BLISTERING heat, golden beaches and spectacular sunburn. Not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a Scottish summer break, but on a recent trip that’s exactly what I got.
The countryside village of Edzell in Angus might be less than an hour’s drive from bustling Dundee, but it felt a million miles away and was the perfect spot to relax for the weekend.
As I arrived in the quiet village, I was struck with how grand everything looked. Coming from Glasgow, where every other building is red sandstone or soot-stained black, the crisp, sparkling granite homes and their perfectly curated flower gardens lining the main street seemed so impressive.
The most striking feature, however, was the giant stone archway which marks the entrance to Edzell when driving from the north.
My partner, an Aberdeenshire native, assured me many of the towns and villages in the area were like this, due to their proximity to Balmoral. On the off chance Her Majesty could be passing through on her way to the castle, everything had to be tip-top, he advised.
Glenesk Hotel itself was a homely, grey building brightened up with perfectly pruned flower baskets hanging from the porch.
A friendly receptionist greeted us, and showed us to our room – a fancy suite with comfy seats and large bathroom. We dumped our bags, did the obligatory flop-on-the-bed test and headed downstairs for a nosey.
The swimming pool and spa were a definite bonus, and the two dining options – one formal, one lounge – made sure all tastes and styles were catered for.
Old-fashioned carpets lined the stairs and floors, and the quirky décor, including ornaments, animal pictures and a giant bear at the front door, created a unique feel.
Most noticeable were the masses of whisky bottles displayed behind large glass cabinets, all from the hotel owner’s private collection.
This passion for whisky made sense when I discovered the hotel holds the world record for the most commercially available whiskies.
The small bar is crammed from floor to ceiling with bottles from around the globe. The hotel broke the previous record of around 800 whiskies in December, with its collection boasting an impressive 1,031 bottles.
As a whisky novice, I was overwhelmed during a tasting session, but our fantastic barman Nick showed us the ropes and we were asking questions like pros in no time. Nick, who came to the industry after working in the oil sector, was an encyclopaedia of whisky knowledge. He whizzed around the shelves, picking up and putting back several bottles before presenting us with his recommendations.
First up was Glencadam – a 10-year-old single malt distilled in Brechin.
We followed it with The Orcadian from the Scapa distillery in Orkney. It was one of the fairly new types of whisky, Nick explained, where there was no age statement on the bottle. The practice has caused controversy with some buyers questioning the quality of the whisky if they can’t tell its age.
“It’s not really a concern to me,” Nick said.
“The way I see it, there is no right or wrong whisky. If you enjoy the way it tastes, and you enjoy drinking it, it’s the right one for you.”
Lastly we tried Longrow Red, a strong peaty dram from the Sprinbank distillery in Campbeltown, which I admittedly picked because I liked the label. I was taken aback by its smokiness, and quickly added a splash of water to my glass.
The next day we headed to the golden sands of Lunan Bay, first stopping at Stonehaven to enjoy fish and chips on the harbour.
After paddling in the sea and eating quickly-melting ice cream, we walked the length of the beach to the ruins of Red Castle.
Towering high above the beach on a rocky hillside, the last of the 12th Century fortress would be hard to miss. Originally a base to repel Viking invasions, it also acted as accommodation for 12th Century royalty.
We marvelled at the age of the crumbling mass, and wondered if it would still be standing long after everyone on the beach, like it has for hundreds of years before.
Heading back to the car, we realised we were both the colour of lobsters. Who ever needs sun cream in Scotland? It was a long, painful and sticky three hours back home – a less than perfect end to a fantastic break.