HOLIDAYS aren’t meant to be like this. Holidays are for relaxation and enjoyment, an escape from stress, balm for the soul. They aren’t meant to be spent huddled on the back seat of a minibus trying to get warm while rain lashes against the windows and condensation falls in icy drips from the skylight overhead.
Geoff and I are taking an outing during our break in Edinburgh. After city-based sightseeing for three days we thought we’d head further afield, see some of the countryside and let someone else do the driving.
The trip we have chosen is to Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle. We are a disparate bunch of travellers from various countries, but perhaps the most disparate of all is the one who has chosen to share our back seat.
This is Skippy, or so I have named her. She is a pocket-sized Australian with an unfeasibly loud voice and a number of odd habits which include ceaselessly rootling in a succession of bags, taking off and putting back on almost every item of her clothing, and keeping us all waiting when it’s time to leave our various stopping points. Her day-long snacking consists of shovelfuls of hot sweetcorn and Vegemite, which she spoons straight out of the pot.
Geoff, who is sitting nearest her, is close to the top of his already not very high scale of incandescence. The noisy disruption Skippy causes is one thing, but the way she pitches up late without apology is really getting to him.
But it’s the weather that is our greatest trial. This screaming wind and sideways rain were not on our agenda and they are ruining the day.
’Loch Lomond’s over there,’ our driver points into dark grey nothingness as he pulls up for us to get out and explore. We weatherproof ourselves as best we can and step out into a kind of hell.
Geoff’s new umbrella, making its Scottish debut, instantly whips itself inside out. He spends precious minutes trying to reconstruct it, pointlessly, while being pounded and soaked by Scotland’s idea of Sunday weather.
We sprint across the ankle-depth loch that is the car park and, ignoring the real loch that may be somewhere over there but is invisible, we take refuge in a gifte shoppe, now filled with tourists dripping on to dismal displays of tartan tat. Through the damp mist emanating from all these bodies I notice one shelf stocked with cat litter, incongruous among the boxed fudge and Jimmy hats.
We need coffee. Naturally, because today is one of those days, it is quite the worst coffee either of us has ever tasted.
And so the day goes on. Our lovely outing, so attractive in prospect, becomes increasingly a feat of endurance. We stop in a village for lunch. It takes half an-hour to get served, two minutes to nibble the edges of a strange sandwich.
We wait, again, for Skippy to join the bus and set off for Stirling. The driver gives us the sort of history lesson we never had at school so that by the time we reach the castle we brim with knowledge about brave-hearted Scottish heroes with big forearms and even bigger ambitions.
Our cold, soaked invading force disgorges from the bus and makes a stab at absorbing yet more history from the walls of this important landmark that sits impregnable atop a shrouded hill.
Awful cup of tea, Geoff reports, emerging long-faced from the cafe. I can’t say anything to help him feel better as the wind snatches words away and my lips are frozen.
It could be worse, we agree, as we squelch our way back to our apartment later. We could have come in winter.