Not only did I make it back to the bus, but I had time to take one more funny photograph (who doesn’t like a beer garden with a sea view?) and pop into a bakery to buy a scone and a cuppa for the ride.
I could not wait to tell our bus driver / tour guide that I had, indeed, gotten my photographs – and here I am! I leapt onto the bus with tea and scone in hand, declaring, “I made it!”
He was sitting in the driver’s seat with his nose in a beat-up paperback book and didn’t even look up.
What is up with this guy? He’s so gregarious and enthusiastic when he’s telling his Scotland stories, but has absolutely nothing to say otherwise.
In fact, he’s downright prickly. Okay, I see. The friendly stuff is all an act. Going off script was not allowed.
Everyone got into their originally designated seats, and the driver perked up for his next story as we drove to St. Andrews. At this point in the journey, I assumed the group would become friendly with each other, and make acquaintances. I looked around to see if anyone looked like they might want to strike up a conversation.
Not one single person looked up.
As we pulled into the town of St. Andrews, we passed what was left of St. Andrews Cathedral. When it was built in the 14th century, it was not only the most important church in Scotland, it was the largest building in the country.
Everyone disembarked and scattered in all directions for their excursion in St. Andrews. I started by exploring the famous, six-hundred year old, St. Andrews University.
Famous for being the oldest university in Scotland, it is also the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton met and fell in love. In fact, the café where they used to have coffee together is now a landmark.
The Dunhill Championship was on at the renowned St. Andrews “Old Course,” which is right on the edge of town. I stopped to watch for a bit.
There were rumors that Hugh Grant was in town for the tournament – looks like some students hoped to attract his attention.
There’s never enough time on these tours – I stopped into the local pub for a quick lunch, and, once again, ran for the bus.
As I stepped onto the bus, I noticed something out of place. The Palm Springs couples were sitting together, in two pairs of seats. There was a murmur of discussion among them, the predominant theme being,
“It’s not like the seats are ASSIGNED.”
The gay couple was five minutes late. When they got back on the bus, I knew there was going to be trouble. The Palm Springs couples kept their heads down as the extrovert of the couple kvetched all the way to the single empty seat at the back of the bus, while his partner shrunk into the one in the front.
No one said a word.
Our next stop, only ten minutes away, was the boyhood town of our driver. As we drove through the rolling countryside with its patchwork fields, he described the history of the village of Falkland, which is situated at the foot of East Lomond Hill, in the heart of the Kingdom of Fife. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
Our driver was very proud to report that the town had won the “Britain in Bloom” Champion of Champions category in 2009 and 2010. Apparently the horticultural society has retired from competing, but he defensively pointed out that it’s still the “prettiest town in Scotland.”
I couldn’t argue with that – it was charming.
Every fairy tale village needs a castle – Falkland Castle was built in the early 16th century, as the country residence of the Stewart kings and queens.
Curiously, Britain’s oldest tennis court was built here in 1539.
In 1989, the 450th anniversary of the Court’s creation was marked by an international tournament and attended by Prince Edward. With a big old chip on his shoulder, the driver relayed the story of the visit. His father, an artist, had been chosen to paint the Royal Tennis Court as a gift for Prince Edward. He stood in the long queue, waiting to present the painting, but was so far back that Prince Edward left before he could meet him. In the meantime, the driver’s mother kept being mistaken for Queen Elizabeth, who was not in attendance.
An odd day, to be sure, but a long time to harbor resentment, don’t you think?
Our driver stopped the bus in a small car park behind the village, announcing that he would lead us to the castle and then we would be on our own for exactly forty minutes. Rules, rules, rules.
Everyone was off the bus and gathering for the walk to the castle, when I overheard the louder of the displaced gay couple berating the driver, in a harsh stage whisper, for allowing the Palm Springs couple to take their seats.
“Those were OUR seats. We were only five minutes late – It’s just not right!”
Our apathetic driver simply turned and walked away.
When we arrived at the castle, we were told that there was a guided tour inside. I panicked. How could I take a guided tour of a castle and explore the village in just forty minutes? I presented my predicament to our driver, thinking he might say, “Don’t worry, the tour is only ten minutes long – you’ll have plenty of time.”
He gave me a withering look and turned away. Apparently, conferring with his clients was not in his job description.
I settled for an abbreviated version of the tour, skipping ahead of the group, so I would have time to explore.
Even in my haste, I stopped to smile at the sprigs of holly that had been placed on the furniture, to deter people from sitting on it. Clever but quirky.
There was a lovely view of the village from a castle window…
…and a stately pheasant was silhouetted in another.
The chairs in the chapel had lovely, hand-crafted needlepoint seats.
I wandered out the back to find the Royal Tennis Courts and discovered a flower bed bursting with red and white dahlias.
I was all alone – surprised that no one else had ventured out this way.
Okay, that’s my cue.
I left the castle to investigate the village, and came across this secondhand violin shop, owned by a kindly gentleman named Bob Beveridge.
If you didn’t read about him in my previous post, I found Mr. Beveridge in his shop, playing a prized guitar that had been given to him by Roseanne Cash, when she and her famous father had traced their roots back to Falkland. He told me stories about his friendship with the Cash family, and about their visits to his shop.
Bob Beveridge is one of those people I meet in my travels that I’ll never forget, in addition to being the subject of one of my all-time favorite photographs, snapped quickly before I had to leave to meet the bus.
When I got back to the bus, the group was already on it. I glanced at my watch. “Am I late?”
The driver was standing outside the bus, presumably waiting for me. “No, but everyone else is here.”
I knew immediately what had happened. They had all wanted to beat each other back to the bus to reclaim their rightful seats. The gay couple was back in their original pair of seats, and the Palm Springs foursome was, once again, split up.
As I climbed onto the bus, I said to the driver (knowing he had grown up here and was probably acquainted with Mr. Beveridge), “I had a wonderful conversation with Bob Beveridge. He told be all about the Cash family.”
He looked at me with contempt, and said,
“Thanks a lot, now you’ve given away my story.”
As the bus headed back to Edinburgh, the driver launched, with gusto, back into another rollicking story of the bygone Scottish royals.
I looked out the window and ruminated…travel is never a waste of time, with or without an oddball group of strangers.
As Ernest Hemingway said,
“It is the journey that matters, in the end.”