After years spent working and raising my family, I’d finally retired. Almost instantly, all the dreams I’d had but forgotten about were brought to the forefront. I was faced with an open schedule for the first time in years and didn’t know exactly how to begin the second half of this adventure called life. As many who are facing a major life change know, travel is often a good tool for soul searching and reconnecting with our evolving selves. My first exploration? Scotland.
The first two weeks of my journey were spent traveling with my niece. She was more comfortable renting a car, booking B & B’s ahead, and planning our trip before we left. I, on the other hand, am more of the relaxed traveler, figuring things out as I go along. We squeezed in all that she had planned, seeing the remote areas of Orkney Islands and the Highlands, and the major cities and their attractions.
Looking back, I see that we were far too greedy and missed some of the best of Scotland by trying to squeeze it all in, but that is always the fate of the new traveler. She only had two weeks, while I planned to stay for a month. How would the second part develop as a woman traveling alone? I am very independent and did not want to do a tour, but I am still cautious of my safety and well-being.
Fortuitously, whilst planning my trip, I was also reading a great book, Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman. Servas plays a major role in Gelman’s inspiring cultural interactions. That was IT! I began researching Servas and was sold immediately by the mission of the organization and the numbers of members all over the world.
I signed up, had my interview, filled out my forms and requested the books for Scotland so I could begin my travel planning. I nearly wore the book out reading, and re-reading the entries and where I would travel.
I contacted the hosts by email in the areas where I wanted to travel and it all went very easily as my trip took shape.
My first host, Maggie McGilvray in Tore, near Inverness, lives in a cottage on a farm with her cats, and travels often to Edinburgh to visit her friend who is also a Servas member. Maggie retrieved me from the Inverness train station, and soon we were at her cottage. Maggie eased any discomfort I had as a first-time Servas traveler and made me feel very comfortable and answered any questions I had about Servas and the procedures of staying with the families. It wasn’t long before I felt at home. We went for a bike ride, picked veggies from the garden, and tried to come up with as many recipes as possible for cabbage as we had a huge lot of it! Her friend came over one night and we had a lovely dinner consisting of several cabbage dishes and a nice leisurely talk about where to go in Scotland and life in general.
Another night she had chorale practice, and I was the lucky one to sit and listen to all these beautiful voices singing traditional Scottish songs. When it was time to leave Maggie came with me on the train to Edinburgh and we said our goodbyes at the station. It was an impressive first visit and made me look forward to the rest of my adventures with Servas hosts. What a great way to be welcomed in the generous Scots tradition.
My second Servas family was a bit of a trip from Glasgow. It was to visit Janet & Munro Gold on the Isle of Lewis (far, far north on the west coast). The train, bus and ferry rides were all new experiences, but the postal bus ride was an unplanned and unexpected savior. My bus driver caught the postal bus so I could get to my stop on time.
After a long day of travel, Janet picked me up at the bus stop and took me to their home to spend a few days. What a treat I had in store for me! Janet is a gourmet cook, and in fact collects recipes from all their Servas travelers (take a recipe if you go to visit them). The farm is self-sustaining and the food was fantastic. The dinners we had each evening were full of excellent food, drink and wonderful stories. Better than a 5-star restaurant any day!
Munro keep himself busy running the farm. While I was there he was working on a water project. I’m not much of a physical being so was no help digging and moving stones, and generally mucking around. I had intended on helping Janet by typing some of her recipes to put into a book, but that was a large project that needed more time. I was then assigned to helping out in the garden a bit by weeding out in the polytube (greenhouse). It proved to be a beautiful sunny day and a great view, not a bad way to spend a day.
Janet is also a bi-lingual travel guide, so she often leads foreign travelers on historical tours of the fascinating area around them.
One of the many benefits of staying with them was being taken on my own personal tour. I was shown so many areas that I would have never seen if I had not been with them. There were ruins, standing stones, castles, peat fields, and much more. They are very tuned into their area and the history, which makes for a magical day ended with hot tea sitting on the beach by the sea.
If you want an adventure in Northern Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, make sure to get in touch with the Gold’s and set up your reservation! While we were talking one night, they said their visits had dropped off in the last few years and they wished more people would come to visit.
It will be well worth the time spent, and will leave you wanting to come back for more. I hope to return to the Gold’s home one day again as a Servas traveler and will spread the word of what a great time I spent on the Isle of Lewis!
I could not have asked for a better first-time experience traveling alone. And I have Servas to thank.