Best holidays

18th July 2008 at 01:00
MICHAEL MCGRATH, director, Scottish Catholic Education ServiceLike all teachers I have always lived for the summer holidays, desperately clinging on to my sanity during the final weeks of term, gasping for "the last day"

MICHAEL MCGRATH, director, Scottish Catholic Education Service

Like all teachers I have always lived for the summer holidays, desperately clinging on to my sanity during the final weeks of term, gasping for "the last day".

Over the last 30 years, many wonderful family holidays were spent in Orkney, with Stromness being our base. There we enjoyed the beauty of the sea, the magnificent light of the Northern Isles, the proliferation of prehistoric sites and the company of old friends.

I have happy memories of my kids playing in a rocking chair in George Mackay Brown's living room, begging him to tell stories in the "funny voices" he loved to mimic. I can still hear their laughter as they walked upright into Mae's Howe, a prehistoric burial cairn which adults can only enter crouched over.

We enjoyed one glorious day on a sailing trip to the outer islands of Westray and Papa Westray where we were taken to a bird reserve to marvel at the puffins, those magnificent little birds which appear to be getting rarer as the years go by. At the end of that exhausting and exhilarating day, we enjoyed the tastiest fish suppers - straight out of a newspaper, of course.

On another day, my nine-year-old son and I sailed across to the island of Hoy and walked over the cliffs to see the "Old Man" up close. I asked another walker to photograph us with the renowned rock stack as a backdrop. Today I still have that photograph which shows proud father and exhausted son, but no Old Man.

KEITH TOPPING, Professor of educational and social research, School of Education, Dundee University

I have been to some splendid cities - Rio, Sydney, Hong Kong - but the best holidays have been in high places. Of course, in the high mountains the mountaineering season is often not in our summer. Thus Nepal is at its best in the winter, as a trip there to celebrate the new millennium from the summit of a 21,500-foot peak demonstrated. We did just that - and the champagne froze instantly it spurted out of the bottle.

However, last year there was indeed a summer trip - to part of the Himalayas not affected by the usual summer monsoon. Or so we thought . flying into Delhi, then to Leh, to see monasteries untouched by time, hidden in lost valleys; then a long hike for several days through the Markha valley, with spectacular scenery and remote and picturesque settlements; then into the high mountains - we could see far into Tibet and over Pakistan to the Karakoram mountains (pictured); and on to base camp. What was this? Fresh snowfall? This should be one of the driest places on earth. But it was true - delicate, powdery snow up to your waist. We struggled up a peak scoured by the wind, but even then did not make the summit - too dangerous. Nonetheless, a trip to remember.

JOHN MULGREW, Chair, Learning and Teaching Scotland

I really enjoy travelling along the west coast of America and my favourite summer break is taking in Sonoma and the Napa Valley, the surrounding area, including Carmel. The climate is much better in summer than on the east coast, which I also visit regularly. They are great places with a wonderful way of life.

I have learnt much through my visits to the United States over the years and have brought back many insights to my work.

The Napa Valley is excellent and a trip to visit the wineries is a must. I also travelled to San Francisco, as I take a keen interest in the arts and culture and they really celebrate both as a city. It has great museums and opera in the open air in the summer. The San Francisco Symphony runs a festival of summer music which is wonderful. On my favourite trip I was able to see Leonard Bernstein's Candide, performed in a version drawn together by Scottish Opera. San Francisco has that fantastic combination of arts, culture and great weather.

MARGARET DUNN, Teacher at Antonine Primary in Glasgow

One of my sisters had a birthday - the ripe young age of 50, and it was on February 29.

To celebrate, we went to Paphos in Cyprus. We were out on a walk when we heard a tune we recognised but didn't expect: "Scotland the Brave". We found people gathering at a hotel for a wedding two days hence. By chance, I bumped into a neighbour who was going - the bride and groom were his colleagues at Clydebank police station. He introduced us and we got invited.

The couple married at the town hall and then everyone went to the harbour for photos. A piper took the lead and we followed the bride and groom and lots of kilts. As we looked around, wondering which restaurant we would be in, we were led to a fabulous 300-foot, James Bond-type yacht, "The Ocean Flyer". It was bedecked in pink and white balloons and ribbons to match. A red carpet was rolled out and people on the hardboard were clapping. We felt like celebrities.

The sea was calm, the sun shone, music played. As night came, the entertainment just got better: Greek dancers, non-stop champagne and lots of laughing. The day was a dream, and extra special because last year I spent a month in hospital and three months recuperating from C. difficile.

ROB GIBSON, MSP, former teacher and member of parliament's education committee

Holidays on Scottish islands can't be beaten, but the stand-out holiday which my partner and I had took us to Alberta, Montana, Wyoming and California.

We flew to Seattle, then over the Rockies to Calgary in mid-March 2000. We viewed slivers of lakes and snowy peaks and the brown of endless prairies. Our friends from Turner Valley conducted a whirlwind tour of the best of the west. We drove hundreds of miles through iconic scenery to Head- Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on the way to the Charlie Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana.

Driving through cattle country to Cody, Wyoming, we lodged in Buffalo Bill's Irma hotel. Next was the Little Bighorn Battlefield near Billings where "Custer (pictured) died a-running".

Arriving in LA with great music at a Cowboy Poetry Festival in Santa Clarita, we spent days in the sierra near the redwood groves and a San Francisco day guided by a native who learned guitar with Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

TRISH WILSON, Quality improvement officer in literacy, North Lanarkshire

My best summer holidays were spent in Millport as a child. We lived on a dairy farm in the new town of East Kilbride, so we had a lot of milk deliveries. Having a holiday was a very exciting thing and a very precious thing, because my father and my mum both had to work on the farm.

We would go over the Eaglesham Moor and stop there to have a picnic - what would now be considered a half-hour journey. My father took us over to Millport, spent the weekend with us and then worked all week and came back for the other weekend. I had two brothers - Alastair, who was five years younger, and Keith, who was 10 years younger, so there was quite an age range.

I have fabulous memories of the journey - to be in the car and packed up, you thought you were going to America. We would have another picnic on the boat and then go to our rented house overlooking the beach.

First thing in the morning, before the sun was up, I would take my two brothers to the beach, with Keith in his pram. I don't remember much about the weather, just organising the boys and making things with them. There were simple pleasures, like sandwiches on the beach. We didn't have the money to buy things or go places; we had to invent our own pleasures, like hunting in the rock pools and playing imaginary games.

Every day, we went and played "crazy golf" and every night, back at the small rented house, where all the children shared a bedroom, we would have mushy peas and vinegar. It was a simple way of life but hugely pleasurable and hugely precious.

TONY MCKINNEY, Depute head, St Luke's High, Barrhead, East Renfrewshire

Summer holidays are spent on my boat, "Becherel", a river cruiser based at Carrick on Shannon, in County Leitrim in Ireland. I started going over to a friend's boat, but eventually I bought my own. There are lots of marinas up and down the river system from Enniskillen in the north to Limerick in the south.

I don't fish - I just sail somewhere and wind up either having food on the boat or buying breakfast on land. It's a magical journey - a real escape. Everywhere you stop, there's a pub for a bar lunch. I take my golf clubs and go to the nearest course, sometimes out in the country. It's a great system for meeting people. I'm not married but sometimes members of my extended family join me on holiday.

Four years ago, I went to Mountshannon, on the shores of Lough Derg, near Limerick. It's a wee town that my great-great-grandfather came from. It was a sentimental journey.

MOIRA MCCROSSAN, Headteacher, Moniaive Primary, Dumfries and Galloway

About 10 years ago, we spent the whole summer holiday - seven weeks - in America, visiting 17 states and getting married along the way. We started in North Carolina and went to New York, Vermont, Washington, Los Angeles, and across the Mojave Desert (pictured). We saw Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. In New York, we stayed in a fancy hotel on Madison Avenue. But when we got there, we pulled up in the cheapest hire car wearing clothes from Wal-Mart because the airline had lost our luggage. We were almost refused entry.

My husband is a travel journalist and had arranged to interview Roy Rogers when we got to LA. But just before the interview, I was watching TV one night: "You'll never guess who just died?" I said. He just picked up the phonebook to see who else he could possibly interview and found an entry for Quentin Crisp, the "naked civil servant".

Hugh had been told that if you offered him lunch he'd meet anybody, so we met him in a diner. He was already ensconced with another gay guy and half-way through lunch someone came in to get him to try on shoes.

We saw Bill Clinton - he was speaking at a teachers' conference (it was the year I was president of the EIS) - at the height of the Monica Lewinsky affair.

We married in Vermont at the same place as Michael J Fox - the West Mountain Inn in Arlington. Later in the holiday we went to a wedding in LA, held at the Twin Palms restaurant, which was established by Kevin Costner. It cost them $40,000 (pound;21,000) to shut it to clients for the day. The bride's father was well known: he invented the contraceptive patch.

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