Being Local While Traveling in Scotland
Last year, as mid-July approached, we were planning a trip to Scotland. For me, it was a chance to return to one of the places I had lived with my parents. In the fall, I remembered rain heavy skies, a dampness that reached my bones and shortening days of light as winter darkness approached and in the summer, a warm, sunny day meant a trip to the beach and rolling up my sleeves. I warned Jim about the expected weather and about the thick Scottish brogue. He was mostly worried about driving on the left side of the road…
So in August, we landed in Edinburgh where my old friend, Carla and her partner, Simon, now live. They gave us a grand old tour of the city, including taking in a Tolkien play at the Edinburgh International Festival, eating at David Bann, a delicious vegetarian restaurant, and drinking a sip of Sink the Bismarck, a 41% beer, at BrewDog Brewery. And then off we went, by train, towards the coast. In Aberdeen, Jim took the wheel of our rental car and dove into left side driving. We easily made it to the little fisherman’s cottage in Cullen, as the day faded into beautiful night. During the next few days, we had spectacular weather with clear blue skies and sunshine and only a few misty hours. Cullen, though small, had all the amenities we needed: a grocery store, a bakery/restaurant, a tearoom and a pub. We soon learned from friendly locals that the pub would be closing and Saturday night was to be their last day.
Our days were spent hiking along the coastline around Cullen and driving along the river Spey and its many whiskey distilleries. We motored on narrow roads, passing trucks loaded with barrels or barley. We hiked among the ruins of castles with dark histories and took in the austere landscape of the Highlands. And we even managed to tag along on the parade of bagpipers of one of the local towns.
Every morning, we relaxed and read. Every evening, we went on a stroll through Cullen. And so it was that as we walked by the doorway of The Three Kings Inn that Saturday night, we heard the sounds of music and human conversation. We hesitated for one minute before pushing open the door into the crowded bar, but as soon as we entered, we were welcomed in. Over in the corner, four men sat, playing Scottish songs and fiddle tunes. With all the seats taken, someone moved over to give me a stool to sit on. It was the daughter of the guitar player, who had played there every Saturday for the last thirty years. The family had gathered for the last shindig. Meanwhile, Jim was speaking with a man and his son, trying to get his ear around the Scottish accent. As we sipped our beers, we tapped our feet and joined in the final celebration of the pub. The locals took us in and the band even played an classic American tune for us. I was hoping we would make it to a ceilidh, and this was definitely one. We finished our drinks, said goodbye to our new found friends and wished them well, and they sent us out into the fresh evening with a lilt in our steps, a smile on our faces and a warmth in our hearts.
Back at the cottage, we built a fire in the woodstove to keep out the chill of the sea air and sat back in our padded chairs, already reminiscing. Jim asked me to “translate” what one man said when he dropped his hat. “ Here in Scotland, we always say, “The two things you can’t drop are your hat and your lassie.” We both laughed then quieted down, and started planning the next day’s adventures, thankful for finding acceptance far from home.