My mom broke down in tears when we were in the Scottish Highlands last fall, thanks to a border collie puppy. As Senior Tour Operations Coordinator at Classic Journeys, I suppose I should have predicted that. One of everybody’s favorite parts of this trip is when we go to our friend Neil’ s farm where he tends to a massive herd of sheep. When we pulled into his barnyard, there he was with 10 or 15 black and white border collies at his feet. Growing up, this was our family’s favorite breed, so they had us at hello. Then Neil issued a couple of sharp whistles like Morse code, and one of them charged off over a hill only to reappear minutes later behind about 30 sheep that he guided right down to us. Neil put all of the dogs through their paces for us, and then his son brought out a couple of warm, wiggly 8-week-old puppies for us to hold. You know, the sheer joy of a moment doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Pass me a Kleenex, Mom.
Also, several people in our group including my parents are fans of the TV series Outlander." It’s about time travel—a woman from the 20th century slips back and forth to the Scotland of the 1740’s. What you quickly realize is that the director of that series doesn’t have to spend much on locations. Out in the Highlands, a lot of the scenery looks like it always has, even longer ago than when Claire met Jamie.
Of course, we didn’t need to rely on a screenwriter for our story. The secret Classic Journeys weapon is Davy, a longtime friend of ours and the guy who has to be Scotland’s best guide. When you walk on Culloden Moor with him, you don’t have to guess what it was like the day Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated there by the Duke of Cumberland. Davy paints the most vivid word pictures you’ll ever hear, about how the people dressed, and how their military formations were set up and what the battle felt like. He can also tell you that a red deer made that hoofprint, how tall the trees grow in the Caledonian pinewoods, and what St. Columba had to do with the Loch Ness monster. When a real estate agent in our group asked the going price today for a 2-bedroom cottage outside St. Andrews, Davy knew the answer.
I came to realize that the kind of pleasure Davy has in being a super-guide is a lot like the pride and hospitality that the Scots extend every time you turn around. When we pulled up at Loch Ness Country House, for example, the staff was at attention, waiting for us. We felt like we were arriving at our own summer country home. You see a different variation on the theme at the Old Course at St. Andrews. You really don’t need to be a golfer to be impressed. The grass couldn’t be greener. I don’t think there was even a grain of sand outside any of the traps. Also, at the Scotch whisky distillery we visited, I could hardly believe all of the finesse and the strict historical standards that go into it. I wasn’t a Scotch drinker before, but I am now. (I’ll get back to you when I can tell the difference between a 12-Year-Old and a 21-Year-Old.)
For all that I thought I already knew about Scotland, I now recommend this trip for different reasons than I did before. This history isn’t just there on display, it really feels alive. Leave Glasgow or Edinburgh—great cities that I truly love—and you really feel that you are plunging back in time to a natural world where the lochs are the deepest, the Highlands couldn’t be higher, and there’s always a warm greeting and a wet puppy nose to make you happier than you ever thought you could be.