The Godfather: Peter Corris on Scotland
Jean and I both have Scots ancestry. Jean’s paternal grandmother was a Fraser. The Frasers were a clan notorious for changing sides in the conflicts that raged in the borderlands for centuries. A family story is that a distant aunt or some such relative was a sweetheart of Robert Burns who, of course, had many.
My maternal grandparents both hailed immediately from Scotland although, named Kelly and Kennedy, certainly one and possibly both had Irish forebears.
When Jean and I were in Britain in 1995 we made a point of visiting Scotland. The year was getting on and our Australian upbringing hadn’t equipped us for the rigours of a train trip to the north where my people came from, so we toured the south in a rented car.
We spent time in Edinburgh, suitably awed by the majesty of the city and its cultural and historical richness. We went briefly to Glasgow, which to my mind had something of a feel of Melbourne with its parks and grey buildings. The native accent proved almost unintelligible, reminding us of characters in the TV series Taggart.
In the countryside we sought out castles and Jean developed a penchant for photographing black-faced sheep in fields. Dumfries was a Fraser habitat and we went there intending to inspect Robert Burns’s house, a tourist attraction like Keats’s house in Rome or Ho Chi Minh’s in Hanoi. It was boarded up and scaffolded for repairs.
The hotel we stayed in had obviously once been a stately home, all windows and weather-beaten sandstone. The tourist season must have been over or perhaps there was no tourist season without Burns’s house – there was certainly nowhere to eat in Dumfries on a Sunday night.
We ate at the hotel. The manager, it seemed, doubled as the cook and tripled as the waiter. He was amiable but a little eccentric in small ways. When we were about to go up to our room he offered us a selection of DVDs, mostly, to our great amusement, episodes of Fawlty Towers.
Our next stop was Loch Lomond. Money was short by this stage and we were operating mainly on credit cards, postponing the evil day. ‘The Lodge’ on the shores of the loch was a five-star affair, lavishly appointed and with a sauna in every room. I had a heavy cold when we arrived and wanted comfort. The sauna sweated the cold out of me and we stayed for several days enjoying the sights. The loch was an impressive body of water with a sandy shore and swans sailing in the shallows. An island a considerable distance out was said to have been a place for fallen women to serve their penance.
The nearby village of Luss was famous as the setting for a long-running Scottish TV series, Take the High Road, and a tourist attraction on that account. There were restored and preserved medieval religious structures (Luss is an official ‘conservation village’) and, of more interest to me, a Viking gravestone possibly dating from the tenth century when the Norsemen in their longships raided deep into Scotland via the lochs.
‘The Lodge’ was built and owned by the local laird, who lived in and managed it. We chatted with him briefly as he worked the room among his guests. The place had a French chef and the meals, without being ostentatious, were excellent although, along with the drink, very expensive.
When we prepared to leave I threw caution to the winds and bought a bottle of single malt costing a king’s ransom. Out came the MasterCard and we settled the massive account with an elderly man who appeared not entirely familiar with the procedure.
Our stay at Loch Lomond remains a cherished memory and it had an added allure – the account, which must have run into many hundreds of dollars, never arrived. I hope the old chap didn’t get into trouble for the error. I’m sure the laird could stand the hit.