Our trip did not start well. It was depressing to get to Gare du Nord in Paris on a Sunday evening and find that the train line to Charles de Gaulle airport is currently closed at weekends. Being directed to take metro line 4 to Stalingrad then line 7 to Aubervilliers to pick up the replacement bus service was unlikely to raise our spirits, especially when it turned out that the said bus service did not exist. By the time we had taken line 7 back to Opéra (14 stops) to get the alternative bus service, some gentle weeping could be heard. We finally checked into our airport hotel four hours later than expected. Luckily, I always travel with my prescription for large glasses of Pinot Noir – a life-saver on such occasions.
The rest of the journey was straightforward. A decent night’s sleep, a smooth flight to Edinburgh, a tram to Waverley station, and then the train to Perth, via the Forth Bridge, a journey I always enjoy. We were met at the station by Madame’s parents, who drove us to Blairgowrie, about 20 kilometres away. Total journey time, door to door, 23 hours.
From the outside, the parents’ bungalow looks no different from the others in its quiet little cul de sac, not far from the town centre. Inside, however, it is like being in an indoor safari park. In every room there are wildlife paintings and artefacts. There are stags, hares, otters, frogs, voles, pigs, and more bird varieties than I could possibly identify. Pride of place in one room is given to a magnificent trout, stuffed and mounted, caught by Madame’s dad a few seasons ago.
Now, all this is well and good, but these are inanimate objects. Delightful to look at, but in no way are they any preparation for the whirlwind that hits you when an outer door is opened and the dogs are allowed in. Hazel, the dachshund, is now getting on a bit and rather sedate, but Ozzy the pug and Banjo the Brussels griffon are both adrenalin-charged pups who give the impression that their sole purpose in life is to leap on your lap and lick your face off. As if that weren’t enough, there is Scooby the parrot, grey with a dazzling splash of red for a tail. He has an impressive vocabulary, with ‘Cup of tea!’ and ‘Attaboy!’ amongst the few printable items.
For me, this takes some getting used to, as we never really had pets when I was a child. There was the occasional goldfish won at a funfair, and we once had a rabbit, but it went mad and started attacking people, so we gave it away. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how quickly one does get used to living in a house with animals. After the initial excitement, things settle down very quickly. Short energetic spells are balanced by periods of lying in front of the fire dozing (I’m talking about the dogs here, not myself – though it does seem quite a civilised approach to life).
Our stay was all too brief. We had two nice meals out in Blairgowrie, and we visited the House of Bruar, a sort of Scottish Harrods, near Blair Atholl. I love coming here: vast arrays of tweed, tartan, and haggis, as far as the eye can see. They have now opened a separate whisky showroom, where pride of place is given to a bottle of Dalmore Constellation 1971, which can be yours for a mere £20,500. Tasting samples were not available.
For me, the high spot of our stay was a trip to nearby Dunkeld, on the north bank of the River Tay, just opposite Birnam (as mentioned in Macbeth). It’s a fine-looking town, and on a bright wintery day the countryside around us was a riot of autumn colours. The photos here can’t possibly do it justice.
A sign in the cathedral grounds tells you that most of the original town was destroyed during the Battle of Dunkeld when, on 21 August 1689, the Cameronian Regiment successfully fought the Jacobites shortly after the latter’s victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie. On a happier note, another sign outside the Old Rectory nearby tells you that ‘Fiddler Niel Gow and poet Robbie Burns entertained here in 1787.’
They do themselves well in Dunkeld. To provide some ballast, the Palmerston Coffee Shop offers Carrot, Turnip and Potato Soup and ‘5 kinds of Scones’. Once that is digested, the Whisky Box sells an impressive range of malts and has regular tastings, while TasteTalk offers ‘Scotland’s finest chocolate truffles paired with superb malt whiskies’.
There is an endearing sense of honesty about a very faded sign outside the Scottish Deli, which advertises ‘The Finest Port Procurable’.
One can imagine an unhappy customer being told, ‘I’m awfully sorry, sir, but it was the finest we could procure.’ Maybe they blamed a shortage of delivery drivers.
We had an overnight stop in Edinburgh on the way back, but it was bitterly cold, so we restricted ourselves to a visit to the Scott Monument and a quick tour of the bars in and around Rose Street.
My dinner was the Haggis Tower (‘MacSween’s haggis, bashed neeps, and mashed potato in a whisky sauce’) in Whiski Bar in the High Street.
Our journey home started well, with a tram to the airport and another easy flight, but there was a sting in the tail. We had not taken into account that the 11th of November is a bank holiday in France. This meant that the passport desk was run by a skeleton staff, and we had to wait 45 minutes to get through. Then we found that the train line to Paris was again closed. We were taken by coach to Stade de France and put on a different line back to Gare du Nord, from where we got metro line 4 to Montparnasse. We arrived just in time to see the Poitiers train disappearing into the distance. Enough to make a parrot swear. Still, a steak frites and a carafe of Morgon in Café Odessa across the road from the station and suddenly the two-hour wait for the next train didn’t seem too bad.
Total journey time, door to door, 31 hours. All in all, an excellent adventure.