Regina Bell | Scotland, August 2018
Early last year, I started thinking about how I’d like to celebrate my 55th (yes, I embrace it) birthday that August, and I decided it was time for a return trip to my favorite country: Scotland. Three years before, my friend Xandy and I toured the east coast around St. Andrew’s and some of the hot spots like Culloden, Sterling Castle, Dunnottar Castle and, of course, the Elephant Café (where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter).
This time, I traveled with another fellow adventurer: my friend Therese. It was time to hit the west coast and the more obscure (but no less fascinating) destinations. The mysterious western islands, Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Skye Highland Games and whisky with the tang of the sea beckoned.
Our first stop was the Internet, where my friend and I were immediately overwhelmed by the amount of sometimes-conflicting info. So, next was a visit with Sue Becks at Footsteps World Travel. Still, although I knew Sue and her family were experts at world travel, I wasn’t convinced I needed (or wanted) a travel agent. That’s what the Internet and Airbnb are for, right? Being a grown, (kind of) bossy woman, I was a little salty about someone deciding my days and nights on my dream vacation.
In the end, Sue offered a great solution: both an 11-day tour of the Outer Hebrides with CIE and time on our own. This was the best of both worlds and, to be honest, forced Therese and me to admit that it was so much easier working with a travel agent.
The CIE tour covered some pretty amazing places and events, but it still missed several that my friend and I wanted to see: the Isles of Mull and Iona, the Highland Games on the Isle of Skye and extra days in Glasgow, to name a few. While we worked hard (really!) to find our own lodging, Sue helped us with info on the trains, busses and ferries, which can be a bit complicated. She also worked it out with our tour guide for us to come skidding in at the last minute to meet our tour group (note to self: always opt for the taxi instead of a “quick” walk).
• CIE got our tour group tickets for the last night of the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. Anyone who has tried to attend this jaw-dropping event knows that tickets are trimmed in gold and much more rare. We, however, had seats on the proverbial 50-yard line. Let me know if you want to see pictures or video; I’ve got lots of both. Amazing!
• Taking an unplanned trip to the breathtaking Butt of Lewis, the very northernmost tip of the Outer Hebrides. Look at my picture here. Enough said.
• My favorite part of the CIE tour, though, were our guide Graham, driver Keith and our fellow passengers. We only had twenty in our group, and we ended up like family by the end of our trip. Well, the kind of family that helps you steal a special glass from a pub, tries all the local whiskies with you, drags you the last few feet up a steep slope or takes yet one more photo of you without you having to ask (Not that I ever stole anything, mind you, but somebody might have.)
It was an amazing adventure, and our trip to Scotland was that much better, thanks to Sue’s expertise, patience and great connections. I can’t wait for the next trip!