I wasn’t planning on making any of the travel plans for the trip to Scotland (Alba, pronounced “Al-up-a” in Scottish Gaelic, Gàidhlig) until later on this spring. It was a combination of intuition, boredom in the moment, and excitement for September to come that spurred me on to checking out various B&B’s and planning at least the daily route for the two weeks. As I began to try to make reservations, I became more and more happy that I was doing it so early. Places are booking up for the fall already. I was also working around the fact that the Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leòdhais “marshy island”) and Harris (Na Hearadh, possibly from the Norse Hærri, meaning “higher”) close up shop on Sundays, and that necessitated a change in the original plan.
The other issue I had to work around was my sensitivity to chemical fragrances, especially ones in laundry detergents and fabric softeners/dryer sheets. Without exception on the trip in 2013, every B&B was happy to accommodate my sensitivity and promise me scent-free linens and towels. With the exception of the one place that forgot (and I slept with my windcheater between me and the pillow to block the fragrance) all was well.
Really, I don’t know why the world has gone all fragrance-mad anyway. Detergents send a burst of smell in to the air every time the fabric is moved; scents are marketed to stay in fabrics for three months. Some of the commercials on TV as pretty much saying that if things don’t smell right, there’s no need to clean, just spray it all with this scent or that and no one will notice. Yea. Right. And now walking through a public place can be an olfactory nightmare. But I digress.
I had a bit of difficulty with the request in the booking process this time around. One place unceremoniously canceled the online reservations I had made, with no explanation. After I sent an email to see what had happened, I was told in very crisp terms that they were not going to take the responsibility. “I wash other things” she wrote. A few other places declined to accommodate. Another place was very considerate in responding with the information that, even if they washed the linen and towels scent-free, there are diffusers and scented candles placed around the house. Most of the B&B’s, however, have been very gracious and understanding, saying that they are willing to do a bit extra to assure that my stay is a pleasant one. That’s the Scottish hospitality that I have come to know and enjoy so much!
I will be writing later on, as we are traveling, about each place that we stay. I want to be able to give each place its full due and highlight it as I write about the daily adventures. We will, of course be staying the first night at the farm in Largs as I have on all four trips; and, as always, there will be a wonderful night in Nairn with my friend Sheelagh.
As I mentioned, our travels will take us out to Harris and Lewis (together they are called Eilean a Fhraoich, “the heather isle”), through the Isle of Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, or Eilean a’ Cheòr “the island of the mist”), and Orkney (Arcaibh) as well. We will also be going through the Great Glen (A Gleann Mòr) and through Aberdeenshire (Siorrachd Obar Dheathain). There is a lot of new territory to see, and I will be in places that I have come to know in previous trips. I will be happy to experience different things in those places, and some of the same things, too.
As I was pulling out the maps and brochures from previous trips, I came across the tag for a hand-made knit hat that I bought the first time I was on Orkney in 2006. The woman who made it had her name on the tag, and so I made the bold step of finding her online and emailing her. I wanted to see if her shop was still open because the friend I am traveling with this time is an avid knitter who also felts and spins. I thought it would be fun for my friend to be able to talk with someone in Scotland who does the same. As it turns out, my hat was knit by someone who is well-versed in Orcadian history and culture. She and I have had a great conversation back and forth in our emails. She has invited us to spend an evening at her home and has invited other storytellers from the island as well. That’s the Scottish graciousness and generosity that I have come to know; each time I am there I come back with a new friend.
When we are on the Isle of Skye, we will be staying at a B&B in Portree (Port Righ) owned by native speakers of Gaelic (Gàidhlig); I have promised myself that I will continue to study and not allow myself to become too shy to try speaking it as I have on all other trips. I have broached this subject with our Hostess for the night’s stay and she is agreeable to helping me fumble my way through. By the time we are in Portree, I will have had at least three days in the areas where the Gàidhlig is spoken most readily. I wonder how one says “courage” in Gàidhlig?
The first full day of the trip will be to go up to Loch Linnhe (linne, “pool”) and spend some time at the Highland Titles-Glencoe Estates land and check on the Rowan trees that I planted for my dad in 2013. Then, after staying the night in Oban, it’s up the Great Glen and on to the next couple weeks of adventure.