We're back now, from Scotland. It was a really, really lovely trip. I'm so glad we went. We met some of the best, mostly lovely (there's that word again...it's a UK thing, I think, right up there with "wee") people I've ever met. It was a really welcome respite from "real" life.
If I use the word "really" again, just smack me.
The first part of the trip was to Bladnoch, located in the Lowlands area (Galloway), near Wigtown. Not that anyone's ever heard of even Wigtown (the book capital of Scotland), but seriously NO ONE has heard of Bladnoch. One of the other guys in the Distillery School with us actually got in an argument with a cab driver in Glasgow who insisted that there was no such place!
So, yes, we were there for Whisky School. We learned how to make Scotch whisky (note the absence of the extra "e" we Americans put in). We also drank a fair bit of it. Raymond & Florence own the distillery and they are truly awesome people. I think Raymond has a story for everything and Florence is his long-suffering (but not really suffering) wife. John, the StillMan, is just a great big teddy bear of a guy. He and Hugh, his assistant & the official "angel" of the distillery (i.e. the angel's share is supposed to be the whisky that evaporates while in the barrel) are probably my favorite new friends. Also at the distillery are Sue and Kevin, two more just lovely people with a funny little pooch named Mabel. And Yolanda, though I didn't get to talk to her much.
This was the first "Wild Scotsman" sponsored whisky school. I'm not sure how they were structured before. The Wild Scotsman is Jeoff, who should wear his hair down more often. And his mentor, one of the wily greats in Scottish whisky history, John McDougall.
Then there were the other attendees: Michael, probably the singularly most whisky-obsessed person I've ever met in my entire life; Eric, the quiet one with a good sense of humor; Jay, the rock-n-roll guy of the session (I'm not sure if I've ever met a more unlikely lawyer); Iain, the youngest and most hip of all of us (he's in a cool band called the Skarsoles) and the son of the bottler; Drew, Jeoff's cousin and the owner of a pub in Pittsburgh; and Lee & his wife & sister, a soft-spoken Southern gentleman from the same town Tony was born in.
All the other people we met too -- local rugby players, local farmers (Gordon, for one, a really nice fellow), the B&B owners (Mr. & Mrs. Key - she being the one singularly responsible for me gaining 5 pounds, I think), the pub owners (Sinead, Derek, and young Derek)...small town Scotland is a nice place to visit.
All of the pics are up at http://www.yabookscentral.com/pictures/Scotland I took 724 of 'em, though a few are videos I haven't figured out how to post yet.
We also spent some time in Glasgow (kind of industrial, but with some hidden gems if you walk around) and Edinburgh (very old, lots of history, and lots of hills). A friend of Tony's from work took us out one night (Julie and her husband Fraser). They were also just lovely people.
One other interesting note...I've studied quite a bit of faerie history/fable and I'd heard of Aiken Drum, but had not realized that his story originated in Bladnoch! Very, very cool. Raymond even had the whole Aiken Drum poem up (I've only seen bits of it before in my reference book by Katherine Briggs).
Oh...and the Viking Cat Farms thing...one of the guidebooks in the B&B in Bladnoch mentioned another local town -- Whithorn -- and said that it was worth a visit because of the archaeological evidence of VIKING CAT FARMS.
That has to be singularly the strangest thing I have ever heard of.
But true...I just looked it up and the Whithorn site (everything has a website these days) says: "Whithorn also came under Viking influence and from this period, archaeological evidence suggests that cats were farmed for their skins and finely decorated antler combs were manufactured."