"The landscape changes around every bend," says Anne Stone Crow of the lovely, unpredictable highlands of Scotland, where you're just as likely to find a well-preserved castle, a salmon preserve, a field full of contented sheep or a placid, sandy beach full of sunbathers. "That was beautiful, and a big surprise," she says of the last attraction, a beach near St. Andrews.
Anne knows whereof she speaks: She's made the pilgrimage every August for 19 years now. Last year, along with Glasgow-based tourguide Joan Dobbie, she used her Scottish travel savvy lead TDF Travel's ever-popular nine-day jaunt to the land that gave the world golf, whisky and tartan (the next one, which Anne plans to join again, is Aug. 12-21).
This is also the land, of course, which each year hosts the festival to beat all festivals, which provides the final climactic destination of the TDF Scotland tour: The Edinburgh Festival, which in addition to theatre, opera and music includes adjunct festivals of books, science and crafts.
"Somehow Edinburgh manages to accommodate all the tourists and festivals every year, and it's a jolly place to be," Anne says. "There's so much to do there."
The trip begins with two days in Glasgow, including visits to some of its well-kept theatres, led by the erudite Ms. Dobbie.
"She's slated to escort the tour this year," says Anne of her beloved Scottish colleague. "She's incredibly knowledgeable and delightfully witty, providing running commentary throughout the tour. Everybody seems to adore her and her wonderful Scottish hospitality."
The group then makes it way to a secluded spot in Dunkeld, which seems to hold a special place in Anne's heart.
"We stay at the most charming Hilton Hotel--it's really more of a country inn, down a long, windy road," she says, warming to the image. "When you get there, they greet you with short bread and wee dram of Scotch whisky. There are sheep grazing through the pastures, and a river that runs through the property with signs that say 'Do Not Disturb the Salmon.' "
In Dunkeld, tour participants whet their theatrical appetite with a selection from the Pitlochry Theatre Festival. Also on view nearby are "salmon steps" where travelers can watch the region's favorite fish swim up river.
Packed into the two days around Dunkeld are stops at Scone (pronounced "schoon") and Glamis, where the Queen Mother was born (and where, you may recall, a certain murderous Shakespearean king got his start).
The trip concludes with four busy days of festival-going in Edinburgh, beginning appropriately enough with a bit of fanfare: the world-famous Tattoo, which refers not to a piece of body art but to an impressive full-dress military display of bagpipes and drumming. "Tickets to the Tattoo are well-sought-after and hard to get," Anne reports.
Travelers are scheduled to see three performances at either the main festival or its irrepressible cousin, the Fringe, but there's still time for more sightseeing stops, including a stop at Holyrood House, where the Queen stays when she comes to town, and at the now-decomissioned Royal Yacht Britannia, where she and her family formerly stayed.
"There are some grand dining rooms on the yacht, but the private quarters are surprisingly modest," Anne says. She also offers this important assurance for the royalty-allergic: "My husband went to that tour kicking and screaming, but at the end of it I was hard pressed to get him off the boat!"
That one anomalous beach aside, the weather is known to fluctuate between rain and sun--though global warming may have made the overall climate more temperate, Anne says.
"It can be a little chilly in the evening, but it's quite nice in the day. And you'll want to carry an umbrella just in case. There hasn't been the cold, raw rain like there used to be; I'm afraid those days are over. When my husband and I first started going over there, it was all turtlenecks and tweeds; now it's cotton and linen."
The warmest things you'll find in Scotland, though, are the people. "I can't say enough about the Scottish hospitality," Anne raves. They're so friendly, she says, they even "apologize for the weather. But we don't come to Scotland get a suntan!"
Find tickets and info about TDF's Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival