Following Edinburgh, we sat down and decided what we would like to do next. We looked at the map of Scotland, and ended up choosing a visit to Leslie Castle, to claim my birthright and take up my new duties as Baron of Leslie.
Conveniently, Leslie Castle is a B&B, so we booked a room (“the Leslie Room”) and headed north by train to the nearest stop on the ScotRail network, actually the nearest town, full stop — the village of Insch (population 2,282) — and got a cab to the castle. A woman got off the train with us, and asked if she could use our phone to call her husband. I looked at her and immediately decided that this person could be trusted not to run off with my phone, so I handed it to her.
We got a taxi to take us to the castle, and drop us at the door. The entire experience of entering the castle had all the earmarks of a Hollywood cliché: there was a massive, black door, and nothing that looked like a doorbell, so we pushed it open. If you listened closely, you might hear an eerie creak. Inside, no office, no front desk, no smiling hoteliers to greet us. Just an empty vestibule and a circular stair. We climbed, calling out “Hel-l-l-l-l-l-o! Is anybody there???” After a while we heard a voice from above us, “Hello????” and eventually we were greeted by a woman with her hair wrapped in a towel. “Hello, what are you doing in my house, and who are you???” It turns out that there is a doorbell out front, but you work it by pulling a long chain, much like the bell rope that one pulls to call Igor, the manservant of Count Drac. I really expected Igor (pronounced “eye-gore”) to appear at the door and say, “No one is home… go away before it is too late!”
So, no Igor, no Drac. Just a nice lady to whom we gave a little fright, because she was not expecting us till later. She had a most charming way of speaking, especially when there was an opportunity for drama. “Oh… you are the American Leslie’s, and you want the Leslie Room…” She then told us that there was a Rob Leslie already there, with his wife, from Australia. Soon we met Zeus, a fast-moving doberman, a noble beast, who came running in bellowing protectively at these strangers who had invaded his house.
The Hollywood stereotype continued, as we ascended the many stair landings of the castle. Our room, a grand space with a canopy bed and turret windows, resembled the accommodations in Frankenstein Castle, where Igor says, “The Master hopes you will be comfortable here tonight. Just be sure not to wander about the castle at night. One never knows what one might encounter.” But we had no fear of goblins or other beasties at night. In fact, on our last night there we gave a little farewell and thank-you concert in the Baronial Hall, because it has such a lovely resonance. After our singing selections (‘Dona nobis pacem’, ‘If Ever I would Leave You’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ ), we were treated to fine, single malt Scotch whiskey.
One thing we discovered here was the solid, sincere decency of the people in rural Scotland. On our last evening at the castle, we decided to go to the only sit-down restaurant in Insch, and walking down the main street, we passed perfect strangers who enthusiastically greeted us as if we were neighbors. It’s a bit of a cultural shock after living in the big city of Edinburgh, but it was a welcome change. After our visit to the castle, we hopped on a train to Aberdeen, and booked a room in the Doubletree Hilton in town. We had a wonderful dinner in the restaurant associated with the hotel — Footdee’s, it’s called — and had a nice conversation with our server, Kayleigh, who hearing of our travel plans resolved to take her own trip soon. Everywhere we go we have wonderful conversations with everyone we talk to. It really is quite amazing.