2 Belgians and 2 Dutchmen are sitting in a car in Scotland… Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right? Well, it is not! Since some time the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) is friends with the Scottish Kaervaig Pipe Club (KPC). Members of the latter (Matron and Florian) have even visited the PRF Wuustwezel meeting several times. So now it was time to return the favour. At first Fred (who you know from the Inter Tabac blog posts) was busy with organizing a trip to Scotland. The original plan was to go with 9 PRF members in a van to Scotland, stay in a bothy in Balgowan (near Laggan) with the KPC and then, on the way home, pay a visit to the factory of Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). Sadly at the end of last year there have been some troubles on the forum and during that time Fred decided to leave. In the end he handed over the information to me about the Scotland trip he gathered so far. But when I asked if the members who had applied for the journey still wanted to go several called it quits. So I decided to pull the plug out of it.
However, I still wanted to travel to Scotland so I already had a plan B in mind. I called Rob(bie-San) and asked if he was willing to make the journey with me in his (large, diesel fuelled) car. “Of course!” He said. “And who’s coming with us? I have place for 2 more.” I immediately thought of Belgian friend Shaun and to make the group complete I asked his fellow-countryman Thierry if he was willing to join us. They both were enthusiastic so the deal was sealed. Only setback was that the visit to Samuel Gawith could not go through. Due to the British excise tax office tours to the tobacco factory are no longer allowed, to the disappointment of both Bob Gregory and us. Oh well, instead we opted for a short trip to Edinburgh. Finally at the end of April the day for the Scotland journey had come for the Fuming Four (aka. The Beards and the Bald).
Day 1: Thursday 28 April
After a restless night (too much excitement) I started packing my belongings for the trip. I could not bring too much with me because the packing space in Rob his car was limited. Besides, bringing enough booze with me was more important than a clean pair of pants. When I arrived at Rob’s home I noticed the 2 Belgians (who had arrived the day before) and Rob himself thought exactly the same. We all brought many pipes, (snuff) tobaccos and cigars with us but the vast amount of alcohol was staggering. The Belgians brought a large crate of the best beer in the world: Westvleteren and all kinds of other Belgian beers with them. Rob had bought Beerenburg, Citron brandy and Old Jenever. I had taken Lagavulin and an excellent Jonge Jenever with me. So now getting it all in the car.. Fortunately Thierry proved to have a talent for packing and with ease he stuffed the car full to the brim and, also important, invisible for curious customs officers.
After a very taste lunch made by Rob (home made chicken satay) the trip to the harbour of IJmuiden where we had to get on the ferry-boat went smooth. The weather was a bit chilly but at least dry. Luckily it did not take too long to get passed customs (who looked at us rather intensely, all those beards, suspicious…) into the huge ferry. After climbing some steps we soon found our cabin not far from the bow of the boat. I expected it to be small, but that small.. No way of letting a fart without everyone smelling it.. However the worst thing was the itty bitty tiny air conditioning hole in the ceiling. It was bloody hot in the cabin. We dumped our stuff and went on deck for some refreshing wind and a drink. When I watched the sea passing by at the ship’s rail Shaun no longer could hold back and we had our own intimate Titanic moment.
Our bellies grumbled so we went down to look for something to eat. Aboard you had several options: buy small things (like sandwiches, chocolate bars or bags of chips) at the shop, there was an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, a fancy dining place, an all-you-can-eat restaurant and a café. We opted for the latter because it was the cheapest option. Well, cheap.. Not exactly, not even near. I had a plate of dry nasi goreng, with only 3 measly pieces of chicken, which was just enough to full my hollow tooth for a whopping price of €17! I almost asked the waiter if he could hold my man-boobs, because I like that when I am being screwed! Later that evening we luckily found a nice and quiet bar on the boat which shielded us from noisy children who were running around and (half)drunk bachelor party folks. When I walked back to the cabin afterwards I noticed the weather outside had become a bit more rough. I only had 1 alcoholic drink but when I bounced from wall to wall in the hallway it felt like I had plenty more.
Day 2: Friday 29 April
When I awoke all sweaty because of the shitty air conditioning I was glad I brought ear-plugs with me. Man, those guys could snore. The surprisingly good shower freshened up my sleepy brain and to further wake it up I joined Thierry outside on the very windy deck. The cold wind blew so hard I could backwards lean into it without falling! Soon it was time for breakfast. Which was also very expensive.. While not trying to think too much of the price I shoved in the bun and soon we all got back to the cabin to pack our stuff because the ferry had arrived at the Newcastle harbour. Without much hassle we left the boat, went through customs where I was the suspicious person (why do you have no beard?) and started driving.. Left.. Being a land of traditions the British still drive on the wrong side of the road. Oh well, Rob drove in Ireland before so the only places we had to look out were roundabouts and in busy city centres.
The weather was also typical British: nasty. A couple of weeks before we went I mocked Rob for keeping his winter-tires for the journey. The end of April, beginning of May, certainly we were not going to see any snow! Ehrrrr wrong! On some roads it was so bad we even had snowplowers in front of us. In fact, everything that could fall from the skies we had (except aeroplanes luckily). Rain, hail, snow.. It seemed as we were on some Lord of the Rings kind of quest (with Rob as Gandalf, Shaun as Frodo, Thierry as Boromir and myself as an.. An.. Orc?) where we first had to conquer the elements before reaching the safe haven. But I have to say, the views along the road were amazing. We opted to take the A68 through the scenic Kielder Forest Park and despite the bad weather we very much enjoyed it. Unfortunately Shaun was having a difficult time in the car. It turned out that he had a bladder infection so he had to take a piss every couple of miles..
Around lunchtime we stopped at a town called Jedburgh with the ruins of a beautiful old abbey. Unfortunately the weather was so bad we decided only to look out for a place to eat. Soon we found a Fish & Chips bar and upon entering we got the first warning: the owner spoke German to us.. Do we look like a bunch of Germanz yez?? Most of us ordered fish & chips and when we got the food it looked, well, not really appetizing. The chips were bleak and proud Flemish guys Shaun and Thierry nearly retched when they tasted the defilement of what in essence is their region’s proud heritage dish. Blagh.. Shaun wanted to buy a Scottish cap and we were directed by the friendly Tourist Office to a menswear store: David Thomson & Son. Soon Shaun found a good looking suitable cap but while looking around Thierry saw a nice coat which fitted him well and I spotted a tweed waistcoat (always wanted one) which we ended up buying.
The ride to Balgowan took longer as we expected due to the weather and windy roads so I constantly had to text to Matron, who was waiting at the bothy, that we were going to be late. But lo an behold, as soon as we approached our destination the sky opened up and the glorious Scottish mountains and hills basked in sunlight. I led Rob upon a small and bumpy road which, in my opinion, led to the bothy. When we after some hassle (we were loaded too heavy) got to the end of it the house we saw was not the bothy we were searching for. The Scotsman who lived there was not amused to say the least we had driven upon his private road.. Whoops! After a phone-call with Matron he told me they were waiting at the main road. Luckily when we got down from the private one we saw him and other KPC member Alf waiting for us. Turned out we had to turn off one road earlier..
We were led up a footpath with the bothy at the end of it. Well, technically it wasn’t a bothy. A bothy is, I quote, “a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.” What we had was a mountaineer lodge with basic luxuries as a toilet, shower, kitchen, mattresses and furniture. Inside it already smelled good because the curry Matron made was quietly bubbling on the fire. After a welcoming glass of whisky other KPC members Darren and Gregor joined us, they had been mountain biking nearby. When I greeted them I noticed that real Scottish is a language that is pretty hard to grasp. Half the time I just smiled and nodded without understanding a word.. The curry Matron made together with some bread tasted more than excellent. I also had my first experience with a real English ale Matron brought along: Harveys Best Bitter. A bit strange at first but once you got used to the taste, great!
The rest of the evening was spend smoking (Thierry and Rob had brought some excellent cigars with them and Matron yummie pipe-tobaccos), talking and drinking. Matron already warned the other Scotsmen about the strength of Westvleteren compared to British ale but most of the bottles were consumed in no time. It took not long for Gregor to fall asleep on the couch. One of the bothy rules is that you can’t fall asleep before midnight so he was photographed with some bare asses in front of him. The later it got the more my memory failed me. I can vaguely remember Matron making all kinds of strange “dance” movements and I was screaming along at the top of my lungs with the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen..
All pictures were made by Thierry, Rob and myself.
Click here for part 2.