Friday, 14 September 2012

Grantown-on-Spey to Edinburgh

This was another long day, starting with a 6:30am alarm and ending at 11:00pm with a discussion with the hotel staff about their inability to provide me with an Internet connection which should have been solved six hours earlier.

Our decidedly quaint digs at Grantown-on-Spey were eventually left behind, where Vladimir Putin not only served us breakfast with cheek but also man-handled the bags to the coach. Many of the staff were Russian, leading me to the conclusion that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, they have completely abandoned covert identities and work openly among us, supplementing their meagre secret service pay with jobs in hotels.

Mid morning we were at Pitlochry, after coming down from the Highlands. We have seen many pretty little towns with buildings made from stone, some even with dry stone wall (Grasmere), many old churches and cathedrals, many small shops hawking everything from the tacky to tactile pleasures, had many lunches and morning teas ... but Pitlochry is about the prettiest. Flowers have been used everywhere in the town and the expanse of colour is very pleasing. Every shop front is maintained with care and welcome. Even when just passing some shops people called out pleasant welcomes; very different from France and England where we were mostly glared at until the plastic came out from its hiding place. It was delightful to look at and walk through this village and we were taken in like family in the cafe where we had morning tea. Other locals weren't quite introduced to us but they were informed with great delight that "these are new guests from Australia".
Berry farm near Perth

The soil is good on the plains leading to the sea and the rainfall plentiful. The area around Perth grows the majority of the soft fruits eaten in the world. Field after field of extensive watering systems and covers against frosts gave the landscape the look of army bases from a distance. We passed through Dundee without a stop and straight on to St Andrews, home of an outstanding university, a very good secondary college, another interesting and vast church ruin ... and a golf course. Actually six golf courses and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club who always hosts the most spectacular British Opens, many of which have had dramatic finishes. In 1876, Bob Martin won when he tied with Davie Straith, but Straith refused to take part in a playoff so Martin walked the course to win! In 1921, Bobby Jones walked off the course after he took four shots to get out of a bunker on the 11th. In 1970, Doug Sanders blew a 30 inch put on the 18th, tieing with Jack Nicholas and losing the playoff the next day. Probably the most emotional win was by Seve Ballestetros in 1984, coming from two behind the overnight leaders Tom Watson and Ian Baker-Finch. Baker-Finch shot a 79 in his final round and was never a force in golf again.

Royal and Ancient Golf Club
Apart from the golf, St Andrews is an ancient place but then much of the UK is steeped in history that stretches back so far its boggling. Standing in front of a book which is twelve hundred years old or a church which was built in the 6th century AD has a sobering effect for a white Australian.

The beach running scenes for "Chariots of Fire" were shot at St Andrews, which sits on a bay looking out to the North Sea.

We had a hurried lunch, despite ordering 45 minutes before the bus was due to leave and gulping it down to hurry to the bus. Unfortunately, a combination of my own directional mistakes, bad memory and then some unhelpful directions from a local more interested in talking to young first female students in St Andrews for "O" week, we became very, very late for the bus. My confidence that the tour director wouldn't leave without us eroded quickly, resulting in Sue and I running for about two kilometres to get there. We were about twelve minutes late, the record so far for the tour.

Sue felt crook for half an hour and I had an asthma attack.

Our major concern was for people on the bus who were very ill with a tummy bug which has been going through the coach. The tour director herself has been down with a case of the runs. The coach has been disinfected, including the air conditioning system, three times in the last day to kill any germs on it.

As we contemplated our mortality, the coach went on to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, even though not its largest city.

After arriving, I had nearly three hours of frustration, trying to connect with the Internet. Convinced Reception had connected the wrong room, I hammered away against a stone wall and got nothing done.

Sue with Happy,
the Highland Piper
Showered and dressed - myself in the new Harris Tweed jacket - most of the group went into town to see Jamie's Scottish Evening, despite there being no one in the show called Jamie. There were kilts on everything that moved, the most taciturn of highland pipers who never smiled until the show was over and a manic accordion player who was the Scottish junior champion and Scottish senior champion (although not at the same time). From the look of him, he's not far off qualifying for the senior citizens championship. The fiddle player was a lass in her twenties who seemed to play the same tune every time she played but perhaps in a different key. I was particularly impressed when she shredded her bow and then bit the offending ends off whilst the piper took a solo. The Haggis was given the traditional Robbie Burns blessing.

It was a fun night but for mine, lacked the spontaneity of the Irish equivalent we saw in Dublin. This was a little too stale and rehearsed and gave us a stereotyped view most were looking for with no surprises.

I didn't eat any Haggis.

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