A short stop in Pitlochry, a charming little town in the Central Highlands, included a visit to Blair Athol distillery. It has been making Scotch for 216 years. Pitlochry, which is almost exactly in the center of Scotland, earned its favor because Queen Victoria visited in 1842 and proclaimed it one of the finest resorts in Europe.
More than 100 distilleries are located in the Scottish Highlands. Scotch whiskey cannot be called Scotch unless it comes from Scotland. Duh. Not being a drinker of Scotch, I didn’t know that until now.
After our tour of the distillery, we were treated to a “tasting.” Small glasses containing splashes of Scotch were distributed.
“Smell it first,” said our guide.
OK, I thought. Ick.
“Now taste,” he said.
OK. Shudder. Ick.
“Now hold the glass in your hands and warm it,” he said.
“Now smell it.
OK. No smell.
Much nicer. Good, in fact.
Our guide stressed that single malt Scotch is not to be cooled with ice cubes and is not to be mixed with water -- or anything else. Point taken.
We crossed into the northeastern edge of England, Northumbria, to spend a day at Alnwick Castle, home to the 12th Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy. Percy’s family came to England with William the Conquerer. (That would be 1066!) The castle and environs has been home to the family for more than 700 years. The castle has been restored and it contains the family’s impressive collections of furniture, arms, porcelain, art, historic artifacts and more. The garden is huge.
The setting has been used for several film and television productions, including Robin Hood -Prince of Thieves, Elizabeth and two Harry Potter movies.
The piece de resistance on this trip, for me, however was that I could cross off another Bucket List item. I walked along the top of Hadrian’s Wall.
Surprise: It isn’t very high. Only a couple of feet in most places.
The fortification was begun in 120 AD (1,894 years ago!) by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and it eventually stretched 73 miles, the full width of northern England. Made of stone, it was originally 10-15 feet high, 8 to 10 feet wide. It included forts built at intervals of about five miles and staffed by Roman soldiers. The wall marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire and was supposed to keep out those nasty Scots and Picts and Barbarians.
We spent a sunny afternoon at the Housesteads Fort, which is almost in the middle of the wall, half way between Bowness-on-Solway in the West and the mouth of the Tyne River in the East. The fort included the remains of the commanding officer’s house, the headquarters, the barracks, hospital, store rooms, bathhouse and latrine, as well as dwellings for the soldiers’ families, shops and more.
When the wall was phased out, people used the stones to build other things – houses, churches and boundary walls. The original stones used by the Romans are scattered all over the area. That’s why the wall doesn’t seem particularly daunting today.
Hadrian’s Wall fascinates me because it’s so freaking OLD. I haven’t seen too many things that are almost 2,000 years old. The only reason we know so much about its construction, its maintenance and its use is because those Romans were so meticulous about writing things down.
I’m sure we talked about Hadrian’s Wall when I took Latin I, II, III and IV, back in the late ’50s. It captured my imagination even then. In fact, my background in Latin has served quite useful over the last 50 years. Thank you Miss Campbell. (My Latin teacher.)
Failte is the Scottish word for welcome. It’s pronounced FALL-chuh. We felt extremely welcome in Scotland. I loved it.
Can you tell?