Glenfarclas distillery, Ballindaloch, Speyside, Scotland. Right in the heart of the famed whisky trail. The whisky trail (with no E in Whisky, Only the Irish and the Yanks put an E in Whisky), runs though Speyside and can be easily located when leaving Inverness and driving North. It’s a meandering road that passes by such famous names as Cardhu and Glenfidich, all of which are accessible and enjoyable, if your choice of tipple is a wee dram. Most of the distilleries were built in the 1800’s and this fine example of Scottish heritage is a popular treat for many of the American tourists who flock to Scotland each year to play golf, enjoy its history and culture, or just want to travel round and admire the scenery, unless it’s pissing down with rain, a is a very common occurrence, in which case you can see bugger all!
It had been one of those days. The rain was coming down pelters (Scottish speak for horizontal), leaving nothing to the imagination if you were Noah. In other words, it was a typical summers day in North West Scotland. In June it gets dark just before midnight in the north of Scotland, and there I was sitting in a bar at the Grand Hotel in Inverness, having broken down on a country road earlier that day, and now, sitting with a hot toddy trying to avoid certain hypothermia! My shoes were ruined, my clothes had been sent to the Dry Cleaners for rehabilitation in the hope that they would be ready for my meetings that following day, and my mind was on getting back to Glasgow to have sex with my girlfriend of the time, who was waiting patiently, or so I presumed, at her own place, thinking only about me! How wrong can one be?? We are about to find out.
I used to be able to see without my reading glasses, which I received at the tender age of 10 years, but as life became serious I would put them on all day just to look older. I was only 17 after all, and calling on large clients had made me self-conscious that they wouldn’t want to deal with a ‘wee’ boy, and therefore making me look older by placing spectacles upon my baby face became a necessity. This particular night, I was sitting in the hotel bar, under age of course, in front of a warm fire, trying to recover, when suddenly, and in a real southern drawl this gentleman strolled up and said to me, “Y’all having a bad day?”
I looked around to see what crowd he was addressing. After all, y’all sounded like he wanted to be heard by more than just me? Right? Bob, as I later found out, was from Alabama. He was with a group, touring Scotland, who were on their way to Edinburgh via Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth and Stirling. It would normally take any human being at least a week to take in all the sights at all those cities mentioned, but with this group, it was Edinburgh or bust in two and a half days. Bob and I and Mrs. Bob, became friendly, and after I’d bought him and his lovely wife some drinks, Bob made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“Son, we are going on the whisky trail tomorrow, would you like to join us?”
I’d told Bob that my car had broken down and was in the garage being repaired, which would take another day at least, and therefore I would be sitting around the hotel waiting for Christmas to arrive and bored out of my tiny brain. That’s when his generous offer made me realize that Americans were friendly, generous and accommodating people, and not loud mouthed tourists that we Europeans believed them to be!
“I would love to join you if you really don’t mind, but I need to warn you, I don’t drink and I am underage”
“Nothing like a bit of excitement” said Bob, “and you can drive the bus for us when the bus driver passes out after drinking too much!”
I looked at him quizzically, and couldn’t figure out if he was telling the truth or feeding me some good ‘ol US BS. I was only 17 after all, so what did I know??
He bought me another hot toddy, and feeling like I was about to pass out, shivering like a leaf, I made way for an early night, bidding them both happy drinking and eating with a promise to meet them at 8 am in the hotel lobby. I got back to my room, took a hot bath and passed out. The alarm bell sounded at 7 am and I awoke to find that not only was I feeling crappy, but also that my clothes would not be ready until later that day. I called my boss, Jeff, and told him I would be AWOL all day, and he immediately told me not to waste a day or the company money and start walking the streets of Inverness to drum up some business.
“Aye, right!” I said, as I put the phone down and muttered ‘arsehole!’ under my stuffy breath from where a monster of a cold was brewing! I showered and shaved and dressed and went quickly down into the hotel lobby where 35 of America’s finest old aged pensioners were ready and willing for a sortie into the Scottish wilderness to drink, drink and drink, with perhaps some merriment as a brief afterthought! Whisky trail here we come, and boy was this going to be an experience to live for!
The bus we were set to board was about 60 years older than its eldest passenger. It looked like it had been used on D-Day in 1944 and still had all the bullet holes to prove that it survived where most men didn’t! I took one look, and although Bob and his wife were encouraging enough, I was filled by trepidation and dread. I’d already broken down on the A9 from Glasgow and didn’t want to spend another day in a lay-bye, wondering if I was ever going to see civilization again. Bob could see from my facial expression that my enthusiasm for this big day out had waned. “Don’t you worry Alan, this bus got us from Glasgow to here without issue, we will be fine” I wasn’t sure about that last statement and thought that perhaps Jeff was right, and I would be better off walking the streets of Inverness trying to sell something. But, true to form, Bob’s vivacious and energetic love of life and his excitement for his day of whisky bliss persuaded me to board, buckle up and enjoy the ride. We were off, and we were about to make history!