Skincare Things I’m Trying and Kind of Loving Right Now

So, I haven’t done a real skin care review in a while, and part of that is that, yes, I’ve been writing about my Scottish honeymoon, but I’ve also been feeling a bit uninspired with skin care lately. But I have been using a few new things that have helped keep the love alive, so I thought I’d share a brief overview of some of the things in my testing routine right now.

A’pieu Madecassoside Cream: I got this on a whim based on Tracy’s glowing review of it over at Fanserviced-B. Did I really need another cream? Not really. I’m pretty ride-or-die for Stratia Liquid Gold. But… it’s been really hot and humid and I wondered if maybe something lighter would be nice for the mornings, particularly under my more mattifying sunscreen. So I grabbed a tube from Jolse. It smells like herbal lemony goodness and goes on feather-light. So far I’m definitely finding reasons to use it. Full review will be forthcoming, and barring any unforeseen breakouts, it’s going to be glowing.

Moonlit Skincare Midnight Shift Facial Oil: I keep seeing this on Instagram. I’m intrigued by the concept. And I can always use a little help getting to sleep, particularly on those nights when I’m in bed before 10 because I know my alarm is going off before 6am the next day. Well, I bought the 14-day trial kit and before I was even halfway through, I ordered the full size. It smells like lavender Earl Grey tea, goes on like a dream, and so far has not given me any problems. Expect another glowing review forthcoming.

COSRX One-Step Moisture-Up Kit: My original thought with these was that they would be great for travel, particularly when we go and spend a weekend at my in-laws’ place. But of course I need to test them a bit first, and I’m finding them fantastic for days when I’m working from home but I go for a morning run. I get back, shower, wash up with the foaming cleanser, apply the Moisture-Up pad, and then slap on the sheet mask until my face goes from beet-red to magenta (I tend to go all splotchy when I exercise, especially outside in the heat). Very nice and relaxed and I don’t actually have to faff about with bottles and things at my vanity. But let’s see how they do for travel as well…

Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Toner: I bought this because the scent of the Blossom Jeju masks were like my favorite thing ever. And I wanted to bottle that and be able to slap it on my face whenever I want. But of course it’s $45 for a pretty small bottle, so I don’t tend to use it as often as I do my other toners. But for days when I need a pick-me-up more than a deep hydration treatment? It’s amazing. Not sure I’ll splurge on it again, though.

So that’s about it for now. This is kind of half a preview of reviews to come and half a ramble about what I like for my face right now. If anyone’s curious about my further thoughts, ask, and if anyone has any suggestions for anything inspiring, I’m open to suggestions.

Tea Review: White2Tea Reviews Part Three, the Pu-erhs

NB: These teas were sent to me for review, but all opinions are my own. For more about my review policies, click here.

Months ago, when I received an incredibly generous package from Paul at White2Tea, I knew it would take me a while to get through all of it, even just for review. Add into that a honeymoon and two business trips, and, well, here we are. I’ve finally gotten through the last three samples. This is kind of the main event for White2Tea: Pu-erh. Pu-erh, which is a kind of fermented tea, falls into two main categories: sheng (or raw), and shou (or ripe). White2Tea went ahead and sent me 25g samples of two of their raw and one ripe pu-erh. I brewed all of these teas according to White2Tea’s guidelines, and experimented further where noted.

2016 Daily Drinker:

You may remember this photo from Instagram a last week, when I commented that this tea does not work grandpa- or farmer-style. But it is a delightful raw pu-erh. My previous experience with pu-erhs were entirely of the funky, ripe variety, and it was novel to try this style. This tea starts out with a very light color, body, and scent, which intensifies to its peak around the 5th steeping. I noticed a characteristic anise scent and flavor and a sweet taste that, despite my general dislike for anise and licorice, was not unpleasant. I also tried it steeped in 15-second intervals in my fish gongfu set and enjoyed it very much. It tends to get too bitter steeped grandpa-style. At $19 for a 200g cake, I will almost certainly buy this again (although I may try the 2017 instead).

2016 We Go High:

This is a blended raw pu-erh that confused me slightly. The web listing shows a quite light brew color, but this brewed up amber from the first steeping for me. The leaves themselves have a delightful visual variety, and has the earthy aromas I associate with a ripe pu-erh mixed with the fruitiness of a raw one. The flavor is enjoyable, with an almost mineral edge to it and a creamy mouthfeel. This tea also has the strongest “tea drunkenness” effect I’ve ever noticed from a tea. I was buzzing around all day at work on this and found myself both productive and happy, although it became a bit much after a few cups. This is a wonderful tea, but all that said, I almost certainly will not purchase it again myself, as it is $139 for a 200g cake, or $18.50 for a 25g sample, and I’m not sure I got that much out of it.

2017 Old Reliable:

This is exactly what I think of when I think of pu-erh tea. It’s deep, dark, almost coffee-like in its thickness and intensity, but with absolutely no tannic edge to dry my mouth out and sour my stomach like strong black/red tea. This has notes of earth, mushrooms, and leather. In fact, I have a coworker who refers to pu-erh as “shoe tea” based on a previous experience. I found that funny, since this actually is shou pu-erh. Anyway, I got a solid ten steepings out of this before it started to diminish, but noticed a sweetness coming through at the ninth steeping, so this tea is definitely in it for the duration. At $14.50 for a 200g cake, how could I not repurchase this?

Beauty Review: Glossier Generation G Lipstick vs. Colourpop Blotted Lip

NB: I purchased these with my own money and all links in this review are non-affiliate. If you would like to support this blog by using an affiliate link to shop at Glossier (or other stores), please see this page.

Last month, I posted on my Instagram about receiving two different lip products that are often compared to one another. I did a little unboxing and first impressions, and even shared some swatches. You see, I’ve been curious about the “blotted lip” idea for a while. The basic idea is that it’s a sheer lipcolor, but it has a matte finish instead of being creamy or glossy like most tinted balms. It’s an interesting idea, particularly for someone who always feels the need to have some color on her lips, but doesn’t necessarily want to deal with the upkeep of a full-on saturated lipcolor every day. So when I splurged on Glossier’s Birthday Balm, I also got one of their Generation G lipsticks. Then, I decided, hey, why not do a little comparison, so I hopped on over to Colourpop’s website and got two of their Blotted Lip lipsticks.

I got the Glossier lipstick in the color Zip, which is a warm red color, and the Colourpop lipsticks in Lolly, which is a berry-wine color, and Lexi, which is a neutral-cool red. They’re not color dupes, although Lexi and Zip are quite similar. Lolly seems like it might be similar to the Glossier Jam color. In terms of value, I got the Glossier lipstick for $18, and got free shipping because I bought it with the Birthday Balm. The Colourpop lipsticks were $5 each, but I had to pay shipping, so both Colourpop lipsticks cost $15 with shipping. Still, I got two Colourpop lipsticks for less than the cost of one Glossier. If you find friends to go in on a Colourpop order, you could probably get free shipping without buying ridiculous amounts of makeup. Even though the Glossier lipstick is 2g of product to the Colourpop 1g, the Colourpop is still the clear winner in terms of amount-for-the-money.

So, are they formula dupes? I had high hopes. I love to hate on Glossier, despite the fact that they make the only cleanser that I love. And the Generation G lipstick is so easy to rag on. I mean, it looks so cheap. When I first opened them, I already thought the Colourpop tube felt heavier and more expensive than the Glossier. And they’re basically the same product, in concept. How hard could it be to make a cheap, low-pigment lipstick?

Pretty hard, apparently. Despite my high hopes, I have to say, I definitively prefer the Glossier formula to the Colourpop. Actually, one of the reasons this review has taken so long to write is because I really didn’t want that to be true. But I took the two Colourpop lipsticks to a conference and wore them every day for a week. I found them difficult, patchy, and dry to apply, not great-feeling on the lips, and patchy when they wore off. There’s just enough pigment to highlight dry lip areas, but not enough to cover any lip variations. It’s like the worst of both worlds. Add in that the formula itself dries your lips out, and I actually went bare-lipped on evening rather than try to reapply. You can’t apply them if you have too much lip balm on already, but if you haven’t moisturized your lips, they drag and catch. It’s not fun and it’s really fussy for what is supposed to be a low-maintenance product.

Irritatingly, the Glossier formula lives up to their cool girl, effortless beauty aesthetic. Like the Colourpop, it doesn’t give much color if you apply it directly on top of lip balm, but it goes onto dry lips with a satisfying glide. It doesn’t add moisture of its own, but it doesn’t steal it from your lips. I never tested it out over a consistent week like the Colourpop ones, but it’s the lip product I find myself reaching for when I’m going out somewhere and don’t want to look too “done,” but want to look nice. I wore it to a baby shower this weekend. I threw it in my purse to wear after the gym. I actually felt a little bit like a cool-girl Glossier model when I finished my barre class, washed my face, threw my hair into a messy braid, and applied just sunscreen, concealer, mascara, and Zip before going to work. I mean, I’m about 10 years too old, and wasn’t wearing a minimalist-chic outfit, but you get the idea.

So the bottom line is that in a battle of Colourpop vs. Glossier in blotted lip products, I found Glossier to be the winner. That said, I probably wouldn’t rebuy the Glossier lipstick if only because I would rather take a little extra time and sheer out an existing lipstick of mine than spend $18 on unpigmented lipstick again.

Scottish Adventure: Culloden and Clava Cairns

For our last day in Scotland, we decided to stick close to home and explore the sites right near Inverness. It seems foolish to visit Inverness and not see Culloden battlefield, the site of the last Jacobite uprising and something that comes up again and again when Scots discuss their history. In fact, I had a woman describe a tartan pattern to me as being “from after Culloden,” referring to the period of time when tartans were outlawed. From there, we decided to visit Clava Cairns to see some history from even further back in the history of the isle. Of course, our Outlander-fan friends warned us to be careful around standing stones around Inverness, but we deemed it worth the risk.

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Culloden battlefield reminded me of a smaller-scale version of Gettysburg. It had the same feeling of quiet dignity, with historical information and monuments punctuating a landscape that had mostly reclaimed much of the physical marks of the battle. We opted to skip the indoor exhibit, in favor of walking the battlefield for a while, quietly contemplating the loss of life and the way a single battle changed life in Scotland so dramatically. The loop we took brought us around and to the main Culloden cairn monument and the individual clan grave markers toward the end of our trips. Despite the fact that more tourists had come into town the evening before for the beginning of the bank holiday weekend, the battlefield still held the sense of hush and respect that I appreciated on my walk.

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From there, we decided to walk to Clava Cairns, just a mile and a half away. It sounded like an easy walk, but the combination of unseasonable heat, and a route that took us along narrow roads, shared with vehicles, made it a slightly more exciting route than originally intended. But we made it. Clava Cairns is made up of two sites: Balnuaran of Clava, a four-thousand-year-old group of burial cairns built by some of the island’s original inhabitants; and Milton of Clava, a medieval chapel built on the remains of more cairns. The site is popular with Outlander tour groups, and we were fortunate to just miss one group before arriving, so we were able to see the sites in relative peace.

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We came first to the burial cairns. During the Victorian Druidic revival, the burial sites were reimagined as being set in an oak grove, and so the Victorians planted oak trees around the cairns. Despite their questionable historical accuracy, the trees were a welcome relief from the heat and sun. The site is still intact enough that you can walk into the passage graves, which provides an interesting view of the site. The other ring graves are open only at the top, and despite the obvious temptation, no one dared disrespect the site by climbing the cairns.

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From there, it is another short walk to the Milton of Clava, where another cairn was displaced by a medieval chapel. It’s interesting to see this kind of dynamic history. I commented to Mr. Tweed that it was fascinating to be in a country that has preserved so many of the sites that date back thousands of years before, rather than the mere hundreds that so many American sites claim. And then to see the clash of historical populations in the stones that still stand today, hundreds and thousands of years later is amazing.

After walking back to the car at Culloden, we made our way back into Inverness to prepare for our journey home the next day…

…except that’s not how it happened! It’s not something to dwell on, but many of those who follow me on social media may have noticed we got two “extra” days in the Highlands because our flight out of Inverness was canceled suddenly. Suffice to say, we got to see even the parts of Scotland that we thought had become familiar to us from yet another side, as we navigated last-minute hotels, buses, and taxis. Honestly, it made the arrival home all the sweeter, but also cemented in my mind that I will return to Scotland some day.

Scottish Adventure: The Black Isle Beer Brewery and Bar

One of my favorite impromptu afternoon excursions was our visit to the Black Isle Brewery, just north of Inverness. We ventured up here one afternoon when we’d finished our morning touring and our lunch, but hadn’t planned for the afternoon. Not only is the drive up gorgeous, but the brewery staff were a great example of the laid-back friendliness of Scottish people.

The brewery sits on the farm Allangrange in the Black Isle, which is famous for the quality of its malting barley. They grow their own malting barley, which is a switch from the breweries we’ve visited in the States, which often grown their own hops, but bring barley in. They also have a flock of about 200 black Hebridean sheep who get to eat the spent mash and provide wool for the jumpers they sell in their brewery shop. Upon entering the shop, the woman minding it offered to give us a tour of the brewing floor. It’s not a large operation, but she showed us their tanks and such. They even have a small rig that is a complete brewing test bed in a compact system, so that you can go from raw ingredients to bottled beer using equipment that sits on an approximately 24″x24″ footprint and is maybe 6-7′ tall. Very cool stuff.

From there, she offered us a taste of the some of the beers she had opened. Because we were traveling and couldn’t bring back beer on the plane, we satisfied ourselves to just buy a couple of single bottles of beers that would be best without refrigeration. But the woman who gave us the tour told us that if we were interested in drinking more of their beer, we should check out the Black Isle Bar in Inverness.

So a couple nights later, when we didn’t have other plans, we walked into town and found the bar. It’s a very hip place. You order at the bar, where they have multiple taps set into the wall, and a rotating list of what is being served from that tap on the monitors on the wall. They serve twenty-something drafts, plus some bottles (we stuck to draft!), small plates, and wood-fired pizza featuring local ingredients. One night, we tried a venison pizza and the next time we went, we tried the Hebridean pizza, featuring lamb meatballs made from black Hebridean lamb. Yes, this place had the distinction of being one that visited twice during our stay!

Despite the fact that the beer was excellent, my favorite part of the Black Isle Bar is that they offer 1/2 and 1/3 pints, so I could go in, taste three different beers, and still only have had one drink. Important for those of us with a lower tolerance for alcohol! So if you ever find yourself in Inverness, with a need for a good beer and a bite to eat, I would recommend the Black Isle Bar. And if you’re staying somewhat longer, and looking to fill a couple hours well, drive out to the brewery to meet the people there.

Scottish Adventure: A Day Trip to Ullapool

The marvelous thing about staying in Inverness and renting a car is that so much of the north of Scotland is within an hour or so’s drive. So one day, we decided to drive up the coast and visit the fishing and tourism village of Ullapool. Ullapool is about an hour-to-and-hour-and-a-half drive from Inverness, through some beautiful scenery in the north of Scotland. It is one of the easiest places to get a ferry to the Outer Hebrides, although we didn’t plan ahead quite well enough to manage that. But we did enjoy our leisurely drive. One of the most striking things about Scotland is that, even though things are comparatively close together to things in the States (Inverness to Ullapool is about the same distance from Washington, D.C. to just north of Baltimore, for reference), things are quite spread out and that hour-long-drive felt remarkably rural. And the landscape went through so many changes, that it really did feel like a trip-within-a-trip.

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As we pulled into Ullapool, it was obvious that we had managed to show up just before peak tourist season. Also, since we’d just missed the morning ferry to the Outer Hebrides, the streets were even quieter. We found a place to park along the main street in town and went looking for tourism information. Of course, a Visit Scotland bureau turned out to be the place to go, where we had a lovely chat with one of the people behind the desk, and procured a map of the Ullapool Hill Walk, which is a hike up the local hill, starting just outside of town. We applied sunscreen, bought a large piece of flapjack to sustain us on the walk, and set out on our way.

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It was a hot day that day in Scotland — record heat, we discovered upon returning home and watching the news that evening — and we certainly felt it on our walk. I was very glad Mr. Tweed had convinced me to bring twice as much water as I thought we needed, and we both reapplied sunscreen a couple of times on the trail. We both noticed that walking excursions seem to be consistently underestimated in Scotland. This “hill walk” was more of a semi-strenuous hike up a fairly steep grade with loose rock and plenty of uneven terrain. But of course we made it and enjoyed it very much.

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About halfway up the hill, there was a metal disk on a stone platform, which looked somewhat like a sun dial. It was actually a map of the surrounding area, meant to label the different landmarks you could see from that spot on the hill. Very fun to check out. Continuing on, we did eventually make it to the top of the hill, where we ate our flapjack and enjoyed the scenery. And then we went back down. On our walk, we encountered a couple who were obviously on a casual date and several people walking their dogs. It seems that walking on rugged terrain is no big deal to the Scots. Perhaps I need to improve my stamina on my own excursions back home.

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Upon returning to the base of the hill, we found a place for lunch. Ullapool is a fishing town, so seafood seemed the way to go. Mr. Tweed had fish and chips and I had a beautiful fisherman’s pie, washed down with plenty of local lager. From there, we explored the town, even visiting the small local museum, where we learned more about the history of Ullapool. The town was originally made up of sheep crofters and fishermen, but added tourism to its economy in the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria brought Highland tourism into vogue.

Thoroughly explored, exercised, and fed, we bid Ullapool farewell and made our way back to Inverness, just in time for a shower and a trip out for dinner. I would definitely recommend Ullapool as a Highland day trip, and Mr. Tweed even mentioned that he’d like to come back to stay for a while, so we could explore more of the hiking and the trips out to the islands.

Scottish Adventure: An Afternoon of Ruins!

From Cawdor, Mr. Tweed and I decided to drive out to Elgin to see Elgin Cathedral, a ruined cathedral dating from the 13th century. Once again, we enjoyed a drive in the Scottish countryside, driving through a few small towns (including one we would visit again under less happy circumstances – foreshadowing!). Elgin reminded me a little bit of Rome in a way, because it was sometimes hard to tell where monuments ended and the businesses and homes began. A community of garden-style houses would be punctuated with dramatically crumbling bit of the original city gates. We found Elgin Cathedral situated at a place where a few of the larger roads met, surrounded by a high iron fence.

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As we bought our tickets for the site, the guides told us about a deal they had where for 1,20 GBP more each, we could get a dual ticket that was also good at their sister site, Spynie Palace. It was still fairly early in the day and I’m a sucker for a ruined palace, so we agreed. You see, Elgin Cathedral was the seat of the diocese of the bishops of Moray, and for centuries, Spynie Palace was the bishop’s home, just three miles away. So it does seem fitting to see both at one go. I will say, the guides at the Cathedral and Palace were among my favorite people we encountered in Scotland. At the Cathedral, the guides seemed to be enjoying their job very much as they pointed out all the various places we should make sure to visit at the Cathedral site.

The Cathedral itself is almost surreal. Not only is it in the midst of a well-traveled section of the city, but it it so similar to other Gothic-style cathedrals I’ve visited, just not entirely there. The main towers were open, and we did take the opportunity to walk up. As you make your way up, they have exhibits of various examples of art and stonework from the cathedral, in various stages of restoration. They even have pieces of the supports for the massive rose window. I will say, the guide made a point to tell us that the staircases are not nearly as steep and narrow as those at Urquhart Castle, and he was absolutely right. We made it to the top of the tower with the observation deck, and took in the view, which is stunning.

From there, we explored the rest of the cathedral and the churchyard. There are many gravestones from all periods of time, including the tallest gravestone in Scotland, and a gravestone with the profound poem: “The world is a city full of streets and death is the market that all men meets. If life were a thing that money could buy, the poor could not life and the rich would not die.” Despite the noise of the street around us, the churchyard still felt rather peaceful, in the way that churchyards always feel peaceful.

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We pressed onward to Spynie Palace. As we made our way out of town, and up the drive of the site, the first thing we noticed was that there was not a single other car there. We parked and walked up an eerily quiet dirt path to the welcome cottage, where we saw the caretaker walking in from the ruins. He greeted us and checked out tickets and then asked if we’d like a little history of the site. We said of course. I think he might have been a bit bored, because we were treated to a 20-minute discussion of the history of the palace (really a castle, but the bishops wanted to make it sound grander), its place in the unfortunate history of Queen Mary of Scotland, and the Scottish Reformation. Apparently, Mary’s third husband, the Earl of Bothwell fled to the palace after being charged with the murder of her second husband, and tried to overtake the castle. But things did not end well for him.

The palace itself began to fall into decay by the end of the 17th century and not much of it remains today. But the main gate still stands, and it is through that gate that we entered the site. It was an interesting exercise to walk around and enter the palace where visitors would have entered. From there, we explored David’s Tower, taking in the view, and even ventured into the basement. The grounds were almost preternaturally quiet, as we were the only tourists there for most of the time. We were joined maybe fifteen minutes into our explorations by another two guys and a dog, but for the most part, it felt almost like a private showing. The peacefulness was lovely, but the site is so striking, that I almost wish it would become more crowded. Perhaps they do a brisker business on other days.

From there, we ventured back to Elgin for tea and cake, and onward home after a long day of history and castles in all states of repair!

Tea Review: White2Tea Tea Reviews, the Black and the White

NB: I received these products for review for free from the company, but all opinions are my own. More about my review sample policies here.

I’m going to take a break from recapping Scotland today to continue my reviews of the generous PR samples that I received from White2Tea recently. Today, I’m going to talk about the two full-sized products they sent me. I was absolutely delighted to see that Paul included both a full-sized brick of their ChocoBrick White Tea, and their A&P Black Tea. I tasted both teas by using the recommended brewing methods from White2Tea, as well as brewing the ways I like to enjoy tea.

ChocoBrick White Tea: This is a large-leafed, sun-dried Yunnan white tea that has been compressed into a 100g brick that is scored for easy breaking into nine portions. So each portion is about 11g. This is a little much for my 150ml gaiwan, but I did persevere to taste it first in gaiwan. This takes a bit to get going, so the first steep or two were light, but eventually, it brews a very richly-flavored, floral cup of tea. It’s quite pleasant, although I felt like I was wasting too much of the potential of the tea steeping in gaiwan. So I tried it grandpa-style in my large china tea cup and enjoyed that just as much. Honestly, I don’t think I would repurchase this simply because I think it is scored into portions that are too big. Each block can provide so much flavor that I felt like, even steeping grandpa-style over an entire day, I was probably wasting much of the tea’s potential. And the brick is not easy to break except along the scores. So I will probably save the rest of this tea to enjoy with friends, when I’m brewing for more than myself.

A&P Black Tea: This tea somewhat exemplifies what I think of when I think of White2Tea: an interesting tea, pressed into a cake, and named after a deep literary reference (in this case a short story by John Updike). This is a deep, full-bodied Yunnan Dianhong black tea that has been pressed into a traditional large bing cake. The tea pick that Paul included in the order came in handy for this one. I find it easy to pick off a portion of tea suitable for any style and size of brewing vessel. I did enjoy this in gaiwan, but thought the rich mouthfeel, raisin-y flavors, and round tannins suited a western style of brew as well. I also brewed this up one morning when I just wanted a cuppa black tea, without much attention or care for the leaf, and found it just as delightful. I would buy this again.

All-in-all, I was impressed with these two offerings from White2Tea, but now it is time to move on to their bread-and-butter, the Pu’er teas. Stay tuned for after the Scotland recap finishes for those reviews!

Scottish Adventure: Cawdor Castle and Gardens

I’ve returned to continue my Scottish adventures! One of the reasons I was excited to visit Scotland was because I love history and touring historical sites. And, as my readers may know, I’m also a bit of an actor, and one of my favorite playwrights is the immortal Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. With that in mind, how could I pass up a visit to the castle that bears the name of one of his most infamous characters, the Thane of Cawdor, also known as the Scottish King, Macbeth?

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Of course, the real King Macbeth lived centuries before Cawdor Castle was built, but the seed was planted in my mind. Imagine my delight when I found out that Cawdor is not just an historical site, but also a working residence for the Dowager Countess Cawdor. So we got to see a castle that has both preserved its history and maintained its functionality. The castle was begun in the fifteenth century and passed from the Calder family to the Campbells in the 16th century. The current Earl of Cawdor is the Dowager Countess’ stepson and their feud over the family home is something of a tabloid sensation at times. But the castle itself and the grounds are lovely, showing the marks of both the history of the place and the personal style of the current Lady in residence.

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We went through the castle tour first, as we’d arrived just as they’d opened and wanted to avoid any crowds. Then, we took advantage of a sunny late morning and thoroughly explored the gardens and nature trails. The castle itself is stunning. Each room is not only impeccably decorated, but also has a sign that shows some mark of personality and wit in the description of each room. As we walked through the rooms, I noticed a particular theme of gemstone orbs as part of the decor. One in particular was set up in a bedroom on a stand, almost like a crystal ball. I was curious about it, since it almost seemed like a tongue-in-cheek reference to the witches of the Scottish play, so I asked a docent. Apparently, the Lady in residence has a particular interest in New Age philosophies and has heard that the orbs contain healing powers, which can help calm those who touch them. I remarked that I thought if I had visitors touring my home every day for the summer, I might want every option available to calm me down!

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After finishing the tour of the castle, we wandered to the gardens. They are beautiful and well-maintained, but have enough roughness around the edges to feel like a real person’s gardens, and not a professional display. I overheard one of the gardeners talking and it seems we did not choose the absolute best time to visit, but there were plenty of beautiful flowers, as well as some hidden treasures. A large circular bush had a slit in one side, which kept the secret of a small courtyard with a fountain. The theme of orbs continued throughout the garden decor. And the walls of the garden crawled with sprawling, romantic vines.

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After a morning of exploring, we chose to have a bite to eat in the cafe, which offered up the standard fare we’d found at other attractions: homemade sandwiches, soup, cakes, and tea or coffee. After a sandwich and some tea (for me) and coffee (for Mr. Tweed), we bid goodbye to the lovely place.

Scottish Adventure: A Tour of Cardhu Distillery and a Wee Dram

Of course, we couldn’t visit Scotland, particularly the Highlands, and not tour at least one whisky distillery. We chose to drive through Speyside and explore the Cardhu Distillery. We chose Cardhu because it has the distinction of being the only distillery in Scotland founded by a woman, which I found intriguing. When we got to the distillery, we were told that the type of tour we were interested in (a tour with a blind whisky tasting at the end) would leave in just over an hour and the woman at the distillery shop suggested we get a bite to eat at the restored wool mill a few miles down the road.

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The wool mill was fun, and I went a little crazy in the shop, buying some wool for myself and a friend, as well as a lovely tartan shawl, but the highlight was lunch. This was our first introduction to something that we ended up loving about Scotland — no matter how small or touristy, the cafes at attractions always seemed to have delicious, homemade, fresh-tasting food. We got some sandwiches and Mr. Tweed got a bowl of soup, and it was the perfect interlude before our whisky tasting.

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Arriving back at the distillery, I took some time to take photos of their cows, one of which had just had a baby! The area around the distillery, like the drive there, was beautiful, and it was not difficult to spend an hour exploring before our tour. Once it was close to time, we went back inside and were led to the waiting room.

In the waiting room were displays about the process of making whisky, as well as information about Speyside, whisky country, and the flavors and aromas common in different kinds of whiskies. This served two purposes: it both provided a visual aid for the tour’s introduction, as well as gave us something to photograph before being taken into the distillery proper, where photographs are not allowed.

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The tour of the distillery itself was fascinating. I knew a little about the process of making spirits, especially after my tour of Republic Restoratives, but I had never seen a larger-scale operation like I saw at Cardhu. The copper stills were particularly impressive. And it was a multi-sensory experience, from the changes in room temperature as we went through the different rooms, to the smells of the wort in different stages.

After touring the distillery, we were taken to an old storage area to learn more about the history of the distillery. It was here that we learned that when Helen Cumming first started distilling, her husband had to hold the license because it was illegal for women to hold distilling licenses. While her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, was eventually able to take over the license, she chose, shortly before her death, to sell her distillery to one of her best customers: John Walker. This is why Cardhu is also called the home of Johnnie Walker, and supposedly there is at least a little Cardhu whisky in every bottle of Johnnie Walker.

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The finale of the tour was the blind tasting. This was a true blind tasting, as we not only had to taste the whiskies without even looking at the color (they used cobalt blue tasting glasses to obscure the color!), but we even did our taste-test without having tasted any of the whiskies first. We were given a description of each potential whisky and then had to taste three samples and pick them out from a possible lineup of about ten bottles. I managed to guess all three whiskies that were included, but got two of them mixed up. Supposedly, they’ve only had two people ever guess correctly, since they started doing the tours!

After our tour and tasting, Mr. Tweed and I browsed the gift shop. He did not need to sober up much because he was allowed to take his samples home in test tubes after just tasting enough to guess. But I wanted to look around. I also decided to taste a bit of the Cardhu 12-year-old single malt, which is commonly available outside of Scotland. After all that, I decided to purchase my very first Glencairn glass. That, along with our commemorative glasses from the tasting (not blue!) are a lovely reminder of such a unique outing.