Thursday, 16 June 2016

How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye

Tales Of A Tourism Adviser

When I first started with VisitScotland, I was informed that I would have to sell my own car and take out a lease through the company.  This was to ensure my safety because of the sheer number of miles that I would have to travel backwards and forwarded (and occasionally sideways) throughout Scotland.    

What is also meant was that I got to choose a shiny new car to scoot about in.   I chose a snow white Ford Fiesta with 3 miles on the clock and swiftly drove it to my first area of responsibility: The Isle of Skye.    Skye was a 250 mile drive from my home and was a 6 hours trek through some quite outstanding scenery.   

At 5am in the morning, though, scenery is NOT interesting and your only goal in life is to just to get there without incident so you can kick off your first inspection.  

My first visit of the day was to a small self catering cottage that was, quite literally, stuck in the middle of nowhere.  There was a winding single track road with a few passing places, lots of sheep randomly wandering around the countryside, and not another person for miles.    I had no phone signal and no wifi (obviously…).  

I was also faced with the slight problem of realising that all properties in the surrounding few miles  had the same postcode and that the one I was looking for had no street number and no name plate to let me know whether it was the one I was looking for or not.   


How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye
The cottage looked like this, but with way less space.   

I nervously approached the small, whitewashed cottage and pulled into the driveway.   I knocked on the door, hoping to find my owner, but there was no answer.   I checked my diary for times and dates and knocked again.  Still nothing.   I waited around for 5 minutes, getting more and more angry that I'd dragged my carcass out of bed at 4am and no one was there.    I then scribbled on the back of a business card and popped it through the letterbox. I totally wish I hadn't done that.  

After driving half way up an extremely steep hill, in the hope of finding somewhere I could turn the car round to leave, I eventually had to stop when I realised that I had no other option than to reverse back down the hill.   The farm track was becoming more and more narrow and it was obvious that there was no other way out.   

The cottage itself had a small area that could be construed as an early version of a parking space; possibly for a carriage.   Or for someone who isn't a nervous driver and doesn't have a new car that they have no idea of the dimensions of.

I gently slid the car back down the hill, panicking the whole time about the sheer size of the stones that were crunching under my brand new tyres, and basically praying that I wouldn't end up with a puncture.   I'm not entirely sure where the nearest AA rescue van was based but, without any phone signal, it may have well be on the moon.   

I made it to the parking space in some sort of order and decided, in my infinite wisdom that, because I had a few extra feet of space, this would be the PERFECT spot to attempt one of  those three point turn things that I was forced to do in my driving test about 15 years before.

Oh, how horribly wrong I was.

I turned three quarters of the way and got well and truly wedged against the cottage wall in a large rut.    I couldn't reverse as my back wheels were stuck and, after sitting there for a few panicked minutes, I realised I only had one option.

With no phone signal, I couldn't call for help.   With no nearby properties, I couldn't walk and shout for help and, as lovely as the local sheep were, I figured they were likely to be inexperienced in the field of expertise currently required (pun intended).


Hamish!  Come here!  You won't BELIEVE what this stupid woman's doing...
I had appointments booked in the afternoon and a meeting with a colleague in Portree scheduled, so the only way to get myself out of my current predicament was to drive forward.   Driving forward, however, meant that I would definitely, absolutely scratch the paintwork right along the driver's side of my shiny new car.

So, I did.     

I muttered an apology to my Boss and all the people at VisitScotland who would have to deal with my car repairs.    Smashing up your own car is fine, but smashing up a lease car means you have to confess your sins/stupidity to someone who employs you.    

Unless I wanted to wait days, weeks or possibly moths for someone to randomly drive past me, I had no one to help me but myself.   And, if this story tells you anything, I'm not exactly that helpful in getting out of messy situations.   Getting INTO them, yes. 

I slowly moved the car forward to the sound of screeching metal and thumping mirrors and doors and FINALLY managed to get into a position that had me able to leave the property.    The side of my beautiful white car was completely dented and I had managed to put a dent in my back passenger door that was so bad it no longer opened.      

I had been in my job for eight weeks and had the car for three.   Even for me, this was quite a disaster.      I was pretty much breathing a sigh of relief that I was in one piece, even if the car hadn't fared so well and could imagine my Manager saying to me: 'Don't worry, Suzanne.  As long as you're safe, that's all that matters...'   He didn't.    

Then again, I didn't actually tell him the *whole* story for another two years, until I felt I'd cocked up so many other things, that he pretty much suspected my version of events on Skye was bollocks anyway.     He wasn't in the least bit surprised.


What I should have been enjoying on Skye.
Whilst noting the extensive damage to my little car, I also noticed that I'd managed to scrape off a portion of whitewash off the cottage wall.    I was, at that point, eternally grateful that no one had been in because then they would have no idea what happened.

It wasn't until I was safely sat in a Cafe in Portree with a cup of coffee that it dawned on me that I'd already left my business card, stating the date and time I was there.

Despite having 6 months to complete my allocated visits on Skye, I never did get back in contact with the owner of the property.      I often wonder if she's still part of the VisitScotland grading scheme and hope that whoever inspected the property after me didn't downgrade her due for the state of her exterior walls...

PS - Had to get a whole new door.   Also had to fill out a diagram and give a full explanation of what had transpired.  You have no idea how difficult it is to explain this level of stupidity on one sheet of A4 using matchstick women and sheep.   


How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye
One of my later clients said my car looked like it'd been hit by a deer, so I totally went with that whenever I was asked.  


Suzanne x