time adventure and budget travel. They do plan to make travel a full-time gig in the future.
When we’re in college, our drinking requirements are pretty simple: Things to get us messed up (Jaeger Bombs, cinnamon whiskey shots) and things to get us messed up that we can’t taste (Vodka and Whatevers). Generally, anything with a strong, distinctive flavor (or that costs more than $7 a bottle) is off the table.
But you’re a grown-ass man now, and fine spirits and craft cocktails are all the rage. It’s time to set aside childish things (or at least, enjoy them with less frequency and more responsibility) as well as any prejudices you might have about “strong” or “nasty” spirits.
Below, a list of “gateway” spirits: Generally milder, smoother and more palatable (sometimes cheaper also) than the larger category. In some cases, you may already know what you like. In others, the whole breed of booze is off the docket. Here’s a way in.
(Note: this isn’t necessarily an endorsement of specific brands, nor a guarantee that they will be the right choice for you. These are some options for those who say, “oh, I don’t like X spirit, it’s too Y.” C’mon, give it a shot. Literally!)
What It Is: This American whiskey is made from at least 51% corn, which on its own can be pretty brash (if you’ve ever tasted moonshine). Tempering the “mash bill” with other grains (wheat, rye, malted barley), and throwing the distillate in an oak barrel for a few years softens the alcohol and adds complexity.
What’s Wrong With It: Cheap, high-proof bourbon used to be the norm during the last century. It had a kick and the good ol’ boys who drank it wanted it that way. Some still do. But for us everyday drinkers, that can be too much.
Start Here: If you’ve followed the bourbon boom of the past few years, you may already know the adage “wheat is sweet, rye is dry/spicey.” Depending on the secondary grain, you get a different style of finished product. What you want is a “wheated” bourbon, perhaps with as much as 20% or 30% wheat. They’re all the rage, and any good bartender will have a suggestion when you ask.
Examples: Maker’s Mark (one of the first mainstream bourbons to go this way on a craft-style level, the mash bill is about 16% soft red winter wheat), Larceny, W.L. Weller or Old Weller, and the rock star of wheated bourbons, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve.
When You Start Getting Serious: Know that one thing special about Kentucky bourbons (besides water that runs through limestone substrates) is that the large aging houses (called rickhouses) have wildly different microtemperatures and humidities from the bottom to the top of the spaces, affecting each barrel differently. Start sampling single cask strength expressions of your favorite brand, and you’ll find surprising variations on that element alone.
What It Is: Flavored vodka, essentially. Botanicals (flowers, citrus peels, roots, leaves and sticks) are introduced into the neutral spirit, allowed to soak (steep) or steam through it, and distilled again.
What’s Wrong With It: Juniper. That piney, oily note you detect is required for it to be gin. In London Dry gin, it must be the dominant aromatic and flavor note. Some people claim that it gives them headaches and/or terrible hangovers, or that it just tastes bad.
Start Here: About a decade ago, a new category sometimes dubbed “New Western Dry” gins kicked off much of the modern microdistillery craze, spearheaded by Oregon’s Aviation Gin. The category is generally identified by softer juniper profiles and elevated floral or citrus notes. Meanwhile, other gin styles, including gins using a base created from non-grains (see G’Vine, below) or softened by post distillation flavors (as Hendricks does with cucumber and rose).
Examples: Hendricks, G’Vine (made from the same grape as Cognac, and flavored in part with grape flowers), Bombay Sapphire East (botanicals include lemongrass and pepper), Portobello Road (a new one, made in London, but not a classic London Dry, it’s pleasantly citrusy).
When You Start Getting Serious: First, you may find (as I did once upon a time) that you start to like the juniper-driven gins. They make incredible Martinis. Second, when you’re ready to get a little crazy, consider the earthy funky Genevieve Gin from Anchor Distilling, or its inspiration (and gin’s older cousin) a Dutch Genever like Bols.
One of the whisky capitals of the world, the island of Islay off Scotland's west coast generates a lot of buzz among the geek community. A gorgeous setting with pristine beaches, unforgettable walks, and eight world-class whisky distilleries, there’s a reason that visiting this remote part of the world is akin to a religious pilgrimage.
Most Islay distilleries will claim their unique aromas come from the seaside air
Soon, three new distilleries will join their brethren on the island. The distillery of Ardnahoe on the eastern side is almost finished, the company behind online whisky giants The Whisky Exchange will be building a new one and legendary, long-shuttered distillery Port Ellen will be rebuilt and overseen by ex-Lagavulin manager Georgie Crawford.
So, given these exciting developments, together with 20-plus visits to the island, (and having written my Master's thesis on Islay whisky distillation), I want to share a useful guide to drinking your way around the island - and to dispel persistent myths that just won't go away.
For example, the one that bothers me the most is that Islay whiskies are hard for beginners to drink because they're so strong and smoky. While there’s certainly plenty of that kind of whisky, there’s also Islay whisky that's smooth, fruity, rich, unpeated and thoroughly enjoyable.
And. beginners as well are perfectly capable of enjoying a smoky whisky.
I won’t go into how peated whiskies create smoky flavors, but I do recommend taking a look here for an in-depth explanation behind the creation of smoky whisky.
For this guide, I'll classify Islay whiskies into four categoriess: unpeated, medium smoke, super smoky and peated fruity.
I can’t cover every Islay whisky, but these serve as great starters. Prices are sourced from The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt, but you may well find something cheaper either online or at your local store.
Islay offers many incredible unpeated whiskies well worth trying. They vary in aroma, flavor, and style. A full 99.9% of unpeated Islay whiskies come from Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain distilleries. The latter, which usually has an almost undetectable amount of peat, tends to strive for a richer, fruity taste profile while Bruichladdich is a bit more robust and creamy and with a higher alcohol strength, although with significant variation among its releases. A selection:
Bruichladdich Islay and Bere Barley - £45-73 ($59-$96): Both the Islay barley and Bere barley releases showcase vanilla, cream, and cookie flavors. Beyond that, the differences are more subtle, and wonderfully showcase the vanilla element.
Bruichladdich Black Art - £288 ($381): Whisky geeks go nuts for the various editions of the Black Art - production and maturation of which remains a secret - but I don’t think I’ve ever tried one that really impressed me, or was worth the money. Many fans disagree with me, though. Maybe you will, too?
Bunnahabhain 12 - £44 ($58): One of the great "core range" whiskies. Rich and deep, you have to try it if you want to sink into single malt Scotch whisky.
Bunnahabhain 18 - £104 ($138): I love Bunnahabhain whisky, and this one shows why. I included the 18 in my Top 10 whiskies of 2016 list. Deep and smooth liquid velvet.
Caol Ila Unpeated (varies): One of the island’s less-known distilleries (though it produces the most whisky, mainly used in blends), Caol Ila releases unpeated whisky fairly regularly that can sometimes be found in specialist shops or online. Definitely worth trying.
Medium Smoke Whiskies
Caol Ila and Bowmore create whiskies that usually are not as brutally harsh on the throat as other distilleries' releases. Bottles from both are a great way to start appreciating smoky whiskies.
Bowmore Tempest - £74.95 ($99): A 10-year-old release aged in first fill bourbon casks, this is one glorious stormy whisky. Released in batches, it's a superb cross of bacon, peaches and pepper.
Caol Ila 12 - £43.95 ($58): I tend to prefer Caol Ila as a distillery over Bowmore, and I think the 12 is better than Bowmore 12. A wonderfully balanced dram, oily and herbal but not overwhelmingly so, underpineed by robust smoke that doesn't overpower the taste buds.
Caol Ila 18 - £85.75 ($113): One of the best examples of a truly great herbal whisky, and well worth trying for that alone.
Super Smoky Whiskies
The source of Islay's fame. These super smoky whiskies are the whisky equivalents of the playground bully that shoves your head in the dirt. If you just go with the smoke, you will enjoy some truly sublime flavors. These listed here are just the tip of the proverbial whisky iceberg…
Lagavulin 16 - £55.45 ($73): Robust and meaty. Melon and Spanish ham. A pork cutlet with a dash of apple sauce. Certainly with sweet elements, but mostly umami all over the tongue and throat.
Ardbeg 10 - £41.95 ($56): Where Lagavulin’s smoky element is meaty, and Laphroaig’s more medicinal, Ardbeg’s is earthy. Light and nippy on the tongue but heavy on the throat.
Laphroaig 10 - £38.95 ($51): Famously medicinal due to the cresols that sneak in. I find Laphroaig smoother than the other very smoky whiskies, with the balance at the end tilted towards the smoke. This is a good thing. Older Laphroaigs can really deliver on this like no other whiskies.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask - £41.55 ($55): Far more fiery than the Laphroaig 10. A higher alcohol strength does contribute, though. The whisky is younger, but draws more from the wood from its maturation in smaller casks.
Kilchoman Machir Bay - £45.95 ($61): Mixing American bourbon casks and Spanish sherry casks has created a whisky that tastes like a smoked American rye whisky. Caramel, white chocolate, hints of citrus. And loads of beefy smoke.
Port Charlotte 10 - £48.90 ($65): All the whiskies listed in this section are "core whiskies" that serve as the introductory bottles from a distillery. This is the new one for Port Charlotte, actually the peated range of whiskies from the Bruichladdich distillery. A great mix of ginger, lemon peel and teriyaki sauce.
Anything Octomore (Varies): Some of the most peated whiskies in the world, released by Bruichladdich. Brutally strong and smoky. Some people love them, some hate them. I belong in the former.
Peated fruity whiskies
I feel that these whiskies manage to tease out richer fruit and spice flavors in ways that are unique. These really do it for me a bit more than the whiskies listed above.
Ardbeg Uigeadail - £56.95 ($75): Known as "the oogie" by geeks, a classic. One of my favorites. Smoke, rich fruits - think raisins or cranberries - and aromatic spices are all cranked up to 11.
Bowmore 15 - £52.95 ($70): Much more refined, the maturation in Spanish sherry casks here is subtle and perfectly balanced. Strawberries and mangoes served on leather.
Kilchoman Loch Gorm - £67.95 ($90): A clumsier version of the oogie but still manages to deliver, and well worth trying.
Though this list doesn't do full justice to the mind-boggling range of Islay whiskies on offer, I’ll add a few significant points:
First, don't count out the neighboring island of Jura, which has just released an entire new range of whiskies and is usually seen as the "little brother" distillery trying to reach the heights of big Islay boys.
Second, keep an eye out for independent releases of Islay whiskies. Independent companies, such as Gordon MacPhail, Hunter Laing, and others release their own Islay whiskies, unlocking flavors you’d never find from the distilleries themselves.
Finally, and most important, is to visit Islay to try all of these and other whiskies, at their point of creation. Whatever your taste preference, I can promise that you won't regret the trip.
The wine will have lost its fruit flavors, taken on nutty notes and the color will have started to turn brown. It's not harmful, but it won't taste good. Even if the wine has turned to vinegar, it would be unpleasant to drink, but not dangerous.
Wine has a super-simple definition, yet it is an extraordinarily complex category of alcoholic beverage that encompasses several varietals, an endless number of terroirs (areas where a given wine was produced) and a vast lexicon full of terms. Through this wine guide, our attempt has been to acquaint you to the elementary level of the wine concept.
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY
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