BEYOND RYE: Auld Lang Syne
As we packed our bags for a visit to Scotland in late September, we were guided by an old Scottish saying that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.”
By Paul Hicks
As we packed our bags for a visit to Scotland in late September, we were guided by an old Scottish saying that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.” We heard that the summer there had been cool and rainy, but as it turned out, we were treated to ten days of unusually dry and mild weather (not counting some overnight showers and early morning mists).
The night flight from Newark to Edinburgh got us to our first overnight destination in time for a bracing pot of tea and some superb short bread. The place we had chosen to stay is a townhouse in a lovely residential area and home to one of the best restaurants in Edinburgh (Paul Kitching’s 21212). It also has, as the website accurately says, “four beautifully appointed large bedrooms” on the two higher floors.
Although our schedule did not allow us to have lunch or dinner in the restaurant, because it is closed on Mondays, we had a hint of the Michelin-starred cuisine at our delectable breakfast the next morning. The bed and breakfast rates were remarkably reasonable, and the service was first class. For details, go to www.21212restaurant.co.uk.
In our rental car, we managed to find our way around numerous roundabouts and out of Edinburgh across the Forth Bridge, headed for St. Andrews. This appealing city on the east coast, which is best known in the U.S as the Mecca of golf, is also home to the University of Saint Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland. Founded in 1413, the university has become a popular choice for college-bound Americans and trailed only Oxford and Cambridge in two recent rankings of the top U.K. universities.
In St. Andrews we stayed at the centrally located Macdonald Rusacks Hotel. Even for us non-golfers, the view from the hotel’s main restaurant of the eighteenth fairway leading up to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, with the North Sea in the distance, was memorable. The hotel’s gastro-pub provided just the right food and drink to satisfy the two hungry male undergraduates who joined us for dinner (the U.K allows consumption of beer, wine and cider with meals for anyone 16 or older).
To celebrate a special anniversary (it was our first trip to Scotland since our honeymoon in 1961) we also treated ourselves to dinner at restaurant on the outskirts of St. Andrews called The Peat Inn. It lived up to its promise of “a seasonal menu of outstanding Scottish ingredients,” that included delicious local seafood and lamb dishes. Like 21212, The Peat Inn calls itself “an award-winning restaurant with rooms” (www.thepeatinn .co.uk).
Rather than explore the Scottish Highlands, we decided to spend most of our time in Perthshire, the large central area of Scotland, which has a wide variety of great landscapes and places of interest. One of our favorites was Scone Palace, located a short distance from the city of Perth (http://scone-palace.co.uk/). Steeped in history, Scone was the crowning-place of Scottish kings for nearly 1,000 years and the original home of the iconic Stone of Scone. After being captured and held for centuries by the English at Westminster Abbey, it was returned to Scotland in 1996, where it is housed at Edinburgh Castle.
Blessed by the good weather, we enjoyed some excellent walks in the Perthshire countryside. One of the finest took us through a beautiful woodland glen along the fast-flowing Braan River. Known as the Hermitage walk, it leads to a pavilion built out over a gorge that provides dramatic views of the falls and cataracts. That adventure was followed by lunch in the nearby town of Dunkeld and another walk along the more tranquil upper reaches of the River Tay, which eventually flows into the North Sea near Dundee.
A high point of our Scottish sojourn was our stay at the Lake of Menteith Hotel where we had magnificent views from our bedroom of the lake and the distant highlands in an area known as the Trossachs. We can fully endorse the hotel’s website claim that, “In such a wonderful setting this hotel is very much of the place as well as in it, unobtrusive and unassuming.”
In addition to the beauty of the hotel’s natural setting, the food was excellent. Breakfasts began with a bowl of porridge (oatmeal), liberally topped with a dose of whole cream. A kippered herring or some black pudding might be added for the sake of tradition. At dinner, some of the best choices included Shetland Island salmon, steamed mussels from the Western Isles and a classic Scottish chowder called Cullen Skink (made with leeks, potatoes and smoked haddock).
Of the many nearby attractions our favorite was a visit to the city of Stirling, site of Stirling Castle, which is recognized as one of the most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. The victory of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 won both the castle and Scottish freedom from the English for nearly four centuries. Actors in period costumes reenact history throughout the castle, providing useful commentary and colorful performances.
On our drive back from Stirling to Lake Menteith, we stopped to visit a wildlife preserve that is an area of heath and bog rarely found outside the Scottish highlands. Because of the wet summer, some of the heather was still blooming. Seeing the heather on the heath along with views of highland cattle in the fields and savoring tastes of haggis during the visit satisfied my memories of Auld Lang Syne.