Summer holidays

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
School's out and you have permission to relax. TES Scotland asked eight readers about their most memorable getaways


Entering your mid-teens, family holidays don't always seem as attractive an option as they once were. The chance to try new things can be powerful and, as a 16-year-old, I was looking to experience more of the world around me, preferably without parental supervision.

My substitution for the family holiday was the stuff of dread for some - a long weekend in a shabbily constructed tent, sleeping in an unfit-for- purpose sleeping bag in a gigantic field. But for me, my first weekend camping experience at T in the Park was a revelation.

The shock of arriving at a campsite for 60,000 people for the first time is staggering. Where else would you witness tents as far as the eye can see, people dressed in the most obscure fancy dress outfits and gigantic battery-shaped tents blasting techno music? It's not until the tent goes up that the magnitude of this new world is apparent.

Not only did I feel like an adult, but I felt I was at the best festival in the world. The emotion was one that carried through most of the weekend. The music is not what sticks in my mind, though seeing a then relatively unknown band - The Killers - has remained a talking point. Instead, it was the liberating feeling of control. It was another five years before I went on a family holiday.


Best summer holiday? That's easy: it was at a place called Mawgan Porth in Cornwall, seven miles outside Newquay. Our children were young at the time - around eight, six and two - and we'd had a long spell of taking no holidays whatsoever. Our main reason for going was it was cheap - it was a caravan holiday.

Getting down there was quite an adventure, given we were living in Glasgow. But we stopped off at friends and it was worth it in the end, because the summer was just perfect: long, sunny days spent on the beach. It's a surfers' beach and, although I don't surf, it added to the atmosphere.

Nowadays we usually go abroad but, even though we tend not to return to places since there are too many other places in the world to see, we've been back there. The last time was last year, when we went to see friends who have moved there. Thankfully though, you can fly there now.


For many years, a summer holiday for me meant hopping on a plane and searching for the sun, sea and scuba - anywhere remotely warmer than Scotland. And then, suddenly feeling guilty about the long-haul flight and the size of my carbon footprint, I started exploring Scotland and discovered the beauty of the wilderness on my own doorstep. Since then, I have never looked back.

One of my most memorable holidays has to be a week in Knoydart on the west coast. We opted to take Big Donald's boat from Mallaig, arriving in Inverie, where we had a cottage booked for the week. The scenery was awesome, with views across the Sound of Sleat to the majestic Cuillins of Skye and to the surrounding beauty of Knoydart itself.

We spent a lot of the week climbing many of the Munros - Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe, as well as just relaxing and taking in the local culture, wildlife and environment of this amazingly wild, remote place.

Luck would have it that our cottage was just a stone's throw from the pub, The Old Forge Inn, described as the remotest pub in the whole of the UK. I can vouch for that: it is very remote, but the folk we met there were not. It has to be the most welcoming pub that I have ever been into, and the freshly-caught local seafood available every day was just something else.


I furrowed my eyebrows with concern - we were already in the group raft on the Nenana River in Alaska's Denali National Park.

I didn't get the chill down my spine until a few moments later, when I saw the expression of my then fiancee, Katrina. I had been whitewater rafting before, was a competent swimmer and had spent summer holidays body surfing as a teenager. By contrast, she was a non-swimmer from the Australian Outback who had feared drowning since childhood and was in a raft for the very first time. Was the panic in her eyes accompanied by fury that this was my idea of holiday fun?

Any fear of immediate danger had been surpassed by foreboding that our autumn wedding and life together would be washed away. Katrina screamed all the way downriver and each rising wave made my heart sink deeper, as I knew that the end of the trip also would be the end of my love life.

I was prepared for her anger - I wasn't prepared for what actually happened. Katrina climbed out of the raft, beamed her glorious smile and announced: "That was great! Can we go again?" Many more summer holidays included whitewater rafting down the French Broad River in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. They were wonderful, but the physical and emotional intensity of that first adventure together 25 summers ago has not been equalled . yet!


This should really be entitled "Best holiday against the odds". We were young and naive and wanted a cheap and simple two-week holiday somewhere warm. We arrived at our no-star studio apartment in Faliraki, Rhodes, just as the late-night TV show documenting the resort's trashiest dramas was airing back home.

The studio had a fridge that drummed exhilarating Greek folk rhythms. There was no air conditioning, of course, so we had to open the patio door onto the balcony. The view was of tough, dry shrubbery, with drinks cans and crisp packets blossoming on the branches.

On the first night, I awoke to a cockroach the size of a fist crawling up my chest. So we endured searing heat and insect paranoia, with all doors and windows closed.

At least we had chilled Retsina and Mythos, bowls of black olives, crisps and tzatziki, and a pack of cards. We found some Greek restaurants and tasted some of the loveliest, oil-drenched dishes ever. We also began to occupy the German quarter of the beach, where we could lie and soak and read in peace. One day it rained, grey and straight. No one moved, because it was so warm and so unexpected. It was like a scene from Death in Venice. Ugly and beautiful.


In 2001, I spent a fantastic summer holiday with my wife and daughter in our neighbouring nation - not England, but Norway. We're fortunate to have friends in Masfjorden, an hour's drive from Bergen.

We've been a few times now and stay in a traditional timber chalet perched halfway up a 500m-high mountainside, looking down into the 400m-deep waters of the fjord. We spend days in the mountains or on the boat, and in the evenings play music and barbecue fish.

Norway's great for fishing. We've caught mackerel, cod, gurnard, sea trout, pike, sea bass and salmon. Once I caught a brown trout, washed from a river into the fjord (like the west of Scotland, the summer rain can be torrential).

There's a large rock lodged in a vertical gully halfway up the mountain opposite our chalet - we try to decide whether it's the size of a car, a bus, or a small house.

The historical and cultural links between Norway and Scotland are a source of continual fascination -I look at these in a book I've just had published, The History of Orkney Literature. The first Viking earl of Orkney, Rognvald of More, came from just north of Masfjorden. The Orkney writer and traveller Samuel Laing delighted in all this in the early 19th century. He writes in his Journal of a Residence in Norway that the Norwegian smallholder "without ever knowing what a sea storm is, or going out of sight of his own chimney smoke, catches in his sheltered creek the finest sea fish". Isn't that charming?


How many languages does it take to get across Europe? Hungarian, Slovakian and German, for starters.

Last Easter, when the Icelandic volcano shut airspace and I realised the only way home from Budapest was by bus, I knew it was going to be grim. Several hours into the journey, the bus crashed in Germany and I was proved right. Standing by the side of the autobahn next to the mangled bus, in the middle of the night and without any clue what was going on, I felt pretty wobbly.

After an hour by the roadside, we were deposited in Frankfurt to wait for a bus to take us to London. The bus drivers were able to communicate this to us, because there was a Slovakian passenger on board who spoke perfect English. Waiting could have been the most stressful part - it was hard to believe we hadn't been forgotten about by the bus company.

Fortunately, I met a group of other stranded Britons, one of whom was a fluent German speaker. My travelling companions turned out to be great company. We got on a bus later that evening and travelled through the Netherlands, Belgium and France before reaching London. When I got home, I spoke to my sister. She had been at a wedding in Zurich and managed to negotiate her way from Zurich to Aberdeen - eight trains and a bus trip later - using Standard-grade German.


When my aunt and her husband were living in Thailand, my boyfriend and I spent two months there between my degree and my postgrad, venturing into Cambodia as well. We bungee-jumped from a crane over a lake, and went scuba diving, which was terrifying for me. I'll jump off and out of things but I don't like getting my face wet.

The highlight was definitely a three-week trek through the jungle in the Golden Triangle. The first day we had to climb up the side of a waterfall and I thought I was going to die, but it turned out I was just dehydrated. Some re-hydration salts brought me back to life. Some days we walked 18 miles, other days 20-23. You started at 6am and kept going until you had walked to the village where you were heading.

We stayed at tribal villages every night; they ranged from the amazing to what you might expect a tribal village to be - sometimes there were cabins for the people who went on these treks, and other times you were in with the goats and chickens. It was such a release: you just had so much time to think - and it was then that I decided I would train to be a teacher.

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