When you think Scotland, golf, kilts and Scotch come to mind, right? After a recent trip to the Highlands, I discovered outdoor sports much more exciting than golf, that people do wear kilts (mostly for occasions like weddings) and that Scotch is fantastic.
I tagged along on the Drambuie Pursuit, an athletic competition put on by the Scotch brand, for the sixth annual event. The tournament follows the path of Bonnie Prince Charles (who I'll get to shortly) through the Highlands from the island of Skye to Inverness. Along the way, the teams of four (with 10 teams from around the world) compete in archery, running, mountain biking, kayaking, dune buggying, canoeing and white water rafting.
For this year's contest, team USA, which came in fourth, was led by NFL player Jeremy Shockey (pictured, with teammates and Texas natives Steven Fonrigrnao, Jeff Odell and Shane Duffy). The rest of the contestants apply online and have to demonstrate athletic ability and stamina, which the 40 participants this year most definitely did.
Courtesy of Rodrick Cox
With each task, those following the pursuit (myself and other onlookers) get to experience the natural beauty of the countryside, from the Lochs (including the famed Loch Ness), rivers and mountains that range from sloped to some of the steepest in the world. There are multiple outfits that can accommodate visitors in trying these activities; try Full On Adventure for watersports and mountain biking. Pack layers; the saying (that I heard repeated about 45,000 times) is "If you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes." It can go from warm sunshine to hail and back again in a span of 20 minutes. While there are places to camp along the one-lane roads, with plenty of quaint B&Bs along the way, I'd opt for a warm bed and less gear to pack.
The competition spans 24 hours (including a night of camping) and, as aforementioned, follows the path of Bonnie Prince Charlie. In a nutshell, Chuck and his Jacobite followers tried to make a run at the crown in 1746, but clashed with the Red Coats (aka British, led by the Duke of Cumberland, known as "the butcher") at the Battle of Culloden. In less than an hour, around 2,500 Jacobites had died and only 50 of the Red Coats.
Legend has it that Charles fled to Skye, where he was given refuge by Captain John MacKinnon; in exchange Charlie gave him the secret recipe for Drambuie (which means "the drink that satisfies"). The four diamonds on the brand's bottle signify the values associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie: risk, rebellion, passion and mystery, which is also the undercurrent present at the pursuit. (Charlie never succeeded, and died a lonely alcoholic in Rome.) The history of the battle can be seen at the Culloden visitor center, where the bloody slaughter took place.
Before this trip, I was not much of a Scotch drinker. Now, I may add it to my resume. (Proficient in PowerPoint and Excel, Scotch drinker.) Thanks to pubs freckling the countryside, there's plenty of opportunity to try varieties. I discovered a new drink, the Libertine. The recipe for this relatively low-calorie (135) bevy is as follows: Cut six lime wedges and muddle in a rocks glass; fill with crushed ice; add 1 and 1/2 parts of Drambuie and top with a splash of club soda. The subtle hint of honey and sweetness in the Drambuie makes it much smoother going down.
If you want to add Scotch drinker to your CV, or want a vacation that appeals to adventurers, history lovers and imbibers, add Scotland to the bucket list. (Inverness is about a 90 minute flight from London Gatwick Airport, or you can fly non-stop from New York to Glasgow or Edinburgh and explore the country from there.)
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