Report on Holidays and Travel Group Visit - Scotland trip, Friday, 23 February 2018

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If you have to go, you might as well go with a bang, and this June Sams certainly has done. June has been responsible for the organisation of U3A Travel, and is now passing the baton over. This 3rd trip to Duke of Gordon Hotel in Kingussie has been her swan song. Apart from the sheer professionalism of everything she has undertaken, her period of responsibility has been marked by an attention to detail and care for the comfort and wellbeing of each participant which is well beyond the call of duty. She also has the ability to extract the maximum of value for a minimum of hard cash. Her negotiating skills are legendary.

So to our trip, the 3rd to Kingussie in the Cairngorms. This friendly hotel is well placed and very comfortable. When we arrived at The Duke of Gordon Friday tea time, the sight of a blazing fire in the baronial sized fireplace was welcome. The journey had been well paced and the weather clement, but the snow clad mountains did give food for apprehensive thought. We need not have worried; each day was wall to wall sun and blue sky. June has sorted that too.

We began Saturday morning with a drive to Aviemore for a ride on the train alongside the Spey River. We did not have steam, but the diesel engine did its stuff and the stops gave photographers time to have fun. Once back in Aviemore we split into two groups for our visit to the Cairngorm brewery. This small but highly successful brewery gave each group a highly amusing and informative account of brewing in general together with their enterprise in particular. Then we had the chance to sample 9 brews – in small tumblers I hasten to add. Names are important – who could resist Sheepshagger beer? This evening we had formal piper led reception and England had been wrapped in combat on the rugby field, we then heard of Scotland’s victory which was greeted jubilantly by the Scots.

Sunday took us to Loch Ness, another lovely drive via Inverness and a cruise on the Lake. Unfortunately Nessie was not at home. From there we were taken to Fort Augustus at the foot of the loch. Thomas Telford had masterminded a series of locks there that enabled shipping to negotiate a difficult journey safely. They are well worth seeing, but we were there for an insight into the clan system at the Clansman Museum. This included the fashioning of the plaid (pronounced playd) into a kilt and all weather protector. This was ably demonstrated by our Highlander with the aid of Francis. His performance will long remain in the memory. Our clansman also showed us graphically, a number of weapons and how they were used. His enthusiasm when showing us how to disembowel a Cameron (a hated clan) left us queasy.

The journey back was an unscheduled delight as we were taken to see the Commando War Memorial, Ben Nevis, the loch where the trial of The Dam Busters technique was honed, and finally a tour in the gathering twilight through Monarch of The Glen territory. This was done by the efficiency of our driver Steve. His knowledge of both the area and the history added much to our enjoyment.

Monday began dark and showery, but soon amended its manners. The morning we had to ourselves. The afternoon was spent at the Wild Life Park, an outpost of the Royal Scottish Zoological Society. A drive through with an informative guide gave us an insight into the purpose of the park. Then we had 2 hours to explore on our own account.

Back to a pleasant reception at the hotel and a buffet meal of banquet proportions – accompanied by a piper, followed with tea and coffee in the ballroom and our last evening of entertainment. Tuesday saw all of us bright and early for our 9 am departure to head for home ahead of the blizzard.

Roll on our next visit to The Duke of Gordon

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