The weekend got away from me, so I’m behind on my travelogue, but we’ll get right back to it. As I teased on Friday, the day of the 26th was a magical one —
March 26, 2001
We got up early and walked through a light mist and boarded a bus the set out across the Scottish countryside. When Kim and I first made plans to travel to Scotland there was one special destination that was at the very top of our “must see” list. We were excited and passed the time chatting with our fellow passengers, especially with a young Australian college student named Sophie who was backpacking across Europe. As we rolled into the village of Roslin, I felt an electricity in the air. It was a feeling that would become amplified as we disembarked and walked up the gravel lane and laid eyes on one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture ever conceived.
Rosslyn Chapel is well known today, thanks in large part to Dan Brown’s 2003 literary phenomenon The Da Vinci Code. I understand that it has since been overrun with tourists, but when we arrived on that cold, early spring morning, it was a small handful of us that walked the hallowed grounds. In fact, Kim and I spent hours in the Chapel alone, without another soul around.
The Chapel was enveloped by a network of scaffolding as rennovations were underway, but that steel cage did nothing to diminish its awesome beauty. Intricately detailed with Masonic symbols, gargoyles, green men, historic figures, and Norse gods, Rosslyn Chapel was as much art as it was a place of worship. It was the single most impressive structure I’ve ever stood in, and it was all ours… We just didn’t want to leave and we lingered about, gazing in wide wonder and poring over every delicate inch of this monument to the esoteric mystery traditions.
We marveled at the Apprentice Pillar, symbol of blessed Yggdrasil, and the inscription there — “Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all”. We jumped the rope and descended into the lower crypt and explored the cells. We walked the graveyard and climbed the scaffolding to to pore over the roof and the carvings there unseen from below. And we toured the on site Museum of Freemasonry…
It was sweet perfection.
We met up with Sophie in the village and ate a quick lunch of garlic toast and exotic cheeses before catching the bus back to Edinburgh. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening wandering the city streets and making preparations for our next day’s journey. We ate haddock at Filthy McNasty’s and had sodas at Jenny Ha, then ate supper at the Bad Ass where I took a leap of faith.
You just can’t go to Scotland and not submit yourself to a bit of traditional cuisine. While Kim acquainted herself with the Bad Ass’ version of a chicken enchilada, I ate ordered the Highland Chicken and a haggis. Haggis is the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep that’s stuffed into its stomach, along with onions, suet, and spices… And it is unbelievable. I loved every bite of it. It had a very unique texture and was moist and savory. It immediately went to the top of my “last meal” requests.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
March 27, 2001
On the 27th we took another bus ride, this time to Glasgow. We walked the city for a bit, then caught another bus for Hamilton. Hamilton was an important stop for us because Kim’s great-grandmother George was born there. She eventually moved to Michigan and married a Murdock (Scots blood runs thick in my lovely wife). Hamilton was a fun excursion and painted for us a more complete picture of Scottish life, removed from the trappings of the tourist-centric center of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Back in Edinburgh we rested up and ate supper at a TGIF. We had an early start the next day, so we sat in our room and watched the people mill about on the street below us.
March 28, 2001
Another important milestone for us was to ride the rails, which we did when we caught a train to Stirling on the 28th. How perfect was that? Traveling by train allowed us an terrific view of the beautiful countryside as we rolled across the Highlands to the historic city. The rain was a bit heavier that day, but we soldiered on, hiking across this foreign place. Seeing the Wallace Monument far off in the distance, we walked toward it, pausing at the infamous Stirling Bridge, site of William Wallace’s greatest military victory and dining at the Wallace Pub for a spell.
We were spent. We’d walked hundreds of miles so far on this trip. To be honest, I was amazed at how well we held up. But we were starting to feel it. Still, we soldiered on and walked into Stirling proper, ate again, this time at Hog’sHead (where we had the best salmon I’d ever tasted), then marched on Stirling Castle, ancestral home of the Clan Stewart.
Stirling Castle was magnificent. Under heavy renovation, the Castle was a stark contrast to the one in Edinburgh. This Castle had the feel of being lived and fought in and it was really one of the high points of our trip. Stewart blood runs through my family’s veins and it was a thrill to walk the very battlements where my ancestors once did.
One surprise was coming upon a painting of Queen Anne, granddaughter of Robert the Bruce. Looking at that picture I couldn’t help but notice a more than passing resemblance to my own beautiful wife. I felt connected to my forefathers in a way unimaginable and it occurred to me that my connection to my wife was strengthened by this mystical bond that reached out across time, through our common ancestry, as if we were fated to be together.
Heading back by train, our hearts were heavy. This was the end of our trip. The next day we’d be flying back to the States. Back to the real world. One thing we knew for sure though — Scotland would be in our hearts forever.
Tomorrow I’ll conclude the recounting of our trip to Scotland with some final thoughts.