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August 7th 1863

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The Parker's Scotch Tour

In 1863 the Parker family from Barnet in Hertfordshire came north for a holiday in Scotland - three girls Caroline, Helen, and Lucy with their parents and Bury, a servant. The reason we know so much about them is due to the lively, witty diary kept by the youngest daughter, Lucy. The picture that emerges is of a most delightfully unstuffy Victorian family determined to enjoy themselves even in the most difficult of circumstances.

After some days in Edinburgh, the family took the train to Stirling but the weather was already so bad that they decided to carry on by coach to the Trossachs. The weather did not improve, and to make things worse, the coach leaked so that when they finally reached The Trossachs Hotel all were soaking wet. But their troubles were not at an end. Mr Parker had a touching belief in the ability of hotels to provide accommodation without prior arrangements. It was a belief that was all too often misplaced.

The Trossachs Hotel was completely full and they were lucky to get put up in a house nearby. “Silent confinement in tiny cells about seven feet square.”  Mr Parker did rather better than the rest. He made friends “with a young Scotchman and his wife and adjourned into their sitting room and then spent a very cheerful evening drinking toddy with them……” 

Next morning they were up bright and early to Callender for breakfast. Once again the rain came down and they decided to stay in the hotel. “Little Raspberry Cream was the head waiter of the hotel. He was so christened because his ugly little head was just like a mould of raspberry cream garnished with carrots at the top. The only drawback to Little Raspberry Cream was that he kept us in a perpetual state of anxiety when he was waiting on us, for whenever he leaned over the table, or reached over our heads, or set a heavy dish down his little cheeks turned purple, his little forehead turned blue and his little lips turned deep mulberry colour, till we were all terrified lest he should go off in a fit of apoplexy. But Little Raspberry Cream had a kind heart in his ugly little body. And when we sent Bury to ask him for some books, not in the least expecting any result to the request, there presently came a knock on the door, and in bounced Little Raspberry Cream, staggering under the weight of a pile of volumes about a yard high, his little face appearing over the top and gasping ‘Here are a few.’ He said he would bring us more bye and bye.” 

The Parkers were enthusiastic rather than devout churchgoers. They attended two services every Sunday and obviously looked forward to these occasions. “We went to the Scotch Free Church where we enjoyed the service very much, and had a most beautiful sermon from Mr Boyle……The afternoon service was at two. We had a different minister and not nearly such a good sermon but it was an even longer one…”  (Callender) “We had a splendid sermon in the morning from a travelling Scotch clergyman and a very excited one in the afternoon.”  (Braemar). “We went twice to the Scottish church on the hill.”  (Oban).

There were some criticisms. “Scotch churches would be much nicer if the old gentlemen didn’t take snuff with a spoon, and circulate their boxes so socially in all the seats adjacent to them, and if large families of young ladies could be induced not to eat peppermint lozenges immediately behind ones head, during the whole service.” 

The problems of travel were met with resolution and stoicism. They left Callender in an open brake with Lucy and her sisters perched on top “looking down from what appeared to our unaccustomed eyes, a prodigious height from the ground.”  For once the weather was kind and they travelled to Killin and later Kenmore with no further problems.

After a night in Kenmore they travelled on to Birnam “in a high and somewhat remarkable gig.”  On the way they passed through Aberfeldy, “a clean smart little town, with ‘fleshers’ and linen drapers shops.”  Arriving at Birnam Wood Hotel they were in good time for the 5 o’clock table d'hote which was enlivened by a gentleman “whose appearance in general gave one the appearance of falseness - not only did he wear a wig, but his whiskers also were false and were fastened by his ear. The stiffness of his stock suggested the idea that his neck also was false, his eyebrows were bushy and appeared to be glued on and his light blue eyes had such a glassy appearance that I don’t think they could have been his own. Whether he was slightly rouged or not it was difficult to tell but he was altogether very good looking.” 

Whenever the weather permitted, the Parkers went out exploring the countryside, climbing the hills in their crinolines, slithering down in the twilight, looking forward to tea, “remarkably hungry”  but of course there was nothing remarkable about it at all.

While at Birnam they took the train to Perth but were unimpressed. “One fine view from the bridge and heaps and heaps and heaps of dirty tattered children, with white hair and bare legs, rolling, sprawling or squalling in the mud and washing in the gutter. We had had quite enough of Perth in 20 minutes and returned by the next train.” 

It was when they finally left Pitlochry on the morning of August 15th that they met and finally overcame their biggest challenge. “The wind grew colder and colder, all traces of sunshine disappeared for the day and it began to rain. Finding this we took off our hats, put on waterproof cloaks with the hoods over our heads and as the rain came on faster put on over these, large thick cloaks, known commonly among us as ‘the old browns’. In this costume which, whether becoming or not, was very warm and comfortable, we travelled on to the very dirty Kirkmichael Inn, where we stopped about one o’clock and would have had lunch but did not like the aspect of the place.

The rain waited while we waited at the inn, and began again directly we left it. This is the kind of road that we now had to go upon. The very softest yellow mud, sometimes degenerating into pools and ruts of thin custard, underlaid with sharp angular stones, at irregular intervals, the higher points showing like the tops of sunken rocks. Some parts of the road much higher than the rest, some of the holes being very deep.

This is how we went upon it. One wheel would ride high over a large stone, then suddenly drop into a deep hole with a terrific bump, then crunch loudly and jolt us over another great stone. The other wheel would go wiggling along in an uncertain way over five stones in succession, then squash down into a deep rut where the custard splashed out over the edges and filled up again as we went on, and the sharply cut edge that we made gradually sunk into the sludge again.

Bump, bounce, wiggle, jolt, scrunch, bump, wiggle, squash, bounce, bump.

And if it had broken down, what a prospect! Walking back in the mud to the dirty Kirkmichael Inn, spending there the better part of three days, as tomorrow would be Sunday, with no books, no church, no employment, no food, no scenery and an evil smell throughout the house!! It was too horrible! Nevertheless, with this frightful alternative before us, and in spite of the severe shakes and bumps that we were receiving, and in spite of the cold wind and the yellow mud, it was impossible to help laughing, for we all shook and swayed about and bumped and wriggled in our big cloaks, like sacks of flour set on end, and looked utterly absurd and ridiculous.” 

They carried on doggedly towards Spittal of Glenshee. “A sensation of dampness at the back of the neck gave us an unpleasant notice that the rain had soaked through. But we stuffed handkerchiefs up at the back of our necks, and continued for seven miles still laughing.” 

There was little respite at the Spittal. A full and unco-operative hotel and a dusty answer to a request for a closed carriage for the journey on to Braemar. They were given an open ‘machine’ and fortified by “a little hot toddy and Captain’s biscuits.” 

They set off again. Going up the Devil’s Elbow “Mama, who like the rest of us was wet to the skin……turned breathless and faint with the piercing cold. Papa who was walking to ease the burden on the horses, removed his Inverness cape and wrapped it around her.” 

The crisis passed and eventually Braemar was reached. Even then there were problems. Their first choice, Fisher’s Hotel, was full but the Invercauld Arms Hotel “who did everything they could think of to make us comfortable,”  managed to put them up. Even the fact that the camp bed on which Lucy slept collapsed in the middle of the night, did not disturb their good humour.

From then on problems were overcome with consummate ease. They went on to Aberdeen, Inverness, sailed down the Caledonian Canal, took the train to Glasgow, then across to Edinburgh and finally arrived back at Barnet a little after midnight, “but found the boys waiting up for us, and a most substantial hot supper waiting for us, which being over at about two o’clock on the morning of the first of September, we adjourned to rest after our toils, thus ending our Scotch Tour.” 

A fine tribute to Victorian resilience.

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