Skip to content

Postcard from Scotland (or rather a little bit of it…)

June 8, 2022

By accident rather than design, my wife and I ended up for the tail end of the Royal Jubilee celebrations in Scotland. We flew rather than drove, which meant seven hours in and out of airport terminals rather than seven hours (or more) battling through the M25 and ploughing our way along Britain’s oldest motorway oop North.

I’m something of a Scotland newbie. Only been there a couple of times, and those trips were on business. This was pleasure. No politics, no royals, no Boris. Just a short stay at a hotel we’d planned to visit a couple of years ago before the pandemic struck. Our booking survived, so off we went at the earliest convenient opportunity.

The destination was the Greywalls Hotel, which sits on the perimeter of Muirfield, one of Scotland’s finest golf courses and frequent host of The Open, one of golf’s four major championships. I wasn’t there to play golf, just to hang out in a part of the United Kingdom I’d never visited before.

What’s worth writing about Greywalls? Well, it’s an elegant Lutyens house built at the turn of the last century. It’s still owned by the family that bought it in the 1920s, rather than by some ghastly hotel chain. It’s packed full of family stuff, original furniture, real books, nothing later than the Sixties. Across the walls are pictures of family members, of team photos of sporting events from the twenties onwards. A wind-up gramophone with 78’s on the grand piano. A croquet lawn looking out over the tenth tee. A tennis grass court. A magnificent walled garden that still, apparently, is as originally designed by the delightfully-named Gertrude Jekyll from Surrey in the 1900s. All over the house, ornaments, mementos, snapshots. A telegram from Edward VII thanking the owners at the time for their hospitality and agreeing to be godfather to one of their offspring.

Aside from the pleasure of sitting outside our ground-floor room watching golfers limbering up for an imminent women’s tournament, what I appreciated most about Greywalls was that it’s so old-fashioned.

No spa, jacuzzi, hot stones and seaweed. No fridge in the room. No kettle. No 24-hour room service. No reception. No plastic room keys, just a normal key on a chunky, leather-bound baton. Nobody bothers you unless you want to be bothered. No one banging on your door every ten minutes shouting room service. No chocolates on your pillow.

Just peace and quiet. Our fellow guests were mainly golfers, many from other countries, including some guys from Detroit on a tour of Scotland’s big-name courses, who had lost their bags (though not their clubs) in transit through Amsterdam. Not all golfers, though. In one of the sitting rooms on our last afternoon were two old ladies chatting away for hours over tea about how well their offspring were doing. They could be patients of Doctor Findlay (a silly in-joke – apologies, non-Brits and anyone under 65 who doesn’t remember Dr Findlay’s Casebook).

The food? There’s a Roux restaurant that does dinner for lots of money per head. We ate instead at a pub 30 minutes walk away that overlooks the Muirfield practice area. Despite being packed out, the owner still offered to pick us up from the hotel and drop us back again. I doubt if the Ivy would do that. We did have breakfast at the hotel, though. Porridge brûlée with whisky and cream. Full Scottish, with black pudding, haggis and locally-sourced bacon and sausage. As a lighter option, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with a spoonful of caviar. The clotted cream tea was pretty good – freshly baked scones and all that jazz.

As for the setting, the fairways of Muirfield stretching out towards the Firth of Forth. Everything in bloom. Sandstone houses with silly names like Wits End and The Colonel’s House (next door to The Other Colonel’s House). The countryside is rather like Ireland. Plenty of trees, a bit of a chill in the air despite the sunshine, and an abundance of golf courses. When we arrived from Edinburgh Airport, we took a taxi, which was outrageously expensive for the 30-mile journey. So for the way back we took a bus into the city, and then a tram to the airport. Much more fun, sitting on the top floor of a double-decker wending its way through villages picking up kids from school.

Because of all the airport nonsense – cancelled flights, endless security queues and so on – we arrived a few hours earlier than we needed to. So we left Gullane, where Greywalls is located, at 3pm and flew home at 9.30pm. By the way, the village is pronounced by the locals as Gullun, as in Gollum, and by the posh as Ghislane, as in Maxwell. Which shows that Scotland has no shortage of Hyacinth Buckets who call themselves Bouquet. (another in-joke, this one from Keeping Up Appearances, an English TV comedy about an outrageous snob played by Patricia Routledge.)

Another similarity with Ireland, which is my wife’s home country, is the preponderance of bungalows, at least in East Lothian. I’d expected to see baronial stone mansions belonging to the prosperous burghers of Edinburgh. There were some of these, but what was surprising and quite depressing was the large number of housing estates built in the sixties and seventies in which the houses were identical. No reflection on the residents – people need to live somewhere – but it seemed as though Scottish architecture must have been through a dark period distinguished by a terminal lack of imagination.

Perhaps I’m just playing the snooty Southerner who lives in an area where hardly any houses are the same, The trouble is, down here the new ones look like miniature versions of Tesco superstores. At least the East Lothian dwellings look sturdy enough to withstand the ravages of the Scottish winter.

No disrespect to Her Majesty and her loyal street party-goers, but a quick jaunt to Scotland was just the job. It made me want to see more, especially the delights of Edinburgh. As my wife said, perhaps it was because we rarely take an internal flight within the UK, but we had to remind ourselves from time to time that we weren’t in a foreign country.

Maybe that’s the way things will end up. I’m not sure I’ll be bothered either way, since I’m used to another different-but-similar country, the Irish Republic. The different constituents of the British Isles have so much more in common than divides them. I can’t see that changing if Scotland starts issuing its own passports. As long as we all get along together and ignore the political headbangers for whom division and strife is their principal source of amusement, we should be fine.

My only regret after this brief visit is that I waited until so late in life to visit Scotland. And while we’re at it, why stop at Scotland? A road trip taking in Yorkshire, Northumbria and Cumbria before we cross the border? A possibility for next year perhaps, provided we can still afford the fuel.

Not so much time and plenty more to see. Still, better late than never.

From → Social, Travel, UK

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: