Now that the holidays are over, and the inauguration of Curious George
complete, I'll try to summarize our pilgramage to Scotland.
It was a natural for us. I'm a Craig, through and through, and my wife a Mc Naughton (McNutt in its shortened American version). A
visit to Scotland had been on our minds since our marriage in 1985, and after lots of talk, then planning, we did what every red blooded
displaced Scot in America does, we went to the web. Our first venture was into tourism in Scotland, and here we discovered a wonderful
resource, Electric Scotland. We stood for hours gazing at page after page of delectable places to visit and things to do. We are
inveterate rail travellers, so our natural inclination was to see if we could avoid the "wrong side" driving in the Isles, and, horror of
horrors, the round-abouts. We purchased a book at our local bookseller about rail travel in GB, and found, buried in the lavish
praise heaped on BritRail, a few pages devoted to its northern cousin,
Back on the web we made contact with a sales rep for ScotRail, who informed us that, "New schedules won't be out until
April." So we had to wait, but we did get a system description, and to our delight discovered we could get to the Kyle (and Isle of
Skye), Robbie's digs in Ayr, Inverness, loads of spots north, a charming steam train out of Glasgow, the departure point for the ferry to the
Isle of Arran, and of course, Edinburgh. And weeklong passes were a bargain, it seemed to us. To top it off, we could call the evenings
before departure and reserve coach seats. Amtrack could take lessons. So rail travel seemed an ideal choice. Lodging was the next
challenge. Once again the web came to our rescue, with descriptions of bed and breakfast lodgings too numerous to mention, and locations
absolutely unfathomable to strangers to Scotland.
None-the-less, we agreed that save for our first and last nights, when we needed
guaranteed lodging to rest from or prepare for flights connecting to the States, we'd stick with the B and B's. The final lynch pin was
air travel. The web brought us a grand surprise. We could fly to Toronto (one of our favorite regional cities, easily accessable from
Southeastern Michigan) and use Air Canada, and save $3-400 per person over competing airline fares. With four of us travelling, that made
our prospects for an enjoyable stimulation of the Scottish economy look very bright. So we booked, arranged to stay at the Marriott in
Glasgow on night one (a lucky choice, as you'll read), and waited for departure day. It came, and in mid afternoon, the first hitch
occurred, a nearly fatal one. Canadian Air, our connection to Toronto, cancelled their flight. They obliged us by offering an alternative departure at about 9 PM, but since our flight for Glasgow
left Toronto at 9, that wouldn't do. Shortly, they called to tell us they had seats for us on a Northwest flight, if we could be at the
airport in 1 1/2 hours. We HURRIED, and soon were standing in what seemed the world's longest line at Detroit Metro. When we finally
reached the ticket desk, we found they had only ONE seat for us, not four, and it was for our 10 year old. He couldn't go alone, of
course. So we dashed to the gate hoping to get seats on standby. At the gate we were told the plane was booked full. The phone to
Canadian Air was no help, and we stood looking as forlorn as we could as the Northwest flight boarded. The gate attendant looked our way
once then whispered to his colleague, "Are those the ________'s over there?" He was told yes, but he said, "Oh hell, they were late.
Craigs, come over here. Do you mind first class?" Wow, from absolute dejection (we couldn't get flights to Glasgow for the next three days
if we missed our connection) to first class. We were ready for a drink.
The Glasgow flight was my usual experience. At least half the time I
fly, I find myself being called to render emergency medical assistance (I'm an MD), and on this flight I had a chest pain passenger and one
with a pulmonary embolus. The latter was interesting, as he tried to complete his travel in Scotland, only to land in hospital and just get
out in time to join OUR FLIGHT back. Oh my! I had to certify him able to fly before our Canada Air friends would let him board.
In Glasgow, we discovered the Marriott was lovely, and only a few
blocks easy walk from Central Terminal of ScotRail and downtown. In addition, there was some bad weather at Heathrow that night, so a
planeload of teenagers was diverted to Glasgow, and the youngsters wound up in our lobby. Our teen age daughter was delighted. The
train terminal was worthy of a half day of viewing itself, and the city filled with parks and shops.
In Glasgow, we shopped, strolled, and were engaged in a boisterous but friendly exchage with a bachelor party from Ireland. We trained to
Ayr (lovely) and to the ferry to the Isle of Arran, where we toured the hunting castle of the
Hamilton clan, were entertained on the lawn
by a pipe band and two charming sisters who danced for us, and stared unashamed at the hundreds of stag heads in the entry to the castle.
Then to Inverness. The difference between highland Inverness and lowland Glasgow was striking. We loved both, but for different
reasons. The small but warm downtown area of Inverness was great fun, and we stayed in a bed and breakfast that was absolutely
wonderful. The innkeeper's son, 20, was just completing his degree in hotel management, and off soon for the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston,
but was happy to escort our 17 year old daughter on the town both nights we were there.
Other guests in the inn included a scholarly
gentlemen well schooled in history of England and Scotland. We took a cab past Culloden (haunting, and more so for the tour description that
our driver provided) to Cawder Castle (alleged to be mentioned in "The Scottish Play") We, on our own, dined at 2 nearby restaurants on
delectable Scottish food (haggis once, of course), and took the train to the Kyle. We heard the pleas to help overturn plans to discontinue
the train (we contributed of course - trains are our choice), grief over the abandonment of steam power, and marvelled at the colors of
the hills, the rhododendrun growing wild, the gorse, and the blue waters of the Kyle. When we reached our destination the wind was 40
mph, rain was falling horizontally, and we found there were no indoor activities on Skye, so we took the next train back, vowing that "next
time," we'd go to Skye.
Our next leg was to Edinburgh, a city of wonders. The Castle is
everything and more we had heard, and the Royal Mile a delight. We even purchased some Scot clothing, including a kilt for our ten year
old which he wears every time we let him, to dinner, to church, to school. He's a Scot through and through , and he's always envied me
my Craig kilt. We even had rain one day in Edinburgh, but it didn't stop a parade in downtown, or our sightseeing. Our bed and breakfast
was less than 1/2 K from the University, and a short cab ride from downtown. At the end of our week, we went back to Glasgow, a hotel
near the airport, and after getting our Canadian acquaintance from our flight over aboard who was recovering from his embolism, flew home
with pictures, memories and a determination to "do it again."