A couple of weekends ago I had my stag weekend (our wedding is now less than two weeks away).
While I enjoy a drink, I strongly dislike drinking to excess — not least because if I get a hangover, it’s really bad. So it follows that I often sort of dread stag dos. I wasn’t even sure I wanted one.
I had a think about the sort of stag weekend I wanted. Somewhere in Scotland was most sensible. In a rural-ish location, but still accessible. Far enough away from Edinburgh. The activities would be karting and a whisky distillery tour. The options quickly got whittled down to Aviemore.
By accident rather than design, both the Saturday and the Sunday involved early starts. Saturday we had to leave at 9am for activities; Sunday check-out was 10am. This was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it stopped us going over the top at any point. On the other hand, it stopped us going over the top at any point.
10 friends and I made the trip north for the weekend. Some of us came further than others. One person, Tom, took the sleeper train from London, and arrived in Aviemore at 7am on the Friday. To stop him going crazy by himself in Aviemore all day, a small group of us drove up in the morning too.
I set the alarm for 6:30am to get ready to catch the train due to arrive at Dundee just after 9am, where my brother Gordon would give me and Richard a lift. Annoyingly, despite getting up so early, I still missed my train. Luckily I only had to wait half an hour extra, but it wasn’t the best start to the weekend.
We got to Aviemore just after noon. The place was covered in a moderate layer of snow, the first I’d seen all winter. We had arranged to pick Tom up from a neighbouring town as he’d gone for a walk. Unfortunately, the road he was on was private and closed, so we had to wait for him to emerge from the other side.
We grabbed lunch at the Winking Owl. After another drink or two in town, we checked in to our accommodation for the weekend. We stayed in some rather basic but good value “Scandinavian-style chalets” about a 20 minute walk away from the centre of town.
As we waited for more people to arrive, we played Cards Against Humanity. After all, if you can’t play Cards Against Humanity on a stag weekend, when can you play it? I had brought my own box. But Graham came with a huge set. He told us he had every card ever made, so we used his set instead.
As is usually the case with stag weekends, the jollity peaked on the Friday evening due to the excitement of everyone being together. But focusing minds was the fact that our early start on Saturday was for going karting. There was a lot of chat about paying fines for vomiting in the helmet. No-one wanted a Mark Webber moment.
The kart circuit was outdoors, which was interesting because it was so snowy. We arrived to find that the circuit was indeed covered in ice.
The staff told us that it would be OK because they had put a chemical down on the circuit to help with the ice. I think the chemical they used must have been H2O, because the circuit was still rather icy. Even after 11 of us raced around on it for 2 hours, there was still a lot of ice left over on the circuit.
This made it fun. I really enjoy karting anyway, especially when it’s outdoors. But karting on the ice was a new experience for me, and definitely gave the morning a bit of spice.
I was a bit disappointed during the practice/qualifying session, because I felt like I never got a decent lap in. Yet when I checked the screens after the end of the session, it turned out I was fastest by 1.7 seconds!
As expected, my brother was my main rival. But for me to be ahead was definitely unexpected.
My memory of the semi-final is weak. I remember seeing Gordon stranded on the snowy bank next to the back straight, and it took the marshals a long time to spot him! For reasons I no longer remember, I finished the race in 2nd place, behind Tom.
For the final, I was determined to win! I hounded Tom heavily for the first two or three laps, but it was challenging to overtake, particularly given the ice. My kart for the final race was also noticeably different, wobbling around on the ice, with less grip and stability than I had in the previous two heats.
I pulled alongside Tom down the back straight in an attempt to get by, but we came together and I did a 360° spin. Our lead was such that I remained in 2nd place, but I had to work hard to make my way back up to Tom.
I had a tendency to overcook things a little bit here and there, and I was also prone to getting caught out by incidents involving people I was lapping. By the time you’ve lapped a few people, it becomes impossible to keep track of what position you’re in, so everyone becomes an opponent.
I remember seeing Jamie fly past me when I was facing the wrong direction at one point — but thinking he was on a different lap. In the end, Jamie won the race, with Tom 2nd and me 3rd.
At Alex’s hen party, which was the previous weekend, everyone got temporary tattoos featuring my face, made by our wonderful creative friend Lucy. That night I went drinking with Jamie, since I’d been thrown out of my own flat to accommodate the hen party.
When we dropped by to give the hen party more wine (seriously), Jamie had a tattoo applied to his forehead — before heading back out again to more pubs. 😂
Lucy also made tattoos for the stag party, so I got a lovely photo of Alex applied to my forehead. There it remained until I got home on Sunday evening. It seemed to go OK on the Saturday evening, but I was definitely getting a lot of weird stares on Sunday morning…
Many others joined in.
Tomatin distillery tour
After lunch, we made our way to the Tomatin distillery, about a 20 minute drive away. I wasn’t really familiar with Tomatin whisky before.
I’ve been on a handful of distillery tours before, but the Tomatin tour is perhaps the coolest one I’ve been on.
I can safely say I’ve never been invited to walk into a mash tun before.
The tour had a very authentic feel to it. Very often when you go on one of these tours it’s all a bit of a show. But this felt like a genuine warts-and-all tour. They have their own cooperage workshop, which was a rather grotty looking workspace.
At the end of the tour, we had tastings of four different versions of Tomatin whisky. Graham was unable to drink, so he gave me his as well. On double the whisky of most other people, I was getting very merry.
At the end of the tour, there was of course the shop. What better time to ask people to part with their cash than after you’ve plied them with strong alcohol?
The ploy worked, and I bought myself a bottle, as well as a couple of glasses. Even though we don’t need any more vessels, I really like the way they feel when you clink them together.
Thereafter we had dinner at the Old Bridge Inn. This is probably my favourite pub in Aviemore. It’s rather overcrowded, but with good reason. I had never eaten here before though, and I was very impressed with the food.
We then did a miniature pub crawl through Aviemore.
Seemingly there are two types of pub in Aviemore. Half of them are buzzing and bustling — like the Old Bridge Inn or the Winking Owl. The other half are dead, with a weird atmosphere. We definitely experienced a bit of both.
We made our way slowly northwards until we reached Mackenzies.
There some of us played pool…
…while others used the ‘Breathalyser’ machine, just to double-check whether it would be safe to drive back to the chalets.
Some scores were better/worse than others.
We stumbled our way back to the chalets — some steadier on our feet than others. We continued late into the night, consuming copious amounts of Tomatin… But I kept drifting off, and when I caught someone filming me falling asleep, I knew it was time to call it a night.
Astonishingly, I woke up with zero hangover. Whether that is the sign of a good stag weekend or a bad one is perhaps down to interpretation. But I’m viewing it as the ultimate win. I had a perfect stag weekend for me, and none of the downside.
After checking out at 10am as required, half of the people left, and the other half made our way to the Mountain Cafe for some brunch.
With the tattoo still on my head, I was now getting some odd looks.
Incredibly, at the table next to us was one of Alex’s friends, Jude, who’d been at her hen party the previous weekend. I’d heard she’d done a good job at reading out my anonymous answers in the Blind Date game they played — not that it stopped Alex picking me last!
I’m sorry to say that my answers had gone way past innuendo and straight through to pure filth. But apparently Jude played right up to it, so I congratulated her on a job well done.
Stag weekend complete, we drove back down to Dundee, where we got lunch, Alex came to get me, and life continued as normal.