When I go to Scotland, it is generally to play golf. I am usually so concerned about packing my clubs that I am in danger of forgetting to pack anything else, such as clothing.
But even as golf mad as I am, I don’t play every day when I’m there, particularly when I have my wife with me. She plays golf too, but we have never been two-round-a-day types. That’s tough on the muscles — and besides, Scotland has so much history, so many things to do. Ignoring all that texture would be a shame.
On one non-golf day, we asked the hostess of our bed-and-breakfast in Gullane (east of Edinburgh) for suggestions for constructive looking about.
“Haddington is just over the way,” she said. “It’s the county town, you know.”
That was enough for me. What she meant was that Haddington, the little city of about 9,000 people that has perched on the River Tyne for 1,400-odd years, is the central town of the county of East Lothian. That region is famed among golfers for its magnificent golf courses: the three at Gullane, as well as Luffness, North Berwick, and Muirfield, which hosts the Open Championship in rotation with other top United Kingdom courses. But few golfers venture away from these notable tracks and the pubs near them. For me, travel is all about variation, so a market day in Haddington seemed just the thing.
It turned out to be a good call. The welcoming town was active but not crowded. As we drove in, and for most of our time there, we heard a beautiful chorus of bells from St. Mary’s Church.
“Ah yes, they’re having a peal today. For practice,” said the kind woman I stopped to ask about it. The change ringers, as they call them, were up in the bell room tugging away at the tower’s eight huge bells, much as is being done in this video. The music seemed to ride the sunshine. I couldn’t imagine anyone in town feeling sad while this was going on. The church was far enough away from the town center, back across a broad lawn, so that the bell chorus never got too loud.
We only spent a few hours in town, but that was enough for some pleasant quirks to emerge. Across the river from the church, we enjoyed a beer and a sandwich outside at a tiny pub, the kind where you have to work your way through a narrow space between the stone wall and a stairwell to get to the loo. And speaking of bathrooms, in the center of town was a small, free-standing building that housed a spotless public toilet, complete with a vase of flowers on the counter. There was a plaque that commemorated its being named East Lothian Public Loo of the Year. I’m not making this up.
My day was complete when, after lunch, we were browsing in a thrift shop. On a forgotten shelf near the side window was every Jethro Tull CD I didn’t already have. I took it as a sign from God, gathered them up, and went straight to the cash register.
Next day, it was back to golf. But now, I had even richer memories of Scotland than the occasional good shot.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
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