Sometimes, serendipity has a way of working itself into life’s little delays. When Phil Walsh planned a 2020 trip for two to Scotland, the Covid pandemic delayed the journey—giving Phil the opportunity to plan something bigger, more exciting, and more inclusive than his original idea. “When Covid-19 pulled the rug out from under our 2020 trip to Scotland, I started talking with my brothers about taking a family trip because I like the way Country Walkers puts their trips together—with some great hiking and accommodations paired with terrific meals and discovery. I thought this was a great chance for all the men in our family to do something adventurous together—we’re kind of spread out geographically so we don’t see each other as much as we’d like to.” In 2022, the Walsh clan’s Scotland: The Highlands Country Walkers vacation finally became a reality.
Putting together a group vacation with family from all around the country has its logistical challenges—and that’s where Country Walkers Tour Consultant Terri Geiger came in. With Terri’s expertise in complex travel arrangements—and the support of Country Walker’s excellent air team—the wrinkles were seamlessly smoothed out and the group of 10 family members flew to Glasgow. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with Terri, and she made it all happen,” says Phil. “We had quite a few changes—including two actual substitutions. Terri was very patient with the whole process and made everything come together.” When you plan a group vacation with Country Walkers, our expert Tour Consultants are there to help with the details. Our top-notch air department will find the best itineraries for all your group members—no matter whether everyone is flying from the same airport or starting from different cities.
Getting to Know Each Other All Over Again
A strong family with many branches, the Walsh clan is scattered across the United States—and that sometimes makes it difficult to gather together in person. “We all knew the grandsons growing up as little kids, but the years go by and they’ve grown up,” says Phil. “They’re all adults now—doing different things. We needed to get reacquainted. You can have conversations while hiking, or over dinner—it all brings the family together.”
Tim McGarvey, the family’s official scribe, put it another way: “One of the great blessings of this trip is the opportunity to reconnect with family members we don’t see often,” says Tim. “Our group of 10 is geographically diverse, representing Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. The distances involved mean we’re almost never all together, but when we are, it instantly feels like home and family. Conversations begun years ago over a pint thousands of miles away are picked up and resumed as if we’d just been interrupted for a moment.”
As the Walsh clan hiked their way across the Highlands, Tim’s daily emails home captured the family’s vacation in marvelous detail—describing the group’s discoveries and cultural interactions. “Dinner was at a local farm, and hosted by the farm’s owner, a real character named Fergus,” describes Tim. “Fergus gave us a tour of the farm. After the tour, we had dinner in the same barn as Rob Roy, albeit many centuries later. Some of the buildings dated back to the 1400s! Fergus was also quite a musician and kept us entertained and well-fed the whole evening.”
Tim also documented some of the group’s more humorous cultural exchanges: “We had breakfast at the hotel, during which Uncle Kevin happened upon these wee packets of something called Marmite,” writes Tim. “He took them back to the table, opened them and found a dark brown substance that looked something like jelly. Ever the intrepid explorer, he decided to taste it, and instantly looked as though he’d just eaten something foul. A few others were intrigued enough, brave enough, and perhaps even foolish enough, to taste it. Universally, they all made the same pained face, which we have since come to call ‘Marmite Face’.”
“During lunch,” Tim continues, “Marmite became a topic of much debate. Some expressed a desire to experience this phenomenon for themselves, so Uncle Kevin asked our waiter if they had Marmite. The Scottish seem to have a gift for understatement and a great reticence to say anything their interlocutor might dislike hearing. Thus, when our waiter said, ‘Ach, no, I’m sorry I don’t think we do,’ and then made the Marmite Face himself, we could roughly approximate that as ‘Why on earth would we have that disgusting excuse for food?’”
The group was led by two veteran walking guides, Gill and Rob, each of whom come with years of experience living and guiding in Scotland. They introduced the group to many details about Scottish culture and legends about the countryside—including the sorrow behind the lyrics of the famous song Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond, the intricate details of Scottish naming conventions, and the legend behind the craggy edifice called the Devil’s Backbone—and of course, one of Scotland’s famous national treasures. “To cap off our evening, tonight our guide Rob had arranged a whisky tasting in the hotel pub for us,” writes Tim. “There, we were educated on some of the history and traditions of Scotch Whisky and sampled wee drams of 4 different examples.” Under the expert tutelage of Gill and Rob, the Walsh clan expanded their appreciation of fine Scotch—along with many other fine Scottish things.
Hiking in the Highlands
With a large group of assorted ages and physical abilities, Phil prepared the group by presenting them with a training plan. “I had done a lot of hiking in the high Sierras over the years,” remembers Phil. “I advised them to get some sturdy hiking shoes, break them in well, and suggested they gradually increase their training mileage to at least 25 miles a week. Country Walkers also offers a training program that I shared with the group.” With good preparation and training programs from Phil and Country Walkers, the Walsh clan was well-prepared to discover the incredible beauty of the Scottish Highlands on foot.
“I truly don’t have words to describe the majesty of the highlands near Glencoe,” observes Tim. “It is an awe-inspiring place and fills one with both wonder at the tremendous vastness and diversity of our planet as well as a sense of our own small importance in the vast scheme of the universe.”
This spring, consider forging deeper ties with your loved ones with a Country Walkers walking adventure. It’s a great way to reconnect with people—whether someone in your family who lives far away, or a group of friends who live right around the corner. No matter what, with a Country Walkers group vacation you’ll have Country Walkers to help you plan, and a wealth of local discovery waiting for you. Best of all, when you call Country Walkers at 800.234.6900 during the month of April to reserve a group departure, you’ll have the first pick of next year’s travel dates!