I was completely taken by surprise when, back in 2017, my wife Margreet out of the blue suggested Scotland for our 2018 holiday. I‘d tentatively mentioned it quite a few times earlier but, as she had always been oriented towards the more southern climes around the Mediterranean, I was flabbergasted (in a most delightful way), to say the least. My Scotland addiction had always felt as more of a private "thing". Her suggestion therefore came as quite a surprise.
It took a while to get the ‘package’ together. The route, the B&B’s without internal stairs, the ‘must-see’ attractions and the not-to-be-missed viewpoints.
In May 2018 the ferry docked in Newcastle and we headed west. First towards Brampton and then, taking all the back roads, to Newcastleton. Around 5 in the afternoon we arrived in minute Saughtree in bleak but hauntingly beautiful Liddesdale.
The B&B (Saughtree Station B&B) was exactly as I’d pictured it. Very romantic and a true find!
The weather, always a bit tricky in this part of the UK, was surprisingly fine. Sunny and a pleasant 25 degrees. All was right with the world.
There followed a relaxed day of travel via Hawick, Tushielaw, Meggethead, Talla and Tweedsmuir to Moffat for lunch and from there we joined the A74 to Glasgow and our final destination for the day: Balloch, close to Loch Lomond.
From Balloch north via Crianlarich and Tyndrum to Loch Awe for a visit to picture postcard perfect Kilchurn Castle. The walk to the castle proved a bit too much for Margreet whose health was always delicate and a source of constant worry. The castle walls however provided some welcome relief from the blazing sun (!!).
Glencoe, one of Scotland’s must-see’s was not how we’d pictured it and how I remembered it. So many cars, busloads of tourists and even real traffic jams. Fort William we both found very disappointing as well. Very busy and generally unattractive but.....the B&B was exellent and proved to be a good location to rest our heads for the night.
Onwards via Spean Bridge and Invergarry to picturesque Eilean Donan Castle and finally to our B&B in quaint Strathcarron.
As we had booked a 2-nights stay there it was the perfect base for a trip to the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ and the peninsula of Applecross.
We took it easy. Stopped many times for coffee and sandwiches and enjoyed the stunning panorama from the top of the pass. From the village of Applecross we followed the winding coastal road to Shieldaig (wonderful!) for lunch.
Pre-booking B&B’s makes things very easy but it can be frustrating as it does rob you of on-the-spur decisions. No matter how much I wanted to continue to Ullapool and the far North West, we just "had to be" in Beauly the next evening. The drive to Kinlochewe, Gairloch and Aultbea however proved to be utterly relaxing with still........gorgeous weather! It felt like Italy. No need for the extra sweaters and wellies we’d packed!
Margreet was often quiet, but the sparkle in her eyes showed she enjoyed this to the hilt. I could sense how much she loved it all. This trip was something we both shared intimately.
Beauly proved another good 2 days base to do some shopping and sightseeing in Inverness. On our way down to Banchory a visit to a whisky distillery was of course something not to be missed. But which one? Being in Speyside one is spoiled for choice. Margreet was never much of a whisky adept, yet having tasted a small dram of Glenlivet, she professed that she actually liked it a lot! I didn’t see that one coming either!
Balmoral was always ‘a maybe’ or a 'could do' on our itinerary. We got to the gate but didn't do the tour. We decided to push on to Banchory for our B&B and a visit with long time friend Judith Sleigh. That was a real treat. Judith and I hadn’t seen each other for about 30 years and it was nice to see the ladies got on quite well.
From Banchory we made our way south to Perth and Bridge of Earn. We skirted round Edinburgh, stopped at Otterburn and finally got back to Newcastle.
Looking back on this trip in that glorious summer of 2018 I’m so glad we did it and as Margreet said: “Now I understand why you’re so in love with Scotland. This was a great trip”.
It is almost five years later and the love of my life is no longer with me. She passed away in March 2021. Her heart finally gave out after a long and exhausting struggle. She’ll be with me forever.