A Walkabout: Dispatch #1 Scotland

The flight over the pond was easy-peasey. I know a nine-hour flight seems long, is relatively long, but listen, an hour-long flight into Memphis or Dallas during a thunderstorm can be far longer. In those situations, which I’ve lived through, every minute seems like an hour.

It was a bit windy landing in Amsterdam but I’ve had worse in Minneapolis. The flight into Glascow was mostly men and they were all talking and I had no idea what any of them were saying. American men don’t talk that much ever, even if they are drunk. These fellas were all very animated, laughing, cutting up, just cheery. American men are rarely cheery.

The cab ride to campus was far more daring than the plane ride. I kept thinking of Doug Marlette, who died in a hydroplaning incident in Mississippi. Driving 70 through standing water never seems like a good idea, especially with a cabbie I’d just met five minutes prior. I did note there were no trees for us to crash into, so there was that.

My driver was a tall, bald, talkative fellow who admires Donald Trump, Princess Di, Harry, and doesn’t like immigrants (freeloaders) nor does he favor Scottish Independence.

He was, in essence, a poorer man’s Joe Rogan.

What do you admire about Donald Trump? I asked.

He brought back manufacturing to America, he said.

And patriotism.


There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism, I suggested.

His son is a law school graduate and just enlisted in the military. His father also served. Not everyone thinks this, he said, but here in Scotland there is a Catholic-Protestant divide. And many think that if you are in the military, you are all Protestants.

It took me a moment to wrap my brain around all that, but the takeaway, I think, is that the military isn’t respected because they are considered heathens of some sort. That definitely seemed like the type of topic one might pursue at the local pub after a few.

Don’t even get him started on Queen Elizabeth.

“I loved Princess Di,” he said.

Or Camilla.

“She will never be queen. Never.”

By the time he launched into his assessment of Harry’s move to the US – “Harry’s brilliant. Takes after his mom.” – we were at the university. He pulled my bags from the trunk and pointed me to the door I needed. It was pouring the rain. The school had closed because “there’s a gale c’ming.”

It didn’t take me long to get settled into the dorm room. It’s a temporary one since my flatmates have been dealing with Covid. I’ll move into the actual flat this weekend. It’s clear from the size of the shower, I won’t be shaving my legs the entire time I’m here. I just prayed I wouldn’t drop the bar of soap because I’d have to be a Republican in order to pick it up. (Give yourself a minute to consider that visual).

I’ve been through a couple of tornadoes, one of them with Robert Hicks in Franklin, Tennessee, but never though a gale in Scotland.

Until yesterday.

I grabbed Renee, the other Shepherd study abroad student, strapped on my hiking boots and we headed out to find the beach. The River Ayr runs right along the campus. I asked Renee about the riverwalk, but she hadn’t been to it yet.

I found it this morning.

There are a lot of dog walkers who make good use of it.

“A very fine morning,” one fella said as we passed by.

A beautiful day indeed, I replied. I need to find a dog to walk. Tim has Hemingway.

Renee and I visited the cemetery of the Auld Kirk (Old Church) yesterday. There are a lot of Auld places here in Ayr. I love church cemeteries. Or any cemetery really. This one was particularly charming, what with its leaning headstones and scenic riverfront property, just around the corner from the TKMaxx (Apparently, Scots don’t use the letter “J”?).

Churches are touchpoints for me no matter where I travel. The way pubs are for Joe Rogan, I imagine. I did try to enter the Auld Kirk as I do wherever I go. But even though they’d left the lights on, they had not left the doors unlocked.

That was a wee bit disappointing but I will try again.

Seems to me if any place ought to always have an open door, it should be a church and not the TKMaxx.

Despite her sneakers, which got utterly sopped, Renee was game to traipse about with me.

You know that kind of rain that Forrest Gump spoke about?

That’s the kind of rain we got pelted with. We won’t need microdermabrasion for sometime. Pelting is too soft of a word to describe it. And now I completely understand why the Irish say that they hope the wind will be at your back. There were times we were blown off our feet. If I’d had an umbrella, I would definitely have been flying.

We found the local butcher, who was actually brandishing knives in quite a showy display. And the local barber, who wasn’t brandishing any knives, thankfully.

The storefronts have this nostalgic charm to them, not unlike beach towns the world over. There are always kitschy items, souvenirs or something to make a dorm room sparkle. Or something to build an affinity for the Royal family.

I found a pillow and paper towels.

Neither bore the Queen’s likeness.

We stopped at a restaurant along the beachfront and had lunch. I ordered a minestrone soup that didn’t taste at all like any minestrone soup I’ve ever had before. And a latte. It was a lovely break from the weather and warmed us right up. Renee opted for the fish and chips. Doesn’t matter where you live, or which country you visit, beach towns have a universality to them.  While I didn’t see any saltwater taffy shops, there is a sweet shop.

The wind has died down today. I’ve been in class most of the day but will head out for another walkabout in a bit.

I hope to do as I did yesterday, speak to anyone I happen to run into along the way.

“There’s a gale a’coming!” one local chided after I told her we were headed toward the beach.

“I know,” I replied. “That’s why we are headed there.”

She shook her head and tsked us.

“Where do you go when there’s a gale a’coming?” I asked.

“Home!” she said with a tone of admonishment.

“Yet, here you are,” I said.

” I am meeting a friend,” she replied, with a knowing grin.

Yes, well maintaining any meaningful relationship requires one to press on even in the face of gale-storm winds, at times.


Karen Spears Zacharias is a graduate student at the University of West Scotland and the author of the forthcoming book, The Murder Gene, May ’22.


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Nancy Dorman-Hickson

about 12 months ago

Lovely! I so hope you'll continue these postings during your adventure. Happy for you!


Peggie bloodworth

about 12 months ago

Am so enjoying your trip!


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