The Road Less Traveled

The basic plan for the overall trip is simple: we want to head up the east coast wander around in the Highlands, and then head back down the west coast and islands. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but we figure if we start in Glasgow and just sort of loop our way around, we will have plenty to do and we can pretty much stop anywhere we want.

We can avoid the crowds that way, and it gives us the flexibility to stay someplace for a few days, if it strikes our fancy to do so. If we don’t get all the way around, well, we’ll just have to go back, won’t we? Oh, no.

Mark (who is a spontaneous traveller, as I’ve noted before) thinks we ought to just get airline tickets, land in Glasgow, rent a car, and drive north. Stop when we’re tired of driving, and stay wherever we end up.

It certainly sounds like a perfectly good plan. Except I have a wrenching feeling that we’d end up sleeping in the car a couple of nights. I don’t really demand much of my lodging — but it has to have a flush potty.

The car is definitely out.

I tell him the story of Jim and Boo’s trip to Duluth, MN. One of them had business in the city and they decided to make a road trip out of it. Figuring (probably accurately) that Duluth was not exactly a tourist mecca, they decided to just drive into town and find a local hotel to stay in. No problem. They’d only be there a few days and be on their way. They arrive in Duluth, which is really a very nice town, and try to find a room. No luck. They realize to their horror that they have arrived several hours after the 80 softball teams arriving for the regional playoffs. There isn’t a hotel room for 200 miles. Nothing.

Therefore, the first rule is: Always have a room reservation your first night.

You might not have any other reservations, but it will be very nice to know that you have a place to go after you get off the plane and want to collapse. You won’t be wandering around a strange city with your luggage and jet lag.

The second rule (related to the first): Always have a room reservation your last night.

Again, pretty logical. You want to be someplace where you will get a hot bath, transportation to the airport, and get pampered a bit before heading back to your normal life. It’s been recommended that we wait until the last night to really splurge on a wonderful hotel. That way, even if the previous couple of days were spent sharing a bunkhouse at the local Youth Hostel, your last memory of your vacation is comfy, and elegant, and just a little plush. Chocolates on the pillow, and all that. Plus, you don’t have to worry about how long it’s going to take you to get the airport, or whether your luggage will make it.

So, we have the choice of hotels, Bed and Breakfasts, Hostels, or Self-catering (open rentals where you bring your own stuff).

We decide that we want to go the B&B route. Scotland has hundreds upon hundreds of Bed and Breakfasts in quaint country homes, and even some of the castles and manor houses have very reasonable rates. (This is quite unlike the Unites States, where Bed and Breakfast seems to denote an expensive, “country” getaway).

Of course, from what I can tell, the quality of the B&B establishments can run the gamut from gorgeous country homes to dingy little modern boxes. Some have private rooms with private baths, other share everything. Some have wonderful food, others…well, you’d be better off eating at the pub. (See? I knew that I needed all those guidebooks!). It doesn’t seem to be related to price, either. Some of the most highly recommended are quite inexpensive, and others that are branded pretentious and uncomfortable cost alot. But, you pays your money, and you takes your chances.

I picked up three or four guides to B&Bs in Scotland and the UK. I know that by the time we go, prices will have changed, but there seem to be some “regulars” that keep popping up in all the guides with good recommendations that ought to be a good place to start.

Oh! And recommendations. Geez. I wish that they’d just stick to one way of ranking things — and at least give us an idea what on earth the rankings mean. “Commended”, “Highly Commended”, “Four Star”, “Listed”. What?

Apparently, the “commended” style of ranking is not a value judgment. Just because a place is “Highly Commended” does not mean that it is a nicer, cleaner, more elegant, or higher-class establishment than a “Listed” hotel. My understanding is that it’s a ranking based on a simple checklist. If you have A and B and C on the list you are “Commended”, if you have those, and also D and E, then you are “Highly Commended”. The fact that I think at least one of the checkboxes is ‘indoor plumbing’ — well, I’m a little nervous.

What it does mean, though, is that a little farmhouse B&B that is classified as only “Listed” might be the best place that you will ever stay, as long as you don’t mind sharing a bathroom and sleeping in the tiny attic room. The house could be a centuries old crofter’s hut on a working farm, the breakfast might be the best you’ll eat in Scotland, and the people will genuinely enjoy your company and make you feel welcome.

If you have been to Scotland and have any recommendations for a wonderful place to stay, please email me!

A couple of the books that I’ve looked through include a listing of B&Bs that are between £10 and £35 per person, per night. Make sure that when you read the room rates that you know if they are per room, or per person. Almost all are per person, per night. People have told us that the breakfast normally served (especially if it is a “full scottish breakfast”) can keep you going until dinner time.

I picked up a copy of Charming Little Hotels and Inns in England, Scotland, and Wales which (before the puppy decided to eat it) was very useful, as it had personal testimonials and was not a paid advertisement. Remember that most listing books charge establishments to be in the book. Take them with a grain of salt — I did.

The Scottish Tourist offices in most major cities also offer a service called “Book a Bed Ahead”, where (for a small fee) they will call ahead and find you a B&B wherever you intend to be that night. It’s a flexible way to assure that you will have someplace to sleep — and if you decide to stay for an extra day or so, you aren’t going to throw off your schedule of reservations. Some groups of hotels will also do this, but are limited to within their own “circle”. The Tartan Collection hotels will do this — but they are a bit pricey, even though the idea of sleeping in a medieval castle is inspiring.

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