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My Dream Trip to Scotland
October/November 2001

Awesome - Breathtaking - Overwhelming - Splendid - Humbling

Scotland is awesome and beautiful - grassland, farms, the sea, a historical city such as Edinburgh - and - the HIGHLANDS. The Highlands are breathtaking and the emotions that grip you are overwhelming. When you stand in the Highlands and see nature that has remained unchanged - you realize you are a very small part of the ancestry chain that has been developing for thousands of years and it is humbling. How insignificant we are as compared with what is around us, but how critically important we are in keeping our heritage alive.

I left for Orlando to board British Airways for Edinburgh, via Gatwick London. The heart was pounding and I had to pinch myself once in awhile to believe I was actually going. My first trip abroad. When I was asked what I wanted to see, I said, "Everything. Everything will be new so there can be no disappointments." And - there were NO disappointments!

The trip to Edinburgh (pronounced Edinburrrrra) was great. Foot rests under the seat in front of you to give you a more relaxed flying position. Your own personal TV on the back of the seat in front of you, including music, and a tracking of the trip checking on miles, position and so forth. Good food. Wonderful flight attendants. Three hours from Kansas City to Orlando, a 6-hour wait in Orlando, then 8-9 hours to Scotland. Long trip, but well worth it.

We arrived in Gatwick, checked in through customs and were shortly on our way to Edinburgh. When we arrived there, we took a double-decker bus to what they call the "mound," near Edinburgh Castle and Prince's Street. What an experience! We sat in the top and took the front seat. It was great, but had you on the edge of your seat. Every time the bus got close to a person on a bicycle, or car, or whatever was in front of it (including light posts and stop signs), it looked like you had run over them. The bus transportation in Scotland is really great. For £1.50 (approximately $2.25 US), you can ride the bus (after 9:30 a.m.) getting off and on with the same ticket (Day Saver) all day. Taxis tended to be expensive - average taxi trip was £5 ($7.50 US - which doesn't sound like much, but it is if you take a taxi 3-4 times a day the cost mounts up quickly).

We went to our "B & B" and checked in. My husband had prepared me to be ready for bathrooms down a hallway when staying in the UK; but I was pleasantly surprised with an en suite room (shower and bath in the room). The B & B was wonderful. Built in the 1880s, Victorian décor, old and homey. Just what I had hoped for. I didn't want the ultra modern because I can stay at home in the US and have that. I was looking for a place that reflected how people lived in Edinburgh and I got it. Wonderful. Breakfast was included in the cost of the B & B. The accommodations were very, very reasonable. About $30-$35 US daily. (However, we all know what you would get in the US for that price - a place you would be afraid to stay in.) The B & B was clean, homey and the owners were nice, friendly people (Neil and Moira Smith). The breakfasts at the B & B consisted of: ½ baked (heated) tomato, link sausage, bacon (Canadian bacon style), toast, eggs, orange juice and cold cereal (if you wanted it). I don't like tomatoes warmed, the link sausage is milder than the mild sausage we are used to here - however - the potatoes, eggs, toast, cereal and orange juice were really nice. Others enjoyed all the food, as several of the others ate the "entire" breakfast every morning. We'll talk about the food later.

We all then went across the street to a tea shop to get our bearings. It was suggested that we rest for the afternoon and evening due to the hours on the plane and change in time; but, of course, there was no way I was going to stay put at that time. The adrenalin was running. I told the others that I would grab a taxi and go down town and look around a bit while they rested. I took a bus and went to the Royal Mile. (When you ride the bus - no change - exact coin only.)

INCREDIBLE! Cobble stone streets. Edinburgh Castle at one end and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other. The buildings - 1600s, 1700s, etc. I felt like I had been picked up and dropped back in time 400 years or more.  James IV, Mary Queen of Scots - all at some time walked those streets. We saw St. Giles (where a church in some form has stood since the year 1000). Perhaps we even sat in the same place as one of our ancestors sat long before us. The nave of the church is from the 1300s. Fantastic! I cannot adequately tell of you of the emotions that ran through me. History - History - History - of our forefathers there in front of me.

Edinburgh: National Archives / Lyon Court / National Library of Scotland / Map Rooms / Museum of Scotland / shops / Edinburgh Castle / Prince's Street / Sir Walter Scott Memorial / Jenners (wonderful, but expensive department store) / shops / malls / shops / shops/ and more shops.

We met with an advocate while in Edinburgh. After receiving entry to the building, he was gracious enough to show us various areas within. While speaking with him in a long hallway, he showed us a painting of the room and explained that this room was used (in the 1600s I believe) for meetings of parliament. There were several people walking up and down the room in pairs. He explained that they do this because they converse with each other or their client as they walk - and because they are moving, no one can stand or sit beside them and hear their conversation.

While in Edinburgh, I spent a portion of every day doing research. Maps. References in books. One thing that amazed me was that the National Library actually had old, old books on their shelves that you could check out. Books by Skene, Fordun, Gregory, etc. Those same books in our libraries here would only be loaned out through Inter Library Loan or would not be allowed to leave the library building at all. They also had complimentary loan for out-of-town visitors. For a deposit, I was able to borrow books daily. There were maps from the 1500s and 1600s in the Pont Map Room. Special collections. Charters from the central medieval time period in the National Archives. I could have happily lost myself for months in those research facilities. The buildings are old, ornate, and wonderfully historical. In the Archives, you could not (of course) take in any type of purse, coat, and attaché case. Everything had to be checked in - leaving me with pencils, palm pilot/keyboard, and coin. They gave you a see-through carry bag to use. One of the rooms had long tables with pillows on the tables. People were viewing old, fragile document - laying the spine of a book on a pillow for support and handling them with gloves. There were books on charters, registered documents, sasines, etc., etc., etc. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I found some very interesting items/information.

On November 11, they celebrated Armistice Day. At the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, crosses and poppies were placed. Scots in Edinburgh wore poppies. It was a moving sight.  Wreaths were placed there in honor of English and American servicemen as well as Scots who served in the War.

On November 7th, we went to Glasgow to meet others and head for the Highlands.

We took the Dunoon Ferry to Dunoon (the gateway to the Highlands) and then drove the rest of the way to Lochgilphead. So many places we passed, so many names we have heard in the last few years. While going over in the ferry, there seems to be an emotion building inside of you that you can't particularly describe. The day was overcast, cold and a little wet. The hills as you drive into the Highlands are amber and brown, gold, with a lot of green. I was constantly surprised by the green, lushness of the Highlands in November. Driving the narrow roads, you can see into the forest area with extremely lush and heavy foliage. As you look into the brush and trees, it's dark and somber; your mind begins to understand why those who came into this area feared the Highlander, viewing this ground they had to travel. Someone could go into the Highlands and never be found. Even "Braveheart" did not do justice to the color, the density of the Highlands.

If you closed your eyes while entering this area, you could almost see a Highlander standing there. Breathing hard from running, carrying a battle axe or sword. Somewhat cold from the cold wind blowing hard. But looking at you with penetrating eyes. Your ancestor. Standing proud, yet weary. He fought long and hard to hold these lands. And - even though others conquered, the Highlands has remained a land of its own. The sense of history and ancestry is there. An eerie feeling that calls to you to continue your journey.

But - I would caution those of you who go to Scotland and into the Highlands to go at your own risk. You may lose a part of yourself there - and - you may have to return to claim a part of your heart. Be prepared - your first journey will not be your last.

We stayed at Lochgilphead and visited surrounding areas.  It was absollutely awesome.  The only thing I regreat about this portion of the trip was not visiting Inverary Castle.  Perhaps next time.

The entire trip was emotional, but for me, no place more so than Castle Sween . It snowed the first day we tried to go to Sween so we visited the Crinan Canal and Loch A'Bharain instead. Wonderful. People trekked through forest area, climbed over fences (thank goodness for sensible hiking wear) and loved every minute of it. We visited with local residents.  Lots of laughs and memories accumulated to share later.

The next day we drove to Castle Sween. No snow, but fairly cold. It was at Castle Sween for me that the emotion hit - hard and fast. A closing of the throat, a feeling in the chest that you might burst, a pride that you are a part of what went before you, a connection with ancestors that you've never met - they knew we were there. Castle Sween - majestic, eerie, historical, raw land and raw emotion. Standing in the entryway to the Castle, knowing that Suibhne Ruadh (Sween the Red - 900 years ago) probably stood there at one time - possibly in the same spot - and looked out over the Loch and land that he owned, that his ancestors had come to. That his daughter probably stood on that same spot, probably even sat on that same rock, that Taus Coir (the first of Clan MacTavish) had probably ran and played there, and been yelled at (as most youngsters are) to be careful. The emotion surged up, the throat closed and the tears fell off and on for a long time. Sitting on the steps in the entryway, I knew that if I ever could live in Scotland, it would have to be here in this area. I would have to be able to pack a lunch and visit Castle Sween, sit on the steps, read a book, listen to the wind - whatever. But come back there, I must. Why? Because I knew then. Never before have I felt this type of pull of emotion. I had come home. A sense of completeness.

We visited other areas as well:

Cruach Mor - you could see Dunadd and the areas around. The River Add. All of those sites that those in the year 503 A.D. had seen when they climbed Cruach Mor and surveyed the area. I'm sure our climb up the 802 meters was a little easier than their though; we used the rock steps and it was still a hard climb, but breathtaking at the top.

Dunadd - awesome. The foot print, the boar, the cup ring - all there. How strong our ancestors were to have carved out an existence here. The ground around it now is much different. It was covered in water back then, where shallow boats traveled to Dunadd. Now there are roads and farms, although Dunadd itself is a protected area.  It seems strange to a visitor to Scotland may know more about Dunadd than a Scottish school student.  But - perhaps not so strange.  History is written by the victor, not the defeated -- and, after Culloden, English history was taught.

The Great Moss is by Dunadd, with species that only exist there.

Kilmartin Glen / Kilmartin Churchyard / Kilmartin Museum: What can I say? Fantastic. Standing Stones all over the place. History that goes back to the Bronze Age (2000 B.C.) and before.  It's overwhelming. We drove to Carnassarie Castle where Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry was hung during the Monmouth Rebellion.  While standing in Kilmartin Churchyard, looking over the graves and the standing stones, we could see a game going on (Rugby? Soccer? - I'm not sure). But - there it was in front of us. Ancient history and the present sharing the same ground.

While meeting with the archivist in Lochgilphead (which I thoroughly enjoyed), the gentleman was kind enough to give me some pointers and places to look for the times I'm researching. 

The time was too short. It will always be too short - never enough. No matter how long you stay, you will find more things and new things every time you go there. But - go there you must. If you have any Scots blood in your veins, visiting the Highlands is a must. There is a statue of Mary (Robert Burns' Mary) at Dunoon and there's a tradition that if you wave to her as you leave, you WILL return to the Highlands. I'm not particularly a superstitious person; but not wanting to take any chances, I made sure I waved when we left - just in case.

Back to Edinburgh - more research.  And - before we left - Edinburgh Castle. Built in the 1300s?? Mary, Queen of Scots was housed here as were other royals. Stone and cold, but beautiful. The Castle houses the "Honours of Scotland" (the royal jewels).  My only regret about Edinburgh is that I donated all of my time to researching about a clan and did no research on my own ancestry. 

A high point of my visit to Edinburgh: The Lyon Court. I was privileged to meet with the Lord Lyon, Robin Blair. A most interesting and informative chat. I also met Ms. Elizabeth Rhodes, Keeper of the Records. They were most friendly and courteous. I even got to sign-in (required) when visiting the Lyon Court, before you go upstairs. I also saw the Registry House. 

Glasgow: Mitchell Library and the Western Archaeology Society. When meeting with the archaeologist that worked on information about some of the sites in this area, he talked about Loch A'Bharain and Cruach Mor. He talked about duns and mottes and castles, their time frame, and some of the things on Cruach Mor that go back before the year "0", before the birth of Christ.

Train trips to Glasgow are wonderful. £15 pounds for a 45 minutes ride on an express train (roundtrip). You can set your watch by the trains. They blow a whistle about 2 minutes before the train is to leave. You see people "running" for the train. At the time of departure, the doors close and if you are not already inside, the train is pulling away and you're left. Regardless, unless it's a track delay or mechanical, it seems that the trains run on time. We saw people run for the train, the doors close because they were 30 seconds late and the door don't reopen - they wait for the next train. Needless to say, my feet moved faster in the train station.  Glasgow had a big shopping center area - no cars can drive down the streets. I enjoyed Glasgow very much, but Edinburgh is really the premiere city with its history.

Now the food - Very, very different. Very bland.

In the US, we have carryout - in Edinburgh, they have Take Away.

Scrambled eggs are not scrambled hard, they are scrambled solid.

I asked for extra sharp cheese at the grocery. This one really threw the people in the deli, until they got a lady from the back of the deli to talk to me. I explained and she asked if I knew what Cracker Barrel cheese in a black foil wrapper was. "Yes, that's it. That's what I want." She said, "You want 'mature' cheese, dear." That was it.

Italian: One place in Lochgilphead had lasagna - no tomato sauce, flat, runny Swiss cheese. Yuck. Another place we tried was very good with soup and sandwiches. In Edinburgh, I had a roasted salad, lots of roasted vegetables (zucchini, red/green bell peppers, onion, mushrooms) over 2-3 different kinds of lettuce with a balsamic vinegar and oil dressing. Excellent. $7.50 US. Their pizza was pretty good, but not a lot of tomato paste/sauce, which we are used to. However, they had a dessert called "Godfather" - brownie, three kinds of ice cream, real whipped cream, chocolate bits, nuts - absolutely sinful! Wonderful! You just have to remember that just because you call it lasagna, it doesn't mean they fix it the same as we do in the US.

Chinese: Pretty good - but not the same as what you expect, even if it has the same name. Prawn fried rice - OK. King Prawn fried rice - very good. Egg rolls - they call them "Spring rolls" - they are not a small appetizer, but almost a meal in itself - the one I had was filled with bean sprouts and chicken, I expected cabbage - no cabbage.

Mexican food: It's one of my favourites and I choose not to experience it there.

Indian food:  My first experience.  Yuck!  Awful!  Never again.

Beverages: No ice. No ice. No ice. Very few places serve ice. But they will tell you that the drinks are cold and the glasses are chilled many times. If you do get ice, it's 4-5 small cubes. Water - you have to ask for. And - for the coffee / tea drinkers. There are NO refills in Scotland that I know of. Want a second cup of coffee or tea? You pay for it. Same way with soft drinks.

The little tea shop near our B & B in Edinburgh: Great pastries. Had a dinner there of roasted/boneless pork chop with an apple topping, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, roll. Excellent.

MacDonald's/Burger King: Didn't try. Many said the hoof-n-mouth was over. However, customs is still checking you for exposure in farm areas when you return to the states, so I chose not to eat beef while in Scotland.

Fish n'Chips: For me - Yuck! Not like what you get here. Not fillets. A large piece of fish you have to watch for bones in. I really only shrimp, tuna, red snapper and/or lobster; so a type of fresh fish with bones is not appetizing to me.  They had kidney pie - Yuck!

Pastry shop near us: Mouthwatering. Great take away dishes of macaroni/cheese and lasagna that you could take to you room for dinner if you wanted to eat in. Good cold sandwiches, etc.

When I got back to the States at the airport, I had the biggest coke with ice that I could get. Wonderful! Mongolian Bar-B-Que, Chinese, Italian. I guess we miss some of what we are used to.

Many of us Americans don't realize the quick, convenience style of living we have until we go to another country.  In Edinburgh -- No Quik-Trips.  Want a coke at 10:00 p.m.?  Wait until tomorrow.  There were no laundromats in Edinburg that I could find for individuals to use.  Most cleaners that I found dealth with restaurants and companies - so, everything had to be washed out in the room and hung around the room to dry. Many of us have such a easy, convenient way of life in the US.  We forget about how fortunate we are in so many instances.

Dress: I saw very, very few jeans. Most women wore slacks (with many of them of the tailored type), and low to high heels (even those standing in department stores). Dress, dark coats. The working people I saw on the street were more professional looking in their dress than what I see here in the US. Clothes were mostly dark - black, brown, grey. I saw very little pastel, if any. The students of the private schools wore uniforms: tartan skirts and shorts for the younger boys, dark slacks for the older boys, blzers - well dressed and well behaved.

The women in Scotland are very independent. Every the older ladies. They open their own doors and carry their own packages. Have little rolling carts they use. They always seems to say thank you when you help them, but they don't ask for help (not even the older ladies). Saw lots of people with their dogs. In Lochgilphead many of the shops have little stands to tie your dog up while you go in and shop.

People were friendly and helpful. I wore one of my Christmas sweat shirts from my grandson (Says "The best thing at Grandpa's house is Grandma"). You don't see them wearing that type of clothing; and the minute my coat came off, someone would always say with a smile - "Oh, you're American." Same thing if I said hello or anything - "Oh, you're from America." Then the conversation starts up.

In my room, I had a type of floor heater.  Having been born in 1946 to an older family, I don't ever recall a steam heater in the home.  We always had TV - all the conveniences.  The heat was steam.  I tried turning it up at night and questioned Mr. Smith the next morning and told him my heater had gone off - that I had tried to turn the valve, but it didn't work.  I found out that they turn the heat off at 10:00 pm and turn it back on at 5:00 am.  Saves on the cost of heating, and "who needs heat on when you are supposed to be in bed, under the covers?"  Two of the people in the eating area smiled, shook their heads, and said "Americans."  The TV had approximately 5-6 channels - quite a change from a cable situation in the US with 150 channels. 

I say all of the above his with a smile on my face.  The people were friendly and gracious.  I enjoyed the differences and enjoyed learning how others lived, with no criticism of their life style - only note of the differences.

When I got back to the States, I watched a video entitled "Battle of the Clans". Some terrible truths about the history which affected the migration of our ancestors. It took my mind back to what I had seen in the Highlands, what I have learned and what I have researched. 

Well, I probably better stop for now. I'm sure you can tell I had a great time.

I will return to Scotland. Not this year, obviously, as it's now December. Probably not next year. But - return I will. I have to. It's no longer a desire - it's a need. And - after all, I waved to Mary.

©Patricia Adams, 26 Dec 2001

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©Patricia Adams, 26 Dec 2000.