Dropping in on Doug
By Bus and Car in Scotland & England
A great trip!
But it didn’t start out that way!
My kids joke with me whenever I anticipate taking my next trip.”What disaster are you planning this time?” they ask. Of course, a disaster isn’t a disaster if you count on it, and I respond, “This time it will be different!”
So let’s get the “disaster” story over with so we can move on to details of my first-time visit to Scotland and the Lake District of England to visit my son Doug and daughter-in-law, Kelly.
Shortly before leaving for England, I heard a news story about Ryanair. The cheap flight airline announced its intention to charge a “toilet tax” for using the WC aboard its long distance flights. The outraged response should have discouraged the company but it didn’t. Its next ploy to gain customers is even better: they say they are thinking of charging just six pounds for STANDING ROOM aboard future trans-Atlantic flights! Surely, they are jesting!
But, hey, if this were true, I might have jumped at the chance on this trip since it might actually have been preferable to the misery I endured flying from Washington DC to Manchester, England.
I had never traveled with Delta before but had a good impression at first. My only worry was the brief one hour twenty minute time frame to connect with my international flight at JFK. However, I was reassured when Delta told me there was plenty of time to make it between gates.
I arrived at National Airport early and checked my suitcase at curbside. All was going smoothly---until I got to the Delta check-in counter.
The announcement, “Flight 5920 will be delayed,” was blaring over the loudspeaker.
"No problem,” I was assured. But when I questioned what would happen if I missed my connection at JFK, I was dismayed at the response: the next flight to Manchester would take off 24 hours later!
My son Doug had made careful arrangements to pick me up in Manchester, three hours from their home near Cockermouth. Our plan called for heading north to pick up my daughter Emily and granddaughter Kelsey and drive directly north for a three day stay in Scotland.
A great plan, but one that didn’t allow for deviation.
“Can I get on an earlier flight to JFK?” I asked.
The Delta clerk offered the only alternative…a flight was taking off immediately at the next gate, but not for JFK, but to La Guardia, an hour by taxi to JFK.
Reluctantly, I agreed. She said, “Run for gate 25….and oh, by the way, we will have to switch your baggage to this flight and you must pick it up at La Guardia and recheck it at JK---security rules!”
I was stunned, but what could I do? I ran to get the last seat on the La Guardia flight and pondered just how to pick up my suitcase, grab a cab, make it to JFK and recheck my bag within the deadline of one hour, if that!
After landing at La Guardia, I hopped into a cab and in my most theatrical voice commanded, “Step on it. I’ve got a flight to catch at JFK in one hour.”
You gotta hand it to that NY taxi driver. He drove like a NASCAR racer in the Indianapolis 500 in rush hour traffic to get me to the gate on time.
I tipped him accordingly. But my troubles weren’t over.
At JFK I made a mad dash for the gate—first searching uselessly for my renegade suitcase. Again I got the Delta response, “Don’t worry, it will be aboard your flight.”
How could that be, I wondered, but there was little I could do.
A ONE-OUTFIT VISIT TO SCOTLAND
Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s also easier to lay out
your daily wardrobe when you have only one choice: the clothes on your back!
You guessed it. Landing at the Manchester airport,
I wandered around in a futile attempt to find the missing suitcase, inevitably ending up at Lost & Found. The baggage manager was cordial, but the missing luggage was not aboard my flight, However, he confirmed my baggage check number and said, “It has a “please expedite” tag. When it arrives tomorrow we will deliver it to your door.”
Tomorrow? The problem was we were not going home.
We were headed straight for Scotland!
I reminded myself of my mandatory travel mantra: just roll with the punches. I must admit, this was not a total catastrophe. I always take the precaution of packing night clothes and one underwear change. This time I also stuffed in my raincoat along with the usual mandatory backpack contents. I could get along since I didn’t envision taking tea with the queen.
Doug and Kelly met me and sans luggage, we headed for a two-hour drive to Penrith Train Station to pick up Emily and Kelsey, arriving from a week’s stay in London. Then we headed north for my first view of rural England and Scotland. And a mesmerizing first look it was.
I loved the natural beauty of the tranquil countryside---cool pastures, herds
of sheep grazing on grassy hillsides, long stretches of verdant green hills
bordered by lush Robin Hood-like forests. The long drive did much to soothe
my frazzled nerves.
EDINBURGH—DELIGHTFUL DOUBLE DECKER TOURING
Doug had reserved rooms in a pleasant little hotel in Peebles, a colorful village located
an hour outside of Edinburgh. Even after the baggage episode and journey of almost 24 hours, I was so elated at taking in my first views of the beautiful countryside, I wasn’t
at all tired. No jet lag, no exhaustion, just eager for a wonderful dinner which we enjoyed
at a great Indian restaurant.
Numerous friends have visited Edinburgh, so I need not divulge a litany
of tourist bureau details. I will say, however, that I loved every colorful moment
in this city of enormously interesting history and culture with its impressive ancient castle
towers and turrets, gold encrusted signs and emblems depicting the lives of famous
writers and monarchs connected with its ancient history, and the colorful flags,
parks, and gardens that make the city such a special place.
We bought all-day tickets on the double decker excursion bus, and my daughter,
granddaughter and I hopped on and off at will, taking full advantage of every moment to get the most from our short stay.
It was a brilliantly clear sunny day, but windy with a brisk chill in the air. I possessed only a light sweater to ward off the chill but on the open bus roof, I was freezing. Feeling somewhat like a drab bag lady, I donned my full length rain coat and popped the hood over my head. I felt comfortable but hardly stylish…but then, who cared!
We had a great day of touring. We wandered through the maze of narrow streets
enjoying colorful boutiques in the Grass Market where I purchased a much
needed Celtic scarf in a Scottish wool boutique. We lingered in a side street
book store and found a few perfect gift books to lug home.(The owner there spoke
so enthusiastically to Kelsey about attending college in Glasgow that Kelsey now has her
heart set on going to school there.)
We enjoyed a pub or two and a sidewalk café for lunch and respite.
While strolling along one crowded lane, we stumbled into a famous landmark---
the designer hat shop. We had heard of its reputation for outrageous designs and gave into our "shopping" urge by trying on ribboned, feathered, and flowered chapeaus in a futile attempt to find the perfect one to buy. We had no luck but plenty of laughs.
By late afternoon we stood in front of an interesting kilt-making shop adjoining the Edinburgh Castle. Inside, I came across a Stewart clan pamphlet, the perfect item to bring home to my friend Daryl for the clan reunion she is hosting in August.
By now we were eager to rejoin Doug and Kelly. My son had called me in mid afternoon,
taking a few minutes off from their all-day bike ride outside of town. He was searching for another hotel for us for that night but had found only one, the Hotel Hydro in Peebles. He described it as a five-star hotel that catered to the "aristocracy". Since it was already mid-afternoon on Saturday in his typical lucky style, Doug had negotiated a half price for two rooms and had also persuaded them to throw in five FREE dinners at their five-star restaurant---and they had agreed. Did I want to go for it, he asked. I jumped at the offer.
Suffice it to say, we loved the luxurious rooms, the elegant ambience, and especially the FREE gourmet dinner and complementary Sunday morning over-the-top breakfast, where I sampled my first and last Scotch delicacy, “blood pudding.”
I have to take a moment to relate Doug’s unexpected story about getting the reservation. He and Kelly had been biking for many hours when he arrived at the hotel to make the
inquiry about rooms. He negotiated the half price room fee easily but, eyeing his biking gear, the manager said, “Sir, we have to let you know there is a dress code for dinner.”
Doug and Kelly had not expected this when packing for a casual bike riding weekend in
Scotland. I knew he had no “formal” attire with him. But he assured me, “Don’t worry mom. I took care of it. I went to a store and bought a complete outfit.”
My response was predictable. “Doug, that must have cost you a fortune.”
He said he’d show us the new “dinner outfit” when we met for drinks before dinner.
When he appeared in the bar, he showed off his pale purple perfectly fitting shirt, matching striped tie, and neatly pressed trousers. He looked as though he had just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers haberdashery.
”I hate to ask, but how much did that outfit cost?” I asked.
I couldn’t believe his response.
“Fourteen dollars total,” Doug said. It seems he and Kelly had headed for the local
thrift shop and found these perfect dinner outfits hanging on a rack. Kelly didn’t
try on her designer shirt but bought what she thought was the right size. All that evening at dinner she sat up straight as a ramrod so the buttons wouldn’t pop on her blouse.
Adding to the special atmosphere in the dining room was the impeccable service we received from several handsome and attentive young Scottish waiters. They looked to be about Kelsey’s age, though I guessed they must be a few years older. They seemed to pay particular attention to her end of the table--but she didn’t seem to notice or mind. The superb dinner and luxurious hotel stay were a truly unexpected but greatly appreciated sendoff to the next day’s journey south to the Lake District.
BLACK SHEEP, WHITE SHEEP -- STONE WALLS, AND MUCH MORE
Pictures are worth a thousand words.
So here they are…with just a little commentary, as ever.
---Hadrian’s Wall, the impressive historic 64-mile stone wall completed by
130 AD and marking the northern limits of the expansion of the Roman Empire.
---The Muncaster Castle built around a medieval tower and the home of the
same owners since the thirteenth century.
---On the beautiful castle grounds, the headquarters of the World Owl
Trust. There we visited the Owl Centre, the oldest owl sanctuary in the world and
marveled over colorful birds from forty different species around the world.
---The mysterious stone circles of Ambleridge and Castlerigg, near Keswick, where 38 hunks of volcanic stone form a circle a hundred feet in diameter. No one knows their
real meaning, but these stone circles probably had an astronomical, timekeeping or religious function when erected four or five thousand years ago. We were thrilled to actually come across the first stone circle on June 21, the day of the summer Solstice. Emily and Kelsey took off on their own pilgrimage back to the first stone circle to get a sense of the mystery surrounding the ancient site on this special day.
---The beach at St. Bees on the North Sea, close to Doug’s house, where my daughter put
together a delicious picnic for us to enjoy overlooking the sea.
---The village of Cockermouth where the poet William Wordsworth was born. The village
suffered a thousand year flood early this year but you couldn’t tell it from the trickling river that today passes by the many newly renovated buildings.
---The Mitchell Auction House in Cockermouth, where we sat on a narrow wooden bench
high up in the small gallery. This special auction of precious high quality objects d’art is held only quarterly, and we hit the right Saturday. I was fascinated by the secret hand signals and almost imperceptible head nods practiced by the cognoscenti bidding to acquire the rare items up for sale!
---Sheep, sheep and more sheep . Mostly white or grey, but occasionally I spotted a black one near enough to snap a picture! I never tired of watching the hardy indigenous Herdwick breed, native to the Lake District. They graze for most of the year, foraging out on the inhospitable fells--the rocky hills, mountains and high common lands that comprise thepicturesque Alpine and scenic lake landscapes of the northwest corner of England.
----Stone walls everywhere. I admired the skill needed to construct the
massive ancient walls and fences that undulate over the hillsides and edge the narrow
lanes and mountain roads. One day Kelly drove me over three
scenic mountain passes-- the Hardknott, Wyrmose and Newland. My heart skipped a beat but I loved riding over the scary one-and- a-half lane steep winding roads, watching nervously for on-coming traffic.
---Enjoying the hospitality of Doug and Kelly’s beautiful Rheda Park home. With its
greenhouse, conservatory, perennial garden facing a picturesque pasture complete with mooing cows at sunset and badminton on the lawn, it presented perfect space to hide out in a quiet corner to read.
When we arrived, Kelsey was especially excited to reunite with Doug’s two
beautiful lab dogs; they concurred and followed her around happily. She had spent many
hours playing with them in Denver while they waited to be shipped to England, and this was like a family reunion with a long lost friend when she arrived.
---An unexpected highlight of our visit---the Great Scotch Drink Off!
Recalling my occasional interest in enjoying a pre-dinner drink of Scotch whisky,
Doug proposed a special event to cap off our stay near Scotland. He showed us his Master Scotch Whisky Grid, a chart he had picked up on a recent visit to a nearby distillery. It listed numerous labels of excellent Scotch whiskies, organized within four different categories, from smoky to delicate and light to robust. Doug had conjured up the exotic notion of conducting a “scientific” taste test to determine which type of Scotch each of us prefers.
In order to kick off his plan we spent an hour or so in a good grocery store (many sell liquor) analyzing and purchasing the four most appropriate bottles of fine Scotch. Each had to represent a different section of the grid. We approached the scientific experiment with the serious study it deserved.
Emily decided to join us in the unusual experiment., and we prepared meticulously for the first Doug Hiebert Scotch Drink Off. Returning home after our judicious purchases, we set up four tiny glasses for each of us With care we sampled each variety from smokiest to lightest, comparing impressions and offering sage opinions on each.
You can guess the outcome of that event. No one variety captured a unanimous vote, but we ended up very happy diners that evenng!
This was an appropriate ending to a memorable visit with Doug and Kelly and the Lake District and Scotland. You can bet it won’t be my last!