Arts & Culture

Trip to Scotland offers more than a ‘wee bit’ of fun

Marti Skarupa at Hadrian’s Wall, which was originally 16 to 20 feet high.
Marti Skarupa at Hadrian’s Wall, which was originally 16 to 20 feet high. Submitted

It was not my dream. It was his.

I do not play golf.

He does.

I agreed to go to Scotland, the golfers’ mecca. Among the many items we packed, there were two essentials besides golf shoes. For him, there was the book “Great Golf Courses of the World,” with Pebble Beach Golf Links featured on the cover. For me, it was the historical fiction novel “Braveheart,” prominently featuring Mel Gibson on the cover.

The first would provide him valuable tips for a better game. The second would enlighten me on Scottish history, or so I thought.

Within a day of arriving, my husband Joe wore his golf shoes and played with original hickory clubs at Musseburgh Links, the world’s storied St. Andrews Old Course. Unable to control his enthusiasm, he skipped from hole to hole more than the ball itself. As I watched, I knew in my heart that though he would play more courses in his lifetime, none would rival the joy he felt on that lovely, rainless, sunny day.

As a matter of fact, it did not rain on any of his golf days. The golf gods indeed smiled upon him since we were told that Scottish weather is very changeable and “in one day one can experience all four seasons.”

However, as one of our guides said, the Scots don’t mind the rain. The locals believe “rain is good. It brings water. Water is needed for whiskey, and a shot of Scottish whiskey will warm your heart no matter the weather.”

Apparently the Scots truly don’t mind, because according to a 2015 article by Rebecca Smithers published in the Guardian, “Scottish whiskey is bigger than U.K. iron and steel, or computers.”

This love affair with spirits, according to BBC, has “each adult consuming the equivalent of 477 pints of beer a year.”

Never having adopted a taste for whiskey, I instead “cheered” the remarkable Scottish history I learned on our non-golf day tours.

Unfortunately for me on our very first tour, our guide began by telling us that if anyone of us had read Braveheart, know that it was “a wee bit short on facts … just another Hollywood fantasy, grossly inaccurate.” According to Ewan J. Innes, a Scottish historian, “It contains not an iota of fact.”

He told the true story of William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish warrior who began a revolt against King Edward I of England.

He started with the Royal Mile upon which we stood. A World Heritage Site, the Royal Mile connects Holyrood Palace — the longest-occupied palace in Europe which dates to the 16th to 17th centuries — to Edinburgh Castle dating to the 1100s.

His tour took us down medieval streets graced with 16th and 17th century elegant houses, little altered since their construction. As if waiting to be admired by historical architects, neo-classical ebony grey stone buildings from the 18th and 19th century dressed in brightly colored flowers stood proud on the streets of New Town. When someone in the group expressed how lovely the evening light looked over the city, the guide said that there are those who have said that the city sometimes looks as if it has been dipped in “liquid gold.”

Our guide, a brilliant storyteller, also left us aghast as he related the dark side of Edinburgh. He invited the not so fainthearted in his Scottish brogue, to come late at night or in the “wee hours” of the morning to one of the squares where, “Ye will swear ye have stepped back into time. Ye might even hear the spine chilling cries of the ghosts of men and women whose ears and tongues were nailed to stone walls for ‘listening to gossip’ and speaking against the crown. Ye might even hear the cries of hundreds of voices shouting for joy as they watch an execution.”

Apparently such macabre events were a favorite diversion of the town’s people.

Surprisingly, instead of such gruesome tales inhibiting our appetite, they seemed to stimulate them. Edinburgh, thankfully, had no shortage of restaurants serving international cuisine and pubs serving true Scottish fare.

In the Scottish pubs, lamb or mutton dishes were popular, a fact that is not surprising since there are 6.75 million sheep in Scotland — more than the human population of 5.3 million. We passed on menu items such as “haggis,” made of sheep hearts, liver and lungs, oatmeal and spices and encased in a sheep’s stomach or sausage casing. Another common menu item was black pudding, a blood sausage.

Our favorite was lamb and apricot sausage.

One daylong tour was to walk along Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by the Romans in 122 A.D. and extending for 80 miles coast to coast. The original stonewall measured 9.8 feet wide and 16 to 20 feet high. It was built in only six years, and was constructed on Emperor Hadrian’s order “to separate Romans from the Barbarians.” We marveled at the Romans’ engineering skills. Even with modern heavy equipment and technology, if built today, we were told it would take 3.5 years with 1,500 workers working around the clock.

We also marveled at the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, a geological blessing and visual feast of cloud-capped mountains, forests, misty lakes and waterfalls on the way to Loch Ness. We did not see “Nessie,” but we had the best ever apple pie and cup of tea served with heavy cream that was worthy of the Queen Mother.

There was rain and gray skies on that day, but on other days there were skies awash with incredibly striking shades of blue, from celeste to cobalt, that framed an idyllic countryside dotted with grazing sheep and beds of wild lavender.

When our holiday ended, we took a cab to the airport. Joe and the cabbie traded golf stories.

I looked out the window and admired the stately, dark grey stone mansions. At a stop, I smiled at bonny lads and lassies with ginger colored hair playing in the warm Scottish sun.

I overheard the cabbie recommending a particular golf book, which reminded me to purchase a book to read on the return flight.

And “Braveheart?”

I had tossed it into the trash on the way out of the hotel.

After all, Hollywood’s fantasy, “with not a wee bit of truth,” couldn’t compare to the real Scotland.

Marti Skarupa lives in Sun City Hilton Head with her husband Joe.