In 2013, on the eve of turning 40, I faced a bit of an identity crisis. Having had the privilege of being a full-time mom for 14 years, my two young teens insisted that my job was obsolete, and I began to suspect that they were right. I’d always been an obsessive travel planner, from my family’s big trip to Disney when I was 12, to my husband’s and my honeymoon in Greece, and subsequently to my family’s trips to Scotland to visit my husband’s aunt and cousins. But strangely, I always held a disdain for travel agents, wondering why everyone did not share the same lust that I did for devouring travel guidebooks! What better way to seek out the small, independent accommodations that were either traditional or innovative and sustainable in their approach, and finding places to visit that either brought the history and tradition to life or highlighted the modern craftwork being done by local artisans? With the rise of the internet and online booking, the travel agency was dead anyway, wasn’t it? As it turned out from talking to friends and people in the industry, far from it.
“My least favorite part of traveling is planning it!”, one friend moaned. “The options on the internet are endless and exhausting!” It turns out that a new breed of Travel Agent was developing- the Specialist. So, I took some courses, got my certification, and dove right in - I would become a Scotland Travel Specialist. It was the country I knew and loved most of all, and my husband’s family connections made it a natural fit. Rowan Tree Travel was born, named for a tree which, in Celtic mythology, protects travelers from bad luck and mischievous spirits.
I found other people who loved Scotland as much as I did by setting up tables at local Highland Games in New England and talking to people about their special interests and the heritage spots they wanted to explore, and custom designed a lot of wonderful trips for people this way. I started traveling to Scotland on my own to better fulfill my role, went to travel expos, and learned to drive on the “other” side of the road! But it wasn’t long before fate intervened in the form of a woman from my town, now a dear friend.
“I know you don’t do Iceland, and I know you don’t do groups, and I know you don’t do knitting trips, but would you be able…?” Well, why not? I had not been to Iceland before, other than a layover jaunt to the Blue Lagoon, but I had planned one trip there for a friend, so I had already done a lot of research. I wasn’t a daily knitter, but I did go through compulsive knitting spurts, usually fueled by souvenir yarn picked up along my travels. And so it began…. the Iceland group had a wonderful time and wanted to know where we were going next year… the answer was obvious - Scotland! And so Wool & Whisky was born.
One trip a year quickly turned into 4 and then 6 and then 8 with new destinations being constantly requested by my returning participants. Walking tours developed into an offshoot as it was remarked that some of the women loved to walk, but wanted to experience a walking tour without their husbands, for whom the end destination was such a priority that they didn’t have time to stop and smell the roses along the way!
Meeting so many wonderful new women every year and developing a real sense of community during the course of our adventures together was as much of a highlight as the destinations we were traveling through. Some of those women have become dear friends, others, as the demands of the increasing number of tours required, employees and business partners. I think there is no better way to get to know a person than to travel with them, and I could not have conceived of hiring another person to lead tours before meeting Suzie Briddsang! But Suzie came to travel with the knowledge of a fiber connoisseur and did research ahead as a culture and history lover. When faced with a crisis regarding her post-tour travel plans, I saw her face it and deal with it with calm determination. We kept in touch, and when, a year later I began to realize that I either needed to reduce the number of tours I offered each year or expand, I could think of no one more ideal than Suzie to help me build Rowan Tree Travel.
Of course those extra tours Suzie and I were able to run meant more administration, and we needed to grow again! Amor Esperanza greatly helped us in streamlining and focusing our efforts, but had to bow out to refocus on her own yarn dyeing business. And so entered Audrey Carrel to fill the gap. Audrey has been my dear friend since high school - in fact, we used to knit together during drama rehearsals! She has always been there for me to consult with, and as Rowan Tree Travel grew, and Audrey was expanding her farm to include sheep, it was a natural progression for me to bring her on to assist with customer service and administration. We couldn't have made it through the mad pandemic rescheduling without her!
It never ceases to amaze me how The Universe has always introduced the right person at the right time in this journey of mine. I can’t wait to see who she presents to me next!
- Heather Radl, Owner