This isn’t going to be my usual style of Blog. And it isn’t going to be easy to write.
Normally, I try to do a write-up about places we’ve visited, or else I pick a Scottish theme to write about. But I can’t get in the mood for doing that as my Dad passed away last week and my thoughts are mainly about all that he meant to me.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Secret Scotland wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for my Dad.
Back in 2018, when a crooked website developer nearly ruined our business and caused us a lot of stress and sleepless nights, it was Dad that stepped in to help me out with the costs of developing a new website. I was close to giving up, but Dad knew it would break my heart to quit Secret Scotland so he came to the rescue like he always did.
He was such a font of knowledge and folklore. He seemed to know the correct pronunciation of every place name in Scotland. I certainly never found one that he didn’t know and that’s quite something when you have places in Scotland spelled Kilconquhar but pronounced like “Kin-uck-ar”.
Dad loved driving and we used to go off on road trips together. Just me and Dad with a well-thumbed AA road atlas, and a very dog-eared copy of Peter Underwood’s ”Gazetteer of Scottish Ghosts”.
Dad also always had cars that were a bit different from the mainstream. Not flash cars, just cars that were a bit special with more character than the run-of-the-mill Fords, Vauxhalls, and British Leyland boxes that other kids’ Dads had. My favourite memories are of trips up north in his Lancias. They were the perfect cars for spirited driving in the Scottish Highlands.
On those quiet roads, Dad would let me take the wheel even though I didn’t yet have my driving licence. He wasn’t a nervous passenger, instead he’d give me tips on how to read the road and set up the car so it could take the fastest line through the bends.
This might all seem like incidental stuff, but these road trips inspired a lot of the routes we now feature in our Scotland tour plans.
Back in the 1980’s, when Dad and I did most of our “Boy’s Trips”, Scotland didn’t get so many tourists. B&Bs were mainly run by local folk who just let out a spare bedroom in the summer to bring in a few extra pounds. There was no internet, no email and you didn’t really need to pre-book a place to stay. Consequently, our adventures were what could best be described as capricious. We just set off with a general idea of where we wanted to go but then followed side-roads and dead ends in an impulsive fashion. The joy was the journey, the destination was a bonus.
Dad taught me about whisky. His favourite was Springbank, and anyone who knows their Malts will tell you that Springbank is one of the best. But Dad would always say; “There is no such thing as a bad Malt whisky, there’s just different tastes”.
I’ll miss sampling new whiskies with him. I’d always hoped to take him on a Speyside tour to tick off some of the tastings that we hadn’t yet managed. But we did have a very happy celebration at Aberlour Distillery for his 80th birthday and I have found that he still has some of the whisky that he bottled himself on that day in 2008.
Dad was a prolific reader and had read most of the works of the famous Scottish novelists; R.L.Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. His knowledge of Robert Burns' poetry was comprehensive too, and he was a regular speaker at Burns’ Suppers. Dad had a knack of bringing these literary figures to life. On one of our road trips, he took me to several of the old coaching Inns in the Borders, such as Tibbie Shiel’s near Moffat, where Walter Scott was known to have enjoyed a few drams with his literary friends.
Whenever we could, we would bring Mum and Dad along on our research trips. Dad always took pride in telling people what Secret Scotland was about and how we researched our guides in so much detail. I sometimes found it a bit embarrassing, but Dad was always anxious to promote our business whenever he got an opportunity.
I always loved when I could take Dad to places he’d never been before. It may seem surprising that you can still find new places to visit in Scotland after living here 90 years, but there were a few corners that even my Dad hadn’t explored.
I have especially fond memories of taking my parents to Knoydart for the treat of a seafood platter at the Old Forge Inn. The remotest pub in Scotland.
And finally taking them on a boat trip to the Corryvreckan Whirlpool which Dad had told me the legend of when I was just a little kid.
But Dad taught me more about Scotland than I could ever teach him back. He took me to Rosslyn Chapel in the 1980’s long before anyone had heard about the “Da Vinci Code”. Back then, Rosslyn Chapel was a forgotten little church that you could wander into for free and you would have it all to yourself. There were no tour guides pointing out the mysterious carvings or explaining the history of the “Apprentice’s Pillar”. But I didn’t need any tour guides, I had my Dad with me to tell me all the stories and bring the history alive.
Dad’s stories are now woven into our travel guides and the memories of our road trips resonate in everything I write. I wish I could repay you the debt I owe you, but I know you’d never accept it back.
I hope that my memories of you will never fade.
Thanks for the ride Dad.