We wended our way along a valley in the northeast corner of Scotland’s Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park. Gargantuan swooshes of earth reared to the sky, barren save for orderly patches of conifers and maybe a little snow melting fast in the warm sun. Here and there at the feet of these towering hills were simple white houses where smoke curled from chimneys. The narrow road mirrored the meandering course of the River Dochart, and every slow curve unveiled another vista of ancient character.
If I squinted or focused in a certain way, almost like falling asleep when I ignore certain sounds and fade out, I could mistake this section of central Scotland for a different age. This feeling of history just beneath the veneer of “now” is common to all of Scotland’s wild, rural areas. As we passed along Loch Tay I could almost see highlanders running over the hills all a-kilted. Is it just my imagination? Have I just watched Braveheart and Rob Roy too many times?
The answer is a quick “yes” to both of those questions, but that doesn’t invalidate the sensation. The fact is that much of Scotland has little visible modern infrastructure to dispel the ghosts of history.
The four days I’ve spent in Perthshire have solidified this region as one of my favorites in all of Scotland. The area is perfect for the outdoorsy traveler with loads of hills and forests to hike and lochs and rivers to fish. I took advantage of the stonking weather (as the Scots say) to tackle a few hikes, and I particularly liked the strenuous climb up Craigower Hill in Pitlochry. With more time I would have retraced my steps from previous trips to the Queen’s View and the Pass of Killiecrankie.
I managed to visit four distilleries in the area, including Deanston, today, which provided a top-notch, honest experience. More on this later, but if you happen to be going to Scotland and interested in whisky, give a visit to Deanston some thought. While I did a fair amount of hiking, I also did a lot of driving and this part of Scotland is a driver’s paradise. I hope I’ve established that driving is completely worth it, but in honor of full disclosure it’s not cheap. I filled the tank of our small Kia Cee’d three quarters of the way for £50. You do the math. Today’s drive proved the A827 from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park toward Pitlochry to be in the upper echelon of beautiful Scottish drives.
Since I’m a large fantasy nerd, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Doune Castle just next door to Deanston distillery. HBO’s Game of Thrones recently shot footage here for Winterfell Castle, and in my world that’s awesome. Tomorrow we head up to Speyside for the Spirit of Speyside festival. It’s going to be a very busy part of the trip with several whisky-soaked events each day, and I’m amped up to participate. I’m honored to have been invited to the opening awards dinner at Macallan distillery. Moderation not intoxication, that’s my mantra.
Time is traveling in a different way, too – like an hourglass. We just completed the first week of the trip and now only two weeks remain. More ghosts for the hills.