Bonnie, bonnie week in Scotland after bumpy start with bird strike
Our whirlwind Taste of Scotland was with Mary Huber’s Edventures. All 11 on the tour had traveled with Edventures before and knew one another; Jim and I enjoyed Florence, Lucca and Rome in 2008.
Our “Edventure” quickly became an “adventure” when shortly after takeoff from Newark we had a bird strike. “I heard a noise and saw fire coming out of the engine,” said the fellow sitting in the window seat next to me.
The pilot said we were heading back to Newark rather than cross the Atlantic with one good engine. No argument there. He explained that our plane, loaded with fuel, was heavier than normal for a landing and the fire engines and ambulances that we’ll see on the ground will be there merely as a precaution. Okey dokey.
Everyone was calm, though I did a few extra rounds of the “sh’ma,” the No. 1 Jewish prayer. We landed safely and, luckily, an identical jet, sans birds, was available. So off we went, only two hours late. Not bad.
Scotland was unseasonably warm and dry, with just enough mist in the mountains to make it picture-perfect. The pines, fall foliage and rolling hills are reminiscent of the Adirondacks, though only one peak, the Ben Nevis, would qualify for 46ers. Sheep are everywhere, up and down the hills — supplemented here and there by goats and cattle. And the winding roads (with everyone driving on the wrong side!) were often one lane wide, if that.
Saratoga County’s town of Edinburgh probably has its share of sheep, goats and cattle. But Scotland’s city of Edinburgh — pronounced Edinburrah — is a walkable city with lots of friendly people, castles, museums new and old, pubs, fine dining, streets lined with gray stone homes, many hundreds of years old. I loved the way everyone sounded like Sean Connery (and we saw the school where he delivered milk and Ian Fleming, the James Bond author, was a student).
A huge piece of Scottish history involves the April 16, 1746 Battle of Culloden, which is explained at a fantastic visitors center through the eyes of both sides — those favoring the British government led by the Duke of Cumberland and the Jacobites, led by Charles Edward Stuart, who hoped to return his family to power. The dual storytelling technique would work equally well at the Saratoga Battlefield or Gettysburg.
The interactive visitor center accomplished what our otherwise patient guide, Morag Brodie, could not, despite two days of trying to get a bit of Scottish history straight in our thick American heads. In our defense, no one in Scottish history has one name. William Wallace is Braveheart, played by Mel Gibson. Check. But over the centuries, monarchs had more name changes than Prince. Roman numerals bounced backwards and forwards. And it took a while for the bulb to light up about the Jacobites (Latin for followers of James): Charles Edward Stuart and Bonnie Prince Charles, are the same guy.
The food in Scotland was quite good, with fresh salmon and top-notch beef. Breakfasts included fried or poached eggs with roasted tomatoes and mushroom on the side. I finished off a serving of haggis but couldn’t do more than a teeny forkful of black pudding. The only whiskey I had was a glass of 18-year-old Glenlivet at the end of the distillery tour. Sorry, but it’s not my kind of drink. Good news, the cosmopolitans at the bar in the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, with a piece of orange peel instead of the usual lime, were delicious.
Highlights of the trip were the scenery, the boat ride on Loch Lomand, Stirling Castle and Glamis Castle, St. Andrews, and walking around Edinburgh.