It all came about thanks to that nice Richard Branson, who, having owned part of our railway system for 20 years, decided to reward the populace by offering tickets from Birmingham to Glasgow for £10 each way.
I’d never been to Scotland before, which appears to be rather surprising given my age, but many other rather senior people I spoke to admitted they’d never been, either. It’s true to say that if you are born at the bottom end of Britain, you tend to go south for your holidays, or abroad, where it’s usually sunnier and warmer.
Lady BSM went into action immediately, planning the trip:
- An overnight stay in Glasgow.
- Collect a hire car and drive to Aberfoyle, where we would stay in a castle for a couple of days.
- Drive to Edinburgh and stay for another couple of days.
- Back to Glasgow for another overnight stay.
“Would you like to go with somebody else or just me?” Lady BSM enquired.
“Oh, I’d really like it to be the two of us,” I replied, “let’s make it a romantic trip.”
“The Sexton would really love the scenery of Scotland, though,” she said thoughtfully…
So, it came to pass that Lady BSM, The Sexton, Pen and I found ourselves on the train to Glasgow via Birmingham, with bulging carrier bags of salad, pies, sandwiches, crisps, beer, gin and a selection of curious looking whisky miniatures that appeared from Pen’s handbag. They looked like the sort of thing I found in the back of my mum and dad’s drinks cabinet when I cleared out their house. We studied each bottle carefully.
“How old are these, Pen?” I asked. She shrugged.
“I don’t know. Just drink them.”
I pointed at one miniature that wasn’t whisky, but some sort of Port that had managed to become clear, with Port coloured flakes floating about in the translucent liquid.
“Are you sure your dad doesn’t mind us having these?”
“Well, they’re not dad’s, they’re from the old lady’s house opposite. She’s in a home now,” Pen explained, looking at the separated Port.
“Best not drink that one,” she advised, as The Sexton unscrewed the lid of another.
The holiday had begun.
We checked into The Glasgow Premier Inn, with a room on the fifth floor, surveying the panoramic view of the multi storey car park with its dazzling air conditioning units backed by a gigantic office block, where no doubt many workers were going about their business behind the tinted glass; however, we needed to get out and see the sights of Glasgow, so duly met up with The Sexton and Pen and made our way to Sauchiehall Street.
It wasn’t what we were expecting – it was no different from any other city or town centre, with a fair amount of litter, beggars in doorways and familiar shops. Globalisation is so lazy; they could at least try. For example, you could have Mc McDonald’s, or C U & A. Sports Direct selling running sporrans and lycra kilts. Although, mentioning kilts, there were plenty of kilt shops everywhere we went, which suggested a demand for them. The looks on the faces of the lonely shop assistants suggested otherwise.
We stopped in a local hostelry whilst researching where the ‘nice’ part of Glasgow was. It turned out to be the west part and a friendly taxi driver took us there, recommending Ashton Lane as the place to be, a short street full of trendy bars and restaurants. We chose to eat in the new Innis and Gunn brewery kitchen, which had a selection of lagers and beers. Very nice too.
On our return to Glasgow, at the end of our trip, we returned to the west end, dining in The Bothy restaurant opposite Ashton Lane. The waiters wore kilts. I ate haggis, neets and tatties and drank Belhaven beer. You couldn’t get more stereotypical.
A Glaswegian friend had recommended The Kelvingrove Art Gallery, in a lovely part of the city, which contains some wonderful artwork, including The Burrell Collection. Worth a trip, if you like that sort of thing.
Aberfoyle-Staying in a castle. 3 miles off the beaten track, in woodland. It was an air bnb, with the owners living next door. Pen looked out of the window of her bedroom where the owner and another workman stood on scaffolding, working on the outside walls.
“I think I’ll take a shower later,” she mused.
Aberfoyle followed the characteristics of a lot of the places we visited. The countryside was stunning, whilst the towns were particularly disappointing. It’s worth pointing out that there seems to be fewer people in Scotland, hence the roads are quieter; it was in Aberfoyle we went to see red squirrels. The Sexton, a huge fan of all things wildlife, was thrilled, genuinely thrilled. There is a drive that takes you around three lochs in the area; the views are stunning. Taking a boat trip across Loch Lomond, we saw Ospreys nesting. Again, The Sexton was in his element.
“Another one I can cross off my wish list,” he grinned, clasping his binoculars to his chest.
Stirling Castle was worth the trip too, with a guided tour explaining what an awful bunch of people the English were. To be honest, Stirling Castle probably edged it over Edinburgh Castle as a place to visit, but both gave me more of an idea as to the history and genealogy of our kings and queens; for example, I now know that Mary Queen of Scots was mother to James I of England, VI of Scotland, who wrote his own bible and believed in witchcraft.
We had a long road trip up to Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, more incredible views, breaking up the journey by shouting out other Glens and Bens: Glen Close, Glen Miller, Glen Campbell, Glen DaJackson, Ben Fogle, Ben Shephard, Ben Stiller (you get the idea) and playing traditional Scottish bagpipe music on the car’s sound system via Bluetooth. Again, Fort William’s beauty was inversely proportional to its surroundings.
Back at the castle, the promised wi-fi access was still in absence, along with any form of television. Of course, you should be able to live with this, but what with the final of Masterchef about to be aired along with Gloucester’s rugby team playing in the European Challenge Cup tantalisingly close in Edinburgh, it was a bit of an issue. We managed to listen to the rugby on the radio. We wished we hadn’t. Masterchef could wait for Edinburgh, in our air bnb basement flat.
So, to Edinburgh.
“This basement flat, will it have slugs in the kitchen?” I said to Lady BSM. We lived in a basement flat during the early years of our relationship, where it wasn’t unusual to make a trip to the toilet and tread on a conga eel sized slug on the way.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, “this flat appears to be a lot better than the flat we had in Brighton.”
Not half. It was enormous, tastefully decorated and near to Holyrood Park and The Royal Mile. What’s more, it had wifi, so we could watch Masterchef. But not quite, since after watching the penultimate episode, the screen informed us that we had used all of our data allowance. Scotland and the internet seemed incompatible.
We made our way up to Edinburgh Castle, having purchased tickets at Stirling.
“Let’s hope I can find the tickets, or we won’t get in!” said Pen.
“From all the talks we’ve had so far, I think English people have been getting into these castles without paying for centuries,” he murmured.
After our trip around the castle included the firing of the one o’clock cannon and a tour of the Scottish crown jewels, which they are extremely fond of burying in times of crisis, such
as when the evil English wanted it for themselves or, incredibly, during the second world war. I suspect that, with the onset of Brexit, a couple of hardy, kilted souls will be sharpening their spades again soon.
After leaving the castle, we had to take refuge from the rain in The Ensign Ewart, a proper pub on The Royal Mile, with its dark interior and selection of whiskies. It was here we decided to sample some single malt. It’s an acquired taste, one we’re all still trying to acquire. Scotch whisky has the underlying effect of drinking smoky petrol. To be honest, I prefer Irish whiskey, but there does seem to be a certain snobbery around whisky drinking on a par with the wine buffs. In the end, it’s all flavoured industrial cleaner.
Our trip was most enjoyable, with the frequent moves making it even more entertaining. Our last night’s stay in Glasgow was in the curious Alexander Thompson hotel, a rather austere looking hostelry with Glasgow Central Station nearby. Everybody was friendly, except for one miserable taxi driver, who was definitely out of character with his colleagues, who all told funny tales and were quick to mention the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The Sexton sat next to me on the train journey home, holding his carrier bag full of lunch.
“Amazing. It just goes to prove that when you’re deciding to go on holiday, it may be better to head north,” he concluded. I agreed.