Travels with Rebecka – Scotland Edition

Anyone who knows Rebecka Lundgren knows that she goes all in on every project, and she attacks vacation planning with the same attention to detail as she does a million dollar grant proposal to the Gates Foundation. She is looking for the most interesting places, historical or just fun, and finds the most out of the way places to stay. Most of our vacations are either structured around my international competitions in track and field, or her work.

In December of 2018 Rebecka was invited to be part of a faculty for a course on social norms in gender equality at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. The “students” were not from the university, but rather people from around the world who were the leaders in their government’s efforts to protect women and children from violence. I am always humbled when I see Rebecka in action.

Credit: Google Maps

I have always preached to my interns that Americans should live abroad, or at least travel widely, because it exposes us to new ideas. We learn that the “American way of doing things” is not the “only way of doing things” and may not even be the best way to do a particular thing. In addition, it is humbling. For instance, we had lunch at a pub that had already been on this location for 160 years when the colonists declared their independence in 1776. We think we know it all, but we are actually neophytes with a very short history of experience to draw upon.

Another value to travel is to “hear” a new place, to take an audio tour of a place, to find sounds that I don’t here at home.

And I found that 8 seconds of this was enough:

After Rebecka’s program ended in the evening we walked and listened to Edinburgh.

A bit of outdoor skating

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once noted that Britain and the US are “two nations separated by a common language.” I believe that Scotland has invented a third. We had been expecting to have some difficulty understanding the accent (for a world traveler, I was once surprised that Rebecka could not understand people on the street in Boston when she was seeking directions) but we were pleasantly surprised that we were getting along well, then Rebecka’s class was invited to a hearing of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group Meeting addressing men’s violence against women and children. The New Scottish Parliament Building:

One of the presenters gave an extremely fast, and to my inexperienced ear a nearly impenetrable presentation of her study of domestic violence trends in Scotland.

After the hearing Rebecka and I found ourselves in the elevator with this presenter and she expressed concern that she may have spoken too quickly. “Oh no,” I replied, “I found it quite entertaining!” (It was like doing a word search puzzle, but I kept that to myself.) “I’m so glad!” she said. She was pleased and I was reminded how little of the world I knew, and how I had so much to learn, such as how to understand the Scottish accent.

When Rebecka’s program ended they had a dinner with all the participants.

One of the participants in the traditional kilt

We were surprised by the form of entertainment, but the Scots took it for granted.

We took the pre-dawn train from Edinburgh north to Inverness.

Credit: Google Maps

As we were arriving in Inverness the conductor gave instructions over the intercom and it occurred to me that if an emergency exit was required and this conductor was giving the evacuation instructions, there would be great loss of life amongst the non-Scots.

Near Inverness Rebecka sought out the Clava Cairns, one of several prehistoric stone burial monuments believed to be around 4,000 years old. (Never pass up an opportunity to travel with an anthropologist. Leaving the stone circles, I heard Rebecka whisper to herself, “Top 10, Top 10” when asked, she explained “Top 10 is when you finally are able visit somewhere you have read about and it is more mystical and magical than you had hoped for.”)

In Inverness we rented a car and began moving north west to the Isle of Skye, a rural tourist destination with plenty of wide open spaces and coastline which we were told is crowded and often bumper to bumper in summer. Trust me, in December we had it to ourselves. (We had been warned to expect miserable weather in December Scotland, constant cloud cover, cold, depressing rain, snow flurries. We experience sunny skies, and a brisk, cool temperature. Many of the Scots we met told us we were in luck to be traveling with such unusual December weather. I replied, “We are the luckiest people I have ever met, were are used to these anomalies.”)

Apparently the weather can be so wet even the drains in the street joke about it:

Credit: Google Maps

The first time I had driven in the UK in 2016 I had found driving on the left to be quite challenging. We don’t realize when driving on the right how easily we can gauge where we are positioned in our lane. When first driving on the left, particularly while negotiating a roundabout which could often be confusing, I often jumped the left curb, sending elderly pedestrians and their dogs scrambling.

On straight roads I kept drifting over the center line and approaching semi drivers were kind enough to salute me with repeated, jarring airhorn reminders. I finally implemented my “Keep the tabs on the windshield in your lane, ya bloomin’ idiot” approach. I put two yellow tabs on the windshield and when bearing to the right I would keep the right tab on the center line, and with a curve to the left I kept the left tab on the edge of the road.

My heart would leap in my chest and Rebecka would tense up whenever our English accented dashboard guide would announce, “Roundabout in 300 feet, take the third exit.” I always marveled at her calm confidence in me, no matter how many times I had disappointed her in the past.

Credit: Daily Record

She maintained the Zen-like attitude even as I screwed up once again and mid-maneuver she would quietly counsel, “You appear to have missed your exit, continue in the roundabout and take the third exit.”

Video by Left Turn Adventures on YouTube

You can imagine my relief every time we exited a city and its cursed roundabouts and entered the narrow roads of the Scottish countryside where I could resume giving the roadside vegetation a good thrashing with the left side of the car.

Traveling to Skye we passed Loch Ness. I tried not to look like a tourist, so I just sneaked quick peeks in search of you know who.

Rebecka’s extensive itinerary took us to the ruins of Urguhart castle.

We spent four days exploring Isle of Skye and we always stayed in hidden gems of lodging. And I do mean hidden. I knew we were getting warm, feeling we must be getting close, when Rebecka started to give up all hope, driving down a path of beaten grass which seemed to have last been traversed by horse and carriage with weeds scraping the undercarriage, and usually one minute after Rebecka muttered, “This can’t possibly be right,” our GPS with its chipper accent would tell us we had arrived at our destination. And she was always right. In the middle of nowhere, a beautiful manor house nestled in the trees.

In Zen there is a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” When traveling with Rebecka there is a lesson, “When the road peters out, and you give up all hope, the destination appears.”

We had the run of this manor house (December, terrible weather, bad time to visit Skye, etc.) They lit a fire for use and Rebecka tried scotch whiskey for the first time while I stuck with my trusty companion, pale ale.

Wandering back toward Inverness Rebecka detoured us to see Castle Leod, the seat of the Clan Mackenzie near Strathpeffer, one of the locations where Outlander was filmed. The road was closed, so Rebecka, never one to take seriously a “Keep out!” sign, wandered down while I kept the car parked illegally. I had to zoom in to see her once she caught sight of the castle.

Rebecka announced before we left that we MUST visit a place with “Fairy” in the name, so I present The Fairy Glen near Uig!

And finally this:The sun doesn’t climb high at noon on December 10th in the Isle of Skye, latitude, 57° N, and the days are short: Sunrise: 8:42 Sunset 3:52. 7 hours of sunshine at winter solstice, 17 hours of sunshine at summer solstice. This was noon:

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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