Photos: Steve McNaull
What do you wear under your kilt?
It's an inevitable question with Ross Boardman standing on the front lawn of Glamis Castle in Scotland outfitted in the famous skirt for men, hiking boots, jacket and vest.
He's also holding bow and arrow, but we'll get to that a little later.
“Well, actually I'm English,” says Boardman with a laugh. “So I wear boxer shorts under my kilt.”
The ladies in our group give a little sigh of disappointment. However, Boardman's co-worker Duncan Cleary is there to save the day.
“I'm a real Scotsman,” he declares proudly. “I'm not wearing anything under my kilt.” Even in the cool weather, he confirms everything's warm under there.
Boardman and Cleary work for the activities company Boots N Paddles and they've set up six big targets on the front lawn of Glamis Castle for our Adventures by Disney tour group to try our hand at archery.
Disney's Academy Award-winning animated movie Brave inspired this tour, so naturally there has to be archery at a castle, just as there is in the flick.
“The Disney name opens doors,” explains Adventures by Disney regional manager Bruce Austin. “It's how we're able to have archery at this castle when no other tour group has been able to do so before. It's also why we're able to launch our canoes at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness to go looking for the Loch Ness Monster, get a private tour and dinner at Edinburgh Castle, and enjoy a barbecue under the marquee between mountain biking and horseback riding at Rothiemurchus Estate.”
Indeed, we do feel like VIPs the entire time.
Bonnie Scotland as a vacation destination already has its own cachet with the charming sing-song accent of its inhabitants, kilts-and-bagpipes folklore, kings-queens-and-clans history, sophisticated cities and stunning highland scenery. But add a pinch of Disney and it truly is magical.
That's why we're blown away when we reach Loch Ness and climb into canoes in the shadow of the ruins of Urquhart Castle. The water is calm, the sun is shining – always something to be thankful for in notoriously grey and misty Scotland – and the presence or non-presence of the Loch Ness Monster is very much on everyone's mind.
“If you're going to see Nessie this will be the place because this point at Urquhart is where most of the sightings are,” says Boots N Paddles guide Dan Maggs.
While a Scot through and through, Maggs isn't wearing a kilt. “It's not really canoeing attire now, is it?” he says.
While the canoeing is surreal, Nessie does not make an appearance. Our only monster sighting is back at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, where they have a big statue of Nessie floating in a pond.
The day we spend at Rothiemurchus Estate confirms that Scotland is not all haggis and scotch at the pub. The country has an active outdoor recreational scene and the 10,000-hectare Rothiemurchus near Inverness in the north is proof.
The guys from Boots N Paddles show up again with mountain bikes for us to cycle on the trails through some of the last stands of Caledonian forest to pretty little Loch an Eilein. Maggs stresses rigorously that a kilt is definitely not suited to cycling.
After a barbecue lunch under the marquee in front of the estate's old manor house, we meet stable manager Feona Laing. She's matched her kilt with rubber boots – wellies in Brit speak – and thermal underwear. “It's a wee bit cool you know,” she says.
We're paired with stocky Highland ponies and we amble over heather-covered moor and through more of the Caledonian forest.
For our final night it's back to the capital of Edinburgh where we're led by a bagpiper through the front gates of its imposing castle built atop an extinct volcano. Awe-worthy views of the city await before we’re off on a private tour and exclusive dinner of chicken in tarragon cream sauce in the Queen Anne room at an impossibly long banquet table topped with eight massive candelabras.
We feel like royalty.