Note: Adam wants you to know that all the Douglases are named Archibald. There are quite a lot of them, and you can see this if you go to search for “Archibald Douglas” on, say, Wikipedia. The Douglases particularly like the names Archibald, James, and Margaret, so there was a lot of checking who is who when writing the last post because some of our texts use the number Earl and some use the name and some the epithet. Who was Archibald the Good? The Grim? The Gross? The Loser? (Ouch!)
Sadly, the next day we had to leave Castle Douglas, but we picked a good road to take us north to Oban: we opted to go through Galloway Forrest Park, the largest protected forrest land in Britain and Britain’s first Dark Sky Park (there are more now). We got another picnic lunch from the sandwich shop and planned to break at Culzean, another Trust property recommended to us by folks in Castle Douglas, and home to the Kennedys… with, apparently, a connection to Eisenhower.
But first, the forrest park:
Galloway Forrest Park Creek
The plan was to drive through the park, but to do that we had to swing around it. There was a road that went north though, but it wasn’t the major tourist road with the big sights; it was a cycling route. Scotland loves it’s outdoor activities, and Britain in general believes in right of way for citizens to be able to pass on open land. Parks for the people, national parks of open land like Galloway (or some not so open land like along Hadrian’s wall with livestock gates and barriers), have no fees, but have pay-and-display parking and rely on charity for protection. Unless a trail falls out of use for an entire year, it must be maintained. There’s a British walker’s society that has a walk-a-thin to make sure no trail falls unused. But those trails have to be paid for by someone. Galloway is managed by the Forestry Commission. The John Muir Trust, a charity or non profit ngo, works to protect some open wild space in Scotland.
Much land in Scotland is plagued with a history of usage for the cash crops of either timber or sheep grazing, particularly after the collapse of the clan system. In several places we have seen, the management have been replacing the old agriculture with the original forrest. An article from the Galloway park paper explained their process of replacing lucrative pine by careful thinning (logging) to plant in the thinned area, or cultivate, the seeds of trees native to the area in the seed bank in the soil when you dig down far enough. When those trees grow and need more room, the remaining timber will be logged out to let the ancient tree species take over. In this way, the root systems should still keep the soil, and there is little disruption to wildlife who rely on the trees.
Galloway is also proud of their “wee trees.” Much as our joshuas and bristlecones get all gnarly and stumpy the older they seem to be, apparently so are junipers. Galloway has wee junipers. Like our eldest trees (barring the coastal redwood), they also seem to be in their sub-alpine zone.
And so we had a pleasant drive along the 7 Stanes Cycle route through Galloway Forrest Park. Here are two rather typical views, showing why it is such an awesome route on a bicycle (if you can make it over the epic mountain pass):
Our Typical road through Galloway Forrest Park, on the 7 Stanes Cycle Route Photos 1 and 2
We kept on, going a bit north to Culzean, which lies right on the cliff of it’s rather vast park estate. Parking is close but it’s an uphill walk, and there is a golf cart “BUS” to take you from the visitor center if you need it. It really is labeled bus. But don’t look for a bus. Or a mini-bus. Or a van. The visitor center is in a farm complex, so the first view of the castle is through the trees:
Apparently there was once a history of smuggling and other things in the caves below the cliff. The castle and estate has it’s own source of oil and a pump house, and a dramatic gate with the Kennedy coat of arms on the inside (so you would see it when you leave). We caught one dad taking a pick of it, last minute – “Three more milliseconds!” – while his family got onto the “BUS.” He was a Kennedy, and awfully proud of being a clansman. He joked, like ya do, about moving into their castle. Perfect for his little girl.
If you were on the water, you’d see lots of the castle, but not so by land. After the gates you get the only real “view” of the castle by land, but it’s a doozy:
Culzean Castle (It’s Only A Model)
The castle, like most residence castles, did actually start out as a tower… once… and was remodeled heavily or expanded to the nth degree. To the side are stables that were converted for carriages and autos and now a gift shop. These are stables for posh ponies.
Stables for Posh Ponies
Eisenhower is an interesting question. The top floor of the castle is known as the Eisenhower apartments, because the family, as a thank you for the war and all that, gave him permission to stay there for eternity. Ike enjoyed coming over for golf. Of course, now the house is managed by the Trust, and Eisenhower is long passed, so the apartments are available for let.
But that won’t stop Adam from finding another canon.
Adam finds another cannon
But it’s apparently a slow watch day at Culzean. They do have many fairs and special event days, smuggler days, pirate days, etc.
Slow watch Day
In the stables for posh ponies we found the boat carriage. It doesn’t require a hitch, but I’m not sure how easy it is to get in and out off the boat ramp, especially with a horse involved.
Culzean Boat Carriage
After our lunch it was on back through Glasgow, trying to avoid traffic as much as possible. We had our first experience driving on a proper Motorway, the M8, and had only a brief amount of traffic in Glasgow before the bridge across the Clyde to Dumbarton (but not the Dumbarton bridge – it’s almost just like the Bay Area!), enough to find this sign combo. Adam found it highly entertaining, and made Lisa take a picture:
Glasgow Sign Humor
Then we skipped on up to the Highlands. The terrain changes rapidly, and it’s like there’s a border with Loch Lomond as a long portal between two different sort of worlds. By the time you get to one end, you’ve left one and found yourself in another.
Since we have friends from Ben Lomond, CA, and there is a lovely little Loch Lomond too, and so a shout out to graduates of Ben Lomond High School, and those that loved and miss the White Cockade Scottish Pub in the hills there (tha’s a Jacobite reference, ye ken?), we include a view of the Bonnie, Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Sing the song now, aye?
Ben and Loch Lomond
But me and my true love were on, so no dinner cruise on the Loch for us. We stopped for refreshment at the Green Welly stop. Okay, it was mostly for the loo and to prove that the American odd roadside attraction market is going to have competition:
(The Green Welly Stop did feature a big Green Welly, but no pic, sorry.)
We were running late by now, and the reason we were late was because Adam made an appointment at the Oban distillery for a tour. Rick Steves said, in his little book and in his video, to call them, so he did. This was smart, but we got there exactly 17 minutes before our tour… and thus two minutes before the meter ticked over to free hours.
Adam was quite proud of the timing and laid in wait strategically by the pay station while I was at the car in the smallest parking lot ever… the courtyard of the distillery itself.
Oban marks itself as being a seaside, salt-flavored, whisky, and it plays up it’s maritime origins. It also can’t expand. The town really grew around the distillery to support it, and they never moved out of the dead center of the little port. The nautical theme predominates:
They don’t, and can’t, bottle on site because of this. The key to the distilleries, we larded, is that the water and the distillation (which is under lock and key) is carried out there. The sourcing of barley or other grains and the storage of barrels for aging could take place elsewhere, but in similar places ideally. Whiskey is uisce, or water, and that is key. Oban’s production is limited by their size rather than their water source because they can’t expand. Thus, they can actually “close down” for tours while other distilleries have more equipment outside to handle round the clock distillation, even when fairly small in size inside.
The visit and the whisky was enjoyable, and we picked up lovely free passports from Friends of Single Malts, a visiting scheme that gets you in for free to a nice handful of distilleries that would normally cost for a tour and dram. This was a bit of a surprise, so we were reevaluating our plans to include a bit more whisky. It did nicely also have a flavor “map” to a bunch of popular whiskies to act as a guide for tasting. It lays whiskies on an x/y coordinate plane with the x being delicate (negative) to rich (positive) y being smoky (positive) to light (negative). Points plotted are whiskies, iconed by common types, like peaty or floral. Handy! Since it is a passport, the distilleries do actually stamp the little books. Fun!
And at last, Oban at Sunset.