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The Worse the Disaster, the Better the Story

When we started planning our trip to Scotland, that relatively small country suddenly seemed enormous. There was so much to see! Where to start? Where to stay? What to see?

Scrape and I finally settled on a ruined castle tour. As I mentioned in my earlier post on Western ghost towns, I love abandoned homes and towns--so what could be better than abandoned castles?

We spent our first evening at a workingman's bar in Stirling. I'd heard that just about everyone in Scotland knew a little Burns, so much to Scrape's embarrassment, I approached a group of khaki-kilted men and asked them if they could recite any poetry for me. What ensued was the ultimate introduction to Scotland. Every single guy there could rattle off verse after verse in a stunningly sexy (if at times incomprehensible) Scottish brogue. One older man recited the entire eight verses of "To a Mouse."
It was awesome.
But all good things must come to an end--even impromptu poetry recitations. About midnight, a phalanx of wives arrived to drag their poetry-spouting husbands home.
There were plenty of ruined castles for us to visit, since the Scots seem to have spent most of their history destroying, rebuilding, and re-destroying their homes. Tour guides at each stop would recite long litanies of destruction and resurrection: "The castle was built in 1306, and destroyed in 1328. In 1330, it was rebuilt, only to be burned to the ground in 1332. After being restored in 1335, the castle was again reduced to rubble..." and so on. Oh, to be a Highland contractor in the golden age of castle destruction! You'd never lack for work.

After cruising the countryside and visiting Kilchurn Castle, Castle Stalker, and several others, we loaded our rental car onto the ferry and headed for the Isle of Skye. Ten minutes after disembarking, we stopped at a church rummage sale, where I scored a paperback book of Scottish ghost stories. Pleased with our purchase, we piled back into the car and prepared to explore the rest of the island.

But the car wouldn't start.

We tried everything we could think of, but the poor thing made hideous grinding noises every time we cranked the engine. We couldn't figure out what was wrong until we opened the little door that covers the fuel tank and read the tiny sticker hidden on the backside of the door:
Diesel Fuel Only.

We'd just filled up the tank with petrol. Regular, ordinary, gasoline-tye petrol.

We'd poisoned our car.

We called the rental car company. Nobody answered. We explained our plight to the church ladies, who told us it was a bank holiday weekend.

Scotland is a wonderful country. When they have a holiday, it's a holiday for everyone. Nothing was open. No garages. No rental car companies. Nothing.

The church ladies comforted us by saying we could surely get a new car on Tuesday.
It was Saturday.

We finally got in touch with a garage that agreed to send a tow truck to rescue us--but it would take four or five hours for the driver to reach the island.
It started raining, then pouring. We crouched in our poor dead car in the church parking lot, staring out at the water streaming down the windshield and the blurry landscape beyond. At least we had ghost stories to read.

After a while, there was a faint rapping on the driver's side window. A ghost? No, it was one of the church ladies. When we rolled down the window, she handed in two small trays, each bearing a cup of tea in a delicate porcelain teacup and a miniature Kit Kat Bar. It was tea-time, and the church ladies had decided to adopt us.

Finally, the tow truck arrived. The driver had arranged to take us to the car rental garage in Inverness, over eighty miles away, where we would trade our crippled Peugot for a new car.

Thus began the tow-truck tour of Scotland. The truck was huge, with an enormous windshield that stretched from the top of the cab to somewhere around our dangling ankles. The view was terrific, and Steven, our driver, was charming and chatty. He showed us Loch Duich, then took us through Dundreggan Forest and followed the coast of Loch Ness to Inverness, stopping so we could see the lights of Urquehart Castle.
It rained the whole time. By the time we reached our destination it was two in the morning. But it was definitely a memorable trip--in a surprisingly good way.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. We returned to Skye and saw the Fairy Flag and Bonnie Prince Charlie's waistcoat at Dunvegan, then proceeded to Eilean Donan, where Scrape out-romanced every romance novel I've ever read by surprising me with a diamond ring on the rocks by the castle. Then we returned to Loch Ness, where I tried out my Nessie call. She didn't answer, but I found a fossilized Nessie egg that still sits on my dresser. (Scrape says it's just a round rock, but I know better.)

Since that trip, I have a new philosophy of travel: The worse things go, the better the story. If we hadn't broken down, we wouldn't have been adopted by the wonderful church ladies. We wouldn't have experienced the unique Tow Truck Tour, or met Steven, or seen Loch Ness at night.

Sometimes what feels like disaster is really a gift.


  1. Great post, Joanne. I couldn't agree more with your travel philosophy. Those who don't adopt it, doom themselves to misery, whereas those who do will have rollicking adventures.

    The worse the disaster, the better the story is also a great guide for writing fiction. :-)

  2. LOL, Joanne, great story! Sounds like a romance! :) Aren't all occasions that have some kind of disastrous quality more memorable? :)

    We moved by U-Haul more times than I want to remember, and on one of our adventures, the 24-ft? truck broke down in Colorado, and had to be unpacked in the middle of a service station parking lot into another in front of God and everyone. It took hours. The worst was my dad was a perfectionist and had loaded everything the first time just the way it was supposed to be. Heaviest stuff near the cab. The good thing was we didn't have to repack. Hefty guys did all the work. The bad part was that they reloaded the whole truck backwards--lightest stuff near the cab, and when we'd never broken anything on a move before...we did that time after the repacking.

    But I'll never forget that move--as well as some others like it--like the time we were pulling a big U-Haul trailer with a car through mountains and the car was smoking really bad in the middle of no where. Dad pulled over at one point and was considering unloading furniture and dumping it along the road, which reminded me of the settlers moving west who had to dump their belongings from their wagons as their oxen or horses died. :) We seemed to always be making 3000 mile moves, none of these short jaunts from one town to another. :)

  3. What a fabulous adventure, Joanne! Love the pictures, the story, the diamond...everything!

    The closest I ever got to Scotland was two Scottish guys from Edinburgh my friend and I met at a bar...of course, my friend married one of them. *g*

  4. The photos are beautiful and I enjoyed the post. You brought the country to us through this post, what a great adventure. Thanks.

  5. Hey, you had me at khaki-kilted Scots spouting poetry! Great post, Joanne!

  6. What an amazing trip! It sounds like you got see Scotland from a very authentic point of view, even with the car trouble :)

  7. Oh, no! What a distaster! You made the best of it, though. Good for you!

  8. What an adventure, Joanne. What struck me was how the church ladies sent you tea and Kit Kats at tea time, even in the pouring rain!

    I think we've lost that good Samaritan type of hospitality here in the US. I'd like to see more of that kind of thoughtfulness.


  9. Wow, that was a cool post. From the pictures I've seen, Scotland is of these days I will get there...wishful thinking! lol

  10. It sounded like a completely fun trip to me, Joanne!

    And as for "the worse things get the better the story"--I think that's why Sandra Brown said in a workshop years ago, "Put your heroine in a tree and throw rocks at her!" :-)


  11. OMG, what fun adventure! Sometimes it's those unexpected trip detours that become the most memorable part of a vacation. Your tour of Scotland sounds absolutely dreamy!

    Though my Sourcebooks debut is still 17 months away and I don't yet get to play here, I couldn't resist the urge to take a cue from you ladies and write about travel on my own blog today.

    And now I'm itching for another trip!


  12. I'm with you, it's a Nessie egg!

    And you're right, disaster always creates a better story.

  13. Thanks, everyone, for commenting. Terry, that sounds like "National Lampoon's Moving Day" or something! I love the Oregon Trail parallel.
    Cheryl, I love those khaki kilts. They wear them with big manly work boots, and the guys have legs like tree-trunks. You can bet nobody would dare tease them about wearing a skirt!

  14. Ashlyn, those ladies were so sweet! They really felt sorry for us and did their best to take care of us. The tea served in our car was the turning point of the whole episode - we were a lot less grumpy after that!

  15. Tawna, you can play here any time you want as far as I'm concerned, 'cause now I'm not the new girl anymore:) Seriously, welcome to Sourcebooks! It's such a good sign that you're participating already.

  16. What a fabulous story! I do not handle mishaps while traveling so well. I am proud of you! I shall have to remember to look on the brighter side of the coin from now on. Thanks for a great blog and the amazing photos. I would LOVE to visit Scotland. Someday, after I tour England. :)

  17. What a great story, Joanne. And so true. Some of my best vacations didn't go as planned.

  18. Thanks for the post, Joanne. Funny write-up! How come my car troubles are never that much fun?

    "Stalker Castle"? I wouldn't want to tour that one alone!

  19. I learned when I was a kid, that when the car breaks down, I should get out, walk a bit away, and immerse myself in the life of whatever little piece of ground was available at my feet---thereby missing out on the drama occurring in/around the car, and having a wonderful time for myself discovering what sort of flora/fauna flourished in this roadside world--and making up stories of "what if's" about my living in this lilliputian mini-cosmos. It worked just as well when I was an adult, and I do it to this day. The other side of this is that, whenever I travelled as an adult, I went as a POOR person, and that's the way to meet neat people, have those adventures caused by disaster, and find out how the local people REALLY eat!! I remember my Dad piling all of us into the family car on any Sunday afternoon and refusing to tell us where we were going--he'd just twinkle at us and say "Let's go have an adventure, and find out where we end up!" Good training for life!

  20. I love this blog! Your comments are all so varied and so fun--I honestly feel like I'm at a party, talking with girlfriends. So many things about Sourcebooks have been great, but my fellow authors are a huge part of why I'm so glad to be part of the Casablanca family.
    Jessic, you should just GO! Scotland was wonderful - an experience I'll never forget.
    And Amelia, I've heard that Sandra Brown quote, and there are times in my life I feel like I must have fallen into one of her books!

  21. Linda - thanks for believing in my egg! I mean, what else could it be?

    And Sharon, thanks for the compliment on the photos, but there are no bad photos in Scotland! When the sun's shining, it's beautiful. When the weather's bad, it's moody and evocative. You can't lose.

  22. Suzy, what a great plan for dealing with problems! I actually did take a walk while we waited for the tow truck and found some ruins nearby. Got some great pictures, of course! (see previous comment.)

  23. Mary Anne, hi! Big wave!
    Castle Stalker is the eerie looking one in the photos, shrouded in mist, standing all by itself on an island. It is AWESOME, in the true sense of the word. It's hard to imagine what could have been so threatening that people would choose to live in such a place; it really brought home how difficult life must have been in that time and place. An amazing place - and I got totally soaked getting that picture!

  24. This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.


  25. Wow - this is my dream trip! I just finished writing my blog for tomorrow about how much I want to visit Scotland and find you have lived my dream! Thanks for your post - what a fun adventure!

  26. I can't agree more, Joanne! When something goes wrong, trips always get more interesting. I loved your trip and the photos as well. Thanks so much for sharing.


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