Artwork and design by Elspeth McDiarmid and Lily Drange
Last weekend I had a whisky tour in Speyside scheduled. If you know the area there are approximately 50 distilleries to choose from including the three biggest ones: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and MacAllan.
The tour was booked with relative short notice and things are not quite back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The gentleman who booked the tour had a few preferences on his list of distilleries but not all were open to visitors. As a matter of fact when I picked up the phone it evolved that distilleries were either not open yet (Aberlour) or fully booked (MacAllan).
I ended up changing the tour about four times in 24 hours but in the end we were able to visit four distilleries and the Speyside Whisky Shop.
Click here for the detailed itinerary.
We visited the MacAllan bar which overlooks the distills and my customers sampled MacAllan 12 single, double and trible cask maturation. On the way there we had short stop to let them try a wee dram.
Next was GlenAllachie, where Karen provided a very personal tour in a small but certainly special distillery. Four whiskies could be tried and one of my whisky enthusiast bought a bottle of one of the samples.
I had packed a small lunch which served well to be ready for distillery number three of the day: Glenfarclas. This tour took close to two hours, was very detailed and ended in the famous tasting room of Glenfarclas, where another three whiskies were tried.
Last whisky producer of the day was Glen Grant, which did not provide tours as such but the beautiful Victorian garden was open and once visited two whiskies could be tried.
There are always more whiskies to be tried and we stopped at Hopeman for a tasting of smooth whiskies and added a peaty whisky tasting at Burghead. You can see that sunset tastings are fun:
A week ago today I was on my last day of a wonderful retreat near and around Forres.
It was a fantastic experienced and coincided with a number of sensible life changes for myself. Since then I have not “taken a breath” (which is only partially true, I still practiced yoga and a little mindfulness every day). Life since has been a consistant rotation of sleeping, getting up, a yoga practice, work, eat, sleep… something we all know is neither healthy, nor practical and even less enjoyable. However, there is an end to that in sight and meanwhile it serves me as a weak excuse for not having reported back on the amazing time I was allowed to share with four other women:
Kim Grant from Visualising Scotland
Jen from Mindful Routes
We met a a park in Forres and walked into the woods to a small clearing with some picnic tables. Jen provided us with number of breathing exercises followed by some journalling of thoughts on what every one of us would like to take away from the retreat.
We took a gentle walk through the remainder of the park noticing some beautiful mushrooms.
We continued on to Logie Steadings for some fabulous lunch and ventured off to another walk this time alongside the river Findhorn. Many photos were taken with very helpful hints and tricks from Kim. We also found time for more creative writing and just emerging ourselves with the nature surrounding us. What a wonderful place!
We split up for a wee break which allowed me to settle into my most wonderful accommodation “The Bothy” run by Fiona & Brendan and made even more welcoming by their lovely dog “Bracken”
We met up at the beach all of us equipped with swim suits – just in case we were brave enough to jump into the sea.
Kim guided us along this most beautiful coastline encouraging us to turn our attention once again to the little things.
I had been walking barefeet and when the sunset had settled (or so we thought), four of us went swimming while remaining Sam used the time to snap some amazing sunset shoots.
Please also Rebecca on the wing’s blog for her take on our first day.
We started again in a park/woodland at Burghead with a walk lead by Rebecca tuning us into the different bird songs and traces of wildlife within the woods. When I was asked by Kim later what my highlight of the day had been I answered without a second thought: “Capturing a grashopper”. It is the little things that matter. I did add at least another three things afterwards including a gorgeous swim with Rebecca at Burghead.
For lunch we aimed to spot some dolphins but failed. But again what a fantastic spot we found ourselves in:
The evening session took us to Hopeman and a walk along yet another stunning coastline. Kim stopped at a puzzling rock formation and invited us to explain it in writing which was anything but easy, very intriguing and satisfying.
We stopped at Cove Bay for sunset and more creative writing as there was so much to discover: caves, holes filled with sea water and many maritime creatures, such a starfish (close to me heart for known reasons)
We met at Burgie Aboretum Woodland Garden on a rather dreich last morning, which provided us with an entirely different backdrop to our retreat as we had the most hot and sunny summer weather the two previous days. As often at this time of year in Scotland the sun eventually managed to burn the mist away and we did have another hot day in the end. For the purpose of creativity and photography this changed atmosphere is reflected in the pictures bringing out the colours of flowers more radiently.
We spent the afternoon focussing on macro images and for that purpose moved to another nature reserve where we were joined by Jen who engaged us in more breathing exercises and creative writing to reconnect with the intention we had set for ourselves during this retreat.
We concluded with day with a lovely meal!
Which was so good that I had to take more pictures
I had an absolutely amazing time enhanced by the creative minds I could share this retreat with. I am full of gratitude to all to Kim, Rebecca, Jen and Sam.
There is another retreat planned in May 2022. Watch this space!
Being a tour guide myself it was very enriching to be guided mentally as well as physically (not needing to choose where to go) by experts in their fields. It has truly opened my mind to be much more aware of nature surrounding me, looking differently around me and absorbing more detail than I usually do. An enlightening experience which I hope I could share with you!
It took quite a while to convince Mercedes to let me have a eVito L3 for trial but when I booked it I got the chance to have it for almost a week and to take it to the Highlands on a Photographic retreat in Forres with Kim Grant.
I picked the car up in Edinburgh, received some instructions as to the charging of the car and was told to download two apps for that purpose. I drove the car to my home in Fife, according to google maps a journey of 49 miles. The eVito had roughly lost 60 miles from its original charge. At my intro I was surprised to hear that I could not charge the eVito at home.
The drive was nippier than my Viano, it corners well, it is comfortable and has all the things you would excpect from Mercedes. Sadly, including the tailgate and driver’s door not shutting on first instance.
The eVito is a front wheel drive, which I am personally not too keen on but the handling was very fine.
However, it did not provide me the same wow-effect I had experienced when driving the Tesla Model S. It simply drove like a slightly quieter but faster version of my Viano.
That day after work I picked up the eVito and drove it 17 miles to St Andrews to fully charge it in preparation for my retreat up North. After two attempts I found the “right” charging facility, opened the app (which I had pre-fed with my bank details) and plugged it in. It did not work, the app was stuck. I duly called the helpline of ChargePlace and with the friendly help of the female advisor I manage to set it all up. I went away, had some dinner and returned only to find it had charged ZERO miles. I had an early start the next morning so I took it home. Work got a bit hectic so I only got the chance to re-charge it the night before my departure.
After work I took the eVito another 17 miles back to St Andrews for another attempt of charging. This meant I had already done 51 miles just to re-charge the vehicle!
I got there and the rapid charger would not work. I consulted the manual only to find out that there is no chapter on charging the vehicle. I did, however, find it in the appendix. While I was struggling two people with a Tesla appeared, plugged their car in and came over to help me. I went from the rapid charger over to the slower charger, which eventually agreed to work but I had no intention of leaving the vehicle in St Andrews as I had still to do my packing. With the help of my newly acquired Tesla people the mission was successful in the end. The Tesla owners by that time had reached 80% of charge on their vehicle and drove off.
I went for a walk with my boyfriend, who fortunately joined me to pick up the eVito. Sadly, 1 hrs 31 mins after plugging it in the car had reached only 67% of charge (115 miles) which was not enough to drive to Forres the next morning. My boyfriend kindly gave me a lift back home.
I took my Viano to St Andrews to pick up the eVito which had charged 98%. I changed my luggage over and by the time I had turn the key in the ignition I had lost 27 miles without even moving.
I drove off to Forres and when the eVito annouced it had done 100 miles it had in reality only done 66 miles. I started to worry whether I would make it to Forres at all. I did and had about 60 miles left eventually. With my app I drove to a charging station immediately: first one was full, second one did not work, third one I could not find or it did not exit.
Slightly grumpy I left for my morning session of my retreat and at lunch time I drove the car to the charging point which was previously engaged, only to find out that it was a non tethered point. Luckily Mercedes had provided me with a charging cable. The car was left of 3hrs 50 mins and when I returned it had charged to 67%. This was a rapid charger so the 45 mins to 80% does not appear to be quite true. This was however enough to see me through the retreat but not all the way home. I drove it some miles on the next day and quite enjoyed it.
I had to leave the next morning so I had planned to charge the car over night at a tea room, which was close to my accommodation. Unfortunately the charger was out of order.
I drove past my accommodation back to Forres, hooked it up to the same charger and had to walk 2.2 miles along the main road in the pitch black to get to my bed.
I started the day with another 2.2 mile walk but this time went through the woodlands which was quite pleasant.
When I reached the car, the charger had switched off. I entered the car, turned the key in the iginition and to my great delight it stated it had 100% charge.
I authorized the charger in the attempt to get my charging cable back but sadly it now state the charge station was out of order and refused to let me unplug the cable. A few more attempts let me leave with the cable.
I drove it back to St Andrews without any issues, took it through the skiing area and enjoyed the downhill gaining of extra miles, but also realised how heavy this vehicle is. The breaks are strong but on 20% decline it felt like an effort….
When I arrived in St Andrews I plugged it back in and returned home in my Viano.
The following day I drove my Viano to the nearest train station, took a taxi back to the eVito, drove it back to Mercedes in Edinburgh and returned by train.
With an annual mileage of approximately 70.000 going electric would make a lot of sense.
25% of my average turn over are spent on fuel plus insurance, repairs, road tax etc. An electric vehicle could provide massive savings.
The eVito with 230 miles range would not be feasible for my business. I could possibly wait 45 mins for a decent re-charge but charging appears unpredictable and unreliable. The problem is not that there are not any chargers, but they might be engaged or broken or not even there anymore.
I ended up downloading three apps for charging points, everyone of them providing different information. The ChargePlace app only worked once for charging for the duration of 11mins. I am writing this five days after returning to the car to Mercedes and my bank account has not been charged yet. Once it will I shall update on the cost of my electric vehicle trial.
In my experience the eVito is way too needy, which is a shame. I will drive my Viano until I can afford a Tesla.
I scheduled a meeting with friends who own a Tesla to quizz them how their re-charging works. They got a charger installed at their home (though Tesla provides you with an ordinary plug). The cost per mile when charging the vehicle at home is 1 pence per mile.
The car tells them when and where to charge as part of its route planning. My friends had taken their Tesla recently to London. It was no problem. No waiting, no chargers out of order, no problem to find a charger and no worries whether the car would get them to their destination. The Tesla has a range on 380 miles but you are advised for the safe keeping of the battery to operate it within 20 to 80 % of charge which provides approximately 180 miles range.
The supercharge does indeed take 15-20 min for an 80% load (which is recommended for the longlivity of the battery). After reaching 80% the charge slows down to encourage you to drive off and free the charger for others.
The difference is that all is an integrated part of of the experience. The Tesla software does everything you need for you.
Fife Coast & Countryside Trust’s Gaelic and Wildlife Walks in Pittencrieff Park 26/08/2021
If you travel around Scotland you will sooner or later encounter either “unusual & unpronunicible” place names or outright sign posts in Gaelic. In Gaelic there is no word for landscape as Gaelic belief stipulates a certain “oneness” and the language describes places in great detail.
On Monday, 26 th of July 2021, Kirsty Strachan and Alexandra Hoadley from Fife Coast & Countryside Trust teamed up to offer a Gaelic and Wildlife Walk in Pittencrieff Park.
As a tourguide I am always on the look out for new stories and aspects of Scottish life or Scotland in general which I in turn can share with you my customers.
I attended alongside a lovely bunch of other people who came from as far as Edinburgh for the day.
Pittencrieff Park as we learnt on first instance mean the place (pit na/pitten) of the trees (crieff). The park itself in the days of a young Andrew Carnegie belonged to the owners of the manson house, who kept it locked. Once Carnegie made his fortune in America one of his first good deeds was to buy the park in 1903 and open it to the public. Over a hundred years later we can still enjoy it just like he had intended.
The walk lasted for two hours and took us leisurely around the park, stopping at trees and plants to learn about their benefits to nature, wildlife and humans and to hear the Gaelic related stories and/or traditions.
An old Hawthorn tree let to the story how they are usually planted in twilight places were human and fairies (sìthiche) could meet and interchange. Kirsty also pointed out that there is another one at Dumfernline Abbey which was said to be planted for William Wallace ‘s mother who passed away in Dumfernline. The ageing of that particular tree indicates that this is at least a possibility.
We came across this lovely little wild orchid.
We learned a lot about the various trees, the Gaelic tree alphabet, Gaelic stories and the park itself thanks to Alexandra’s and Kirsty’s fabulous story-telling skills.
We enjoyed the a the gorgeous park and a fabulous summer day and even came across the proper Scots Pine (check for double leaves) and the “wrong” national flower the thistle.
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As most people in Scotland I am absolutely in love with this country, her beauty spots, landscapes and wildlife – as well as her people of course! Therefore, if possible, I would like to go about my business in the least damaging way.
I have done little things like adapting my driving style to make it more efficient, service my vehicle very regularily to ensure low fuel consumption and little things like offering reusuable glass bottles for the water I offer to my clients.
With an average over 50.000 miles a year the biggest impact I could opt for is to invest in an electric car, but I need the range….
I have previously written about trying a Tesla Model S and I literally was so very impressed with that car: fun to drive, designed as an electric car, amazing features and big advantages over the old combustion engine car (no vibration, no road tax, no real servicing, brakes last longer and most of all a decent reach!!!)
To provide bespoke tours all over Scotland I currently drive an 8 seater Mercedes Viano and on further investigation there is no support for purchasing a seven seater Tesla Model X.
For the Mercedes eVito there will be some help and help I need to make this project become reality, especially due to loss of business during the ongoing Coivd-19 pandemic.
So the end of August I booked an eVito for trial.
Watch this space!
The ones of you who know me are aware that I have been a life-long horse-mad-girl. In my earlier years I worked in the industry and I still ride as much as I possibly can.
It is, however, a rather rare occassion these days that I go on horse adventures which do not feature my own ponies.
I fairly frequently come through Glendevon and years ago I noticed ponies in the valley and was wondering how the fared through the rather harsh winters.
The answer is: these ponies don’t as they spent their winters in the Lothians instead.
The ponies in question are Exmoors owned collectively by a syndicate of veterinary students since 1962(!!!). The main aim of the syndicate is to ensure the future of the breed and in doing so you can book a trek or even adopt a pony.
From June to August the trekking takes place in the wonderful Ochil Hills and between September and May in the Pentlands. Treks range from 1-1 1/2 hrs to 2-3 hrs and if you have very little people with you pony rides are offered too.
During the summer the veterinary students camp with the ponies and as you can imagine the pony herd receives the very best treatment. It is a fantastic way for the students to learn, observe and enjoy the ponies.
For paying guests- like myself- it is simply a wonderful experience of riding a rather nice pony (mine was the beautiful Honey) within a stunning landscapes accompanied by knowledgable veterinary students who love ponies, riding and landscapes just as much as you do.
We went as a group of three and had the best time.
I can offer this as part of my bespoke tours, or our taxi service can drop you off and pick you up again or you can take you very own transport there.
Whatever you do I guarantee you will thoroughly enjoy this experience.
On a mission to investigate the isle of Arran in more detail for future tour options I was lucky enough to be assisted by Chester (photo above) and his his lovely owner, whisky lover and walking whisky encyclopedia, James Gillies (photo below).
For the proposed itineray CLICK HERE
We actually took two days to enjoy the island to the fullest:
On Saturday we focussed solely on whisky and left Chester on the mainland while on the next day our focus was pretty much on making the little fourlegged boy enjoy himself.
We started in the new Lagg Whisky distillery on the very south end of the island. We had the lovely Fiona guiding us throughout the impressive building and operation. Part of the tour included a little video on the history of Arran which was displayed on the floor. The views from the distillery were amazing. Fairly quickly we were presented with the new spirit which was surprinsingly nice.
We were allowed to investigate the entire distilling process (malting excluded).
After the tour we visited the shop, bottled our own whisky and rushed off to go on a limited editions tasting at Lochranza Whisky Distillery.
We were meet by our tour guide Douglas who led us into an amazingly cosy room to start explaining the process of distilling which I really enjoyed. Apart from Douglas being a fantastic story teller the room very much invited to linger a little longer:
Once the virtual tour including a little video was completed we entered the draming room for the real business. We got to try three private casks which were all very tasty and two more special drams Drumadroon Point and a white stag.
The next task was to find some lovely walks for Chester and some good food & more non-alcoholic drink for ourselves.
We walked Fisherman’s walk and near Corrie. The weather was so inviting that I managed to go for a swim in the Firth of Clyde.
At the end of Fisherman’s walk you are rewarded with a lovely beach shack (Arran Botanical Spirits) where you can settle down in the shadow and cool down a little. Chester made good use of this.
Little Chester was very happy dipping in and out of the water (sea water and rivers) and he was welcome to join at the beach shack and later on at the Shore. They not only had water bowls but also three dog biscuits for Chester. I am sure Chester will insist to do a return visit there.
Chester had a good time all round and so did we . I cannot wait to return in fact.
If you are interested in visiting Arran or anywhere else in Scotland do get in touch:
Like many people I started to learn a wee bit of Gaelic via Duolingo. It is convinient but certainly not easy. I struggle with English pronunciation as a non-native speaker and Gaelic certainly adds a challenge.
However if you travel around Scotland you cannot help but notice bi-lingual road signs or even the writing on police cars.
If you then get engaged in Scottish landscapes and place names you simply cannot escape Gaelic. Whether it is Inverness which is Inbhir Nis and means the mouth of the river Ness or places like Abercrombie -> the place where two rivers meet or the fact that in Ben Nevis Ben or Beinn in Gaelic means mountain.
I doubted whether I will ever be a fluent Gaelic speaker till I discovered this:
My dad was a pharmacist and because he really wanted me to step into his footsteps I was made to learn Latin at school. I had little enthusiasm to learn a dead language up until my dad turned up with Asterix in Latin. This in turn enabled my to read Cicero in the original Latin. It did not, however, turn me into a pharmacist.
You can buy your very own copy of Asterix at the Scottish Bookstore. You will be happy to hear they also do Scots. Happy reading!!!
With restrictions on international travel you may have considered Scotland as your destination for the compulsory 2021 staycation.
Scotland has many attractions from history over castles to whisky, remoteness, amazing beaches and gorgeous nature.
However Scotland’s roads especially up north are not exactly comfortable motorways.
So, if you fancy to explore the North Coast 500 but the thought of driving is daunting you opt opt to hire my services. I offer daily rates from £375 which includes driver fully insured & licensed vehicle for up to seven passengers, complimentary water bottles, fruit basket and if wished a wee whisky tasting.
If you would like to sample Scotland’s whisky, gin, beer or even wine having a driver could also be just the thing you need.
If you look for more nature and less driving you can combine your touring with walking, hiking, sea kayaking, yoga, forest bathing or even gliding.
I have lived 18 years in Scotland and though I by no means know it all I happily investigate and research to make your dream holiday come true.
The sun always shines in Scotland but if it doesn’t there are many other things to see and do….