For my wife, Rohan and I, Scotland is very special. It is where Rohan’s father was born, where for years we spent family holidays and where, as a couple, we would hill-walk. It is also where we went for celebrations, which is why we were there last week. The plan was to spend a few days in two fishing villages we know well, first in Ullapool and then, just up the coast in Lochinver.
Months in advance, travel bookings were made and tables reserved. This was a special occasion and nothing was to be left to chance. Well, almost nothing – despite all our preparations, in the airport departure lounge I discovered that my driving licence had expired. Car-hire conditions stipulate that the driver must possess a valid licence and despite a long phone conversation with the car hire manager explaining our position and pleading our case, she cancelled the booking.
I felt awful, our dream trip risked being wrecked and clearly I was to blame – I had let us down. In response, Rohan was calm and consoling but pointedly left it to me to find a solution.
During the flight, Rohan’s neighbour suggested that we ask the senior flight attendant if she could make an appeal over the tannoy – surely there would be at least one other passenger driving to Ullapool. Kaitlin listened and, after some persuasion, wrote down our details. Next we heard: “In my ten years as a stewardess I have never been asked to make an announcement like this, but here goes. Two old folk sitting at the front of the plane and who have forgotten their driving licence would like me to ask if there is anyone on board who could give them a lift to Ullapool. If anyone can, could they please inform a member of the cabin crew?” No one did.
As we were standing forlorn in the arrivals lounge a man rushed up and offered us help. Eddie had heard the appeal in the plane and, only after landing, realised that the route he planned for himself fitted us exactly. An hour later we were at our Ullapool hotel. We thanked Eddie warmly for saving our holiday, and with a handshake and well wishes, he set off north to fish for salmon.
Ullapool was cold, wet and very windy, so hill walks would have been impossible – car or no car. Armed against the weather, we walked along the quays, through the village, around a tiny museum and behind a most amusing history-tour guide – “If Mary Anne MacLeod (later to be Trump’s mother) hadn’t left the Isle of Lewis the world would be a safer place”. We also went into a sea-front shop where we saw some most unusual bowls made by a potter working in Lochinver, our next destination.
For the Ullapool-Lochinver leg we caught a school bus on its return run. Earlier, Kenny had brought Lochinver children to their school in Ullapool; now empty, he was heading home. On hearing our plight, he drove us not to the official stopping place, but to our hotel a kilometre further on up a hill. Luck and generosity were on our side.
We found the Lochinver potter and when he discovered we were car-less, he himself drove us to his studio up a flooded track. Not only was Fergus kind, he was also modest – visiting his tiny ‘shop’ with its beautiful display was a delight. He had spent time studying pottery in Korea and everywhere there were subtle hints of Asian influence. We bought a ‘celebratory’ casserole dish and began to head back to the village on foot and in the rain. Fergus immediately offered us a lift. Being with him, and seeing his work, was magical.
Next day, after a breakfast that was one of the culinary highlights of the trip, we set off for home. For the journey from our hotel to Inverness Airport, we took the conventional option – a taxi.
Being without a hired car was far from the catastrophe we feared. Indeed, in many ways it made the holiday. We managed to keep to all our plans, but not knowing exactly what would happen next, then sitting listening to new ideas and observations from our different drivers – as most had two jobs we got twice the value – was rejuvenating. It was what we did in our youth as we hitch-hiked everywhere. As then, we were overwhelmed by kindness. What’s more, we saved money; the price of all our fares put together came to less than the cost quoted for the original car hire.
By the way, the trip was in celebration of our fiftieth wedding anniversary and it was truly wonderful. Not surprisingly, after fifty years of living together the threatened car-hire catastrophe was resolved without fuss. Could I ask for more?
The illustration is a photo of the casserole dish made by Fergus Stewart.
For help with our holiday and in writing this blog, I would like to thank Lucilla, Kaitlin, Eddie, Kenny, Lesley, Colin, Fergus, Al, Vivien and Rohan.
The 2 in parenthesis at the end of the title is there because the same wording was used before in a blog about my falling down a well, published on October 13, 2014