Monday, October 4, 2010

One Perfect Scottish Day 10-01-10

How much can you pack into one day? My already limited time in Glasgow where I was attending a neurology meeting was further limited by spending the first half of the week in bed with a cold, probably from sleep deprivation and traveling from Seattle to San Luis Potosi Mexico to give a lecture, then back to Seattle, then to Southwest England for a marathon, then hopping a train to Scotland, all in 5 days.

I had hoped to “bag a munroe”, which apparently means to climb a large hill/ small mountain of >3000 ft. This was named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856–1919), who produced the first list of such hills, known as Munro's Tables, in 1891. And apparently there is a club of nutty Scots who make it their goal to bag all 283 munroes, the record was in 40 days. I also learned that “Highland” refers to both being the northern part of GB, but also that the land is actually higher, with munroes everywhere. They look kind of like buttes, actually. I stopped in to a tourist bureau one afternoon to inquire. The gent at the desk, who like pretty much everyone I encountered in Scotland was unusually friendly and helpful, was at a loss. I got the impression that munroe bagging was not something tourists typically asked about, particularly given the foreasted rainstorms of the week.

Luckily I had met an actual Scotsman, M, who despite having a killer schedule of medical rotations and night shift jobs, not only planned out the most action-packed day but actually came and picked me up at 6 AM after pulling an all-nighter to show me the sights personally.

6 AM: Drove to Loch Lomond national park with the goal of summiting Ben Lomond. The initial part was lovely, but just when we were thinking we were safe from the forecasted torrential rainstorms, it hit about 1/2way up the 3196 ft climb. Sideways rain and wind so hard I nearly blew over; we tried to warn a guy we passed on his way up, who just shrugged. This is Scotland, and what do you expect on a munroe in October?

10:40 AM (thereabouts): finished sloshing down the mountain. The thing about waterproof boots, they are also waterproof on the inside, which means any cold water which gets in from your soaking pants (which kept falling down because my belt was on my jeans, N.B. “pants” apparently means “panties” in British, and “jumpers” are not little girl dresses, but sweaters. I felt a little like when I had to turn on the English subtitles to understand the subtleties of “Trainspotting” because I couldn’t understand some accents) stays inside the boot. Nowhere to change clothes except the car. No time either, had to get to the Scotch distillery for the “scotch masterclass” reservation at 11:40. "White knuckle” might be a bit strong to describe the nascar ride up and down a rolling single track road in the rain.

11:45. Arrived at Glengoyne distillery, the southernmost of the Highland distilleries. Luckily was able to finish changing clothes before the masterclass since we were the only 2 people signed up for that session. There I saw my very first “crapper”, so named for Thomas Crapper, who according to Wikipedia was not actually inventor of the flushable toilet, but popularized it. It took me awhile to figure out British toilets- like spasticity they are velocity dependent. If you press the plunger slowly it just fills up with water for 2 seconds and stops; must be depressed briskly (in case any of you finds yourself in Britain and starting to wonder why every toilet you pick happens to be the broken one).

11:45-4:30: I could not imagine there was so much to learn in a 5 hour scotch masterclass, which was not much like a flute masterclass. Learned every step of the manufacturing process in excrutiating detail, including handling the malted barley and tasting the yeast used to make the mash. Apparently, whiskey is distilled from a beer-like substance and aged in oak barrels primed with fancy-pants sherry from Spain.

We sniffed component flavors, learned to distinguish "vanilla" from "honey" notes, how to “blend” a whiskey from a bunch of single malts + 40% grain alcohol, and drank a whole lot of scotch, not to mention the sherry used to season the casks. Learned that “smokey” refers to malt that has been cooked with peat, which imparts a flavor reminiscent of bacon, or at least bacon vodka. Apparently this is a feature predominant in western or island scotches, whereas lighter more “pure” flavors come from Speyside. You're supposed to swish it around in a special stemmed glass (can't recall the name...), "nose" it, and see the "legs", how viscous it is dripping down the sides, before actually tasting it. I think the ploy was designed to get the high rollers piss-drunk so they will buy all the expensive scotch in the gift shop, and it was not hard to get the masterclass instructor to open up 21-year old bottles of single cask serial numbered bottles just because we asked; luckily Scotch does not get older once a bottle is opened; aging stops when it leaves the cask. My blend I called the “Flying Scotsman” after Graeme Obree, though I was nearly flying myself after that: it will be the prize at the HTTM challenge!

5 PM: All you can eat buffet dinner at the Carvery. I didn’t get to try any haggis, a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach or sheep's intestine for approximately three hours, which every Scot seems to insist is tasty, but I did find out what a Yorkshire pudding is. It looks like a puff pastry shell; where is the pudding in the pudding? M has a badminton tournament match at 7 PM, and was nice enough to include me. Worried at all about having pulled an all-nighter, climbed a mountain in torrential rain, then downed 20 shots of scotch before the tournament? Nah, all just a typical day.

6:45 PM: Arrived at the country club where the badminton tourney was to be. Learned that it is true that tennis players (OK I’m stretching here to make a point) make lousy badminton players. It is like tennis combined with fencing- the racquets weigh like 65 g and swish way faster than tennis raquets, the reaction times seem faster yet the projectiles slow down exponentially as they travel. I got to play with some of the club players, who were all ages and all levels, but rotated so everyone got to play everyone and they were very inclusive. In between, I surreptitiously openly filmed the players.

9:30 PM. Tournament over, plan is to pass by the “car park in the sky” to see the lights of Glasgow on the way back to the hotel. More speeding along single track “C” roads, with some Scottish bands playing on the stereo, but by now the rain was gone, the skies clear. Was able to see the stars as well as the city, it was really like when you see city lights from a plane only it goes on because, well you’re not on a plane, you’re on the ground.

10:30 PM: Too soon they day is over and it’s time to shove a bunch of wet clothes into my bags and leave for Inverness and the Loch Ness marathon at 6 AM, and after that even sadder, back to reality. I try not to be sad for the end of a perfect day; try as I might, I can’t make a perfect day last forever. Sometimes it helps to have reminders that there is more out there than you thought- life is short.


  1. I thought everyone in Glasgow had neurological damage from drunken brawling? What? How am I going to generalize if I can't stereotype? Mios Dios!

  2. Grea pos, Gerald. an Chris beat mea tae saemthin ayy wanted tae saey. I dream of goin baeck to the land of mae ancestors. Of dreekeen ther shait, of gettin joost as fookin drook as it takes to fackn punch one oof thaer fackn faces in. a faer bit drunker than ay em neow, that's fer sher. An I aint bloody sober! Still, sounds like a great day, Loookin forwerd to try my hand at tha 'flyin scotsman!'

  3. I have neurological damange with no excuse whatsoever.
    Did you know Sick Boy IS Graeme Obree? Which one am I, Tommy?
    Ventoux, you got Renton's haircut down ....

  4. dear gerald,

    please, please excuse my fellow commentors... what's their credentials I ask? it's exactly 12:44 pm pst. I awoke at 6am to get junior to school, then back to bed and up at 11:15. FINALLY over this god damn cold, but did open a bottle of Grolsch & polished off a bottle of Il Bastardo by 12:42pm...

    Admittedly, didn't read your WHOLE post, but didn't see lots of running pics. Great! hiking/walking/distilling is great work too! passion. that's what I likes. sounds like you got a piece of that during your visit. good for yous i says...