Before our lunch stop in Pitlochry on Wednesday, we visited the Blair Athol distillery. We got to tour the factory and learn about the production of whiskey. This used to be a small distillery, but demand has grown so much that they now produce whiskey on a 24/7 cycle. They have a warehouse that stores 40 million barrels of whiskey but have now outgrown that and are adding a warehouse that can store an additional 10 million barrels! After the tour, we got to try a 12 year old single malt aged in a sherry oak barrel. It was a little spicy with a vanilla finish. Drinking whiskey before lunch is starting to become a trend!
We had some free time in the town of St Andrews on Wednesday morning. We started out on the eastern side of town, near the ruins of a cathedral, and worked our way west on the coast toward the golf course. On the way to the golf course, we saw the ruins of a castle, St Andrews University, and the British Golf Museum. It was a beautiful day, but very windy! In the lobby of the British Golf Museum, there are statues of the grips of different golfers.
After The Whiskey Experience, I made my way down the Royal Mile, stopping at St Giles’ Cathedral and The Real Mary King’s Close before ending up at Holyrood Palace. In The Real Mary King’s Close tour, you get a tour of Mary King’s Close and a couple of other nearby closes which are all underground. The tour guide dresses in 16th century attire and assumes the identity of someone from that time period. Our tour guide was someone who cleaned the houses of people affected by the plague. It was very cool to be able to walk through these underground closes and houses, although a bit spooky as well! It also gave you quite a good idea of what daily life was like for people back then. After The Real Mary King’s Close tour, I continued down the Royal Mile past the ultra-modern Scottish parliament building to Holyrood Palace. I only took pictures from the outside, as it was almost closing time when I arrived.
After visiting Edinburgh Castle and some souvenir shopping, I went to The Whiskey Experience which is conveniently located on the Royal Mile, very close to the castle. The Whiskey Experience is a tourist attraction where you go on a Disney-like barrel ride while learning about the production of Scottish whiskey, then a tour guide tells you about the types of whiskies from the different regions of Scotland, and most importantly, you get to drink whiskey! You also get to take home a nosing glass as a free souvenir. The Whiskey Experience is home to the world’s largest whiskey collection – almost 3,500 bottles! The pictures of the whiskey bottles below are only a small part of the collection. I felt a little strange about drinking whiskey at what was technically late morning, but I wanted to go and I would have had to do a lot of backtracking to do it later. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do!
I hit up Edinburgh Castle first thing Tuesday morning. They have optional guided tours inside the castle that are included with your ticket. I joined one of the tours and learned some interesting things about the castle. There is a time-gun in one of the castle’s batteries that is fired at 1 PM every day. Apparently, it’s fired at 1 PM instead of noon so that they can save on ammunition. There is also a 6 ton cannon called Mons Meg that has a range of two miles. It was said that it was so heavy, it would take a team of a hundred men a day to haul it only 3 miles! Some of the cool things you could see inside the castle are the Scottish Crown Jewels (the Honours of Scotland), the Stone of Destiny, and the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England. The view of Edinburgh from the castle was amazing!
After checking in to our hotel in Edinburgh, we had a bus tour of the city and then headed over to a nice restaurant we had reserved for dinner. One of the entree options was haggis, but I had the mushroom risotto instead. Somehow the description of haggis being “organs stuffed into other organs” wasn’t very appealing to me. There was even an option of haggis stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon. I forget what that was called, but I guess that’s what you order if you want to eat as many animals as you can in one sitting! I also got to try Irn-Bru, Scotland’s “national soft drink.” It was pretty good, but I can’t quite describe its taste in words. After dinner, we were entertained by a bagpiper. He was actually part bagpiper and part comedian. He had us all laughing pretty hard.
On Monday morning, we departed York for Edinburgh. We stopped at Hadrian’s Wall in northern England en route. Emperor Hadrian had this wall built in the 2nd century to fortify the Romans against the “barbarians” in the north. There are ruins of a Roman fort called Housesteads near the wall. It’s a little bit of a climb up a couple of hills past a lot of sheep to the wall, but the view of the English countryside from the top is totally worth it!
We arrived in York on Sunday afternoon. On the way there, our tour guide played a parody of Nelly’s “Hey Porsche,” called “Hey Yorkshire” which was pretty funny. We started out with a walking tour of the city and learned some of the history of York. One of the historic areas is called The Shambles. The Shambles is an area where there were a bunch of butcher shops dating from medieval times. The name Shambles comes from the old term Fleshammels, which were the wooden blocks that the butchers used to display their meat. The Shambles in York are famous for being so well preserved and displaying some of the characteristics typical of such streets from that time period. One of these features is that the middle of the road is lower than the outer part. This is because the butchers would throw all of their meat waste into the middle of the street, and it would be washed away once or twice a week. Apparently, this is where the expression “to be in shambles” to describe something that is a big mess was derived. The other feature typical of this time period found in this area is how the buildings have overhangs really close across the street from one another. It’s been said that the buildings are so close across the street from one another that people can shake hands through the windows.
After that, we had some free time. I started my free time at York Minster. It was a lot bigger than I expected, but not quite as impressive as some of the other churches that I’ve visited. After that, I walked on top of the city walls for a bit. The last thing I did during my free time was to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre, a place dedicated to what was learned about the Vikings through an excavation in York in the 20th century. Part of the exhibition is something that I would describe as a ride like It’s a Small World, except with Vikings. Some of the robotic figures were very life-like, so it was a bit creepy. It kind of reminded me of the SNL skits where people are on a similar ride, but the robotic figures come alive and attack the visitors!
We had a group dinner at a pub by the River Ouse where I tried Yorkshire pudding for the first time. After dinner, we departed for our ghost tour of York. Apparently York is the most haunted city in the world. It was the perfect night for a ghost tour, being dark, cold, and drizzly outside. The guide took us to several places that have been known to be haunted by specific ghosts and told us their stories. The ones he told us about have been written about a lot in the press and have been experienced by many people in the same way, so people think these stories are “credible.” The first couple of stories were about people who were tortured to death during the 16th century for being Catholic. One of these people was later canonized as a saint, Saint Margaret Clitherow. The guide described how they were tortured in such great detail that I was more disgusted than scared. Another story was just really sad about a girl whose parents died from the plague. In those days, if someone got the plague, they would “quarantine” people by shutting them in their own house with their family and leave them there until they died. This happened to one little girl’s parents who lived by York Minster. The girl was somehow immune to the plague though, and was alive for some time in the house with her dead parents. Before she starved to death, passersby could see her crying at the window, begging for someone to let her out. Supposedly her ghost haunts the same window of that house, which is still standing by York Minster.
We arrived in Liverpool on Saturday afternoon and had a couple hours of free time. I decided to go to the Beatles Story, a museum that covers the entire history of the Beatles. The Beatles came from Liverpool, so many of the tourist attractions have a Beatles theme. The museum was really cool. It had a lot of the Beatles’ old instruments and memorabilia. There was even a replica of the Cavern Club, the nightclub in Liverpool where the Beatles used to play. I learned a lot about the Beatles that I didn’t know before.
I then met up with the group, and we went on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour with a local tour guide. She took us all around Liverpool, pointing out all of the relevant places pertaining to the Beatles as well as telling us a lot about the history of Liverpool. Once the tour was over, we had a group dinner and then headed over to the Cavern Club for some drinks and music.
The next morning, we had some free time before departing for York. I decided to check out the maritime museum, mostly for the Titanic exhibit. Some of you may know that I’m kind of obsessed with the Titanic. The Titanic’s managing company, the White Star Line, had its headquarters in Liverpool and was registered there, hence the Titanic exhibit. There were some interesting artifacts, such as a life jacket worn by one of the survivors and the telegram from the Carpathia (the ship that rescued passengers of the Titanic) to the White Star Line notifying them of the sinking of the Titanic.