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Coeliac Trekkers in Scotland and Ireland

When planning our two-week vacation with our friends John and Ligita Longo, I investigated three tour groups. Brendan Tours gave me the best response regarding our gluten-free diet in terms of agreeing to fax our chapter restaurant card to the company and hotels in which we would be dining.

However, the most important feature was that our Brendan tour guide, Eunan Smith, was highly instrumental in the success of John’s and my eating in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He would call ahead to the hotels and restaurants where we would be dining as a group. When we arrived at the hotels, I would only have to find the head waiter or manager; he/she would talk with the chef about the set meal for the group and come back to tell us which items could be made gluten free, usually without a sauce.

The fact that the food was all fresh helped make most of the food easily adapted. No processed food. When we ate on our own in a restaurant or pub, I merely had to say that I needed a gluten-free meal, and the waiter and/or manager knew what to do. I didn’t have to mention an “allergy to wheat, barley, rye or oats,” or go into any further details. Not having a language barrier helped a lot, too!

We enjoyed the sight seeing a lot! We saw a variety of castles – some in ruins, some to tour, some private, some restored as hotels. We waved to the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, but all we could see were the steeples of the castle; we did visit the nearby Craithie Church where the royals worship when in residence. Edinburgh Castle was a highlight. Our special guide was dressed up in tartan kilt, jacket, vest, & long socks outfit.

We visited a preserved old estate, Newhailes, managed by the adult children of friends with whom we have taken three celiac trips. Stephany and Piers invited us into their home in the restored stable to have tea, gluten-free cake and cookies, and meet their two children. We had a lovely special afternoon! That night we attended a Scottish evening including dinner, Highland dancers, bagpipers and the Ceremony of the Haggis. (Haggis contains oats, so John and I had a good excuse not to try it, although Ed and Ligita did.)

All the scenery was lovely and interesting. We missed seeing the purple heather in Scotland by a few weeks, but the wild rhododendrons by the wayside and in gardens were beautiful in Ireland.

We had a couple of unexpected adventures. At 4:45 in the morning in our first hotel, a fire alarm woke us up. As it turned out, a prankster had tripped the alarm. The hotel evacuated everyone. At least that morning we were supposed to get an earlier start, so we were all ready to get on the bus. On the ferry to the Isle of Skye, we lost one engine so that regular docking was impossible. By making many forward circles, we got closer to the dock and the workers could grab the ropes to pull us in. If we hadn’t made that ferry, however, the rest of that day’s schedule would have been pushed much, much later.

At Galway Cathedral, Ed found a sign on a pillar near the altar that read “Coeliac Communion Station.” Eunan found out for us that the regular worshipers are given bread hosts; celiacs are given wine and a blessing.

We had an hour cruise on the Shannon River in Ireland on the “Moon River” pleasure boat. Although Eunan had asked in advance for some gluten-free food, someone forgot. A speed boat delivered some yogurt and fruit out to the boat in the middle of the river! Everyone else had sandwiches and scones, but John and I did indeed feel very special.

At Kylemore Abbey (a restored castle now used as a private boarding school), I found an unexpected treat. In the café there was a No Gluten sign on a tray of GF sliced cake (made with almond flour). It was delicious!

We stayed in two 5-star hotels. At the Connemara Coast Hotel (Ireland), we were served a tray of gluten-free toast! John and I ate it all! Our last hotel was the Dunloe Castle Hotel in Killarney. There were palominos and cattle plus offspring grazing on the large front lawn! There was a garden trail to see the ruins of the castle. What a lovely setting!

A typical hotel breakfast included a buffet of scrambled eggs or fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, bacon (cooked thin ham), yogurt, fruit, sausage (not GF), baked beans, toast, cold cereals, hot oatmeal, coffee and tea. John and I did fine with the eggs, ham, fruit and yogurt.

It was harder to eat out in small coffee cafes and gift shops. Perhaps there was gluten-free ice cream, fruit, potato chips or candy.

We really had a great vacation, but YOU, too, can go to the UK and eat gluten free! Yes, it will take a little effort to contact each restaurant manager, but they really do understand our diet restrictions. Also, driving on the left side on the narrow UK roads is very nerve-racking, to say the least. Our bus driver was very confident and expert; sometimes it seemed as if there were only two inches separating us from another truck or bus. Whew!

On the bus the guide suggested we write some poems in typical Irish limerick style. Ed wrote several. Smile….

I’m Eunan, a tour guide I am
I know every cow, sheep and lamb.
On each hill, lake and battle
I will endlessly rattle.
If it bores you, I don’t give a dam.

There once was an old Heelend Coo
Who wanted a modern hairdo
She hid with the sheep
To get a clip cheap
But ended instead in Lamb Stew.
(A Heelend Coo is a Highland Cow in Scots; this type of cow has a lot of hair all over the body including the face.)

There once was a coeliac pain.
Whose food needs were almost insane.
Had a speedboat on call
To deliver it all.
Dear Lord, may we not meet again.

Posted by Janet Rinehart, Chairman, Houston Celiac Support Group - www.houstonceliacs.org

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