Friday, 18 September 2009

Jings, Crivvens, Help ma' Boab

Now, here's a photograph that speaks a thousand words. It might look like an innocent holiday snap to you, but believe me, the look of joy on my face is genuine.

Regular visitors to Scotland on the A1 may recognise it. It's the 'Welcome to England' sign on the south-bound carriageway, and when the picture was taken in 2001 it made the pitiful brown sign welcoming you to Scotland on the other side of the road look embarrassing. They get a boring sign, we get a layby and custom-built stone sign. The most amusing thing about the 'Scotland Welcomes You' sign across the road is that, truthfully, it didn't welcome me one little bit. Long before Scottish Parliaments, but after Braveheart the movie, Scotland extended an icy-cold stare in place of a handshake. I couldn't wait to leave.

I'll give you some Beetwaste - Scotland background. There are 3 reasons I had a downer on Scotland. I went on a family holiday to Edinburgh which, despite the good company, was crap. It rained. All the time. There was nothing much to do for a teenage boy with an interest in railways that he'd yet to grow out of. Edinburgh in the rain is a black, dull, miserable place, even in festival week. Oh yes, it was dire. My only other visit was a day out to Dumfries, the Queen of the South. Oh dear, what a dreary place. The riverbank was being rebuilt, and we only went because Mrs Beetwaste (despite some tenuous Scottish lineage) had never actually visited the country. There is a third reason I don't like Scotland, but that's for another day!

So, in 2001, we took a decision to visit the place properly, and vowed to have an open mind. 2001 was the year of the foot and mouth outbreak, and our usual holiday destination was limited because all the footpaths were closed to walkers. Scotland didn't have this restriction, at the not in the Highlands. So, tent packed into the 1988 Toyota Corolla, off we went.

Plan A was to camp in Edinburgh, and we took the back road, the A68, a very scenic route. It was very nice. In Edinburgh, the campsite appeared to be shut, so we consulted our 'Good Campsite Guide 2001' and headed off to Galashiels, to a recommended site. It wasn't so much a campsite, as a refugee facility that seemed to be housing victims of the Galashiels earthquake. We left fearing for our lives (seriously!), and found a layby. Our first night was spent scrunched into a camping-equipment rammed car, in a layby near a not-very-pleasant Scottish border town. Not a great introduction to Caledonia.

So, next morning, about 4am-ish, cramp in legs, unwashed, after a toilet stop in the bushes near the layby, we set off again. Now, Edinburgh at 5am in the sun is a revelation, a glorious city - if you ever go, get up early before the traffic and tourists ruin it. The two Forth bridges were an impressive site. Breakfast at McDonalds, drive on to a campsite on a disused railway platform near Crianlarich (we would have stopped at Ardlui, a favourite haunt of my parent-in-laws, but it appeared very unfriendly, plus the campsite-to-toiletblock walk crossed the main road to the Highlands, which seemed dangerous). That campsite was very nice, and looking on Google, it seems that we stayed at the Glen Dochart caravan park. Ironically, the site owner was English!

The week had highs and lows. The highlight was the Pitlochry fish ladder and dam, well worth a trip. But my biggest problem was the locals. With the notable exception of a garage in Stirling who fixed my car for the cost of parts and were very friendly, most of the other places I visited clearly wanted me to go back home.

The first time it happened, I thought it was just me - remember I'd vowed to go with an open mind. We bought chips in Fort William (now there's an overrated destination, don't waste your time or money visiting unless you have to!) The woman behind the counter was chatting to everyone in front of us, and some were clearly tourists. It got to our turn, and she clammed up the moment I opened my mouth, and managed the impressive feat of serving me using only the basic essential words, before continuing to the chap behind us as she was before. Couldn't have been more unfriendly if I'd been wearing a 'Robert the Bruce was a t**t' t-shirt.

Then, a toilet stop in the Glencoe visitors centre. Oh, that was a pleasure. The toilets are actually inside the centre, therefore you have to pay to go in for a pee. So whilst in there we had a look around. It had cost us a quid! The 'highlight' was a video about what utter bastards the English landowners were, casting poor Scottish women and children into the snow during their eviction. Ok, the land clearances were not our finest moment as a nation, but it's not my fault! The over-dramatisation of this event again, made me feel about as welcome as a dog in a cat convention.

The moment when I accepted that it wasn't just my prejudice, and I genuinely wasn't welcome, was at a place called Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond (again, vastly over-rated as a beauty spot, Loch Tay near Dundee is far, far more scenic and unspoilt). Luss is the place were 'Take the High Road' was filmed, the well-known Scottish soap featuring Mrs Mack. I purchased an ice-cream from a girl who displayed the exact same traits as the Fort William chip-shop owner, only it was multiplied by a million, ie. a 'Give me your money and sod off back south' attitude. No such worries about the bus load of American tourists, who were welcomed with open arms by a piper.

And that was it. Tartan, bagpipes, tins of shortbread with pictures of Rabbie Burns on them. It fitted every stereotype, but instead of being proud and patriotic it came across as 'We don't want to be like you, and all our problems are your fault'. So we went home.

Well that's not true, we only went 'home' in the sense of heading back to Yorkshire. Our trip home went via a petrol station to dispose of our useless Scottish bank notes (the guy's face when I gave him an English £10 note was priceless, you'd have thought I'd handed over a handful of rabbit droppings!) It also took us through Glasgow, which we passed through with doors locked. What a truly awful city. Nasty, dirty, unpleasant place, like every sink estate in Britain concentrated into one place.

We headed off to Arncliffe in Littondale. The campsite had 2 tents in it, including us, and the bloke in there was over the moon to see us. You see, they'd had a shocking year, because the news was full of how bad foot and mouth was, how everything was shut, and how you should keep away. In fact, only the paths were shut. The tourist places were crying out for people, because they'd finally realised how important visitors were. Wherever they were from.

The rest of the week was great. The weather was rubbish, obviously - it was a camping holiday. But the people were great, the views were great, the attractions were great. We were home. And we were welcome. In fact, we still are, most of the time! If you have a better experience of Scotland, I'm pleased, but I still thinks it's a shame that my view of a glorious, scenic, nation has been jaundiced by the chippy attitude of the locals. And, Edinburgh is the rain is still rubbish!


  1. I'll admit that I've only ever been anywhere near the centre, but Glasgow's a wonderful city.

  2. If you've had a better experience of Glasgow, I'm pleased. I can only write from my experience, and I suspect others have a better time. To be fair, I didn't get near the centre, only the outskirts.