Wednesday, 23 May 2007

2004 - Scottish Trip Disappointment

I lived in Scotland for a couple of years when I was a young man (long time ago!), mostly in Glasgow, but also in Edinburgh for a while. Even at my young and tender age then, I was a partner in a business. We imported pot plants from Europe and sold them to shops and garden centres in the greater central Scotland area. I didn't make a fortune, but I really enjoyed driving around the Scottish countryside. My experiences taught me 2 things the Scottish Tourist authorities don't mention -
  1. It rains in Scotland most of the time (actually, with global warming, the climate has improved).
  2. Scotland has (and this is its biggest secret) millions of midges, just waiting to feed on you! They are particularly numerous in wet weather
So I knew - and here's a tip for anyone wishing to see the wonderful scenery which Scotland has to offer - that one should never book a trip to should check the weather forecast frequently and on the rare occasions that a dry week is forecast, pack up and go to Scotland immediately!

And that's what Marie and I did in the summer of 2004. It was just after a week of torrential rain which had caused widespread flooding (see! planning is everything!). We filled the car with Joseph and our belongings and drove (almost) non-stop to Glasgow to visit the haunts of my youth. Of course, Marie and cities don't mix very well, due to restricted parking opportunities, but we found that the old seedy run-down area of Glasgow that I used to live in had become a bustling, bohemian, trendy area. We were lucky enough to find a parking space beside an Italian café, set among trendy clothes boutiques. Heaven for Marie! Big success.

We found a guest house that suited Marie quite easily, and we set out north to Loch Lomond with high spirits. Obviously, we didn't go on a Loch Lomond boat trip, but we browsed around Balloch and there's plenty to see from a car on the road which runs up the west side of the loch. After a pleasant day, we spent the night at a B&B just past the nothern tip of the loch.

Next day, we continued north to Fort William. It was a beautiful drive. We didn't stop off at the ski centre at Glencoe, you might not be surprised to learn... And we found a nice B&B on the outskirts of the town, so we stayed there for a couple of days. Marie was able to explore the shops in the town. Happy Marie.

Next, we set off for the Isle of Skye, which can be reached by a road bridge. The weather was superb, and we stopped off at the start of the now defunct but still very pretty Caledonian Canal. But then, soon after we took the A83 for Skye, Marie became anxious. Had Skye got a hospital? This was a new anxiety (of Marie's) to me. She had never asked this before, but she was obviously under the mistaken impression that I was an authority on the provision of hospitals in Scotland. I don't know if Skye has a hospital, I told her. Probably not, since it has only a small community, but it would definitely have a health centre/doctor's surgery. What would happen if you got ill? she asked. Same as anywhere, I replied, the local medical staff would try to help you, but if they couldn't, you would be taken off to a bigger hospital - presumably by helicopter. We were still on the road to Skye, but Marie was getting more and more anxious, still worrying about the hospital facilities on the island. Eventually her anxiety got so bad that we had to turn back. Marie, on the edge of panic, insisted that we go to the nearest town. That was Fort Augustus, the pretty town at the southern tip of Loch Ness.

For the next couple of days, we continued north along the coast of Loch Ness (where the only monster in evidence was the Marie's agoraphobia). We were lucky to chance on a local Highland Games in progress one day, and even luckier to be able to park right beside some of the proceedings. The games themselves took place some distance away (but visible), but the parade passed right by us and there were lots of amusing activities for Joseph nearby. We arrived at last at Inverness. It was quite difficult to find overnight accommodation here (due to Marie's anxiety) and it was late and we were both pretty stressed when eventually we found a place that Marie was happy with.

We decided to continue north to John O'Groats (the most northerly point in Great Britain) and who knows - possibly take a ferry to Orkney?

Still feeling a little stressed from the previous night's long search for accommodation, we weren't exactly in high spirits, but as the sun shone and the Highland scenery became more...well, scenic, I began to look forward to our continuing trip.

Obviously I hadn't been reading Marie's body language. Her anxiety had been on the rise. Where's the nearest hospital? she asked me, once again mistakenly believing that I was an authority on the location of Scottish hospitals. After I replied that I didn't know, it wasn't long before we were returning south, somewhat dejectedly. Although we called in at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, both visits were very brief. The holiday spirit had left. There was little to say - Marie was feeling guilty about spoiling the trip, I was feeling disappointed and Joseph was fed up with the car (since we weren't stopping much now for him to run around) - and there was even less to do. Neither of us really wanted to return home early, having to explain to friends and family the reason why, so we half-heartedly called into various towns on the long drive south.

The only highlight on the way home was seeing the famous Blackpool Illuminations. This might have been spectacular a few decades earlier, but in the 21st century with laser displays, etc., the Illuminations, while fairly entertaining, aren't spectacular any more. Blackpool, like almost all British seaside resorts, is suffering from a decrease in the holiday trade and has become a somewhat tired and tawdry place, mainly populated by older people.

Although neither of us voiced it, I think we both thought that further holidays would be unlikely while Marie had this level of anxiety.

All in all, a disappointing trip.

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