Category Archives: Scotland


Scotland’s Stirling Attractions

Stirling Castle by day

Stirling Castle. Courtesy VisitScotland / Kenny Lam, all rights reserved.

Guest post by Colin McAlpin

The man who holds Stirling holds Scotland. With this in mind, the Scots – under their legendary King Robert Bruce, he of the spider that inspired him never to give up – took on the English under King Edward II at the historic Battle of Bannockburn. Over two bloody days 700 years ago, Bruce routed them in what became known as the First War of Independence to establish Scotland as a nation.

LOOKING OUT ACROSS THE TOWN OF STIRLING AND OVER TO THE WALLACE MONUMENT AND OCHIL HILLS FROM THE BATTLEMENTS OF THE CASTLE, WITH THE STATUE OF ROBERT THE BRUCE IN THE FOREGROUND, STIRLING. PIC: P.TOMKINS/VisitScotland

A statue of Robert the Bruce stands atop Stirling Castles battlements, high above Stirling’s Old Town. Courtesy VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins,
all rights reserved.

Holding the charming city of Stirling – the site of the battle, 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh – became important to the Scots. Although created a city only in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, Stirling has for centuries played an important role in Scotland’s often turbulent history, and many of its historic sites and monuments – such as the imposing Stirling Castle and the national monument to William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace – bear witness. (more…)

Briggs & Riley Compression Suitcase: The Next Best Thing to Mary Poppins’ Magic Bag

I recently travelled with a woman who claimed she could pack for a week’s skiing holiday in a handbag. Not the skis themselves, mind you, but she insisted she could fit every other essential in one average-sized, over-the-shoulder satchel.

Okay, so this isn’t her…and this isn’t the magic bag, but it wasn’t much bigger than the one carried by Duane Hanson’s remarkably lifelike sculpture at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

My comrade had already proven her mysterious superpowers, having employed said sack for a trip we shared to Edinburgh.

But…how?

Did she possess some sort of pret-a-portable TARDIS, equipped with entire wardrobes instead of zip pockets?

When she went camping, could she crawl in there to sleep at night?

Given that every handbag is legally obligated to devote at least half its capacity to crumpled receipts, wadded tissues and lint-covered breath mints, did the thing require its own household staff to tidy unfathomable mounds of discarded detritus?

As our train chugged back to London, I longed to ask her to turn her bag inside out so that I could explore its enigmatic dimensions. But somehow, it didn’t seem right to request that she dump her unmentionables on the tray table.

Nor did I wish to risk being sucked in by the gravitational pull of what I can only assume was her pocketbook’s fifth dimension.

Fortunately, given my own everything-but-the-kitchen-sink penchant for disaster packing, I have recently discovered the next best thing to Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bag.

Behold, my friends: patented CX™ Expansion-Compression Technology from Briggs & Riley(more…)

A Field Guide to Whisky: Everything you ever wanted to know, but were too tipsy to ask

"A Field Guide to Whisky," by Hans Offringa

What country produces the most whisky? (Hint: It’s not Scotland).

What are the risks involved in investing in whisky, aside from the possibility you’ll go on a bender and drink your portfolio?

What is the best way to store an unopened bottle of whisky, in the unlikely event that you possess the superhuman power to leave that golden nectar unmolested?

And, while we’re at it, what exactly is whisky—and how is it made?

In his new book, A Field Guide to Whisky, Hans Offringa—Patron of the Whisky Festival of Northern Netherlands, Honorary Scotsman, and Keeper of the Quaich (it’s a Scotch thing)—addresses all these issues, and hundreds of others besides.

Whisky on the rocks. Literally.

Whisky on the rocks. Literally.

Flip through his 320-page “expert compendium” of the world’s best-loved firewater, and you’ll be prepared for any whisky-related question a bearded, bespectacled quiz master would dare to throw your way. In fact, there’s an entire chapter devoted to trivia.

I’ve been a whisky lover ever since my first visit to Scotland nearly a decade ago, and I’m always fascinated by how much there is to learn. Now, I’ll be tossing around terms like “potcheen,” “lyne arm” and “boil ball” (which are apparently not plagues eradicated in the Middle Ages) with aplomb.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered, thanks to Offringa’s guide. (more…)

UK Film Locations for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

UK Setting Steals the Show

Charlie Hunnam, starring in Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, pictured on location in Scotland.

Charlie Hunnam, starring in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, pictured on location in Scotland. © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Wringing praise from critics for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has been as challenging as, well, wriggling that stubborn blade from a stone. But the mythical landscape, filmed entirely in the United Kingdom, proves to be just the ticket…or at least, worth the price of one.

Here’s a quick look at the highs and lows of a movie which, at times, can be as challenging as the terrain. (more…)

Isle of Harris Gin: The New Spirit of Scotland

four bottles of Isle of Harris Gin lined up in a row

That’s me sorted for the evening.

Despite being officially dubbed one of the happiest places to live in the UK, the Isle of Harris off the northwest coast of Scotland is battling a serious buzz kill. That is to say, there are fewer and fewer people living there to enjoy all that happiness these days.

The Office for National Statistics says folks in the Outer Hebrides are the happiest in the UK.

The population has halved over the last 50 years, shrinking to less than 2,000 residents. But…why?

Because, despite producing the renowned Harris Tweed, employment opportunities in the isolated Outer Hebrides are scarcer than the remaining hairs on Sean Connery’s head.

So, what are these industrious islanders doing to kick-start this party, y’all? Opening a distillery entirely staffed by locals and brewing some hooch, of course.

Naturally, you might assume that by hooch, I mean “Scotch,” this being Scotland and all. While that is indeed part of the long-term plan, Scotch whisky must age at least three years in oak barrels by law.

That’s why Isle of Harris Distillers has taken their initial step into the spirit world with Isle of Harris gin. (more…)

Sweetheart Escapes at Europe’s Most Romantic Hotels

The roses are wilted. That decadent box of heart-shaped chocolates has morphed into a flabby albatross around your waist, and the giddy high of champagne has burst like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind. How do you pump new life into a flaccid relationship after Valentine’s Day is done and Cupid has flown the coop? Read on for four prescriptions for passion that last a lot longer than Viagra.

Romantic sunset dinner for two at San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice

Romantic sunset dinner for two on a private island? That should do the trick. Courtesy San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice

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Scotland’s Search for a Fetching Ambassadog

Tongues—and tails—are wagging over VisitScotland’s canny new campaign for an “ambassadog.” Does your rambling Rover have what it takes to be Scotland’s V.I.P. (Very Important Pooch)?

Will Scotland's new "ambassadog" be a Tartan Terrier, or perhaps a Loch Ness Labrador?

If you’ve got a wee beastie as cute as this lassie, you’d be barking mad not to apply. (You knew that was coming). Photo courtesy VisitScotland.

The lucky dog chosen for the role over all other competitors will be treated to a holiday around Scotland with his or her owner. Canine applicants must be “outgoing and sociable,” and the winner will have the opportunity to blog about the experience on www.visitscotland.com. So if your pup can type, he’ll probably win paws-down.

The position is open for all dogs from any region of Scotland, whether he’s a West Highland Tartan Terrier or a Loch Ness Labrador. To bone up on details, click here. The deadline is April 6, 2016.

May the best man…er, make that “man’s best friend”…win.

 

 

Exploring the Scottish Highlands: A Lesson in Overcoming Common Sense

I’m cringing on the edge of a tiny wooden platform less than one meter square, contemplating a leap from the equivalent of a three-storey building.

Preparing for the big leap...

Preparing for the big leap…

I’m not suicidal, only slightly insane. In theory, you see, the cable that a fresh-faced young lad strapped to my harness will allow me to make a controlled, but nonetheless stomach-churning, descent into the abyss.

My is in this lad's hands--or at least, my crotch is in his harness.

My life is in this lad’s hands–or at least, my crotch is in his harness.

The “Skydive,” one of the most popular attractions at Landmark Forest Adventure Park in Carrbridge, Scotland, didn’t look so high from the ground.

But as I stand frozen to my perch, where I’m treated to a bird’s eye view of energy-sapping pursuits guaranteed to exhaust even the most hyperactive children and their parents (a rock-climbing pillar, water slides, mini-racetrack and the like), I’m beginning to regret the black pudding I had for breakfast.

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Safari, Scottish-style, on the Isle of Arran

Now I know what it feels like to be a penguin swaddled in a girdle…not that I had given it much thought before. But as I waddle into the cool shallows of Lamlash Bay on Scotland’s Isle of Arran, lumpily sheathed in neoprene and dragging my bright red kayak behind me, I feel as awkward as that klutzy, egg-shaped comic. I’m hoping that when I finally reach deeper waters and launch myself into my craft, I, like the stubby-legged polar bird, will take on some measure of aquatic grace—but in my heart, I know better.

Lamlash Bay, courtesy Calum McNicol, Arran Adventure Company

Lamlash Bay, courtesy Calum McNicol, Arran Adventure Company

Just as I feel a chilly trickle filling my rubber booties, my jovial guide, Bruce Jolliffe with the Arran Adventure Company, suggests we board our crimson kayaks, and soon we’re gliding across the gunmetal gray bay. Well, my companions may be “gliding,” but my idea of an upper-body workout is brushing my teeth (flossing, too, when I’m feeling particularly hale), and I soon start to feel the burn. (more…)

Drink a toast to Scotch Whisky Month

7Glenlivet whisky tasting_SCT0508 - 815As part of their 2014 “Homecoming” celebrations, Visit Scotland has dubbed May 2014 “Whisky Month.”

Whisky draws 1.3 million visitors and brings in £26 million to Scotland every year. “But above all,” says Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, “it allows people to see the world as a slightly kinder place, for at least an hour or two.”

Check out www.homecomingscotland.com/whiskymonth for details–and don’t forget to raise a wee dram “World Whisky Day,” May 17.

But why wait to get into the, er, spirit? Click http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1825 to read about the Scotch Whisky Trail—and find out why every day is whisky day for me.

Following the Scotch Whisky Trail: A Spirited Tour of Scotland

Greek fire was one of the most powerful and mysterious weapons of Byzantium, almost mythical in its power to subdue and overpower enemies of the empire. The recipe for this legendary liquid flame — a highly combustible compound that was hurled through the air and could not be quenched with water — has been lost in the ensuing centuries.

4Laphroig 27 year old_SCT0508 - 438Modern historians believe it may have been a form of petroleum, but personally, my money’s on Scotch whisky.

Pour a finger of Scotch, swirl the tumbler, and watch as light plays across the amber fluid like dancing flames encased in glass.

Inhale the heady fumes, which may fill your nostrils with the smoky perfume of peat.

Finally, take a sip. Careful now, because this is where whisky really earns its reputation, searing your throat and warming your belly, tracing a course through your body so intense that you would swear it left a mark on your flesh. (more…)