Sometimes a trip can be too good to be interesting . . . at least to anyone else.
Which is what happened on our recent, 11-day excursion to Scotland with our granddaughter, Lauren,* and her husband, Dan. Describing it later becomes a problem.
Prior trips were easier: On this one we never saw an old, drunken Brit stumble into the street, spilling all his coins, while all the kindly souls around him scrambled to pick them up. We never raced across an airport or train station, barely catching the conveyance before it left. We never re-visited the old Yorkshire Moors lady who lived in a desolate house near a deserted train station. In a trembly voice she asked about California. “Have ye got heather?” she asked, and we said No. “Have you got bracken?” No again. “If ye haven’t got heather,” she complained, “and ye haven’t got bracken, what do ye have?”
We never sat in a British pub listening to a World War II pilot, Wilford Wise,
and his brother regale us with hilarious tales of local drunken drivers—especially the one whose auto careened off the road and finished with its nose poking into a stream . . . whereupon the portly driver simply lay there until morning, sleeping it off.
Instead, thanks to the ministrations of our nurse, Lauren . . . “Everybody needs to travel with a nurse,” she said, (meaning people our age), and the strength and helpfulness of our restaurant manager, Dan, we were treated to nearly luggage-free strolls across airports, train stations, and along tourist-heavy Inverness and Edinburgh streets. Between them, the “kids” pushed (and carried up stairs), three double-decker sets of luggage, leaving Rob and me to navigate with our canes—though occasionally, as we traversed the miles-long underground catacombs of Heathrow airport, they plopped us into wheelchairs.
Most evenings we sat in one hotel room or another and played “99”, a tricky card game.
It all began with the morning we invited Dan and Lauren to join us for breakfast at Tustin’s Spires Restaurant. Somehow the subject of Scotland came up, and before the meal was over, Rob’s surprise that the two had never been there, turned into something like, “When do you want to go?”
“No, not next year,” he added quickly. “I don’t measure my life in years anymore, just months.” Which became a trip planned for late October. As we drove home afterwards, Rob said, “Well that was certainly an expensive breakfast.”
Just because the Scotland trip was smooth, doesn’t mean it lacked amazing episodes. Thanks to our friendship with “Lou,” who lives in Tustin and distributes fine liquors, we were treated to an all-day trip to the Glenfarclas Distillery near Inverness.
To our surprise, the CEO himself met our train in Elgin--and in his Range Rover drove us at lusty speeds past numerous distilleries in the Scottish countryside. Afterwards, his tall, exceedingly handsome associate from New Zealand took us through the Glenfarclas Distillery itself. There we saw the clear mountain brook, the giant copper stills, and the barley grain that eventually becomes fine liquor. The tour ended in a cool, dank warehouse, where we marveled at wooden barrels, lying on their sides in endless stacks, all full of expensive Scotch, some dating back to the 1950s.
I asked, “What would it cost to buy a bottle filled from a 1950s barrel?”
Our guide smiled. “We don’t get many orders. Such a bottle would cost thousands.”
Our tour ended with dated, printed menus for a luncheon on the property . . . which began with hors d’oeuvres with the CEO, the CFO and 2 other staff members, plus small, powerful shots of expensive Scotch. When my first swallow sent a burning trail down my throat, I set the glass aside.
The 5-course luncheon menu described appetizers, soup, salad, lamb cutlets and a chocolaty dessert. You would have thought we four innocents were either celebrities or major distributors of Scotch whiskey.
Outstanding as well was the Sunday afternoon Evensong at the Yorkminster Cathedral in York, England. With what clarion voices the all-male choir, augmented by an organ, filled the vast cathedral halls with harmony. The voices ranged from deep, dark masculine to those of mere children--who yet sounded like sweet sopranos. Occasionally, to our amazement, one of those very young boys would sing an ethereal, unaccompanied solo. Rob and I studied the white-robed choir: one boy was so small his dark hair was barely visible over the railing.
A highlight for us were the reunions with two sets of English friends—Amanda Case and her chum, Joyce, in York, with whom we’ve been close personal friends for 45 years. And in London, Peter Dobbs and wife Michelle. Peter, then a British army officer, was present when our son, Bobby, won the British hang gliding championships in 1975—at which time we stayed in the Dobbs’ home.
Back then, Peter’s mother, Marie, gave me her fascinating novel The Listener,(using the pseudonym, Anne Telscombe), about the family’s tour in Russia, (with four mischievous sons), when her husband was the English ambassador. Marie eventually became famous in Britain for having finished a novel by Jane Austin.
Equally amazing: Peter’s recent job of rescuing CEOs, kidnapped by foreigners and held for ransom, was the subject of a movie, Proof of Life, with Peter’s role depicted by actor Russell Crowe.
Both Peter and Amanda have visited us in America.
If ever our contemporaries travel to foreign lands, I suggest they take willing grandchildren, who can turn an otherwise-grueling trip into a hassle-free, and yes, delightful excursion.
* (Lauren is also the nurse who, on a cold night last January, organized bystanders and saved the lives of two potentially hypo-thermic passengers whose car went off a winding mountain road and landed in a river.)