Thursday, November 24, 2005

I went on another tour, this one departing from Edinburgh. I decided to try out Haggis tours, which caters to the 20-something set. While this isn’t usually my scene (I’m not totally keen on the way most people my age act), I decided to give it a shot. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!


It wasn’t so much that the group of tourists was annoying – they were fine – but that the guide was obnoxious. He said the word “sexy” in every other sentence. He even made a joke about it, that saying sexy so often was in his contract, ha ha ha. Except that he didn’t stop. And he wouldn’t shut up about drinking. The tour was taking us to a whiskey distillery, and in the tour guide’s eyes that was the only reason to be on that tour, and clearly that was why we were there.

The tour went up to Doune Castle, to Rob Roy’s grave, through the highlands and then finally to the Famous Grouse Distillery, where we’d get to go on a tour. I decided to go because I’d been to Doune Castle when I was in Scotland with my parents, and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was where Monty Python had filmed Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So I wanted to go back and knowingly ogle the sets. Oh yes. I would be geeking out.

And this would’ve been fine, except that it was closed. So we could walk around the castle, but not go inside. The grounds are nice, but damn it, I wanted to go inside!

As a consolation prize the guide took us to see Hamish, who is a Highland cow, or a hairy coo, as they call them up here. This wasn’t terribly exciting to me, since I used to work at the Philadelphia Zoo where they had two highland cows. I know what they look like. But they’re a tourist attraction here, so I was fine admiring the cow and then going into the gift shop (I don’t know if the shop was there because of the cow or if the cow was there because of the shop, but neither would surprise me).

On to Rob Roy’s grave, where we got out and listened to the story of Rob Roy. Frankly, I don’t understand why he was famous. Here’s his story in a nutshell: He used to steal cows from farmers and then sell them back. The farmers, not knowing he was the thief, paid him to be security for their cattle. As a result, no more thievery. Then he got into trouble for defending Highland culture (okay, I concede his fame here) and was on the run for 40 years, until Rob Roy was written by Sir Walter Scott, and he was pardoned.

Behind the church where he’s buried is a lovely waterfall, though. That was nice.

And back on the bus and through the highlands, where we got the story of Braveheart and why Mel Gibson is so very, very wrong in the movie of the same name, and we listened to some Scottish music and some non-Scottish music. It’s interesting to hear the story of William Wallace over and over again (as every guide I’ve encountered talks about him), and see where stories differ. On this account I noticed that the guide got something wrong (and since four out of five have it one way and his is different, I feel secure in saying his facts are off).

Robert the Bruce had prayed to become king, saying that if he did, he’d go on a crusade, but, following his kinghood, he never got around to it. So on his deathbed he had his friend take his heart out, mummify it, and then take it on the crusade, thus “fulfilling” his promise. In a very loose way. On their path of religious destruction the party came across some Spanish folks who weren’t totally keen on them, and knowing they were well outnumbered and not going to make it to the holy land, R the B’s friend (whose name I’ve lost) took the heart, which was in a casket on a chain around his neck, and hurled it into what was to become the battlefield, and called, “Lead on, brave heart!”

Thus, Braveheart was not actually William Wallace but rather was Robert the Bruce. Or his heart at least.

Now, where this tour guide got it wrong was that he said that the heart was still hanging out in some field. What everyone else has said is that, in a move of exceptional gallantry, the Spanish brought the heart back to the Scottish, and it was buried in Melrose Abbey at R the B’s pre-death request. And then in 1996 they dug it back up and it’s now in their museum, which is just the way he would’ve wanted it.

We drove through the countryside and finally arrived at the Famous Grouse distillery, and we got to pay an extra £3 to go on the tour. I didn’t know anything about making whiskey before I got there (another draw to the tour), and I still don’t know anything about it. I can’t tell you a damn thing except that it involves grains and sitting around in large barrels. And they have a cat instead of mouse traps, which is neat. The cat who lived there before that is actually featured in the Guinness book of world records.

We got to taste whiskey and got a speech on how you’re supposed to appreciate it (it’s a lot like wine in that regard), then they sat us through a series of advertisements an informational film about the company. Then we went to a high-tech video room for more advertisements another film. There are screens on all four walls, and then another screen is projected on the floor. That one is, theoretically, interactive.

When they tell you that you can enjoy your whiskey with water, it looks like there’s water on the floor, and if you walk across it, there are ripples coming out from where you step. When they mention ice, it looks like ice and cracks when you walk across the floor. There’s also a puzzle, where you have to step on the bouncing pieces to put them together. And this would all be grand and neat except that 1. we were all too shy to jump around the room making splashes or breaking ice (if they’d given us more whiskey it might’ve changed that), and 2. it didn’t always work. You could stomp like crazy on the floor and the ice wouldn’t break, or the puzzle piece wouldn’t respond. So I just stopped bothering with it and let the distillery guide do the work.

Finally the video “flew” over the earth, and that was neat. Similar to an Imax movie, except that you’re looking down.

And out to the gift shop where you could buy any number of varyingly expensive whiskies, which our dear guide encouraged us to start drinking on the bus. I passed on both accounts.

I think if I was with a large group of close friends the experience could’ve been more fun, but as it was, not so much.

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