Scotland Tour Diary
A tour is the quintessential experience for any rugby player or fan. Submerging into a different culture, meeting other clubs, and doing so while surrounded by your club mates has a galvanizing effect on any club. The memories shared and taken away from a tour are ones that will last a lifetime. To make it even better, no other sporting family on Earth welcomes you like the rugby family.
We are happy to share with you a less than formal account of our recent trip to Scotland. The love and hospitality shown to us was beyond amazing. The only way for us to repay that debt is to carry on the rugby traditions and share that same hospitality with everyone who crosses our small, little path along the rugby highway.
Pre-Tour Day – Welcome to Glasgow
A large chunk of our touring party arrived on Sunday September 8th, so I’m including a short account of Sunday in our Day 1 recap. Sunday proved to be a warm up for the rest of the week and our tourists quickly found their way to the Old College Bar across the street from our hotel. Claiming to be the oldest pub in Glasgow, which has a dubious backstory, the pub and it’s patrons quickly warmed to our tourists. Sing alongs and karaoke sessions throughout the week kept our people coming back. After a few rounds at the Old College Bar, our early arrivals had a great traditional Scottish meal at Ingram Wynd where we met Richie Gledson from Sky High Sports. He was in town to spend a few days with us on tour and was also getting an early start.
Day 1 – The Arrival (Technically)
Technically speaking, our arrival date was Monday September 9th. By Monday morning, the rest of our tourists began to pour into The Moxy Merchant City (our hotel) and excitement was building. Our tourists had most of the day to themselves with players meeting later in the afternoon for a training session. That left plenty of time for our tourists to begin to explore Glasgow, which is a fantastic city to walk. Rush hour traffic in Glasgow is a lot like it is here at home, so what was a relatively short trip to Cartha Queens Park RFC took a little bit longer than expected. Upon our arrival we were guided to locker rooms to change for training. Something that all, but a few of our players had ever experienced before. A short team run helped loosen up our Bootleggers’ legs and knock off some rust. The session was followed by a meal provided by Cartha and a few rounds at their bar. We were met by Cartha’s Club President Ed Crozier who served as a gracious host to our motley band of ruggers. The post-training session was foreshadowing of great things to come as we were set to return to Cartha for our match on Friday night. After returning to our hotel our Bootleggers met up with the touring wives and girlfriends for a fun night out.
Day 2 – Tour Match 1
With a free morning and early afternoon, our tourists set out to experience Glasgow and see some more of the sights. The Scottish weather kept our tourists on their toes as sunshine gave way to rain and toggled back and forth throughout the morning. Easily walked and filled with delights, Glasgow has much to offer a touring rugby club. Lots of nooks and crannies filled with art, food, and of course drinks.
Our tour party met late afternoon in the hotel lobby and departed for Hillhead Jordanhill RFC for the first match of the tour against a combination of the club’s 2nd/3rd teams. We were let off on the main street adjacent to the club and the row of homes quickly gave way to a beautiful playing facility at Hughenden which was the home of the Glasgow Warriors from 1996-2005 and then for a short stint again in 2006-2007. Hughenden is home to the Hillhead Sports Club which has been in existence since 1924. The club services rugby, tennis, and cricket. The clubhouse was renovated and expanded in 2011 and now includes multiple changing rooms, gym, and a full service restaurant/bar on the lower level. The second floor includes separate function rooms and another bar (those are important). The playing facilities include three lighted pitches and multiple tennis courts.
Our non-playing tourists were excitedly welcomed to the Hillhead bar to enjoy some pre-match drinks while the men changed and began to warm up. As we got closer to game time, the Scottish weather came out to play as the rain and winds began to pick up. Despite the conditions, the two teams played expansive and entertaining rugby. The Bootleggers were first on the board when Eric Hile broke down the wing to score the first international try in club history. We added two more scores to take a 17-0 lead midway through the first half. Hills weren’t about to roll over and they quickly matched that count with 17 unanswered points as we went into halftime tied 17-17. The Bootleggers proved more fortuitous in the second half as both sides shared equal possession and territory. The difference being that the Bootleggers were able to turn opportunity into points while Hills had several genuine scoring opportunities go awry. Wes Smith added two tries to pace the Bootleggers’ offense in the second half. Reece Devlin and Gareth Davies each added two tries in the match and Ed Dixon slotted four conversions as the Bootleggers came away with a 43-17 win. Flanker Stuart McKenzie was named Man of the Match for the Bootleggers.
After everyone was able to wash off the rain, mud, and stink in the showers we headed upstairs to the function room for the social. Hillhead Jordanhill RFC were amazing and gracious hosts. Club President Gary Kitchener and I exchanged gifts including some special Blue Raspberry Bootleggers that one of our tourists brought with him. It was a special evening and we can’t thank our hosts enough for the amazing hospitality that we will never forget.
Day 3 – Loch Lomond Tour & Glengoyne Distillery
It was an early start to our day on Wednesday as our tourists piled into our bus for the trip north to Loch Lomond which serves as the boundary between the Central Scotland lowlands and the Highlands. Loch Lomond is the largest lake in the United Kingdom with a surface area of around 27 ½ square miles. The cityscape quickly turned rural as the views became expansive and the hills became taller and taller. We arrived at Loch Lomond where we were met by our guides. Our touring party was breaking into six groups as we boarded speed boats to tour the loch. The tour provided breathtaking views that cannot be done justice on camera. Our first stop was Inchmurrin, the largest fresh-water island in Britain. With a population of just eight people, Inchmurrin is home to a restaurant/pub and Bed & Breakfast. Our tourists jumped off to enjoy a couple rounds at the pub and enjoy the scenery.
We boarded the boats for our next destination which was the town of Luss. As we boarded the rain began to fall which made for a wet journey for many of our tourists. However, the rain yielded some amazing rainbows as the sun poked through as we approached Luss which is a town on the west bank of Loch Lomond. With a population of about 450 people, if you looked up fairytale village in a dictionary, you might see a picture of Luss. As commented by one of our tourists… “I only thought places like this existed in books.” Some of our tourists hit the local pub while others explored the town before we made our next stop on the boat tour.
Our last stop was at Balmaha (population 60) which is on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. We hit a local pub then was transferred to another location for lunch. While at lunch we were serenaded by tourists Dan Parker and Jon Vann who sang “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” to the enjoyment of our touring party and restaurant staff.
After lunch we were whisked off to the Glengoyne Distillery for a tour and whisky tasting experience. Founded in 1833, Glengoyne is a picturesque distillery all the way down to the waterfall that is flowing behind the distillery. Our tourists thoroughly enjoyed the experience and especially the whisky. Glengoyne can’t be found at ABC stores in North Carolina. After this trip, there is a nice concentration of the whisky that can now be found in personal collections in Clayton.
After returning to Glasgow, some of our tourists powered on through the night while others hit their rooms to recover from an amazing day.
Day 4 – Edinburgh
Just as the day prior, our tourists hit the road early to make the trek east to visit Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. We started the day with an entertaining and informative walking tour of the city. After the tour, our groups broke into smaller batches and went exploring the culture, food, entertainment, shopping and history of Edinburgh.
Upon returning to Glasgow much of our exhausted touring party turned in for the night.
Day 5 – Visiting the Warriors and Tour Match 2
Most of our touring party had a free day, but a group of our tourists paid a visit to the Glasgow Warriors. The Clayton RFC and Warriors’ Managing Director Nathan Bombrys have been corresponding since 2016. This wasn’t our first visit to see the Warriors as a group of our Board Members came over on a development trip in 2017. We were invited to watch the team run prior to their home match against Ulster. It was a gorgeous day to watch rugby and the Warriors were gracious hosts. Co-Captain Callum Gibbins came by to chat with our group. After practice, head coach Dave Rennie and assistant coaches Jason O’Halloran and Kenny Murray came over and spoke with our group for a while. Murray was a former coach at Cartha Queens Park RFC and planned to come out to our match at Cartha that evening.
The group returned to the hotel and took it easy to prepare for the match. Later in the afternoon our group boarded the bus. After an interesting detour we made it to Dumbreck, home of Cartha Queens Park RFC. The club was founded in 1974 when Cartha RFC and Queens Park Football Club merged. It was a beautiful day and we were poised for a great match against the Shawlands Sharks whom are the Social/Vets squad at Cartha. Don’t let the Social tag in there fool you, the Sharks were a well drilled and physical side. The rugby that took place on the pitch was reminiscent of a bygone era of rugby. An era where you heard the words “play on” as opposed to a whistle blowing.
In stark contrast to the Tuesday night match, the evening conditions at Cartha were conducive to flowing rugby. However the match against the Sharks quickly turned into a hard hitting defensive battle. The two sides trading possession, but not making much territory. The Sharks were first on the board midway through the first half and then added a second try a few minutes later to take a 12-0 lead with less than ten minutes to play in the first half. The Bootleggers got on the board just before half on a try from center Davey Lyle off of a well worked backline off of a line out. The try went unconverted as the score was left at 12-5 going into the break.
The second half was more of the same as the two sides continued their defensive battle. Midway through the second half, Ted Hardy (yep… me… old bones and all) crashed over for a short range score to cut the lead to 12-10. We had a few more forays into the Sharks’ half, but they held strong as the match came to a close with a 12-10 Sharks victory. Gareth Davies was named Bootleggers Man of the Match by the Sharks players.
The spirited play on the pitch carried over to the social. After everyone showered and made themselves presentable, we made our way to the lovely Cartha clubhouse for a meal and drinks. Again with the showers… socializing is a million times better when you’re not covered in dirt, mud, blood, body odor, etc. Cartha President Ed Crozier and the Sharks put on an amazing and wildly entertaining post match social. Our group has always been pretty good about mixing with opposing teams, but the standout moment for me was at some point during the night each one of our players was paired up with an opposing player having a conversation. No one sitting in the corner, no cliques, just rugby guys talking to each other. That’s the most beautiful part of our sport and I hope that our guys, especially the newer ones, never forget that as they progress in their rugby careers.
There was no such thing as a losing team that night at Cartha and we thank our hosts for yet another amazing tour experience.
Day 6 – We are Warriors
With all of our playing done it was time to watch some guys that really know what they’re doing. We turned up at Scotstoun Stadium to watch the Glasgow Warriors take on Ulster in their final warmup match of the pre-season. While a large number of Warriors were away on World Cup duty there was still plenty of talent on the pitch for both sides. It was a beautiful day and the setting was hard to compete with. Youth rugby was taking place on the practice pitches behind the stadium, flags were flying, and the weather was amazing. A far cry from the baltic conditions the last time we were at Scotstoun in February of 2017.
The Warriors and Ulster treated fans to an entertaining match with multiple lead changes. The Warriors came out ahead in the end with a 36-33 victory.
Our touring party returned back to the hotel for a free evening and more exploration of Glasgow.
Day 7 – Last Supper
The fact that the trip was so amazing made it even harder to start packing on our last day. Everyone made it out around town while others went further for one last dose of Scotland. A handful of us went on one final rugby excursion as we were invited to GHA Rugby Club (technically they are Glasgow Hutchesons Aloysians Rugby Football Club) by their head coach Trevor Carmichael. The club was formed in 2002 after a merger between two long standing area clubs. Carmichael led us on a tour of their beautiful facility that includes a new lighted 3G pitch, lighted grass match pitch, and a full service clubhouse. Some of the club’s large youth section were on display during our visit. The clubhouse pub is adorned with jerseys from all of the international players that suited up for the club which included Ray Nelson who played the USA in the 80s and early 90s.
After our visit with GHA we returned to the hotel to plan for our departures in the morning. With one last evening out, our tourists celebrated Wes Smith’s birthday with a group dinner. It was a fantastic way to finish off an amazing week.
Day 8 – Heading Home
While a few of our tourists stuck around a bit longer, the bulk of our party hit the skies home on Monday morning. Tired bodies carrying back memories to last a lifetime.
There are few, if any, things that can compete with the tour experience to bring connection and strength to a club. All while being away in unknown territory and experiencing new things as a group. I cannot recommend it enough to any rugby club. Part of that experience is choosing the right tour company to assist you with your tour. When we originally set out to go on tour, I had planned on handling the logistics myself. While that was certainly achievable, I quickly realized that for me to accomplish this I would have to sacrifice my enjoyment of the tour. So, I reached out to Richie at Sky High Sport and I could not have been happier. I had zero worries while on tour. It was all handled and run like a dream. If you’re looking to tour, I highly recommend speaking with Richie. You’ll not be disappointed. Thank you Richie for the incredible experience.
I could drone on and on about this experience, so I’ll stop myself now. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of our tourists. Without you this would have just been a vacation for my wife and I (which would have still been great). Each and every one of you contributed in some part to the success of this tour. I hope that the memories you have are as wonderful as the ones that I have taken away. I can’t wait to do it again. We, as a club, have committed to touring every other year, so our next tour is in 2021. Stay tuned for details as we expect to have something out spring of 2020.
Ted Hardy, President
Clayton Rugby Football Club