I love to travel and have been fortunate to regularly indulge this passion over the years. Of the many tours I’ve been on in my travels, two really stand out as the very best, and truly offered me an interesting, captivating and fun experience. Both of these occasions, coincidentally, had two common denominators.
• Rabbie’s Trail Burners Ltd. in Scotland
• Tour guide Mack Dalrymple
My most recent trip to Scotland – a country I have visited frequently and intend to visit many more times - was my second that included a tour with Rabbie’s. In a marvellous coincidence, Mackenzie Dalrymple who had captained my earlier trip, was once again our driver, lecturer, music co-ordinator, raconteur and guide to all things Scottish.
A guide needs to be intelligent, curious, well versed in history, folklore and local colour, and be able to translate all this to his/her listeners in a manner that somehow captures their imagination and holds their interest.
Mack’s obvious love of his country and his curiosity about travel and life in general were demonstrated by the stories of his own travels. For guys, he advised, a kilt will always help you when hitchhiking – and bagpipes and a kilt in foreign climes will virtually guarantee a pick-up (both on the highways and in bars) – he kept us listening, laughing and engaged.
Among many other places, he has hitchhiked from Halifax to Quebec City – arriving just in time for the Winter Carnival, “I stayed close to those big heaters,” said Mack, “Quebec in winter is a very cold place for a man in a kilt.”
What Mack did on these trips I took, was to make Scottish history come alive. In doing that he made those of us on his coach aware of the historical relevance of places we were passing, he brought the countryside alive as he regaled us with the history of kings, queens, lairds and soldiers who lived, loved and fought in the hills and valleys we could see from the windows of our coach. As he spoke we gazed out at the fields where the Scots had lived their lives, vanquished their enemies or been forced to flee them.
We learned that the Battle of Bannockburn was a great Scottish victory and Culloden a great defeat for the Jacobites. We learned about Robert Bruce, William Wallace (a tall giant of a man – unlike the relatively diminutive Mel Gibson who played him in Braveheart) and about Rob Roy and the MacGregors. We heard the marvellous stories of Mary Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England) and the Jacobite Rebellions.
This information was all imparted with enthusiasm and gusto, animated gestures (invisible knives slashing the air) and varying voices for the different characters. And all told with knowledge, humour and passion. From time to time Mack would fall silent and play some lively or lilting Scottish music, my favourite quickly became the beautiful violin of Duncan Chisholm (now on my ipod).
Perhaps the highlight of the trip – certainly my most memorable moment – came when we visited Loch Lomond.
It’s a big loch and we drove around it for some time, stopping at one point for Mack and a couple of guys on the coach to help lift a fallen tree off the road (it was very windy). Further on, Mack pulled over and directed us up some rough stone steps to get the best view and feel of the famous Loch. Taking his advice we climbed to a ‘lookout’ area with a low stone wall around it and there sat Mack with his bagpipes on this cold misty afternoon sending haunting magical melodies out across the shimmering lake.
He’d taken a shortcut up to give us this remarkable atmospheric moment. We listened silently. It was a moment of rare beauty that quite literally left many of us with goosebumps.
But isn’t this the true role of a guide? To provide experiences, to teach, to instill their own love of a place in their listeners. But then of course … they have to love what they do – it can’t just be a job.
Rabbie’s was established by Robin Worsnop in 1993 and named after none other than Robert Burns – Scotland’s best loved poet. They offer a range of departures from Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Dublin which vary from one to 17 days.
It’s the only tourism business to win five VisitScotland Thistle Awards in four consecutive years, and it is environmentally responsible – winning awards for sustainability and responsibility.
So, the next time you’re in Scotland, whether on your own, or with friends – remember Rabbie’s. This is not your traditional coach tour. It’s an experience that you simply cannot miss if you want to know Scotland.
And, if you’re really, really lucky – Mack will be there to show you the way.
Check it out at: www.rabbies.com
Jen Savedra is the founder and editor of Travel Industry Today, a Canadian-based electronic journal that delivers in-depth news, information, interviews and opinions about the travel industry. An accomplished writer and artist, Jen divides her time (when not travelling) between Toronto, Canada and Gulfport, Florida.