Castles and Caledonia – a few days in Scotland

The first time I came to Scotland as an adult was my my best friend Frank. We were escaping an extremely wet Lake District and decided the best thing to do with our time was to cruise the North on public transport as opposed to trekking through the saturated fells. The bus to Edinburgh was long, however was filled with two very pleasant things; Scottish scenery and the other, the first time I'd heard the brilliant masterpiece which is Funeral by Arcade Fire. Frank has insisted I listened to it as soon as I could and this three hour bus journey from Carlisle was the perfect opportunity. I listened to it twice throughout and if you ask me how long that journey actually took, I'd say minutes.

I would revisit Edinburgh a few times since. A couple of times with work on very brief visits and once with a lovely European girl. It was a place I was fond of. I felt welcome. It felt as though the Scots wanted to have me there. It was a very nice feeling os sincerity and something which doesn't always happen.

So, when the opportunity arose for trip to Scotland with paying clients, I jumped at the opportunity. Four days; some Lake District, some Edinburgh and some of the rest of Scotland, a lovely Mercedes and a local, Japanese speaking tour guide to help me with the customer relations.

I met the group at the MacDonald Hotel in Manchester, and it took nearly as long to get from the Lake District to what I would officially class as 'Manchester' as it would take to get from there to the hotel. Manchester is a great city, one of the global industrial powerhouses for over a century and has one of the best musical cultures of any city alive. The Rolling Stones, The Stone Roses and the Rosy cheeked Oasis boys all call this city home. The world's two most ghastly football teams are too. It's a cool place. But it is the WORST European city I have ever had to drive around. I don't know what it is about this city, but everywhere baffles me. It has a ring road which you must turn off to stay on, a city centre in about four different parts and none of which are particularly close to each other.

I made it to the hotel with about thirty seconds to spare. I meet the group, a delighted and delightful group of middle-aged and I guess wealthy Japanese people, and their courteous guide Tak.

Tak is a Japanese tour guide who came travelling to Europe over forty years ago. He was travelling on the continent when a friend of his invited him to visit Liverpool. He has been there ever since and works as a Beatles tour guide, taking Japanese groups around the most interesting parts of Liverpool and the UK. I would be with him for just  today whilst the group were in the Lake District. Its always great to be working with somebody, especially when the group don't speak a lot of English, but more so when they are as characterful and charming as Tak was; he has an amazing accent which was clearly Japanese but with a strong hint of Scouse. Numbers and certain words he would say with a distinct Scouse accent, and to hear that coming from a near sixty year old Japanese man was just wonderful. As was our day in the Lake District together.

The next day, the group and I travelled to Edinburgh. Their afternoon around the city finished a magnificent castle where even I was allowed to stay the night. Haggis bon bons followed by steak, red wine and a desert.

The following day was a driving Goliath. Starting just south of Edinburgh, we drive up to the Bell's Distrillery at Pitlockerie. The A8 is a fabulous road; beautiful scenery and impressive engineering make one of the most enjoyable drives I've ever seen. However absolutely drenched in average speed cameras, it has surely become on of the most frustrating on something like a quick bike.

Not so much in a minibus though, and this was in fantastic. My favourite in the fleet as it was me who picked her up from the coach-builders in Swansea when she was brand new only sixteen months ago. With all modern luxuries and an especially high windscreen, this custom Mercedes Sprinter was a nice vehicle to be driving through western Scotland.

The history around this area is fascinating. I have no idea what it is, but the amount the new Japanese tour guide was talking, there is many things to learn about surrounding the A9 from Edinburgh to Inverness. I can tell you that Beatrix Potter stayed at nearby Dunkeld House in her younger years for family holidays and that the tale of Peter Rabbit was written as a letter to friend in London. The Japanese love Beatrix Potter.

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