4 Friends, a Scottish Village and Lots of Whisky
When Byond Travel invited me to talk at Lime Diaries (a travel community event) about a road trip I’d done, I spent days trying to figure which one to share. I needed an endearing and honest story. The more I wondered which story, the more I realized the variety of trips I’d done and this realization is the inspiration behind this blog post and hopefully more travel stories that will follow. This effort assuredly means racking my brain for memories worth sharing (given my poor memory, this is more effort than one might imagine) and hunting for lovely pictures from the last.
The first Travel Story: 4 Friends, a Scottish Village and Lots of Whisky
The story I am about to share is special. Special because it is dedicated to one of the lovely friendships that formed on this trip, a friendship that I lost to cancer earlier this year. The friendship with Siddharth Hegde.
I was living in Sheffield, UK, at the time. I was working at Sheffield Hallam University at the time, researching and teaching. Many of my friends were young people like me, away from their home country, there to study, re-start a career after postgraduation or were immigrants now working here and trying to make a home, a family. Africans, Sri Lankans, Europeans, Pakistanis, Chinese, Iranians and more.
Around August, a plan began to brew about a road trip to Scotland. Initially there were an equal number of girls and guys going on this trip, but some bailed out due to work commitments. In the end, it was just four of us: Siddharth who was a gaming programmer, Raja who was a hospitality and tourism student, Frans who was a professor in Human Geography, and me. Three Indians and one Dutch. Between us, we had a master trip planner, budgeter and a self-proclaimed expert driver – i.e. me; an Olympic-level rower – Frans (in case we needed to be rescued anywhere out in the water – which was highly unlikely, but still); a Taekwondo black belt and a self-proclaimed photographer – Siddharth (well, in case we needed another type of rescuing or just some very nice pictures if nothing else); and, a culinary expert who was very happy getting his hands dirty in the kitchen – Raja (the most useful person to have on a low-budget trip I think)!
The Speyside Single Malt Whisky Trail
The plan was to drive from Sheffield all the way up to Drummuir in Northern Scotland and explore the Speyside Single Malt Whisky Trail over three days. Quiet little Drummuir would be our base, whilst we explored whisky distilleries, went whisky tasting, explored the local lakes, ate lots of yummy local food and randomly joined a bon fire with the local families. We planned and delivered big breakfasts to hog on and had a BBQ of our own too! On the way back, we were to spend a day in Edinburgh and stroll through the palace, but we skipped this and settled for a great seafood meal by the bay instead and drove back early.
The Bunkhouse and The Happy Cows
At Drummuir, we stayed in a bunkhouse called ‘Swan Bunkhouse’. This was part of a camping facility with a few rooms filled with many bunk beds. It had a lake closeby and was set in a beautiful little village with a population of less than a hundred people. Across the road from where we stayed were green pastures, where happy and shy cows with bells hanging around their fat necks grazed quietly. The best part about this bunkhouse was the absence of mobile phone signal range. I hate staying connected on a holiday, albeit a short one.
My Favourite Whisky and Discovering Whisky Marmalade and Whisky Liquer
Our first stop was Strathisla Distillary: the Strathisla single malt – we were told- makes up about 35% of the whisky that’s blended into Chivas Regal.
Glenfiddich: that’s my favourite whisky. And I made sure we went on their lovely tour and tasting experience. We also went to Glenlivet, but I was more impressed with their facility and less with their whisky.
We got a walk through large storage sheds with thousands of barrels of whisky and learnt plenty about all the spices that could go into liqueur whisky. I sure stocked up on liqueur whisky for the English winter around the corner, after all this was 47% alcohol and tased like a beautiful Indian tonic. We also bought lots of whisky marmalade to ourselves, and friends and family.
Cairngorm, a lake with a sandy beach and a Scottish Wedding
One of the days, we decided after our first day on the road, was not going to be about whisky. And I didn’t mind at all, since I’d never been much of a drinker anyway. And so we drove up to Cairngorm – one of Scotland’s largest national parks, rode UK’s highest funicular rail up to a mountain in Cairngorm with a great view of the valley and lakes, and drove back down to discover a beautiful lake with ducks, boats and a private little Scottish wedding in full swing. We also discovered a beautiful traveller’s café that I can no longer remember the name of, but remember the many many Tibetan flags it had and enjoying the most amazing hot chocolate there!
Travelling with the Boys
For the most part, this was a lot of fun. It helped that my male friends were mostly fairly chilled out people, barring one who always kept an eye on the road when I was at the wheel (that doesn’t indicate anything about my driving, but more his control-freak nature I think. Shhh… we won’t give away a name here!)
But there was a time on the beautiful drive back, when I was at the wheel, when the three men decided to go on a good rant about women and their driving. Now, I get it that women can be mean to a sole man too when they gang together, and this was my turn at the receiving end…. Except I WAS DRIVING and you shouldn’t’ get a person angry when they are actually at the wheel! LOL. No, nothing happened, barring I channeled my irritation into the effort I was engaged in and decided to just drive the entire way back from Edinburgh and not let other take turns as we had originally planned. And the Indian boys got a earful when I dropped them off. LOL.
Goodbye Siddharth Hegde!
I am glad that today I have a story to tell about our time together as friends on a roadtrip. You were an amazingly cheerful guy, full of energy and curiosity. You were a good friend and it is sad that you are no longer with us. I treasure our whisky trail road trip even more because of the friendship we formed on this trip and how we kept in touch across continents in the years that followed. I miss you. We miss you.