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Published: June 17th 2019
Today our journey to the Bonnie Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond begins with an unusual sight, the sun. This is the first morning where old Sol decided to grace us with his presence. The green of Scotland is magnificent under sunny skies.
A word about Tour Director. Imaging doing a job where you play mother to 30 people you have never met, all of whom have some preconceived notions about travel, food, vacation, accommodations, and needs. Imagine also, that you are on call 24 hours a day, have to plan each days activities, and make sure everyone is safe, happy, and on time. This is just a small concept of the Tour Director’s job. No matter what tour company you use, the Tour Director is critical to the quality and enjoying your tour.
To add insult to injury, Tour Directors are not properly compensated for the amount of work they do especially since they are critical to the success of the tour experience. They are expected to be well versed in history, archaeology, culinary expertise, safety, culture and a wide range of other skills. They also work 14, 20 or 24 days in a row without a day off.
They must prepare their own talks about the tour and make all the arrangements for dinners, optionals and everything else that makes the tour successful. Not everyone could be a tour director, so, for those, like Tom, who do an exceptional job, they deserve a special thank you and be sure you tell them how much you appreciate their hard work and make sure you reward them with your tip, they really count on this gratuity.
Our first stop was Loch Lomond. We departed the luxury of our coach and boarded a private ferry for a 45 minute tour of the lake. Someone must have a direct line to the weather gods, for while on the coach it rains, when we get off it stops, when we head back to the coach it rains again. So to the gods, “Thanks.”
The cruise looped around a significant section of the loch. Along the way our captain, Stewart, pointed out historic and scenic points of interest. We also learned that the prefix INVER means on the river, so Inverness means city on the river Ness. Good to know as we travel around Scotland. The beauty of the loch, coupled with
the majesty of the storm clouds, made for some excellent photos. Once again the rain held back while we were on the boat. Now, we are off to our next stop, north to Glencoe.
Glencoe was essentially a brief photo op stop in a very picturesque valley. Glencoe has a history in that it was the site of the massacre of the MacDonald clan by the Campbell Clan under orders of the Jacobites. The massacre was an atrocity when men women and children were murdered in their sleep. A horrible night still remembered to this day. If you are interested, please look up the history.
For lunch we stopped in Fort William. When traveling, interact with the locals; you will be surprised how friendly they are, except for Londoners, but that’s another story. We strolled in a shop called Shop of Scotland and I asked Julia, the owner, where should we go for a great burger. She directed us down the block to the very end, below a sport shop, and in the lower quad was an excellent pub. It was very local, very quaint, and super delicious. We enjoyed burgers, a salad,and a beer. I also met
an aspiring author, an elderly man who recently lost his wife, who was planning to write a book chronicling his travels. We chatted, I gave him my card, and I hope to keep in touch.
After lunch, we shopped the high street and I found a small bottle of local scotch. I was told it was distilled locally, bottled in the shop, with a delicate taste.
We arrived back to the coach just in time for “Tasty Delights with Tom.” Tom wants to enhance everyone’s experience and part of the experience is local delights. Tom goes out of his way, and into his own pocket to buy a selection of delightful taste treats for us to share. So far we have had short cakes, two types of sugar candy, and today he brought us all a local caramel bar. It is this type of care and service that marks Trafalgar as a premier tour provider and Tom as one of the elite tour directors. This is why we always go to Trafalgar first.
Back on the coach and we are off to see puppies and sheep. Along the way we stopped at the WWII memorial, commerating the
sacrifice made by the men of Scotland in the war effort. This was also a famous spot in history.
The battlefield was Dunkirk France. Over 300,000 British soldiers were trapped. Most of the fleet was sunk or burned. Rescue was impossible, save for a band of civilians who banded together and cobbled together an armada of private yachts, fishing vessels, and pleasure boats to cross over and mount a rescue. Against impossible odds, they set out to rescue the trapped soldiers risking their own lives to save those who fought for their freedom. Many lost their lives but more that 80% of the soldiers were saved.
As we walked the memorial we came upon a section devoted to individual soldiers. Their memorials listed their unit, location, and age. Cathy commented that so many of them were young. All I could think to say was, “Wars are fought by our future to protect our future.”
Our final stop before dinner was the farm experience. We visited a local shepherd who manages 11000 acres and 3000 blackface sheep. Neil and his son Tristan run the farm. Neil’s father was the shepherd and Neil inherited the job, but not the
farm or the buildings. These are owned by a Lord, and Neil works for the Lord.
Neil has not left the farm in 18 years! Really. He has no cell phone, no TV, not even a watch. He loves his job and his life. We were told Tristan will inherit the job next.
Now, Neil is a master dog trainer. He trains English sheep dogs. He owns 18 dogs, Tristan has 4, and his younger son and daughter have 2 each. The dogs are amazing; they respond to voice and whistle commands. Each of the 18 dogs responds to their own specific commands and can hear a whisper from 200 years away.
The dogs can cull sheep, round them up, send them back, or move them in a specific direction - all at command. Neil put the dogs through their paces as we marveled at their ability to follow commands and work as a team.
We also had the opportunity to watch Neil sheer a sheep using a hand sheer. I got a chance to participate in the shearing which brought me back to the time I worked on a farm in my youth. The experience
lasted an hour and was truly fun.
The final part of the experience was the puppies. Neil introduced the next crop of sheepdog as he brought out a group of puppies, aged 31 days. Of course they were adorable. Neil will begin the training “when they are ready.” They must be mature enough to work as a team. Training is done without reward or punishment. The dogs work out of love and respect for the shepherd. It is obvious they love what they are doing.
We did learn some interesting facts:
50 years ago there were 60,000 sheep in the area with 10 shepherds managing them. Neil and his brother are the only two left and they manage 6000 sheep.
Wool from a newly shorn sheep fetches 1.8 pounds, so the entire farm produces less than 6000 pounds a year in wool revenue
Sheep are slaughtered anywhere from 8 months to 3 years of age. Young sheep fetch a higher price for mutton, while older sheep fetch less. Either way they get about 120 pounds from each sheep slaughtered.
All the wool is sold on the English wool exchange and the money earned goes to the Lord. It is obvious that the farm is not self-sustaining so the government provides a considerable subsidy to keep the farms alive.
Neil has a job for life as promised by the Lord. No contract - just an agreement based on trust.
Neil is happy, loves his life, and would not have it any other way.
And now for something completely different.
Our coach driver, Jeff, hails from Wales and has 6 children. One of his children, a teenage daughter is still in school in Aberdeen. A few days ago, when I first met Jeff and found out he had kids, I gave him my card and told him his kids might like my books. He was very appreciative and told me he would tell his kids he had an author on the coach. He sent a copy of my card to his daughter. I thought nothing of it until yesterday when Jeff stopped me and told me his daughter was reading my book in school! Impossible I thought. I asked if he were sure. Jeff agreed to confirm that it truly was my book. Today was Jeff's day off so we had a temporary driver so I didn't get an answer to my question.
Later today when we got to the hotel, Jeff was there and he pulled me aside and excitedly told me he was sure, his daughter and the entire class were indeed reading my book GHOSTWITCH as a class project! I was shocked, to say the least. His daughter could not possibly believe her dad was driving an internationally known author on his coach. She was amazed to know I was on her dad's coach. I was amazed that a class in Aberdeen Wales was reading my book. To add to the amazement, THEY LOVE IT!
Small world eh?
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