In Chapter One, we flew into Manchester, England and then traveled north through the middle of Scotland to Inverness. We made many stops along the way and have learned that a trip through Scotland should not be hurried. If we are unable to visit every place we’d intended, best to not rush through in an effort to keep to an itinerary. If one does hurry, you might lose the opportunity to stop for a leisurely lunch at a pub or take a walk through a lovely garden along the way. On this trip, we’ll take our time and describe what we see and where we are as we are traveling through ‘Scotland, Beloved Country.’
Once again, we are just leaving Manchester, England on our way to Gretna Green, the first town in Scotland. Ken will stop to visit an ATM; we’ll need several English pounds. While we’ll use our credit card for almost everything, still it’s nice to have a few English coins in one’s pocket. I will never forget a rather long search for a ladies room only to find that coins were needed to use the services… with no English coins, it was very nearly an “unfortunate” incident! At the very last moment, a lady shared the two five-pence coins required, thereby saving the day! I’ll always be grateful for her kindness.
We are driving on the A74 on our way to the town of Stirling and nearby Stirling Castle. In “Survival of the Blood” Ewan describes the battle of Bannockburn that took place several centuries earlier near the Castle, the English had possession at that time for their own use. Ewan spoke of how Robert the Bruce carefully trained the men of Scotland to do battle against King Edward II’s army. His plan was simple, take back what belonged to Scotland, drive the English back to their own lands and declare himself King of Scotland.
The English had twenty thousand men, all with heavy armor and many horses clad in heavy chain mail. The five thousand men of Scotland, under The Bruce’s direction had determination and battlefield training. Their weapons were swords, dirks, targes (shields) and spears. The Scots won the battle, and in “Survival of the Blood” Janet remarks that ‘should a battle between the Scots and Brits take place again, the Scots had best be prepared as The Bruce prepared them’. Fast forward to the sad spectacle of the Highlanders dying by the thousands on Culloden’s moor; “Survival of the Blood” tells this story from the perspective of both those who died there, and one who had the task of burying his kin on that lonely forsaken moor.
As we know, the battle of Culloden took place in 1746 with far different results. When we visited Stirling Castle and climbed to the top ramparts of the castle, we looked out towards the battle site; I had no doubt that The Bruce made certain that his men were well equipped, he trained them to fight together, stand side by side and maintain their stance; even if they did not gain ground at least they did not lose ground. Ken and I talked about how different the Battle of Culloden was from the battles at Stirling. “Survival of the Blood” describes both battles in detail. It’s interesting if you are able to get past the fact that nearly five thousand men died in the Culloden battle yet it brought about a change in the entire future of Scotland.
We stop in the nearby town of Stirling; there are a lot of small stores with several shops that carried wonderful yarn crafts. One in particular was a pillow top with flowers in every color you can think of. Of course, the yarn from Scotland’s sheep was dyed beautiful colors to complete the project. I purchased a package for a friend, who does beautiful needlework. When you purchase something in Scotland, be sure to take a look at the label to be sure it’s from Scotland. When it’s Scottish made, it will be of excellent quality.
Now, we’re back on the road, this time the M9 on our way to Edinburgh. We’ll take the A9 turnoff for Falkirk where we’ll visit a truly awesome engineering feat called the Falkirk Wheel. When presented with an engineering challenge, the Scots have the ability to come up with a solution that is both workable and remarkable. The Falkirk Wheel fits that description to a ‘t’. When a way of connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal became a real need, in 2002, engineers designed the lift known as the Falkirk Wheel… it connects the two canals in a most interesting and spectacular way.
The two canals, by being connected, are a direct link between Glasgow on the west side of Scotland with Edinburgh on the east side of Scotland. The Falkirk wheel is 79 feet high, but the Union Canal is nearly 36 feet higher than the aqueduct which meets the wheel. Boats must also pass through a pair of locks between the top of the wheel and the Union Canal. The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world and one of two working boat lifts in the United Kingdom. Truthfully speaking, when a person stands at the bottom of this massive project, you not only feel dwarfed by the very bulk of it, you also are awe-struck by the magnificence of the structure. As we watch from the ground, a huge barge is brought down over the 36 feet from the Union Canal, to begin its trip down the Forth and Clyde Canal. The barge floats in water on the Wheel as it lowers it to its destination. Needless to say, we’re both amazed and impressed with the abilities of Scottish engineers to design such an apparatus. Ken, who is a graduate engineer, says The Falkirk Wheel has to be one of the wonders of our modern world.
Now we’ll take the M-9 into Edinburgh where we’ll be staying at a hotel in the Haymarket area of the city. After a lovely dinner, of roasted lamb with mint jelly, roasted new potatoes and peas, we walk through the area where many interesting places are still open for business. A tailor measures a customer for a new Prince Charlie Jacket to wear with his kilt; another shop has woolen goods by the yard for sale, all top quality. We stop at a shop where there’s fresh fruit, made up sandwiches and snacks of all sorts. I noticed a sliced chicken sandwich with dressing and asked about this; Ken responds ‘it’s delicious’! I’ve yet to experience this and think it likely is very good. We bag up several apples to take with us tomorrow and before long, back in our room, we relax with a glass of single malt and the evening news.
On the next day, after one of those huge Scottish breakfasts of eggs, bacon (I do mean bacon, not the thin slices we have in America, thick and tasty smoked bacon), thick delicious sausages, baked beans, fried crispy potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, slices of toasted bread with jam and hot tea, we loosen our belts and begin our sightseeing tour of Edinburgh. Neither one of us wants to walk too far, (at least until our breakfasts settle), so we start along Prince’s street and admire the Gardens and Sir Walter Scott’s memorial. Sir Walter wrote novels of the Highlands; his books, even today are considered to be an excellent resource of the ways of Highlanders and lowlanders of Scotland.
We catch a bus to Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile which leads up to the Castle. Holyrood is where the Queen or her emissaries stay when they visit Edinburgh. When she vacations in Scotland during the summer, she always stays at Balmoral Castle in the Highlands.
Holyrood was rebuilt in the 16th century after Oliver Cromwell managed to destroy most of it during his reign of terror. It is beautiful and furnished with elegant furniture, paintings and all the trappings of royalty. We also visit the Queen’s library where we purchase a book written about an exploration trip to the Antarctic. When we see a lovely tea shop, we stop for tea; we’re seated at a tiny table next to a big rack holding cakes, pastries and buns. It’s most distracting to sit by this mouth watering display. I look at the menu and try very hard to concentrate. Finally, we make a sensible choice, tea with scones, strawberries and clotted cream. Our tea is served from a real china tea pot and is poured into real china tea cups sitting on a white lace tablecloth with linen napkins. We try hard to not spill a drop of tea and when our scones arrive, they are fresh from the oven, with strawberries and a pitcher of cream so thick a spoon will stand upright in it… oh my! Ken pours more tea and we begin to eat. It’s just not possible to do this justice with words. Totally delicious!
Now, we’re ready to begin the trek up the royal mile to the Castle. There are many shops we’d like to visit but we’re determined to continue on. Finally, we stop for a breather at a shop selling wine, beer and whisky of all sorts. Note: Scottish whisky does not have an ‘e’ between the k and y. Ken admires the many Islay malts… Islay malt whisky has a smoky taste, it’s an acquired taste… when I first tasted it I thought I’d not like it, but I’ve found the taste to be really very good. Islay whisky is made using water that runs through smoky peat. There are many other malts, one from a distillery on the Isle of Skye. Many of the popular malt whisky’s are distilled using water from the river Spey, thus you’ll see bottles advertising the use of this pure, crystal clear water from snow melts of the Highlands… they are called “Speyside Malts”.
Back on our way up the steep hill, we enter the Castle gate and walk on cobblestones that date back so far, no one knows how old they are. The court yard is where the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held every year for the entire month in August. We were fortunate enough to attend one of these performances and they are memorable. Later, after we returned home, we spent a delightful evening watching our home movies of the performance. Awesome!
On the highest part of the castle, we stop at St. Margaret’s chapel, a tiny quiet spot where one feels the presence of St. Margaret. She lived centuries ago; Robert the Bruce held her in high esteem and built the chapel in her honor. Then, we take a look at the huge “Mons Meg” a massive cast iron cannon that was fired once with disastrous results. The firing of the cannon ball cracked the massive cannon, and the ball burst out the side of the cannon killing a man who stood beside it. It was never fired again. Another famous gun is known as the “One O’clock” gun that is fired every day. Ask us about that sometime… another of the many interesting stories we have collected.
We walk through the Castle’s gaol (jail) and the kitchens, which are partially underground, visit the different museums, then, tired (and relieved that we could now walk downhill), we began the trek back to our hotel. By now, I’ve a yard of woolen fabric, a huge coffee table book, and a bag of souvenir odds and ends. Ken has two bottles of his favorite whisky, pamphlets and video’s of what we’ve seen.
It’s time to enjoy a bite of supper and settle down for the evening. We both order a bowl of fish stew with thick slices of bread and butter. For dessert, “sticky toffee pudding”, makes my mouth water just to write that! Then, with cups of coffee from the pot in our room, we settle down to enjoy looking through the book “The Great Alone”. There are pictures of the doomed Shackleton expedition which later was found stuck in a massive ice flow. We discuss how those men, who ventured out into a world totally different from the one they lived in, were true pioneers. Today, a person can visit the Antarctic for an hour or so; on a helicopter that will take you there to experience the extreme cold of minus fifty degrees. When you get tired (or cold) you simply board the ‘copter and it’s away to warmer, greener pastures. Wow!
The next day, we take the road to Rosslyn Chapel, just 8 miles south of Edinburgh. Sure, we’ve both read Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code, (which includes considerable information about Rosslyn), but we’re still not prepared for this highly unusual place. If you decide to visit, make sure you join one of the guided tours, you’ll need an explanation of all of the strange and unusual things you will see in this most interesting place. The twelve pillars are worth the visit alone, especially “The Apprentice Pillar”. Pay attention to how it was made and who did all the work it’s a very interesting story you’ll want to hear. In the visitor’s center we purchase a book about Rosslyn Chapel and will sit down with it when we have time. This is one way to remember the places we’ve visited.
We would like to have visited the ruins of Melrose Abbey where it’s said Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried in a small silver casket inside the walls of the Abbey. Unfortunately there isn’t enough time on this trip; Melrose Abbey is quite a distance south and we want to go north towards Aberdeen, on the east coast… I am excited about the six-hour ferry ride to Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands… but, that a tale to be told in the next chapter.
For now, think Scotland, Beloved Country and the effect it has upon those who travel through her Highlands, lowlands, glens and valleys. This country has a way of getting to a person; before ye know it, yer thinkin’ “aye, I’ve been here a’fore.” Genetic memory, dinna discount it!
Ken and Beth Bristow