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Scotland: The land of haggis and rain

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Posted: Friday, November 21, 2014 7:22 am

It took my Scottish-Irish ancestors about 389 years to make it to the West Coast.

It took me a half a day of travel to make it back.

This is the short story and examination of a fraction of Scottish culture through the perspective of a California native who had previously traveled only as far as Idaho.

Though my tale isn’t as glorious as fighting the Atlantic Ocean to a new and foreign land, I encountered my own perils on my flight from San Francisco to Glasgow.

There were internal problems with my flight and I was sandwiched like a sardine on the plane to London. Plus I didn’t sleep the whole way there, and upon arrival to Glasgow, my baggage was lost.

But that’s OK, because the my first three days in Scotland were spent relaxing with my granny watching British soap operas and drinking tea every hour, on the hour.

From my grandmother’s third-story flat, I could see a good deal of Greenock — the city I was staying in — which included the entirety of the Oak Mall and the former James Watt College.

Pretty much all of Greenock is a maze of apartments. That’s because long ago, Scottish architects and city planners decided that among the rolling hills of Scotland, it would be easier to build up instead of sprawling out. All the towns that have formed around the Clyde River are narrow strips of apartments and pubs that reach a maximum height of four stories tall.

I found one Burger King, one McDonald’s and one Kentucky Fried Chicken in the area. Interestingly, KFC was the only place to get a burrito.

Besides Budweiser and Barefoot Wine, the grocery stores in Scotland were a mystery to me.

There was Buckfast, a wine tonic brewed by monks; Turkish Delight, a chocolate covered jelly candy; and haggis, the ground-up insides of sheep mixed with oats and spices.

The people here drive on the left side of the road. Their narrow highways are usually no wider than two lanes in each direction, and they always lead to a round-about.

But that’s only for the people with cars. I only met one family member with a vehicle, and he lived on the other side of the river.

It’s all about walking in Scotland, or taking the train, bus, ferry or taxi. Everything is huddled together, and happiness is just as close as a walk to the pub.

It’s the walking back that is the hard part.

Especially when you are staggering home in the wind and rain.

California might be in a drought, but someone turned on the waterworks in Scotland.

Granny told me, when I was heading back home to the States, that it only gets worse until May.

Which isn’t such a bad thing when you’re used to the dry heat back home, but for the Oak Mall it is terrible news.

Because of the hilly layout of the land, every time there is a heavy rain, the mall is flooded. The mall must be re-tiled every year.

It was a nice mall, though, especially if you need a dry place to walk home through.

Contact reporter James Striplin at

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