My Best Summer Holiday

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Some of the biggest names in Scottish education spill the beans on their favourite holiday destinations

GRAHAM SHORT, Executive director of education, East Ayrshire Council

I wanted a summer holiday destination where mobile phones wouldn't work. Was anywhere remote enough? The Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset run seemed ideal.

The organisers even promised that if you felt good after the first 42km and the two Goat Fell-sized mountains, you could join the 100km race with two more mountains. Perfect.

The trek started at Ulaanbaatar's Chinggis Khaan International Airport - everything in Mongolia, including the vodka, is named after their famous ruler - followed by a two-hour flight to the worryingly-named city of Moron.

Four hours later, we arrived at a camp of traditional gers (tents) on the shores of Lake Hovsgol, a beautiful setting on the southern edge of the Siberian taiga forests.

The race itself had everything. Starting at 3am, we saw green and forested mountains, lakes, alpine pastures, small Mongolian horses, occasional herds of lugubrious yaks and shrieking cranes. Every mile brought a new experience.

The race time was my worst ever, but I will treasure every second. And, by the way, mobile phones do work in Mongolia.

ISABELLE BOYD, Headteacher, Cardinal Newman High, Bellshill

Our family used to go camping - my mum, dad, three sisters and me. Nobody in my class went abroad and most of my friends didn't really go on holiday at all. It was all day trips then. You'd see adverts at the cinema for glamorous places abroad, but they just seemed out of reach.

We had a huge tent with separate rooms, but people would laugh at it now - let's say it wasn't very 21st century. We always had a car, because my dad was a salesman, at a time when a lot of people didn't. We'd set off from Coatbridge - the four kids squeezed in the back.

When I was about 10, I think it was 1967, we had a banana-yellow Ford Cortina. My dad kept stopping for hitchhikers. We met lots of people from abroad. That summer was the first time I had a sense that Scotland was a beautiful country that people from other places would want to visit.

One young French student had to get in beside the four of us with his backpack. It was probably the first time I'd spoken to someone from another country. I got a shock as my mum regressed into this slow, strange pidgin English: "You. Come. Here. Far?" He probably spoke better English than she did.

Later, at a beautiful campsite in Ullapool, we saw two tanned young men, so Mum started her pidgin English again. They were from Coatbridge.

ROB HANDS, Principal teacher of geography, Perth High

Every year, teachers in America get the chance to go to summer school during the holidays. In the mid-1990s, through the Education Business Partnership, I got the chance to attend one of these continuing professional development events. It was called the Denver Earth Science Project.

The amount of money behind it was amazing. The event was sponsored by Phillips Petroleum and there were two units: groundwater and oil field geology.

I stayed for a month on campus and got to see life at a US university for myself: the massive sports fields and stadiums, the cheerleaders - all the paraphernalia.

We were involved in a series of field studies and classroom activities. We explored fossil sites and collected fossils, visited an aquifer and did seismic surveys to map it, went to oil fields and clambered over oil rigs, and talked to the people working in the industry.

I even saw a tornado. Tulsa falls into an area known as Tornado Alley. Everybody went to an underground shelter, but a small group of us watched the tornado running down the street.

For me, the whole experience was groundbreaking. It changed my teaching practice. I switched from directed teaching to using more practical methods.

When the project came to an end, I travelled for two weeks through Colorado with a car and a tent, going to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Dinosaur National Monument, where dinosaur fossils are visible in a huge cliff. I could appreciate geology all the more as a free agent, having taken on board the study I had done in Tulsa.

MARGARET ALCORN, National CPD co-ordinator

For many years I travelled to the former Czechoslovakia each year as one of a group of 30 guests of the country's trade union movement.

We saw places that were mostly inaccessible during the Cold War and made friendships that have lasted through the years. Our friends weren't able to visit us then, but one person we met 32 years ago came to Edinburgh recently.

It is easy to become nostalgic for the old days. Prague was very different. It's hard to believe now, when you can hardly get past all the cigarette sellers, but you could be the only person on Charles Bridge. There was no unemployment and very little crime. But we don't want to get wistful - some of our friends were treated very badly.

The Czechs, though, almost think that if they aren't proud of those days, they aren't proud of their history. They are people who go with the flow.

Our friends live in a village called Kurojedy, near Pilsen, in what was the Sudetenland. You get a real sense here of the impact of world war on central Europe. For us, living on an island, it's important to realise that.

Germans used to come back looking for family treasure in the houses where they had stayed. One of our friends found some valuable Meissen china while digging.

There's a different culture there, almost like stepping back to the 1950s. We'll often be sitting and someone will say, "The mushrooms are out", and everybody will go into the woods and come back to make mushroom omelettes and soup. Self-sufficiency is rooted in Czech culture.

MARGARET SMITH, MSP, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson

It was the time of the July bombs in London, so it felt quite bizarre sitting on a sun lounger in a gorgeous Turkish beach - like being told what was happening in a different world.

I'm not an adventure-seeker on holiday in that I don't go jumping out of planes. I'm usually more into city breaks or relaxing. But my summer holiday in Kalkan (right) was definitely the best. There was just something lovely about everybody relaxing together in the sunshine and we were teaching our youngest to swim.

My partner Suzanne and I have five children between us. The age range is now between 10 and 21. Turkey is a very hospitable place, but people ask a lot of questions - and when you're a couple of gay women with five children, they ask about your family and where the men are. You spend a lot of time side-stepping and changing the subject, talking about how nice the restaurant is.

One day we hired a gulet and found lovely places to get off and swim. It was great for everyone else, but I knew within two or three minutes that I was going to have a problem. I was really seasick. Every time the anchor dropped, I jumped in after it. I ended up doing laps around the boat while everyone else ate lunch. They weren't quite throwing me scraps - but almost.

ALAN TAYLOR, Principal teacher of modern languages, Brannock High, Motherwell

Cyprus is a fascinating island because of its Greek history, but also because of its more recent division into the Greek south and Turkish north.

We tried to enter the north from our holiday in Protaras a couple of times, but were told we couldn't take a hired car. By 2005, things were beginning to change and we were told we could now enter through one of the checkpoints. However, we were met at the border by armed soldiers who demanded Pounds 30 to "improve our insurance" before entering. Needless to say, the money we handed over was placed in a top pocket and no receipt was issued.

It was like entering a time warp. There were some old road signs in Greek from the 1970s, but most had disappeared along with white lines and road markings. The roads were full of potholes and occasionally we came to a barbed wire fence strung across the road, presumably where it crossed back into the south. At one of these we met more soldiers with large guns. We apologised and turned round.

We searched in vain for a cafe and finally found a solitary shop. Inside there was one long table with about 30 items on it and a family of five to serve us. I gestured at biscuits, crisps and water and held out some Cyprus money. One of them handed me back a wad of Turkish notes and coins in change. They seemed happy.

Later, to my alarm, I discovered that the car wasn't insured in the north after all.


I go on holiday on my own, the beauty being that, if you don't like it, you can always just come home. I used to stay in the UK, often Arran. Now I've got over my fear of long days alone in unknown countries and have started going to Malta regularly.

Malta feels like a safe place to be by yourself. There's no language barrier and the Second World War history is fascinating. There's a chapel in Mosta where you can see a bomb that landed and somehow didn't explode.

I'll go on some organised trips for a balance of being with people and not, but I don't plan on repeating my first, terrifying experience on a speedboat (no one else seemed to be frightened).

I spend a lot of my life on the end of the phone or talking to people, and this year will be particularly busy, with the EIS presidency. To me, a holiday is about escapism and switching off entirely for a week. In Malta, I sit on the balcony looking over the sea. I'll read novels voraciously - non-fiction would be too much like hard work. I'll listen to music, maybe the Beautiful South, Johnny Cash (right) or Bruce Springsteen. I never take any work with me.


It started with an article in our professional bulletin that was looking for volunteers to set up the first speech and language therapy course in Bangladesh.

My grandfather was born and brought up in India and I'd always wanted to explore in that direction. The course organisers just got in touch and said they were ready to start the deafness module. I had to write it and then went out for three-and-a-half weeks to teach the intensive course to third-year students. I first went in 2006 and then again in June last year.

The course is run through an organisation called the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, which was set up by a British physiotherapist to help deal with all the injuries that come about due to poor health and safety precautions there - women carrying heavy loads on their heads and tripping, people falling from trains or out of trees.

It has grown into a big affair and now the Bangladesh Health Professions Institute - which trains speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and nurses - is attached.

Being involved has given me a huge amount of satisfaction. They didn't have speech and language therapists there before; now they do.

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