On the Road

Whisky School at Strathearn Distillery, Perthshire, Scotland

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. So spaketh Robert Burns, and the words are as true today as they were in 1785 when he wrote them. I had intended to write a dispatch from Comrie last week, in the middle of my stint at the Strathearn Distillery whisky school, but I had not anticipated the intensity of the experience nor the frequency with which drinks were consumed in the evenings. One might say I had forgotten what a bro trip was like — the last one was my first trip to Europe back in 2003 — and I hope you will forgive my absence here last week. In my defense, I was active most days on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you’re curious what the trip was like in photos, check out those streams. Read more...

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A Peedie Nation

by Keith Savage · 15 comments

Orkney Serpent on the Window at Helgi's

A word haunted every map, sign, and food cart I saw on Orkney. Peedie. What the hell? There was the Peedie Chippie (which made excellent fish and chips, incidentally), the Peedie Sea, Peedie anthems, and so on.

“Peedie” isn’t English. I’m pretty sure it’s not Norse. It doesn’t sound much like Scots. Finally I asked an innocent woman working behind the counter at a gift shop across from St. Magnus Cathedral: “What does Peedie mean?”

She seemed a bit embarrassed answering the question, like it wasn’t meant for the ears of visitors or that she was English. “It means small, or little,” she said as I paid for the peedie pack of Orkney fudge I’d chosen for Sarah. Read more...

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The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Mainland, Scotland

I rolled off the ferry at Stromness and entered a world of memories. There was Julia’s Bistro and the food co-op where Sarah and I bought Tennent’s tallboys on our honeymoon. I passed a road on the way out of town that led up to Thira, a B&B we stayed at in 2006 and 2007 with wide views of Hoy. The Flattie Bar, the Ferry Inn – so little had changed.

Then, the Orkney countryside.

All soft rolling pasture land rife with sheep and scores of spindly lambs at this time of year. The old bones of stone crofts in various states of disrepair whistle in the relentless wind. Read more...

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The ribbon of payment curves left then dashes between columns of rowan trees toward towering Ben Vrackie, like a lamb to its mother. I step from the car and crane my neck. Snow turns the peak into a father’s stern face flickering in the firelight. Cold breath rolls off the mountain and through the pines to scour me. The air carries scents of cold, wet earth, livestock, and snow as delicate as a glass kilt pin. I can taste the malty sweetness of Edradour lingering on the back of my palate. Sheep prick the lush hillside like some inverse and earth-bound constellation. There is an enormous white mansion, small as any highland girl’s dollhouse.

I have a sudden urge to hide in the wood…

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North of the Water

by Keith Savage · 6 comments

Typical View of the Scottish Highlands

There’s a saying around this part of the Scottish highlands. It goes: “Are you from north of the water?”

It’s a colloquial and kind way of calling someone crazy. What’s the water being referenced? Does it matter? It’s a perfect barb lancing through two apparently different peoples.

My hosts, Chris and Stuart, shared the saying with me as we chatted away last night with some whisky before a blazing wood stove. I might have blushed at the story. After all, most folk I meet clearly think I’m from north of the water. Read more...

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