The Adventurous Spirit (kirkwall, scotland)

The average person may dream of waking up on a cruise ship in warm, tropical places where the sun is always shining and the water temperature is reminiscent of a warm bath. Where was I absolutely stoked to wake up? Kirkwall, Scotland. Chilly, rainy and home to the mother of all drinks besides coffee… SCOTCH!

When I found out I’d have the pleasure of visiting my almost homeland (it’s close enough to Ireland. And I did indeed spot a few of my fellow redheads), I reached out to a Scottish friend and asked for suggestions of things to do or see near Kirkwall. Said friend’s response? “Where the hell is Kirkwall?!” Turns out it’s in a place called Orkney, the motherland of Orks and a big tourist attraction for Lord of the Rings fans! Ok, that is a lie. But my imagination is quite happy with that one. (Orkney is the truth. The area is called Orkney.)

So after my morning muesli and personal French press coffee in the crew mess (I take my coffee very seriously), I donned my rain jacket and headed out for my first dip into Scotland. Kirkwall has some cool ancient castle remains, a top-notch hipster coffee shop/ music venue, and a plethora of wool shops. And I believe that is Kirkwall, and you can see it in eight minutes total, if you walk at a New York pace. It’s worth noting the people are absolutely lovely, especially at the town’s bus station.

















ah summer...

After the eight-minute express tour of Kirkwall, I looked at the friendly colored map once more and my eyes were immediately drawn to an outer corner of the map that read “Distillery.” Distillery?! Where, how, when and how much? All questions I asked to the friendly bus station guides who pointed me in the direction of a local bus that would have me there in five minutes. The bus driver cheerily remarked in his Scottish accent that he could drop me at the front door of the distillery, no problem. I was blown away by the kindness. I later came to find out there are no actual bus stops, so indeed this man was just doing his job… ANYWHO, five minutes and a new bus driver friend later, and I arrived at Highland Park Distillery. A historic distillery that’s been beautifully renovated with a tasting room and shop comprised of dark stones and warm wood accents. (note: my excitement level at this point is about a ten and I haven’t even tasted anything.)

A friendly Scottish millennial (note: everyone is Scottish and everyone is friendly and I’m ok with saying it twelve more times) at the commanding wooden front desk informed me that while all of the regular tours for the day were sold out (downfall of winging adventures while the 2,000 passengers from your cruise ship are in town…), they had scheduled a small express tasting for people just like me. Excitement level is raised to an 11.

Me: “Oh, that sounds great! Can I ask how much that costs?”

Friendly Scottish Millennial: “It’s three pounds and you get to keep the glass”

Me: * dramatically drops to the floor while simultaneously raising my hands to praise the lord *

Excitement level is now off the charts, completely untraceable, as I take my seat to absorb the information about this specific scotch, the peet, the Scottish weather conditions that are so perfect…. And I forget the rest because then it was TASTING TIME! Well the tasting part takes a bit of time because you have to rub the glass, smell the scotch, take a small sip (yeah right) and then proceed with the rest in order to let the flavor truly shine… according to the friendly Scotsman. I had the privilege of tasting a scotch with “Dragon” somewhere in the name, and I’m assuming that’s because the non-scotch lovers I was with would have rather breathed fire than tasted this concoction… It was smoky, lovely, not aged and definitely tasted like it was made for the three euro tour ;) Best three euros I’ve ever spent. After a quick walk around the shop, it was time to think about getting back “home” to the ship. While the bus driver was so kind as to drop us off at the Distillery, I realized I had no idea how to get a bus back to the town. Mind you, the area surrounding Kirkwall is a carbon copy of the set from “The Holiday” with stone fences, adorable cottages and no bus stops… While it’s picture perfect and lovely to breathe in the fresh Scottish air, anybody who’s ever worked on a ship (nobody?) knows that time is of the utmost importance, and being late “back on board” is not an option. So, this girl goes into serious traveler mode, flagging down the first bus I see and asking how we get back to town. “Ah, just keep walking along the road and flag down the bus going in the opposite direction.”


Me: “Oh, that sounds great! Can I ask how much that costs?”



Friendly Scottish Millennial: “It’s three pounds and you get to keep the glass”

So that’s what we did. Three city girls walking along the Scottish countryside roads, one person always walking backwards to glance an upcoming bus. Three minutes later, we’re back with the same bus driver who took us to Highland Park, and everything came beautifully full circle. We made it back to town with plenty of time to spare… enough time to take advantage of the Boots store in town. Maybe next time I should opt for scotch after shopping… though I don’t regret the impulse lip stain purchase. Actually, I don’t regret anything about that perfect slice of Kirkwall.


Emily HughesComment