To the North Sea
On the morning of Thursday, June 5th we ate our favorite pastry hangout on Grassmarket, checked out of the Apex, and hailed a cab. We were heading back to the Edinburgh airport, to the Arnold Clark car rental company. The next leg of our journey was about to begin. This involved driving across Scotland. Being adventurous people, equipped with a good map and a Garmin Nuvi GPS, we felt confident that we could handle this with little or no adverse side effects.
The cab driver who took us to airport was a friendly chap with loads of good advice about driving on the OTHER side of the road. Understandably, Glenn was a little bit concerned, seeing as he was going to be doing the driving. We got the gist of what the cabbie was trying to tell us, although the terminology was confusing. Aside from the obvious fact that one must drive on the left side of the road rather than the right, the basic idea when in traffic is, “slow traffic keep to the left”, which is quite the opposite of what we have in the United States. In the U.S., if you drive too slowly in the left lane, you are subject to all sorts of shouting and hand gestures. After discussing the finer points of “outside” lanes versus “inside” lanes, we moved on to the topic of the bane of all American tourists in the UK, the roundabout. It was my hope that we could avoid them altogether, but the cabbie assured me that this was not possible, and that in any case, I would be missing out on a cultural experience.
The general rule, when driving on a roundabout, is, above all, “drive fast and get the hell off that thing”. This we knew instinctively, even before the rude gesture that was directed at us in Inverness several days later.
But I digress, and am getting ahead of myself.
Once at the airport, we received our rental car, an innocent looking little blue Ford Focus. Did I mention that it was little? We were slightly disappointed, at least I was, at first, to get such a tiny little car. This was short-lived. We soon found out that the little Focus was normal, or even slightly large, compared to the other cars on the road, and relative to the size of the parking places and the width of the lanes. The SUVs and trucks that we take for granted in Houston would seem like Gulliver on the quiet roads of Scotland.
Our plan was to visit St. Andrews, the golf Mecca of the world, and then head north to visit Glamis Castle (pronounced “Glams”), before driving to our evening lodging, Ethie Castle, (which is about an hour south of Aberdeen). We had an evening dinner pre-planned at Ethie, but we soon realized that we were running out of time if we wanted to make it to dinner on time. We decided to skip St. Andrews and go straight to Glamis, a decision that the golf fanatics out there just won’t understand.
All went well until we got to Dundee. It was here that we learned the value of combining the road map with the GPS. Technology is great, but it’s not infallible. While the Nuvi was mostly helpful to us, in Dundee it lead us in the same circle, not once, but three times. Clearly, this was our fault for being stupid. (“Fool me once…”and all that rot.) It was at this point that Glenn began to personify the Nuvi, and to call her some rather bad names. After switching the her off, and using the brains that God gave us, we got back on track toward Glamis.
Now the interesting thing about Glamis, for me, is that, lo! one of my ancestors was the very same John Lyons of the 15th century who was the lord of the castle.
But that is most definitely another story.
Glamis Castle was beautiful, from the outside anyway. We declined the castle tour, still concerned about making to Ethie for dinner on time. We walked around the castle grounds and took quite a few pictures, introducing ourselves to the hairy cows in the field as we walked.
The countryside was becoming more and more fragrant, green and rolling, the farther north we drove. As we got closer to Ethie Castle, which is on the coast, near the North Sea, the scenery changed slightly. The terrain was less hilly, but there was a wonderful smell of sea salt in the air.
We eventually found Ethie Castle, but not without a lot of head-scratching and guesswork. At one point, when we were rather hopelessly lost, I suddenly remembered that Clans and Castles had provided me with some pretty detailed directions. I ruefully pulled out the packet and consulted the directions, which of course put us on the right track, and before long we were there.
Ethie is really more of a beautiful old country house, than a castle. Whatever you would call it, it was charming. As a matter of fact, it reminded me so much of my inner vision of “Thornfield Hall” from Jane Eyre that I felt as if I were channeling Charlotte Bronte while we were there. Our hostess’ name was Yvonne, and she could have been a character straight out of one of Ms. Bronte’s books.
A sea mist was beginning to roll in, which only added to the charm of the house. Yvonne told us that this was the “har”, which to my ears sounds much nicer than the word “fog”.
Yvonne helped us to our room, and then bustled off to do some magic in the kitchen. Dinner was terrific. We dined with another couple who were also “on holiday”. They were from Germany, and although we had a bit of a hard time understanding them, we found them to be pleasant dinner companions.
After dessert we decided that we would call it a night. Our first full day of driving was something that we felt we needed to recover from.
Day three was over!