Forvie, Fyvie and The Great Scottish Adventure
As you may know, I’m inclined to jot a note or two upon returning from my periodic adventures. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for myself and in a flash of United Mileage fueled exuberance phoned up the 1K desk and told them “I want to go to Europe, I want to use miles, I want to sit in a big seat coming and going, I plan on taking my wife, and I need to leave in two weeks and can only stay seven days. Where can I go?” So here’s the story.
As it turns out I’m not the only person who thought to go to Europe this summer and despite the fact that Great Britain is the destination of choice for Americans headed towards the old world, London was the only place we could get into even semi-directly. Sometime earlier this year we’d bought a passel of travel books including volumes touting the wonders of Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Portugal, and Spain (there’s a logic in there somewhere but it escapes me just now). With about no thought I immediately settled on Scotland and informed my beloved wife of our plans. Good sport that she is she immediately rallied to the cause and made arrangement for dog and house (kids were to be away at camp).
We determined to just let the whole trip unfold and unfold it did. I scratched around on the Web on some sites recommended by a woman who used to work for me (more on her in a minute).
Our arrival in Edinburgh coincided not only with the British Open (up the coast at Carnoustie), but with the graduation of all the institutes of higher learning in Edin as well. I clicked and called about finally finding a nice fellow by phone who referred me to a lovely chap named Gerald who has a small B&B perfectly located in what is called New Town (a planned part of town with row upon row of Georgian residences build in the late 18th century and early 19th). As it happened, he had a room so there we stayed.
Gerald proved to be a wonderful host and his house a wonder. Every inch of wall space was filled with original art. He cooked us a terrific breakfast (in quantity and quality) every morning and we slept like the dead on the best beds I’ve ever laid down on. (Gerald confided that he’d spent $5,000 per mattress). If you’re interested I’ll get you his e-mail address.
We wondered and wandered around Edin for two and half days visiting the Edinburgh castle (didn’t get to Holyrood), the Royal Mile (that’s in old town which is much older than New Town), the Scottish Museum, Calton Hill, and the Royal Botanical Gardens. We were consistently favored with very agreeable weather that kept us walking until we couldn’t any longer. At this time of year the sun is lighting things up around 4:30 or so and it's not completely dark until sometime after 11:00 PM so there’s lots of time to see this and that. We ate well enough though nothing that was especially memorable.
Before we left the big PX I’d found a coupon in a mailing from United Airlines for a car rental company called Sixt. For some silly reason they decided it would be a good idea to offer a Mercedes C Class for hire at the rate of USD $44 a day. Not needing to know why they were so daft I made arrangements for same and we picked up our car on day three. Except they were fresh out of them so they gave us an E class (with 4400 miles on it) at no additional charge.
For those of you who don’t know your three pointed star cars, this is a very good deal. The E class is a magnificent car, though in truth it is much too large for blasting around the very narrow roads that make up about 80% of the total asphalt laid in Scotland.
W e headed north towards Perth where we got semi-lost and wound up stopping to tour Scone castle which is not the home of small bread-like items you eat with tea and jam (they pronounce it scooon). Instead, it was long ago the place where some 40 Scottish Kings received their regalia whilst perched on the Stone of Destiny and more recently, say within the last 500 years, where someone built a perfectly lovely castle which still today is occupied by Lord something or other and his family. Personally, I don’t know how I’d feel about having people wander around my living room so I could make ends meet, but that’s just me.
Everyone said we should head west to visit the highlands so mostly we headed east. I don’t think it’s because I’m a complete crank, it just worked out that way. Although we did dabble westward as we circled around the odd Loch or two, we finished the day powering up the East coast towards Aberdeen (way up at the top where they do North Sea oil) and thereafter up the A947 to Fyvie.
While the west is land of Braveheart, Highlander, and every other movie you’ve ever seen about Scotland (except Local Hero), the east is home to castles. Lots of castles. The scenery is a feast in a non-spectacular sort of way with fields and fences and woods and all the rest. Very pastoral. I kept wondering how many words the ancient Celts had for green because they sure have every shade of it. That and exquisite fields of yellow mustard and blue flax.
Fyvie is not much more than a wide spot in the road but it is where someone decided to locate a castle, the other hundred or so logical places to locate a castle in ancient Mar already having been taken. I’ve read the history of the castle and can’t really remember more than to tell you that four families have owned it over the last 600 years or so, each sticking yet another tower on to commemorate their stewardship.
The most recent progenitor, a fellow named Leith, was smart enough to show up in the US in a Royal Navy uniform in the late 1800s and marry the daughter of a steel magnate. While the folks back home surely blew tea through their noses on that one, it was and is a tried and true formula for keeping the old place in proper repair.
Returning to Scotland, Leith bought the old dump from Gordon who’d lost all his money, and proceeded to pour serious quantities of his wife’s money into making the place most livable. Today it and about 100 acres belong to the National Trust and people pay good money to tour its wonders everyday. And wonderful it is.
We had a slightly better deal. That same woman I mentioned above is married to an absolutely splendid guy named Danny who for these last two years has been commuting between San Fran and Aberdeen. Whilst in Scotland, he lives in a tower at Fyvie and so at his invitation we spent two nights with him living out our royal fantasies. It was pretty darn terrific.
By day we toured about in our $44 dollar Mercedes looking at fishing villages and castles, including Donneter which figures prominently in Scottish history and now is a spectacular ruins on the edge of a cliff on the North Sea. By night, we congratulated ourselves on our good sense to know Danny as we luxuriated in the charming confines of his tower.
Finally our time in Scotland came to a close. We blasted (love that verb) down to Glasgow for dinner and a bed at the Babbity Bowster (another Danny suggestion). Next morning we were up and off to the airport at Edin and from there to London for the afternoon.
Yet another United coupon secured us a room at the Langham Hilton (half-price but still steep). We wandered up and down Oxford Street, Picadilly, Bristol Arcade, Carnaby Street, and Bond Street with several zillion of our closest friends, finally retiring to our room after a really good pizza at the nearby PizzaExpress.
On day eight, we headed home having taking 690 pictures (20 rolls), spent the few odd pounds on a sweater and some baubles and bangles, and having had a wonderful time. If you’ve not been to Scotland and fancy magnificent scenery, castles of every ilk and description, and wonderful fishing villages (including Pennen where they filmed Local Hero, yes we went thank you), go. It’s a rare and wonderful place and even in high season, you’ll have the place to yourself.