I've just returned from a media trip to Scotland - my homeland - of which I am extremely proud. The itinerary was packed and interesting with visits to some of my country's endless delights including Edinburgh, where we popped along to see the Royal Yacht Britannia and the gardens of Holyroodhouse. The CTC, our fabulous hosts, were excellent as always.
We also had an uninspiring outing to the Blair Street Vaults, run by Mercat Tours. Prior to entering these cellars, part of Mercat Tours company offices, the company's (non Scottish) male guide regaled us with tales which focused on how in days of yore, locals chucked the contents of their chamber pots into Edinburgh's streets. He described with relish what the contents of these chamber pots looked like, apparently 'sausage casserole' and 'creme brulee'.
Once inside the cellar he attempted to create a spooky atmosphere by hoping to startle our press group with random shouts and ghostly suggestions. It didn't work.
Next morning, on the coach journey to Falkirk, she started to regale us with tales of old Edinburgh, which included - you've got it - toilet habits back in the day which included chucking the contents of chamber pots from the windows. Again, vivid, lengthy descriptions of the nastiness within were added to the story, creme brulee featured again, as did a concoction with 'a crust on top'. Come on Mercat Tours, we all know what sewage looks like, what the heck is the point in descriptions which are both ridiculous and unnecessary?
I should add here for the purpose of accuracy, this sewage-throwing habit did not only apply to Edinburgh as the guide suggested, this practice was commonplace in cities and towns throughout Britain and Europe and was the reason gentlemen, when escorting ladies, walked on the outside thereby positioning themselves closer to where the sewage would hit the ground.
But, as if that wasn't enough, I thought I was hearing things when she went on to say that this practice occasionally still takes place from the top floor of some Edinburgh tenement buildings.
An excellent 'Step One' in the plan 'How to discourage tourists from visiting Edinburgh'.
Throughout the rest of the trip, it became plain that this lady had no passion for Scotland, rattling off historical tales that sounded as if they came straight from a guide book, interspersing them with her own often belittling observations about Scotland's folk heroes including the undoubtedly heroic William Wallace, cunning and clever Rob Roy MacGregor and extraordinary Robert the Bruce. Scotland is a land which the Scots acquired and held by heroic defence. A strong love for the country is something deeply implanted in the Scots psyche, the inhabitants have long had a strong devotion to it, which arose from the fact that by means of their own blood and effort, the Scots won this land for themselves.
Anyway Mercat Tours, I shouldn't have to say, but of course, there is much more to Scotland than her history.
The weather was glorious, sunny and warm for the duration of our stay, but even this caused our guide to make disparaging remarks including, 'you are lucky, it isn't usually like this' - 'the weather is usually (choose one or two from the following) - rainy - cold - stormy - snowing - generally nasty' . In effect, 'you are experiencing the first three days without rain since August 1922'. (Okay, I made the last one up, but you get the drift.) An absolutely ace way to deter visitors from coming back to Scotland.
A fitting 'Step Two' in 'How to discourage tourists from visiting Scotland.'
At one point she sang a few lines from 'The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond'. If you do something like that, don't translate Scottish words. It is a Scottish song. You don't therefore, 'TAKE the high road', nor will you be in Scotland 'BEFORE me' ... etc, etc. On the subject of language, 'Crichton' isn't pronounced 'Crickton', it is 'CRYton' and King John's surname was 'Balliol' not 'BalliO'. Just as 'Mackay' is 'Mackeye' not 'MacKAY'. In 'Auld Lang Syne', 'SYNE' begins with an 'S' not a 'Z'. The word 'CELT' doesn't have a hard 'C' in Scotland. ' A 'KELT' is a diseased salmon. I could go on.
Everyone on this press trip, except myself and the driver, was English. Some had never before visited Scotland. To me, the Mercat Tours guide made Scotland sound like a (rather peculiar, somewhat quaint) theme park. On occasion she turned its heroes, traditions and language into a bit of a joke. Everything, in fact, rather artificial. Certainly, nothing she said would encourage people to visit Scotland.
'Step Three' in 'How to discourage tourists from visiting the land north of the border.'
This all upset and annoyed me. Hurrah then - and no thanks to the guide - two journalists in our group who had never before visited this land told me it surpassed their expectations. They were, in effect, won over. So fortunately, Scotland, my homeland, took matters into her own hands, doing splendidly as she always does - and quietly sold herself.
Let's hope Mercat Tours guides aren't let loose on a coach load of foreign tourists. The Lord only knows what opinion they would go home with.