Scotland – Smelling the tangle o’ the Isles*

The venue is not particularly Scottish.

Number 1 Angel Place.

But if you are one of the 8% of Australians who proudly claim Scottish ancestry you may well think the link to Heaven is appropriate.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
Welcome to Scotland. Both sides of the bar

I should disclose that my ancestors sailed from Cromarty in 1838 and I am therefore wearing our clan tartan brightly patterned in a fine wool scarf as I am beckoned to the entrance door by a piper in full regalia expressing a full-throated skirling of the pipes.

It is one of Sydney’s prettiest buildings. Amongst canyons of steel and glass it remains on its small footprint a preserved piece of Victoriana. The entrance to our destination is small and the staircase too is small and steep and long. Welcome to the Highlands indeed!

Up and up we go till we step into the J&M Whisky Bar. Now it all begins to make sense.

Whisky, where else?

We are guests of Visit Scotland – the National Tourism Organisation.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
A wee dram before you go?

Their generosity with the whisky and highland-themed nibbles is mightily welcome but they make sure we leave knowing that there is much more to visiting Scotland than the uisge bheatha – the water of life.

A small land with a history of giants

A big screen seduces us with changing images of Scotland.

Scotland This Magnificent LIfe
The Isle of Barra, pretty enough for you?

Many of them are familiar, others are heart-stopping vistas new to us.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
An Lochan Uaine – the green loch in Aviemore

We watch them appearing and fading, one through the other. Landscapes. Seascapes. Lochs. Rivers. Streams. Hillsides untouched since the glacier periods. Fields gently tamed with walls of stone. Beautiful buildings old and new. Neolithic sites recently excavated. Bronze age standing stones. Substantial memories of Romans and Vikings. Mediaeval castles some still standing proud, others in desolate ruins. Crofters huts huddling from the weather. Battlefields. Bridges. Towering Georgian and Victorian structures.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
Loch an Eilein castle. One of many hidden gems

People young and old. Wildlife curious and amusing.

An ancient land with modern adventures

The activities we see filling the screen are sporting, adventurous and exhilarating: climbing, kayaking, sailing, golfing, fishing, surfing, skiing, riding horses or as well there are many activities that are cosy, calm and cerebral.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
Whitewater kayaking, the calm before the rapids (pic by Kenny Lam – rights reserved)

Just so much happening in this compact country crammed with historical and geographical marvels.

There are big cities to welcome the civilised visitor. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. They have all the comforts of any modern metropolis, however you feel the pull of the countryside, never far away, where the unique charms of Scotland are to be enjoyed.

I thought you’d never ask

We are contemplating these images when a voice behind us delivers one of the more welcoming phrases on the planet.

“What will you have?”

It is Alexander the Manager of the Whisky Bar and he is gesturing to a wall full of bottles glowing golden.

He hands me a small card which lists 30 whiskies divided into Speyside, Highlands, Islay, Islands and Blended.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
Once home to a glacier, a valley now welcoming visitors

While Glenda the PR Manager from VisitScotland takes us through the reasons we should visit Scotland and tell our readers and friends, Alexander progressively pours me a select few drams of one of the best reasons to visit.

Over the next hour I manage to compare tiny tots of Abelour, Balvenie, Glenmorangie, Buichladdie, Ardbeg, Talisker and Highland Park. All magnificently evocative of a favourite theme but wonderfully varied. Like the country itself really.

What have they built for you?

The Scots have had a massive influence on the English speaking world. The clearances of the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries spread them across the globe, to build dams, bridges, roads, railways, mines and tunnels which still in use in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Scotland This Magnificent Life
The famous Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. (Kenny Lam pics rights reserved)

As they have done so much for us in our countries it would seem carlish (ungrateful or churlish) for us not to respond by calling on them in theirs.

The painless way to plan.

May we suggest you take a few minutes with a wee dram beside you to check their website www.visitscotland.com

Take your time over the very complete guides to history, events and especially accommodation. Click on Accommodation go to Unusual Places to Stay then down to Stay in a Castle. Here you’ll find fascinating and memorable lodgings unlike anywhere you’ve stayed in your home country. Pour yourself another dram and make up your mind to go.

*A line borrowed from ‘The Road to the Isles’ a Scottish traditional song.

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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