The distant Orkney Islands in the North Sea called, and I had the rare chance to visit them. The following story on my adventure was published on MyItchyTravelFeet.com. Please continue reading on the link below.
One of our favorite guest contributors, Debi Lander from ByLanderSea, has been regaling us with quite a few stories of her recent adventures exploring Scotland. Today, she’s back to take us way off-the-beaten-path on a day trip to the Orkney Islands.
Slow travel allows for unplanned adventures and that is what Judy, my travel buddy and I found in Inverness, Scotland. We signed up for a 14-hour day-trip to the remote Orkney Islands, knowing we’d likely never get another chance. The Orkney’s, an archipelago of 70 small islands in the North Sea, off the northeastern coast of Scotland, have a mysterious appeal.
Four major fault lines run across Scotland; a geographical condition that created a country with contrasting landscapes. You’ll discover rugged coastline, Highland mountains, lowland valleys, numerous lochs and rivers and 787 islands. Along with dramatic scenery , legendary history, castles, clans, bagpipes and brouges make a worthy and memorable destination.
On a recent visit, I passed through peaceful rolling hills as I approached the famous golf resort of Gleneagles. The renown estate, home of three championship links courses, the 2005 G-8 Summit, and vacation getaway, enveloped me in warmth and wealth. Every detail from spit polished brass railings to my room’s electric tea kettle and selection of shortbread spelled top of the line quality and five-star bend over backwards service.
My group arrived at the main entrance: an impressive French chateau looking structure. Stepping inside I found aristocratic touches: marble staircases, hand-carved wood paneling, mica chandeliers and a bevy of uniformed staff. The Gleneagles brochure aptly describes the 1924 hotel as “the palace in the glens which continues to attract those in search of rest, relaxation and exhilaration.”
Gleneagles sprawls over 850 acres, offers 232 guest rooms including 26 luxury suites. Overnight visitors choose between traditional Scottish decor rooms in the main building or more modern ones in the wings. My renovated room had a cozy gas fireplace at the foot of a massive and extremely comfy bed. A very romantic touch except I was alone. The wall of windows and patio allowed full views of the glorious countryside.
Golf is a huge draw, at least according to the Ryder Cup committee who chose Gleneages as their venue for 2014. The grounds comprise the PGA Centenary Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, the King’s Course, the Queen’s Course and the nine-hole PGA National Academy Course, used for instruction.
However, the resort offers a long list of recreational activities for non-golfers. First, there’s the highly acclaimed spa, but I regretfully had no time for treatments. I was surprised by the number of families and grandchildren participating in gun dog classes, falconry, off road driving courses or fishing, riding and hiking. Day trips are easily arranged for wildlife sightseeing, as well as castle tours and visits to whisky distillers.
I chose to attend my first ever gun-dog class learning how dogs are trained for obedience, agility and hunting. The class starred two amusing black labs who had simply performed the drills so many times, they began to anticipate and tease with the commands. I took a turn working with a dog named Debbie. She ran to fetch on command and then sat still. This Debi couldn’t coax Debbie to return until her official handler called her; an act I thought was adorable, but he did not.
Following that class, I investigated the falconry mews. Falconry has long been regarded as the Sport of Kings, and birds of prey were traditionally flown by royals. Gleneageles added their Falconry School in 1992 which offers extraordinary introductory through advanced level programs on the grounds.
Having previously worked with hawks, I was very eager to try the sport again. The feeling of commanding a bird back to your hand is one of sheer delight. Seems the majestic free flying creatures return to please the falconer, but the truth is they fly for the food you present.
The temperature felt rather chilly, especially for a Floridian, and I was ready for a wee dram — as is the Scottish custom. But, my wee dram would not be any ordinary whisky. I was invited to The Blue Bar at the Dormy Clubhouse (and one must be invited to visit). I would sip velvety smooth Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky on a heated leather sofa around a large circular firepit.
Although not much of a scotch drinker, my first taste of the superior blend was heavenly, no harsh alcohol burn down my throat. I was instructed to take three sips with water on the side. The first was to sample the flavor, the second to smell the peat and feel some heat, and the third to experience the harmony of the whisky’s fresh orange, smoke and spices. I admit I savored the precious elixir and would enjoy it at home if the cost didn’t run approximately $200 a bottle. I will have to settle for one of Johnnie’s less famous but more economical lines like the Green or Gold Label, around $55-$75 per bottle.
The outdoor Blue Bar also includes a cigar menu with brands like Bolivars, Cohibas, Cuabas, H. Upmanns, Montecristos and Partagás, and some pre-embargo Cubans. Those, I could easily skip.
My evening would not include dining at Gleneagles finest: Andrew Fairlie, ranked as Scotland’s only two Michelin star restaurant. Instead I attended an elegant banquet complete with a tartan decorated table. Following cocktails, we feasted on a goat’s cheese panna cotta decorated with apple blossom and pomegranates. Then, a loin of slow cooked lamb, followed by warm chocolate fondant with sour cherries. Quite impressive, I’d say. My visit to Scotland was off to a magnificent start and Gleneagles surely lived up to it’s glamorous reputation.