Short Trips Around Small Countries: Scotland

One day in 1990 I received an unexpected visit from the Director of the Institute where I worked (National Cancer Institute) and he had with him an elderly, distinguished-looking gentleman.  He asked me if I could accommodate this gentleman, who was Professor Sir Patrick Forrest from Edinburgh, in my office.  My name came to mind for two reasons, first I was from the UK, although from London, and second I was known to have several computers, and he urgently needed access to one.  Under such circumstances who could say “no,” but I was pleased to be of help to the visitor.  It turned out that the Director had made no arrangements in advance for Sir Patrick, so I was “it.”

Sir Patrick was Chairman of the UK Committee to decide whether or not British women should be screened for breast cancer, and their Report was just about to be published in the UK  (“Breast Cancer: the decision to screen,” Sir P. Forrest, Nuffield Trust, 1990).  I gave him a computer and he immediately sat down to write various letters.  He shared my office for several weeks and in that time we became friends.  I showed him what I was doing, studying breast cancer cells grown in culture and he toured the labs to meet other scientists.  When he left he made me promise to go and visit him in Edinburgh, hence this visit to Scotland.

With my wife, we took the fast train from London to Edinburgh and there rented a car.  We found Sir Pat’s home situated in a suburb of Edinburgh.  It was a small castle built of gray stone, as all Scottish castles seem to be, with a small turret and with a bright green hilly lawn.  We took various tours of Edinburgh, including the famous Castle, but even in the summer it was quite chilly.  I had to buy a tartan scarf on Prince’s Street against the wind. We had great meals and a party with Sir Pat and many guests that he invited.  I still treasure a copy of his Report with a nice inscription inside thanking me.

From Edinburgh we drove north, across the famous bridge of the Firth of Forth, then through the city of Perth, and through the hilly Cairngorms National Park.  We were surprised at how bald and tree-less the hills were, but it is quite far north.  On the way we saw a small castle that was in the travel guide, so we stopped.  The gentleman mowing the lawn in his kilt was the owner, so he gave us a personal tour.  We stayed overnight in Inverness, arranging B&B’s by telephone on the way.

Then we circumnavigated Loch Ness, the long thin lake south of Inverness.  No sightings of Nessie.  Nearby is the site of the battle of Culloden, 1746, the last battle fought on British soil, between the Jacobite supporters of the Stuart claimants to the throne of England and the English forces.  The Scots, mostly Highlanders, were badly beaten and afterwards they were massacred, known euphemistically as the “Highland clearances.”

From there we headed west to picturesque Kyle of Lochalsh, the ferry access to the Isle of Skye.  This was where Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart pretender to the English throne, escaped after the Battle of Culloden, as in the song “Sweet bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, onward the sailors cry, carry the lad that’s born to be King, over the sea to Skye.”  He lived a life of luxury and decadence at the court of his cousin the King of France, and never did come back again.  We chose not to cross over.  We bought beautiful local knitted sweaters for our family there.

Then we drove down the west coast of Scotland, in extreme summer heat, through beautiful rugged scenery for miles down a one-lane road, though Glenfinnan, Oban and past Loch Lomond (no sightings there either), and eventually to Glasgow.  In Glasgow we stayed in a B&B that was an 18th century house that had been modernized, and since we were the only guests we had the run of the place.  We drove into the center of Glasgow and wandered around and ate in an  interesting pub (the name long forgotten).  From there we drove back into England and went to visit my cousin in Leeds.