Posted by: Robin | August 20, 2010

How far again?

How Far?One thing I learned on our UK trip is to never ask a Brit how far away a place is. This is a country of walkers and their idea of ‘far’ and mine lost something in the translation, from frenetic London to the mountains of Wales to the Highlands of Scotland I would be reassured that our destination was not far, just a short walk! HA! My poor feet screamed at me time and again to stop being so gullible. And then came the coup de tat on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. It was one of the few all-day drizzles, and after ten hours on trains and ferries we were damp and chilly (which involved the calamity of finding that Don’s flexi-train pass was nowhere to be found and new tickets had to be bought). Having returned our rental car, we were assured that the hotel would send someone to pick us up. We were just to call. So as the rain blew, we clomped our weary way off the Oban-Craignure ferry ready to be dry (and let’s be honest, guzzle a few).

I call. Phone not in service. I call the car service. No answer. Fortunately a tourist information center is right there, right? Right? So leaving Don with the luggage I go in and tell the woman that I must have the wrong number for the hotel. She says, “So you want me to call fer you?” (in her thick Scottish burr) Then she pins me with her steely gaze and uplifted eyebrows (and let me say there is no gaze steelier than a Scot’s) “It’s only a hundred yards down the road.”

“A hundred yards,” I said doubtfully.

“A hundred yards,” she said with enough condescension at my soft American constitution that she sent me scurrying out ready to manfully cover the distance. My inner voice berated me at being cowed so easily, but I assured myself and my feet that this time it was not a vague “not far,” but actual yardage! I’d been in the marching band. I knew exactly how long that was. My husband was not particularly pleased, but he patiently agreed, despite the rain picking up pace. I must add here to be fair that the woman had no idea how much luggage we were dealing with.

So we set out! A hundred yards. Very wet and no hotel. Another fifty or so and we see a sign with the hotel name pointing down a gravel path through the woods, a mere 3/4 kilometer away (#@&$!). We plunge forth, by now dripping. The stones get clogged in the luggage wheels, but we persevere, up and down and around at least another half kilometer. Blisters are forming on my hands. Finally, we catch sight of the hotel, but no way up to it. We are so soaked (despite rain gear), cold, tired, miserable and desperate that we decide to head into the tall grass and bramble bushes jagging through our clothes. Ten yards in we hit a boggy stream. We try another place. Same result. I am ready to sit down and cry, but there really was no point. We retrace our steps ‘over the river and through the woods’ to the road, and walk along it for that same 3/4 kilometer till we see a sign and driveway down to our hotel. We arrive shedding puddles with each step and receive an equally cold welcome from the receptionist. Having no elevator, poor Don has to carry both sopping big suitcases down to our room. By the time we got everything damp out of our suitcases and found something dry, our room looked like a rain forest of dripping clothes.

But what a good night’s sleep will do! By morning we were laughing. The waiter escorted us to the far corner table for breakfast. No sooner had we sat than Don nudged me and pointed out the window. Straight ahead was a narrow path that led from the path we’d traveled the evening before to the back veranda of the hotel. If we’d gone ten to fifteen more yards, we’d have found it. We looked at each other and burst out in helpless giggles. If he’d sat us anywhere else in the dining room we’d never have seen it.

So, not sure what the moral of this tale is, other than the originally stated lesson learned, but surely there were more: Don’t be cowed by hardy Scottish ladies, don’t be led astray by handmade signs that take you down the garden path, or do persevere, forward and onward until every option is explored. Or just acknowledge as our children are so fond of reminding us, we aren’t safe to be turned loose in the world by ourselves. (And yes, while going through the damp luggage contents we found the flexipass so from then on Don had two seats on every train we rode in).

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