|Alicia was excited when she heard that I had inherited a Scottish castle from Great Uncle Kenneth. "Just think of the parties," she extolled. "And a real Scottish Hogmanay." I had not been to Blair Gowry since I was a toddler. I had no real memory of the place. The only thing I had to go on were other people's reminisenses.
"We could take Friday and Monday off and travel up this weekend," Alicia enthused. It was winter and one thing I did know about Scotland was the weather. "We'll freeze," I told her. But Alicia was already packing. "You won't be needing that," I said as a strapless gown disappeared into the case. "There will be central heating at the castle surly."
We left London at five in the morning that Friday. They were forecasting snow everywhere north of Birmingham. I really wasn't sure about this trip. "Gordon McCloud, don't be such a killjoy. I am certain the motorways will be clear." Ever the optimist, my wife. And they were clear, of snow at least, not so much of traffic. We hit a jam at the M25 junction.
As we rolled into Hilton Services for a much needed break the first flurries arrived. "It's nothing, look, it's not even settling," Alicia insisted. As we drank coffee the snow fell heavier and a fine layer covered the ground. Back on the road we found the M6 passable. It was not until we reached Carlisle that the snow proved problematic. As we moved onto the M74 heading for Glasgow we found ourselves trailing behind a snow plough, along with a hundred other vehicles.
It was once we left that motorway that the real problem started. These minor roads were untreated. Even switching to four wheel drive I was sure we could not get though. "Look, we're going to have to find somewhere to stay around here. There is no way we're going to make it to Blair Gowrie." If looks could kill. Alicia wanted to go on and what Alicia wants, Alicia gets.
When we reached a small town I found a garage that could fit snow chains to the tires. "Sonny, ye must be mad tay travel north in this wither," the proprietor said before selling me a shovel. He also pointed me in the direction of a camping shop with a list of emergency provisions I should get if I was determined to go on.
The shovel, not to mention the thermal blankets, were a godsend when we slithered into a drift. And the ration packs were very welcome even if they were served cold. At least we had a flask of hot coffee, from the cafe next to the garage. When we finally reached Blair Gowrie itself I felt we had made it. But the castle was still a mile and a half away.
We stopped for a well needed hot meal at the local pub. I took the chance to check directions. "Och, what ye be wanting at yon castle?" the landlord asked. I explained that I had just inherited it from my Great Uncle Kenneth McCloud. The man laughed and called to his mates at the bar "This wee sasanach just inherited the castle." The laughter spread. "It's a whole heap o' trouble ye be gettin'," he told us.
As we took a turn in the valley and started to ascend a solid structure appeared through the falling snow. I could make out a stone built tower but little else. It was as we got closer that I realised the cause for the laughter. The tower was just about all that remained of the castle and even that had gaping holes in it. I had inherited a ruin.
Entering the pub for the second time we encountered more laughter. "Told ye it was a heap o' trouble. Nay mind, I have a room all ready for ye. Will ye be taking a wee nip wi' me?" At least it was a warm welcome. As I drank my whiskey I could not help wondering about Uncle Ken. "Obviously my uncle wasn't living at the castle so ..."
"Nay sonny, yeer uncle lived in the croft, o'er on the far side o' yon hill. Naybody lived in castle for a hundred years or more. Ye can't live in it, ye can't sell it, but Scottish Heritage insist ye maintain it. Like I said, a whole heap o' trouble."
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