For those of you who have been on a tour with me in the past you will have heard this story in at least a short version. As I find myself with extra time on my hands (Time I intend to spend in more positive ways then filling out forms to apply for support) I shall tell a story why there is a tour guide in Scotland with a German accent.
This takes me back to 1993 when I was studying Political Science at the University of Marburg when realising that I needed a year abroad for completing my masters.
I had taken Latin in School and thankfully English was compulsory. I had been travelling to the US during an unforgetteable holiday with my late dad and I had been to London several times and to Bournemouth.
I owned a horse, Mirko a Trakehner stallion, whom I had purchased when I turned eighteen. He needed to come and as I matter of fact we kept together till 2017 when he died aged 31.
Bringing a horse to the US was something unaffordable so my choice of study was limited to the UK. When my UCAS form arrived it coincidently had as many spaces as there were Universities in Scotland. So, I entered all Scottish Universities and I had never been anywhere near Scotland.
I was offered a space at Stirling University and qualified for an Erasmus grant (In the days the EU seemed a good idea even in Great Britain).
Prior to departure my boyfriend and I had been given another horse, Justus an 11 year old Hessian gelding (who stayed with me till 2011 when he died aged 30). To bring any horses to the UK you needed a health certificate, pedigree papers, a vaccination document and an address in the UK.
By that time we did not know where we would stay but as an address (stables/fields) for the horses was required we decided one evening to drive over to Scotland to sort that out. So we boiled some coffee, put it in a flask and off we went.
This was a perfect way of testing our new car. When Justus arrived in our lives it became apparent that neither my car (an old Mercedes) nor my boyfriend’s car (a slightly younger Audi 100) could tow a trailer with two horses. So we ventured out and bought an 18 year old Volvo 244 DL. Just in front of our house in the village we lived in was a parking area when we had purchased the Volvo we populated 50% of the parking in a traffic light manner: red Audi, yellow Mercedes and green Volvo.
Driving to Scotland involved using the Calais Dover ferry, which was easy. I had been to the dentist for a root treatment which sadly was not done properly so I spent the entire journey in agony and eating out of my own free will McDonald ‘s soggy burgers.
In the light of that we somehow found ourselves in North Wales on some country road utterly lost. We stopped at a petrol station and raised eyebrows when we asked which of the two directions possible would take us to Scotland.
In the process we did some unwanted sightseeing of Liverpool and Machester. We loved the Beatles so it could have been worse.
When approaching the borders my heart sank at the view of these barren mountains with no trees and I really did start to ask myself: ” what had I done?”
For those of you who have been driving to Scotland you will know it does get so much better then barren mountains.
Somewhere in a country lane close to Stirling we pulled over utterly exhausted to sleep a few hours only to be woken by a gentleman with a gun. My heart was pounding but the guy was rather friendly and had a lovely Labrador and was simply wondering what we were doing there. He had a smile in his face once we had managed to explain…
We had some odd encounters queueing at the bank and when it was finally our turn we had forgotten the English word for bank account. So we tried to explain ourselves: We would like to open something we can use to put money in and take it back out. The baffled bank assistance kept asking: “Would you like to exchange foreign currency?”. We eventually got there. Finding a place for the horses was dead easy. Never ever has it been so easy since. We managed to rent a field at the local vet in Bridge of Allan, a wee town close to Stirling and even closer to the University.
I needed to get back to hand in my final essay but we thought we would try to find a flat. We bought some newspapers and did not get very far and when bypassing a building society and not really knowing what that was we entered and asked and the somewhat bemused staff pointed us towards the Link House Association in Falkirk. We calculated that we could make it there before they closed and arrived about 20 mins before 5 pm. The gentleman who invited us in happened to be the manager and had some German connections. We signed a contract for a flat in the beautiful Riverside in Stirling for £83 per month. We had not seen it and we did not have time to do so because we needed to head south to catch the ferry at Dover.
Some weeks later and after the visit of the state vet to create the health certificate for the horses (which was valid 48 hours) we were ready to set off. By the time we had loaded all our belongings into the car and the horses into the trailer there was less then 5 cm space below the tow bar. So we decided to leave some boxes behind.
We set off on a 32 hour journey. The tow bar only once touched ground when driving onto the ferry. The horses were checked and watered every two hours, had hay adlib and we walked them somewhere on a dirt track after we had left London behind. We did take a few hours nap but had not anticipated that the car was so fully loaded that you could not even lower the front seats. and as the horses kept eating in the back the entire coantraption moved like ship on sea.
At the end of it we turned the horses out into their new field. They had a roll and a run around and appeared to be very fresh and happy in comparison to us.
It was way too late to pick up the keys for our flat so we decided to drive to 34 James Street to at least have a look at the building. When pulling up in front of it with the green Volvo, red trailer and German number plates a couple walked by and asked what we were doing there. So we explained. It turned out they were our neighbours so we asked if anyone would mind if we crashed out in the car. They said it would be fine and went into their house. We got changed and decided to walk into town for a pint before going to sleep in the car.
When walking across the bridge over the railway a car stopped beside us . It was our new neighbour who was having our Volvo keys in his hands. We had left them on the driver’s door. He invited us into his car, took us to his local pub, we all had a pint and he invited us to stay in his guest room.
I have never felt more welcome anywhere and this explains my love for Scotland!