Being both loud and a fan of going commando, I’ve always been fond of bagpipes and kilts, so when my brother proposed a family vacation in Scotland, I enthusiastically agreed. A bonus came shortly before leaving, when I received an offer from Highland Titles: For roughly $47, you can conserve a single square foot of forest in Scotland, and with ownership comes the legal right to call yourself a lord.
So I arrived in Edinburgh as a Lord of Glencoe, which I tried to proclaim at customs, but no one cared. My family was marginally more enthusiastic when I showed them the official papers at dinner that night: They laughed and then went back to looking for a Wi-Fi signal. My nephew did offer to call me “Lord Nonnie,” which is as much respect as my new title got.
Edinburgh was in the midst of the annual madness known as the Festival Fringe. We battled the hordes at the castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to King James, and saw the fireworks that followed the Military Tattoo. We went up Arthur’s Seat (not nearly as dirty as it sounds), used the loo at Holyrood Palace (only so I could say I peed in one of the queen’s toilets) and drank excessive amounts of scotch in bars older than Boston. We went to the Best of the Fest, a lineup of top comedians, one of whom had a Glaswegian accent so thick I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he was still hilarious.
Through Oliver’s Travels—a U.K.-based company that leases spectacular castles, villas and luxury homes throughout Europe—we rented Duns Castle, a jaw-dropping 14th-century heap in the Borders. (It doubles for Balmoral in the film Mrs. Brown.) Our hosts were the incomparably hospitable Laird and Lady Alick and Aline Hay, and I quickly got comfortable (or drunk) enough to tell them about my title, which elicited a wan smile. We dined with them in the evening and during the day enjoyed country pursuits, like shooting clay pigeons, hiking in the forest and lounging around the drawing room drinking excessive amounts of scotch. It was all very Downton Abbey, which, ironically, Aline drew one night as a clue in charades. She simply pointed at the floor. A talented chef, she prepared feasts of lamb, salmon, tenderloin and crab soufflé, which were served in the baronial splendor of a highly ornate dining room. The billiard room was in a Gothic keep dating to 1320, with walls thick enough that the Hays were spared our late-night shenanigans. We visited a twee fishing village called Eyemouth for fish and chips and learned that they crown an annual Herring Queen, which my sister-in-law unkindly pointed out was more impressive than my title. We had lunch in the charming market town of Kelso, which has a ruined abbey straight out of a Hitchcock film, and toured a spectacular garden along the River Tweed.
All too soon, we bid the Hays a reluctant adieu and returned to Edinburgh to board the Belmond Royal Scotsman, a train so absurdly luxurious that Queen Victoria would’ve felt right at home. A bagpiper escorted us to the platform at Waverley Station, where tourists took our picture as we boarded. Then it was off to the Highlands. Our host was a retired brigadier named Ian Gardiner, a most genial man—even when saying things like “I fought in three wars and planned a fourth”—who could recite Robert Burns as beautifully as I’ve ever heard it done. The staff was literally flawless, holding trays of Champagne every time we returned from an outing and making sure we had everything we could ask for while sitting in the beautifully appointed observation car.
We passed Perth, traveling through unpronounceable towns into the Cairngorms National Park, where we went fly-fishing on a loch on Rothiemurchus Estate. We went to Inverness and saw Culloden Battlefield. We saw the heather in full bloom and visited the Strathisla Distillery, famous for producing the distinct flavor profile of Chivas Regal. As charming as all this was, though, the best part was the veritable Agatha Christie cast of characters: a few English toffs, an Australian oil magnate and his wife, a hilarious Israeli couple, a 90-year-old woman and her 88-year-old sister, who still runs a bank in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and a family from New York whose teens were more interesting than most adults I’ve met.
The trauma of leaving such luxury was softened by an inexplicable upgrade to first class on our flight home (thank you, B.A.!), and the whole adventure was top-notch. This Lord of Glencoe will undoubtedly return, except next time, I’ll pack sunscreen. I’m probably the only man in history to return from Scotland with a sunburn.