In August 1964 my friend and I hitch-hiked through Scotland for three weeks.
We started in Edinburgh, went up to the very north, then down on the western coast and finished in Glasgow. After getting an overview of the city from Edinburgh Folly in the Camera Oscura, a kind of huge radar screen, we went to the youth hostel. Which was full; we could only get a private room somewhere in the city. How many guests can sleep on four mattresses? Eight, according to the greedy landlady!
We were travelling on a shoestring, but when we came to The Tartan Gift Shop on Princes St, I decided to indulge in luxury at least once and buy cloth for a skirt. I liked the announcement: ‘If your name is So-and-so, then your tartan is…’ showing an endless list of all possible tartan colour combinations. Not surprisingly my German name was not in the list, I decided on MacLeodRed. When I told the shop assistant how much cloth I needed, she looked at me as if I were an extraterrestrial. Metres and centimetres, what was that? She called her colleagues, but they couldn‘t figure out, either, how much I wanted, I couldn‘t respond with yards and inches, and so I was re-measured ‘correctly‘.
We then left the city and crossed the Forth, we wanted to see the Scottish countryside at last, and countryside we saw during our trip, more and often longer than we had intended. I don‘t know what the traffic in rural Scotland is like today, in those days there was hardly any in some areas. The problem was not that the drivers didn‘t want to give us a lift (sometimes they didn‘t, especially when we were dripping wet, with the result that we were getting wetter and wetter!), no, the problem was that sometimes there were no cars for hours, and the Sundays were seemingly dead.
Where did we go from Edinburgh? Looking back I wonder why we didn‘t go to St. Andrews, Perth or Dundee. We only had a road map of Scotland, but no guide book, so I assume we just didn‘t know about any attractions there and obviously nobody told us about any. Our general destination was the north coast, but when someone told us about an interesting place and there was a youth hostel in the vicinity, we more than once changed our course.
This happened when we were in the Highlands. After admiring the hill slopes covered with heather from Devil‘s Elbow (on one of the few sunny days) we hitched to Balmoral, had a look at the Royal Castle and intended to continue our journey to the north when a driver stopped, opened the door, grinned at us and said, ‘Hop in, I know where you want to go!’ We were surprised as we didn‘t know ourselves, but then he told us about Queen Elizabeth‘s arrival at Ballater train station.
What else belongs to Scotland besides the holidaying Queen? Lochs! Whisky! We passed Loch Lochy and Loch Ness without being too impressed, the weather was horrid. Our drivers liked our perfect pronunciation of ‘loch‘, no problem for a German tongue.
Near Strathpeffer the co-owner of the Invergordon Whiskey Distillery picked us up and gave us an extra tour through the whole establishment although it was closed for the weekend. He was so proud and repeatedly told us that *his* distillery was the largest in Europe and that there was only one a wee bit larger in the USA.
Carbisdale Castle was on our want-do list, but a Scottish Sunday was looming and when luck would have it and we could get a lift to Tongue on the north coast, we took it. A baker had placed/posted/banned (?) his wife in a caravan up there and visited her together with his son over the weekend. Contrary to what people had told us about the bleak and utterly boring landscape there we liked it. Studying Russian at uni we knew what tundra looked like, but hadn‘t expected to find this landscape in the north of Scotland. And we saw Highland cattle and black cows with *black* udders!
Suddenly our baker shouted out that the driver of the Landrover that had just overtaken us was Minister Profumo! Profumo indeed! We knew everything about him, the minister who had had a love affair with a call girl, his story had been in the German yellow press as well. He had gone into hiding in Tongue together with his wife Valerie. Our baker told us that he would go to church on Sunday and we could see him there if we liked, but he made us swear not to tell a living soul about it, Profumo‘s privacy was to be kept at all costs.
The first thing we did, of course, when we came to the youth hostel was tell two German boys the news, they accompanied us to the Episcopal Church of Scotland the following day where we provoked raised eyebrows from the baker. My friend was convinced that Mr Profumo was ogling us all the time, I couldn‘t say, all I remember is Mrs Valerie wearing a crocheted cap and singing her heart out.
We went to the coast after service to look at the Atlantic Ocean. A seal was studying us all the time, smiling as it seemed. We were impressed, it was exactly as we had imagined it. Where next? We had time enough, we could have gone to the Orkney Islands, north, north, that would have pleased us, but it was sooooo cold, it was the coldest August we‘d ever experienced. Everything is relative, though, two hitch-hikers we met had been to Iceland for two weeks, they found the temperature in Scotland rather pleasant.
During the whole trip we weren‘t much into hygiene, more often than not we slept with our clothes on lying in youth hostels made of cardboard with the wind blowing in one corner and out the other. Once we had a hostel with two outhouses, ‘ladies‘ and ‘gents‘, we had to take a paraffin lamp and stumble along a path to get there. We waited until it was dark, of course, we wanted the whole ‘romantic‘ programme for our money!
Cape Wrath was a name we would have liked to add to our collection of exotic place names, but no car went into that direction. ‘What do you want to do there?’ We couldn‘t answer. ‘Isle of Skye‘ didn‘t sound bad, either, improved by the addition ‘Inner Hebrides‘, so we decided to go there. It was ages before the bridge was built, it was ferry service then and you‘d rather not miss the last one before the Scottish weekend would hit again with everybody indoors and nobody thinking of cold, wet, hungry, desperate hitch-hikers out on the kerb of the road. My memories of the Isle of Skye are very positive, a wild and edge-of-the world feeling floats back into my memory.
Ullapool and palm trees on the coast because of the gulf stream that was another thing we were interested in, but it was sooooo wet! We were willing to see as much as possible, but had the distinct impression that Scotland didn‘t want us.
Someone had told us that Glasgow had the friendliest people of the world! Well, the ones we met didn‘t behave in a way that made us doubt this statement. I hope that it‘s still true today! But then we only met very friendly people wherever we went, once we were even invited by an old couple to stay overnight. We had already been invited to do so by a young family in Newcastle upon Tyne, though, i.e., friendly people on both sides of the border.
When we talked to the warden in the first English youth hostel we came to and told him that we had shortened our trip because of the weather he went and fetched a photo album showing us his sunburnt family swearing that the photos were taken during summer holidays up north. Well, well. We have to believe him, I, for one, won‘t go back, not in this life at least. After this trip I got to know my husband, an Italian, and now my compass shows more south than north.