Saturday, July 10, 2010

Travels In Time: Savoring Scotland

Our group of travel reporters came up from London by train. The Gleneagles resort in central Scotland’s Perthshire hills has its own railway station where a van waits to whisk guests through the countryside. The hotel comes into view like the opening shot of a Masterpiece Mystery production. We might have stepped into the setting for an Agatha Christie novel.

I had barely opened my suitcase when someone appeared to take my clothes to be brushed and steamed and returned in time for dinner. We dined on cold salmon before dancing to piano music in the drawing room. It was dreamlike, that sense of occasion that a great hotel fosters, an evening to be savored then and in memory.

Next day it rained but a tee time at Gleneagles is a tee time, rain or shine, and golfers turned out in force on the famous courses. Non-golfers among us visited nearby Stirling Castle where Robert the Bruce rallied Highlanders against “the auld enemy, the English” in the 14th century. His great stone statue stands watch today. Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned there 200 years later, and another 200 years later Bonnie Prince Charlie was smuggled out to the Isle of Skye.

That was our destination, too, but we went in comfort, by train through the Highlands, with side trips to Loch Ness and Inverness. Then it was on to the Kyle of Lochalsh on Scotland’s west coast, and by ferry to Skye. There’s a land bridge there now, which keeps traffic moving, but arrival by sea has a timeless charm and Old World mystique.

My favorite spot on Skye was Donvegan Castle, ancestral home of Clan MacLeod since the 9th century. Moated and massive, with walls 10 feet thick in places, it’s open to the public, as well as a gathering place for the clan. Even as we speak, MacLeods from around the world are packing for the 2010 Clan MacLeod Parliament/World Gathering in Dunvegan July 24-31.

Our travel group stayed in a private home that had been converted to an inn of sorts. The sleeping quarters were dreadful and the lone bathroom was in a hall closet, but Scottish hospitality more than made up for it.

We dragged in from an afternoon of tramping around in the rain to find fireplace logs ablaze in the parlor. Our hostess appeared with a steaming pot of tea and a tray of scones. Later, a substantial supper was topped off by a magnificent lemon meringue pie. When we were ready for bed, hot water bottles were brought around to warm our feet.

That was 25 years ago. The memory was triggered by a DorothyL posting from author Lillian Stewart Carl who has a book coming out in November or December called THE BLUE HACKLE. It takes place in a castle on the Isle of Skye, the perfect setting for a murder mystery. You can read the first chapter at Lillian’s web site: http://www.lillianstewartcarl.com/.

And then there’s the British Open golf tournament at St. Andrews, not far from Gleneagles, July 12 through 18. I’ll be watching, not only for the game but for a glimpse of Scotland.
****
Photos from the Internet. Photo of Dunvegan Castle from commons.wikimedia.org/

4 comments:

Lillian Stewart Carl said...

Ahh, Skye! And Gleneagles, and Loch Ness, and.... Thank goodness I'm getting back to Scotland myself this summer, or I'd be insanely jealous.

Many thanks for the quick trip to the Auld Countrie, Pat, and also for the plug.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you for the lovely tour of my ancestral homeland, Pat. And for introducing me to Lillian Stewart Carl's book.

Beth Terrell said...

Oh, I would love to go to Scotland. Thank you for giving me the chance to do so vicariously.

Pat Browning said...

Lillian, Jean, Beth -- glad you enjoyed my trip back in time. I had a note from Gloria Feit about a quick trip she made to Skye and how good the food was.

That lemon meringue pie I ate on Skye was a revelation. My mother was half-German and half-Irish, and I always assumed her great cooking was German. But that lemon meringue pie was exactly the way my mother used to make it.

Mother's paternal ancestor came from Northern Ireland and maybe through Scotland on his way to America, who knows? But whoever is responsible -- my earliest memory is of a lemon meringue pie sitting on a table to cool. No kidding. I wouldn't kid about a thing like that. (: