We were driving north to Braemar after lunch on the banks of the River Tay one Sunday last August. On the long hill that climbs to the hairpin switchback in the Grampians (it is known as the Devil's Elbow) the gears on our rented Ford Zephyr gave out. Peter Beard and I were able to push the car around the curve and coast downhill for five miles to a small roadside inn at the Spital of Glenshee. It was after licensing hours, but the proprietor lost no time in proving the Scottish maxim that the law winks for the weary traveler. We were led into a room behind the bar where other weary travelers were sitting around a table adorned by a dwindling bottle of Glenfarclas. Another bottle soon appeared, and we settled down to discuss the problem of getting a car repaired on a Sunday in Scotland. We concluded, after an hour, that it could not be done—and, in such pleasant company and cozy surroundings, it did not seem a worrisome problem. I said that we must call Invercauld Castle and tell them we were delayed. The only girl in our midst (I had assumed her to be the daughter of our host) slapped the taut stretch pants covering her thigh and said: "So you're going to Captain Farquharson's? Why didn't you say so? I'll take you myself."
We jammed ourselves and our bags into her Mini-Minor and were off at a speed that seemed incompatible with such a toy car. We arrived at Invercauld, a Gothic castle with roots in the 15th century, about 7 p.m., made quick appreciations to our pleasant chauffeur and were shown to rooms in the square tower by a butler who warned that dinner already was served. We were not the last to the table. The captain was still missing and since Mrs. Farquharson, who is an American and was once an editor on
, was in a rush to get to one of her fashion-show rehearsals in the village that evening, we began without him. He appeared after the soup, splendid in his kilts and flushed with rage. "Do you know that that woman you brought here wanted to hold a motorcycle rally on one of my moors?" he demanded. "She's been trying to phone me for a week and seized the chance to bring you here to beard me face-to-face."
Well, one man's sport is another man's Charley horse, and things got better after that. Alwyne Farquharson, the laird of Invercauld, inherited 280,000 acres of grouse moors, sheep meadows and stag forests and 26 miles of one of the world's best salmon streams—the River Dee. To keep the whole thing together he takes paying guests—most of them Americans—for the fishing and the shooting.
A week at Invercauld is a sporting house party. The Queen is across the road at Balmoral—she rents her moors from Farquharson. Breakfast of thick porridge, kippers, bacon, eggs, scones and delicious home-baked oatmeal breads are served in what was once the open-hearth kitchen of the house. The days are given over to salmon fishing in the spring and early summer, to grouse shooting followed by deer stalking from August 12 on. There are Land Rovers, gillies, gamekeepers and—in grouse season—40 beaters to drive the birds across the line of butts. Seven guns are taken at a time. Wives come out to join the men for picnics by some trickling burn, and in the evenings cocktails are served under the mounted heads of stags and portraits of Victoria and Albert and Farquharson ancestors in rooms filled with geraniums and fuchsia and overstuffed furniture covered with chintz or Paisley shawls. Dinner, which always includes game from the estate—salmon, venison or grouse—is served in a great vaulted dining room by candlelight. The guests all dress, and several nights a week there is a piper who after dinner plays a pibroch, 20 minutes of intricate variations on a mournful piper's air. A week at Invercauld is far from cheap—$750 for one, including the fishing or shooting. A non-shooting or nonfishing wife is charged $36 per day. But, as Mrs. Farquharson has been heard to say, "This is no Hilton-in-the-hills."
Shooting is not always so rarefied as at Invercauld. There are various small hotels that lease moors or stag forests from some nearby estate and pick up their keepers and stalkers from the village as guests require. The Scottish tourist office lists 27 hotels with shooting rights. At Invergarry in Inverness-shire, Captain and Mrs. L. C. Hunt run a roadside hotel that is unprepossessing from the outside but filled with warmth and charm. The food is as good as the sport. The Hunts have three salmon beats on the Garry to let for $135 per week and grouse moors where shooting (no driven game—you walk up) is $18 per day. For stag the charge is $42 a day, but this includes a stalker, a pony to carry the trophy, a pony boy, a gillie and a Land Rover. To the extreme north in Caithness, the Hon. Robin Sinclair, heir to Lord Thurso, runs the Lochdhu Hotel at Altnabreac. He prefers to lake sportsmen in pairs and offers first-class accommodations with six days' deer stalking at $306 for two, all included, and a reasonable chance for a trophy. Fishermen can try out nine miles of the splendid River Thurso and any of 12 lochs for $105 a week, all expenses included.
Wherever or whatever you shoot in Scotland, the conditions will be so different from anything you have had before that it is a good idea to pause in London en route for a course of lessons at Holland & Holland's Shooting School. You can take as many as six lessons or just spend a morning there with instructors who will check the seat of your gun and take you over the school's 60-acre course. The course simulates closely the shooting conditions you will find when you go north. The grouse butts are covered in heather, and the clay targets come across the knoll at the speed of a grouse—which means up to 60 miles per hour. There are hedges for simulating partridge shooting on English farmland, a high tower that tosses birds approximating ducks or pheasants and a brambly "quail walk." You are also taught the etiquette and the safety procedures that are expected of you when you join a party. And your wife can be taught, in half an hour, to load for you and to spot your shot pattern over your shoulder and correct your shooting. A two-hour session costs $15 and a course of six lessons $38. Clay pigeons are $4.50 per 100.
If shooting is the most expensive sport in Scotland, the pony trek is one of the cheapest. Although trekking centers have spread all over Scotland since the inception of the idea after World War II, the center of trekking is the beautiful Rob Roy country in the Trossach hills. In Aberfoyle we joined a group at the Covenanters' Inn. a sprawling place with tartan rugs on the floor, big stone fireplaces that blazed warmly on a cool summer's evening and little bars stuck away in corners called by such coy names as "Wee Noggin." There were many teenagers from England, Ireland and Scotland, a mother and daughter from Australia, three pretty sophomores from the University of Wisconsin and a grandmotherly sort from Maine who had never ridden a horse before.
Each was assigned his own mount, a fat little swayback Highland garron or an equally fat Icelandic pony—both breeds chosen for their surefootedness in potholes or shale and their habit of walking in line, one behind another. The idea is to come for a week, arriving on a Saturday. On Sunday one meets one's steed, learns the pony-trekking knot, the care and feeding and saddling of ponies, and takes a short turn through the one-street town on horseback. Each day for the rest of the week it's up at 8 to bring your pony in from pasture, breakfast at 9 and saddle up at 10 for progressively longer rides. We joined the last or graduation ride on Friday, to the top of a heathered hill 1,500 feet high. There was a picnic on the mountaintop, with Sir Walter Scott's beautiful lakes spread below. Back at the stable at 4 the ponies were watered and fed and, after a substantial tea for the trekkers, given a good currying and turned out to pasture. Supper was at 7:30, followed by dancing to a tinkling combo and a wild round or two of ping-pong. A week at the Covenanters' Inn, trekking included, costs $57. In May and September, Hugh McGregor, who runs the treks at Aberfoyle, takes groups on post treks—from hotel to hotel through the Trossachs area. You do not need formal riding attire, but you do need sweaters and waterproof Ride-Macs or parkas and comfortable, nonchafing boots.
A family traveling together might find it a good idea to leave the youngsters at a trekking center for a week of horsemanship while the parents take off on a golfing tour of Scotland's legendary courses: Troon and Turnberry, Prestwick and St. Andrews, all championship links whose names read like a history of the British Open. Golf is the sport that brings most Americans to Scotland: 600 Americans played the Old Course at St. Andrews last year, and at Gleneagles there are often as many as 200 American guests in a week during the summer. American golfers are welcome on almost any course at almost any time. For the private courses, a letter from your club secretary presented to the secretary of the club you wish to play is introduction enough. There are 96 public courses in Scotland, including St. Andrews, where a round on the Old Course costs $1.40. There is a draw each morning at 8 to determine who gets to play the Old Course. It stretches out beside the sea, dogleg fashion, then turns around and parallels itself for the back nine. Since the incoming green and the outgoing green are often one and the same, on a crowded day it is rather like being at Thermopylae. Two other courses, the Jubilee and the New Course, parallel the Old Course, and on a windy day it is possible that you will be playing three at once.
Americans visiting St. Andrews usually stay at Russacks, the Scores, the Atholl or Rufflets, all built in the sort of Presbyterian-manse architecture that is typical of the town. The best room in any of them, breakfast included, will be no more than $6 per person. Male visitors can join the New Golf Club and women the St. Rule's for $2.80 per week.