Guest Holiday Goddess Cordelia O’Connell survives a traditional country holiday in Scotland with bare-kneed dance partners.

Every image you have in your mind of Northern Scotland is probably true. I experienced it all last summer, when I stayed with a schoolfriend in Ineverness: kilts, bagpipes, haggis and grouse shoots.

I was imagining luxury in the extreme that weekend, as I was staying in a cottage owned by Mohamed Al Fayed. Oh, how wrong I was. The cottage itself was comfortable enough, but everything else was severe. Cold swims were just one of the features on the menu.

The minute I arrived in Inverness I was taken to a reeling (Scottish dancing) practice. There were about fifty people of all ages in the hall but only three of us who didn’t know how to reel, and it was immediately obvious.

As everyone else paired off into couples I found myself without a partner; not only did I not know how to reel, I didn’t know anyone else in the room. I then had twenty grandmas descending on me, all trying to find me a willing partner who would teach me how to dance. Of course I ended up with the five foot thirteen-year-old.

Having had my right foot trodden ad absurdum, I was glad when the next reel began and I found myself being thrown about by a 6’5″ Caledonian, fully kilted-out with his sporran (pouch) and sgian dubh (funny little knife worn in the top of the sock).

Reeling with him was much easier as he just whirled me about – no thinking on my part was involved.

The names of the dances are great – The Duke of Perth, The Reel of the 51st and Strip the Willow. I think my favourite had to be The Dashing White Sergeant, though. You get two boys for that one!

I thought the reeling had been terrifying enough, but the next day I was dumped with ten of my friends to swim in a freezing cold river. In Inverness this is considered a holiday trea, but even the salmon were trying to jump out, the water was so cold.

This was followed by a grouse shoot. I can’t shoot so I just walked along with the party. I had no idea what I had let myself in for. All the men were of course in kilts. I was starting to realise by now that the kilt is in fact the standard item of clothing for men in Inverness. We were expected to walk all the way up the grouse moor, and all the way back down.

I only made it one way – give up your yoga or your daily jog – walking up a hill of heather is far better exercise. Because I couldn’t shoot I was one of the beaters. We were accompanied by six family dogs. Apparently they’d been bred for this sport but it wasn’t apparent to me. As far as I could tell my job as beater was to be yelled at by anyone holding a gun/wearing a kilt.

After three hours of watching the 30 guns we managed to kill a grand total of three grouse. Apparently that’s normal. Applaudable in fact.

After all this, we were expected to reel again. The energy of the Scots is remarkable -. I was ready for nice lie-down. As I began to pick up the steps of the dances, though, I began to appreciate being swung around by strapping young men with bare knees.

Things were looking up. After a week of this I started to think maybe Inverness wasn’t so bad after all. Despite being 5° colder than the rest of the UK and lacking modern comforts, there are a lot of gorgeous boys up there who knew how to look good in a skirt.

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