Musings, Whisky and the Country

It’s cold and rainy outside and I’ve made an afternoon of catching up on a movie, some hot tea and some writing. So you get a dose of my philanthropic musings on this entry. Apologies in advance.

I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is to get on a plane and be in a completely different country in less than 12 hours. One where you may or may not speak the language, one with completely different ways of life, different culture, places, food and people. It’s amazing the opportunities that modern technology provides! But as easy as it is to get from one place to another, it’s just as easy to stay within one’s comfort zone. Which is why I’m so proud of Mike and I for taking the initiative to leave the US for a one-year adventure in Scotland. (Granted it’s not some five-year excursion, but still an experience none the less.)

The truth is that we were comfortable. We weren’t sure we wanted to leave our house in Houston, much less our four pets that we’ve become extremely attached to, and our family and friends in Houston and Dallas for a whole year. But we decided that if we were chosen, we’d pursue the opportunity 110% and be excited about the chance to experience life in another country, no matter where it was. (When you apply for this program, you don’t get to pick when or where you go, they tell you.)

Now that we’ve seen some of Scotland in the less than two weeks we’ve been here, we couldn’t be happier that we made it over. I think if most people got a taste, a teaser, of what lies on the other side, they would be more prone to take it. That’s part of the risk though, the unknown results of decision making. My point is that it seems important to remember to take risks occasionally. To jump out there and do something that challenges us, to take a step out of the box, out of our own little worlds and into something larger.

If we had been given a preliminary trip to Scotland to check it out and look around, we would have totally decided that we wanted to do the program for a year. Because we are having a fantastic time and there’s so much to do. We know that now. And if Scotland had been horrible and we hated it? Then Mike and I would have learned how to cook amazing meals every night, we’d catch up on books and movies and spend more of our time and energy looking for trips to Europe for a change of scenery. The point is that we would have dealt with it, we would have made the best of things no matter what. And probably still come out better for it. But to get to that point, you have to take the risk.

Now on to actual doings at hand, enough musings for now. We had an absolutely wonderful weekend taking a short road trip (huddled up in our Nissan Micra) to Glass, by Huntly to visit some new friends. Paul and Amber Poole are two of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. They welcomed us into their home, an adorable cottage in the country (cottarton.blogspot.com). There were cows and sheep and dirt country roads and more green grass and trees than you can imagine. For our first excursion outside of Aberdeen, we definitely wanted it to be an easy one and it was perfect.

We have a GPS with a UK and European card plugged in, and it’s been a huge help in getting around. It even tells you which exit to take on a roundabout. Amazing! When we arrived at their cottage, there was a wooden box at the front gate with a hand-painted sign advertising fresh bunches of flowers for £2. You leave your change in the little tin box attached. Another cottage a few hills over turned out to offer eggs for sale in a similar fashion, tin box attached and two small trays of eggs left. Where else do you see things like that!?

(image from Amber P's blog at cottarton.blogspot.com)
Amber waved at us as we pulled into the gravel driveway and made our introductions. Then we settled in and they offered us cold Perla, a Polish beer, which I did taste later and found delicious. I also discovered that I get extremely car sick in mini-sized vehicles. So it took me a while to recover from the ride and I will literally have to take Dramamine any time we go somewhere further than 10 minutes away.

Paul and Amber have successfully planted two large gardens, from which they mostly sustain themselves on fruits and vegetables of every kind. There’s cabbage, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, berries, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and more. Paul pointed out a very small patch of lesser looking plants, which he explained was his first attempt at corn. Scotland’s cooler temps and misty rain might not be as ideal as Texas’ blazing sun and dry heat.

We drove to Dufftown, which is the home of the Glenfiddich distillery, known for their 12, 15, and 18-year-old single malt Scotch whisky. Pronounced “Glen-fiddick,” the distillery is a gorgeous establishment of hand-assembled stone buildings and loads of flowers and well manicured lawns. We took the free tour offered (one of the only free distillery tours in the area, actually… there’s other well-known distilleries here like Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Oban, etc.). The distillery was built in 1886 by its founder William Grant (pictured below with the funny hat), his wife, seven sons, two daughters and a stonemason. The whiskey derived its name from the valley, Glen of Fiddich, which is Gaelic for Valley of the Deer. Thus the company’s stag trademark logo.

The distillery’s first spirit was poured on Christmas Day 1887. Glenfiddich uses crystal clear water from the nearby Robbie Dhu Springs, which is mixed hot with malted barley in huge copper containers. This produces “wort,” a very sweet and fragrant liquid. The wort is then moved to the distillery’s traditional wooden washbacks—huge barrel like containers—where yeast converts it to a weak form of alcohol. From there, it’s taken to copper pot stills. These are extremely small compared to most modern-day distilleries. Glenfiddich has preserved the original size of its stills, which William Grant designed, otherwise it might alter the taste of the whisky. They even employ their own coppersmith to maintain the stills.

At the end, we had our “whee dram” of whisky, which I would have loved with a mixer, but at a distillery it would be considered blasphemy! Paul and Amber took us on a scenic route back to their cottage. We stopped and looked for mushrooms on the way home (“the American way of mushroom hunting,” Paul joked, since we were looking from the car windows), saw plenty of wild rabbits and even more of the gorgeous country side.

For dinner, Amber made fresh salmon and cheesy polenta with wild mushrooms and salad from their garden. It was great! Mike has had salmon a few times since we got to Scotland, but it was my first and it really is good here. We drank South African red wine (which, along with Spanish and Italian, is becoming one of our favorites) and a Glenfiddich liqueur not available in the States. Just before dinner, while I was talking to my mom on Skype, we heard a commotion outside. There were men herding a flock of sheep down the road into a new pen. Apparently these were the young ones they’d just separated from their mothers. I held the laptop camera out and my mom watched from her house in Irving with us as the sheep were herded right by the cottage. I wanted to reach out and touch one so bad but wasn’t sure if sheep bite, ha.
After dinner, we drank more wine and liqueur and played a game of Balderdash, which Paul victoriously won. And during the night, we could hear the sheep baaing in the field next to us. Like Paul said: Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore! It really was the perfect getaway and we invited Paul and Amber to come visit us in Aberdeen anytime they want a true Texas meal of fajitas and guacamole! And I’m sure we’ll be back to see them again when we have visitors.

Next on the agenda will be a short trip to Edinburgh, which everyone here can’t seem to stop talking about. It’s a culturally-loaded city and I’m sure will be another great experience. Of course, everyday here is all about trying something new…


  1. What a lovely and unexpected tribute you have written about us and our Cottarton. Thank you, Amber - it was our pleasure. Have a great time in Edinburgh; you're right, it's not to be missed. Can't wait to see you when your folks get here. PS. Don't forget to tell your readers: "When the sun shines on Scotland, there's no prettier a place." And that's from me, an old Texan. Amber, Sr.

  2. Amber,
    Wow! I'm glad to see that you're making use of your amazing talent at writing and making a beautiful blog. You've always been so good at that, from when you made the synchro newsletter. It sounds like you're quite enjoying yourselves and I'm very glad. Are you going to be there at the end of Dec/beginning of Jan or are you going back to TX?
    Love you, Jen

  3. You're making me homesick - I used to work at Glenfiddich as a tour guide in the university holidays.


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