A Scotland most visitors never see


Meridian Writers' Group

DALWHINNIE, Scotland-"Over there," says David Kellie, "that's the Ben Alder estate. Prince Charles and Princess Diana spent holidays there. It's owned by the Sultan of Brunei's chief accountant."

A little while later we draw into the hamlet of Laggan Bridge. "You'll recognize this," he says. "This was the village of Glenbogle in (the TV series) Monarch of the Glen ."

Then he talks of General George Wade, the British Army engineer who built many of the roads in these Highlands in the 18th century - roads that we're travelling on today. "Wade opened the Highlands to the world," he says. "There's an old rhyme: 'If you'd seen these roads before they were made/You'd lift up your arms and bless General Wade.'"

Local gossip, local happenings, local history: it's all part of a day out with David Kellie. But he's not a tour guide, he's the postman.

His vehicle, a four-passenger Renault 4X4, is called a postbus and it's licensed to carry passengers. It may well be the best tourist bargain in Scotland. For £2.50 (about $5) he'll take you on a 150-kilometre odyssey through some of the most beautiful country in the Highlands... country that most visitors never see. Just be prepared to stop a lot-but that, too, is part of the fun as you get to chat with, maybe, the country doctor or the hill crofter or the big-city author trying to get away from it all.

They all know the postman. Even the dogs. That's why Kellie carries a bag of dog biscuits. "He always waits for his treat," he says as a Scotch terrier (what else?) darts across a farmyard as we pull in.

Kellie's run takes us through country familiar to Canadian viewers who enjoyed the BBC's syndicated series Monarch of the Glen , passing places like Ardverikie House (Glenbogle House on the screen), Laggan Stores (McKechnie's shop) and Pattack Falls, where the laird of Glenbogle courted schoolteacher Katrina.

The British postal service, the Royal Mail, began the postbus service in 1967 to provide transport to people living in out-of-the-way places in England, Wales and Scotland where not everyone has a car and there's no public transit. Tourists are welcome to hop aboard. Some even take the postbus to a remote spot and then trek back.

There are generally two services, morning and afternoon, each weekday, with Saturday morning services in some areas. You can hail the postbus at any point along the route.

At its peak there were more than 230 postbus routes, but the service has been declining as car ownership increases. Today there are 38 routes in Scotland, most in the Highlands and islands.

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