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Travel with me Scotland - by Ngaire Douglas
Skye
Scotland, “it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world, the history is fascinating, the men are handsome and the whisky is delicious”, says J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. How wise she is. I invite you to join me in July on a meandering, island hopping adventure around this lovely country, starting in the south west in Glasgow where, it is said by writer Jack House, “square-toed shoes were invented to enable the Glasgow man to get closer to the bar”, heading to the Shetlands, in the far northern reaches, and concluding in the east in Edinburgh, “a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again”, according to Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

We’ll visit castles and abbeys, both haunted and hauntingly beautiful. We’ll try to untangle some of the complexities of the origins of the country we know as Scotland today, as well as the complexities of the DNA of Scottish people. It might explain why the men are so handsome! After all, those early Romans and Vikings must have left something else behind other than Hadrian’s Wall and buried longboats. And we’ll most certainly be sipping some of the delicious whisky and following the process of how it is made. The heather will be rippling across the hillsides and the Scottish summer will be so very pleasant after the blistering heat we have had in our Australian summer.

 
Edinburgh
My name is Ngaire (pronounced Nyree) and I am a New Zealander who has lived in Australia for many years, which is why I have put my name here phonetically. If I could have a cent for every mispronunciation I would be a wealthy woman indeed. I am a retired historian who happily admits that sharing travel experiences and helping people understand the stories behind the places we visit is way more satisfying than teaching students.  For the past ten years I have, among many other things, been taking groups of older Americans on tours around Australia and New Zealand, explaining to them the many differences geographically and culturally between these two countries at the bottom of the world. They arrive down under with the preconception that both places are the same.  Apart from the obvious differences in geology, I send them home with a profound understanding of all the grounds for potential war across the ditch…who invented the pavlova, who has the best rugby/cricket/netball teams,  what to do with possums, should you wear jandals or thongs. And I always feel a little sorry for Australians who say they have never been to New Zealand because it is just like home – and vice versa. Our countries and histories are so very different.
 
Ring Of Brodgar, Orkney
I have explained this because it is a widely held belief that Scotland and England are also very similar.  This is a mistaken belief indeed. They are certainly not Siamese twins joined at the hip!  The rolling green valleys of northern England merge into the browns and purples of the more barren Scottish landscape, where great long lochs slash across the rugged countryside in contrast to the more tamed and tidy English lakes. There might be benign fairies at the bottom of the English garden but there are brownies and kelpies and sea serpents scattered around the Scottish landscape all waiting to lead us down unexplored garden paths. Scotland is so much more than its well known cities. The islands to the west and north have more diverse and, in some cases, longer histories than the mainland. Most of this tour has us immersed in open, sparsely populated, ever changing  island landscapes, going over the sea to Skye, exploring 3000 year old Neolithic ruins, smiling at the antics of the comical puffin, and grieving for the many thousands of starving families displaced  and evicted in the 19th century potato famine. Their anguished cries I have heard wafting on the wind which licks around abandoned crofts, having the hair on the back of our necks rise as we stand on battlefields amid the ghosts of the many tribes and clans who fought outside invaders, or each other, since recorded time and probably before.
 
Puffins in Scotland
The first of many wars for Scottish independence started in 1296. It is mooted that in 2018 Scotland will have another referendum on independence (not quite a war perhaps) following the surprise results of the Brexit vote in 2016. Some issues just never seem to get sorted out satisfactorily. Our Scottish island hopping experience might well be the last in the land as we know it!  2017 is certainly proving to be an interesting year in many ways. "We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation" wrote Voltaire, renowned French philosopher of the 18th century. "God help England if she has not Scots to think for her" said 19th century playwright George Bernard Shaw. "Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind" remarked Winston Churchill, 20th century British Prime Minister.  Perhaps some of these words of wisdom should be brought to the attention of Scotland’s southern neighbour while there is still time to reflect on the implications of a UK without Scotland. 
 
Portree
This is a small group tour and we have our own mini-bus and very knowledgeable local driver for the whole trip, which makes for very comfortable and cohesive travelling. No need to ask “can I leave this on the bus” because often on a tour the day can start with one bus and end with another as companies timetable their coaches to meet commitments all round.  The ferries between our far flung islands carry vehicles as well. Our accommodation will be in small, often family run businesses where you get to talk to locals who live on these islands and who can explain island life in their own uniquely lilting dialect. Mind you, the voices of people like Robert Carlisle, Sean Connery and Ewan MacGregor could tell me anything with that brogue and I would happily go along with it.  So come with me to Scotland’s lesser known areas, to follow the footprints of the Picts and the Gaels, the Saxons and the Britons, the Romans and, perhaps most interestingly, the Vikings. I leave the last word here to lovely singer Nora Jones “come away with me on a bus…” Croon them softly to embed with adventure in your heart.
 
I do hope my outline of the tour will have encouraged you to take a look at the detailed itinerary which is available on our website. I am very much looking forward to leading this gentle exploration of the Scottish island and hope you may be able to join me.
 
With all best wishes,
 
Ngaire Douglas

Golden Compass Program Leader 
 

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Inclusive of field trips, local guides, gratuities and all meals.