Water, Barley, and Yeast

Suzy and I left Nethy Bridge yesterday morning hoping to paddle some of the River Spey in our packrafts, which are ultralight inflatables that are quite capable in whitewater (although the Spey is super-mellow, class II). We then proceeded to get thoroughly lost on back roads looking for the put-in. We were basically giving up when we saw a van with a rack full of kayaks pass us in the other direction. So we did a quick 180 and followed them to the river.

Once at the put-in, we soon learned that river etiquette is the same in the UK as in the US–yet another thing that our countries have in common. We asked the friendly local folks from Abernethy Nethybridge Outfitters for information on the run, they sized us up (including our boats and weather-worn gear), and then our new friend Jerry offered us a shuttle from the take-out–as long as we could be ready when they were. What followed was the quickest gear throwdown in history, and then a lightning fast shuttle ride (amazed that their van could move that fast, even towing a boat rack).

The run was very straightforward, maybe a few rapids of class II, but very pretty. And a great way to see the Scottish countryside.

Another first for us was that the take-out was at a Speyside distillery. So naturally we followed our paddle with a tour of Cragganmore Distillery.

Both the paddle and the tour were worth doing again, and the day gave new meaning to the idea of adding barley and yeast to water.

A Lot To Learn

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” With that in mind, we are now in sunny (ok, cloudy and sometimes rainy) Scotland, on the first leg of a trip that will also include the Faroe Islands (a part of Denmark).

We flew into Edinburgh overnight last night and got right to it, driving three hours north to Aviemore and then on to the quaint little village of Nethy Bridge. While in Aviemore, we did a quick shop at the Tesco, the local super market, and it was fun just to see what was on the shelves.

Our cottage in Nethy Bridge is lovely, and it’s just a short walk into town (maybe 15 minutes). There’s not much to Nethy Bridge, just a store and a coffee shop and the Nethy Bridge Hotel, but this is one of the oldest villages in Scotland. It formerly was called Abernethy, but the name was changed in the 1800s to avoid confusion with another Abernethy in Perthshire, 50 miles to the south. The name Nethy is supposedly derived from Nevie or Navie, which is the enclosed space around a Celtic Church.

What the town of Nethy Bridge lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality. The Nethy Bridge Hotel structure dates to 1897, but there has been a hotel of some sort on that spot for more than a thousand years. In more recent times, Cary Grant, Mae West, and Lauren Bacall have all stayed here.

We started at the pub, where we enjoyed a beer served at room temperature (as is tradition). Scots have been brewing beer for 5,000 years, so we figured we’d try to learn something. Traditional Scottish “real ale” also doesn’t have a ton of carbonation. Beer geeks know this and seek it out, while tourists sometimes send back their drink and complain that it’s flat and warm (thanks to my friend Scott for schooling me on that some years ago).

Our dinner at the hotel was lovely, and we started with appetizers that included something called “haggis bon-bons” (hey, when in Rome, you eat what the Parisians eat, or something like that). I dove headlong into the haggis, even if it wasn’t fully traditional. I confess I didn’t love the idea of what it was made of, but it tasted really good, a lot going on in a small space. And clearly they put haggis in a small package for tentatively adventurous eaters (read: tourists).


In a tip of the cap to my brother–who as a kid had an hours-long standoff with my mom over eating a pea, and finally ate half of a pea–Suzy ate approximately one half of one pea’s worth of haggis. She did, however, enjoy the salmon, and the fish and chips (with peas).

Afterwards she said about the haggis that she “just wasn’t wild about eating something that contained lung.” Perhaps there are foreign lands after all…or perhaps we just have more to learn.

Enjoying a dram at sunset, thinking about what we might learn tomorrow