Muschamp Rd

Scotland Trip 2024: The Highlights

April 14th, 2024
MacKay Country Stone

In 2024 I finally made it to Scotland. I travelled North through the Highlands touring whisky distilleries on the way. Finally I made it to MacKay Country. Then I pushed further North to Orkney before flying South to Edinburgh to storm the castle. Eventually however I had to return to Calgary Alberta. Below are highlights of what I saw and did in Scotland.

This is actually the final post in a series I wrote about this trip. So if you want to start at the beginning, the first thing I did was plan and research. Arguably I’ve been planning this trip for years, but it came together in late 2023 when I was strongly encouraged to take a vacation. On this vacation I ended up touring ten different whisky distilleries. I also visited the North Coast of Scotland including MacKay Country after taking the Far North Line from Inverness. Then I indeed took the ferry from Scabster to Stormness in the Orkney Islands. Finally I spent two nights at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh.

Enough words, I just want to see the pictures

While traveling through Scotland I took over 1000 photos. I shared many on the Internet. Other people also shared photos who were in the same whisky tour group as me. I put absolutely zero on Instagram, but maybe I should have done a photo dump. And of course I still can, but I do prefer Flickr especially when I want to include the same photo in my blog, so I’ll include some of the best photos below, but if you just want to look at pictures, many are on Flickr.

Whisky Tour Van
The dunnage warehouses of Knockdhu distillery

Distillery Tours

The purpose of my trip to Scotland was to be the first person from my branch of Clan MacKay to return in a generation or two. But while planning my trip to Scotland, I looked into taking part in a group tour. Turns out there are over one hundred whisky distilleries in Scotland and touring them has become big business. It is an experiential tour, even educational, especially if you do something like I did which was the Highland Whisky Academy.

People who opt into a multiple day whisky tour are likely kindred spirits and committed. People who just walk up to a distillery and sign up for a quick tour maybe less so. The distillery staff try really hard and often have a great passion for the spirit and company they work for. Obviously you get to try one or more whiskies, with five being a common number of drams to taste.

A lot of people including coworkers were particularly interested in this part of my trip. I doubt they’ll go all the way to Inverurie. There are other whisky academies in Scotland. Edinburgh has one. Islay has one. Edinburgh also has the Johnny Walker Experience and many many bars. If you want to spend less time in a van and more time sampling whisky, then Edinburgh may have everything you need. However if you have a bucket list whisky distillery you should do it, prices of older whisky have gone up a lot in the last twenty years. A lot of distilleries have gone upmarket and enthusiasts or whisky geeks worry they may be priced out by investors. On the flip side it is easier than ever to tour distilleries and they all try to outdo each other or at least differentiate themselves.

Although we had a great time tasting whisky at the Inverurie Whisky Shop and I’ve signed up for two more in-store whisky tastings here in Calgary at the Kensington Wine Market, it is good to see how whisky is made. I recommend you choose a smaller older distillery. My favourite tour was Knockdhu distillery. I also recommend you do a warehouse tasting if you can. The one we did at Ardmore distillery was extremely memorable and you get to try whisky right out of the cask, at cask strength. Some may not like the dust, the dark, the cobwebs, they want conveniences like a table and a chair, but it is something worth traveling farther afield to experience.

Ardmore Stills
The stills of Ardmore distillery
More depth of focus whisky shots
GlenGlassaugh: The spirit that can’t be tamed
Panoramic Glenfarclas
Panoramic Glenfarclass distillery

MacKay Country

Speaking of traveling further afield. MacKay Country historically was in the medieval province of Strathnaver. This is where the Clan Museum is maintained in a historic church in Bettyhill. The North Coast of Scotland does get its share of tourists. People bike, surf, fish, hike and play golf. I however went in the offseason and ended up renting a car to cover the last 41 km from Thurso to Bettyhill. The iconic stones have been placed on the historical borders of MacKay Country as a reminder. The last lands were sold out of the family in 1828 and now more MacKays live abroad than in MacKay Country.

Bettyhill, Strathnaver, MacKay Country


Thurso isn’t that famous. It does have a whisky distillery which of course I toured. Thurso is however, the end of the train line and from there you can travel West along the coast to MacKay Country. You can also travel Norther via ferry to the Orkney Islands one of the most unique parts of Scotland. The islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years and contains perhaps the greatest intact neolithic village yet found. It was once part of Pictland then was annexed by Norway in 875 before becoming part of Scotland in 1472 in lieu of the agreed upon dowery.

Orkney has both oil money and cruise ship money. As a result they have hotels, restaurants, whisky distilleries and a growing tourism industry. Kirkwall is the largest town but is still quite quaint and photogenic. Kirkwall is also home to the oldest cathedral in Scotland, St Magnus. There are museums focusing on everything from the Stone Age to World War Two. There is an airport so you can fly in and out if you so choose. I was really looking forward to this part of my trip and it did not disappoint. I did a bespoke tour with Kinlay of Orkney Uncovered. I had also arranged to tour Highland Park distillery through their website.

Broch of Gurness
The Broch of Gurness
The Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar
Not a bad place to taste whisky
Highland Park distillery board room
Kirkwall Streets
The main drag in Kirkwall Orkney Scotland


Though this was supposed to be the short summary post, I do recommend you take your time in Scotland. There is a lot to see and do. The history stretches from the Stone Age to more modern times. Edinburgh is the largest city in Scotland. It is the capital, it has the biggest castle, the crown jewels, the Royal Palace, the national museum, the national sports stadium etc. There is a lot to see and do. I was only there two nights.

I stayed at the Caledonian and my room came with a view of Edinburgh Castle. The hotel also has a spa complete with a hot tub which I enjoyed. They also have a whisky bar. Across the street is the Johnny Walker Experience and it is right on transit so getting to and from the airport was easy. I’d definitely stay there again and of course visit Edinburgh and Scotland again. My brain has definitely been picked about what to see and do.

And yes Edinburgh now has whisky distilleries again. Holyrood is the one I toured but even newer is Port of Leith. Edinburgh is also the most likely airport you’ll fly into Scotland at. A lot of Scotland group tours are out of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is also central to the train network so you can go South or North from there easily.

The view from my window
The view of Edinburgh Castle from my hotel room
The view from Edinburgh Castle
The view from Edinburgh Castle
Beer and whisky at the Carley Bar Edinburgh
Nightcap at the Caledonian Hotel bar

What’s Next?

It will be a while before I travel again. Hopefully it does not take twenty more years to return to Europe. My next trip is probably South or even more likely to Vancouver Island. I am unlikely to turn Muskblog into a full-fledged travel blog, however I will redo the taxonomy again. I just have little interest and no incentive to blog more about some things. I did update WordPress and Google Analytics, so once again I can learn what is relatively popular. I seem to have peaked as a blogger in 2006.

If you have questions about my trip to Scotland in 2024 or advice on where to travel next you can leave a comment below.

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