Archive for the Scotland Category
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.
On the 25th we were a little under the weather and sore from our marathon march across Edinburgh, but our spirits were high and we soldiered on, prepared for another exciting day in the grand city. With a spring in our step, we trekked once more out into the light rain and to the Royal Mile, on our way to tour Holyrood Palace.
Holyrood was magnificent, the tour insightful and entertaining. A spectacular example of late medieval architecture, I was particularly taken with the north-west tower where Mary, Queen of Scots resided and the infamous recount of the murder of David Rizzio there in Queen Mary’s presence was the icing on the cake. Before leaving the palace we spent some time in the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, former home of the Order of the Thistle.
After a quick lunch at McIlwayne’s — Kim had a chili cheese potato and I chowed on a chili burger with Scottish cheddar — we continued our stroll through the city. As we made our way back to Princes Street we dipped into antique shops and used bookstores, and we stopped off at Deathhead Comics and Transuniverse Books. Then, once back near our hotel we took in Waterstone’s and then, as we strolled along the path through Princes Street Gardens we noticed something we hadn’t before… there were people atop the Sir Walter Scott Monument.
We returned to the Scott Monument and for the first time realized that you could actually go inside the thing. We dropped a few coins on the attendant and climbed the spiraling stair up into the upper landings of the great spire. It was an extremely tight fit for me, and very claustrophobic, but the views from those upper platforms was amazing.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening making our plans for the next day’s adventure. We tracked down bus schedules and the stops we needed to visit, and we stumbled upon the Arthur Conan Doyle Pub quite by accident. We ate supper at Kenilsworth — Kim had the traditionally prepared haddock and chips while I enjoyed chicken in ale sauce — then we called it an early evening as we had an even grander adventure planned for the next day.
You know how I keep threatening that “the best was yet to come”? Well it is. Tomorrow.
On the morning of the 24th, Kim and I awoke, refreshed and invigorated, jet lag behind us. We marched out into the cool, Spring air of Edinburgh, ready to see what the city had to offer us. Again, as we were on every day of our trip, met with a near constant drizzle. Perfect for me. I’ve got to say, there was no question to me that Scots blood ran through my veins. The climate was sublime and I seemed built for it completely. Wet and cold, I was in my element. Kim? Not so much, but the beauty and wonder lifted her spirits to the point that she didn’t mind it at all. Besides, it gave me a chance to warm her up and, even as we stalked the ancient streets of this magical city, we huddled close and enjoyed each and every second of it.
We grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s on Princes Street, then began the long hike up to Edinburgh Castle.
What a magnificent structure. The castle was everything I’d hoped for and the tour was nothing short of spectacular. Walking the battlements, touching the rough stone with my fingertips… everything about it was electrifying. It was a fantastic tour, including forays into St. Margaret’s Chapel, the National War Museum and War Memorial, and, best of all, we got to look upon the Honours of Scotland.
What to say about the Honours? The crown, made in 1540, was first worn by King James V. The da Suttri sword, a gift from Pope Julius II to King James IV in 1507. The sceptre, made in 1494, was a gift from Pope Alexander VI. But the item that most caught my eye was the Stone of Destiny. Remarkable. I couldn’t believe I was standing in its presence. It made the trip all the more special.
We left the castle and walked the Royal Mile. The were several highlights along this historic run, such as the Witchery — which was formerly a meeting place of the notorious Hellfire Club — the Museum of Childhood, The Writer’s Museum — which housed the relics and manuscripts of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson — the John Knox House, The Wyrd Shop — a delightful occult bookstore on Canongate — and, of course, the magnificent St. Giles Cathedral.
We ate lunch at Deacon Brodie’s Pub — ham and Scottish cheddar — continued our walk through the cobblestone streets, then made our way back to the Maitland for a rest.
That evening, we again went out into the city, walking hand in hand and enjoying the very atmosphere of the place. We ate at the Granary, where I had a traditional steak and ale pie and Kim had the supreme of chicken, before returning to our city hike.
Then, something odd occurred — we were crossing the North Bridge when we were met by a throng of football hooligans, drunk and ecstatic over their team’s victory. They surrounded us, and for a brief moment, I thought I was in for a fight. Then, one of the guys came up and patted us on the shoulder and said, “Welcome to Scotland. We love Americans!” I asked him how the hell he knew we were from America and he said it was the way I smoked my cigarette, like a cowboy.
How crazy is that?
Anyway, we called it a night, shuffled off to the Maitland and settled into bed where we watched a BBC show called Teachers, if I recall correctly, before drifting off to sleep.
This was our first full day in the city. And it was bloody fantastic, through and through. But the best was still to come…
I don’t know how to adequately describe the wave of emotion I felt as we stepped outside the airport on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It was late morning, March 23, 2001. A light mist was falling and the very air itself seemed different to me. This was Scotland. The land of my forefathers. I felt like… I had come home.
We poured ourselves into a taxi, an odd mixture of unbridled excitement and complete exhaustion churning in our guts, and we had ourselves delivered to the Maitland Hotel on Shandwick. Of course, due to hour of our arrival we couldn’t check in, so we left our carry-ons with the staff and set out to wander about the city of Edinburgh for a bit. We walked the streets of Old Town, marveling at the architecture and the people that populated this majestic city, but we were spent very quickly. We made our way into a little pub a block or so from our hotel, the Au Bar, and had a bite. Kim had a stuffed baked potato while I tried some chili on rice. It was good meal, but did little to rekindle our energy.
Finally, our room was ready and we slogged off back to the Maitland and collapsed onto the bed to dream not of far away places but instead of where we were. We were in bloody Scotland, in the very heart of Edinburgh, practically in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle perched atop the volcanic Castle Rock.
We awoke with full evening upon us and set out into the heavier mist, walking past St. John’s Episcopal Church and its cemetery, onto Princes Street and through the garden path, beneath the grand monument to Sir Walter Scott. It was everything I’d thought it would be and more. Gazing up through the light rain at Edinburgh Castle, bathed in orange and white lights, I was enchanted.
Kim and I laughed, holding hands as we traversed the streets of this fabled city, gazing into shop windows and up at the parade of statues that kept watch over its citizens. We finally stopped off for supper in a Pizza Hut on Castle Street where we had a slice and a whisky before marching back to our quaint little room overlooking Shandwick Place. I opened the narrow window to let the sounds of the city filter in and watched as the people passed beneath us.
We’d done it. We were actually in Scotland. As we bedded down for the night, anxious for the next day to begin so we could properly tour the city, we huddled close, content and happy as newlyweds tend to be. I was in the most magical city on Earth with the most beautiful woman in the world. And the best was yet to come…
Ten years ago today my wife and I began a journey that has been forever chiseled into my most hallowed hall of memories. No, today is not the anniversary of our blessed union, though that day too is etched into the walls of my cranial vault. Today does, however, mark the anniversary of another glorious event that is equally filled with magic and wonder. You see, ten years ago, we threw caution to the wind and without so much as a plan or itinerary we set a course for a foreign land…
We had been married for a mere six months when, on March 22, 2001, we drove four hours north to O’hare International and boarded a flight that promised to take us on a whirlwind adventure. We bid farewell to my brother who had driven us to the Windy City and climbed aboard the massive 747 upon whose wings we would ride across the ocean.
It was Kim’s first flight. Her first trip outside of the United States. Not that I was any more worldly. I had only flown once before, as a teenager hopping down to Florida, and my trips outside of the comfort of the good ol’ US of A were brief excursions just over the border into Mexico and Canada, respectively. We were both quite nervous, and to make matters worse, we didn’t sit together on the flight…
Kim was several rows ahead of me, sitting with some obnoxious frat boys, while I was in an aisle seat next to a woman so large she was spilling over her seat and into mine. If I close my eyes I can still smell the unique mingling of her sweat and perfume. Needless to say, the beginning of our grand adventure was not the most auspicious, but I told myself that this was a small price to pay for what was to come.
On that note, I was more than right.
For more than eight hours we journeyed through the not-so-friendly skies. I grimaced through Schwarzenegger in The 6th Day and bad airline food, staring at the back of my beloved’s head and reminding myself that it would all be worth it.
When we landed in Heathrow, Kim and I barely had a chance to celebrate our safe landing and reunion. We had a mere ten minutes to catch our connecting flight and what ensued was a near comical mad dash across a sprawling foreign port. Here we were in London, England, and we scarcely had time to take any of it in. We did our best O.J. Simpson impersonation (meaning we ran through the airport and hurdled luggage, not cut the heads off of former lovers) and made it to our next skyward journey without much of a hitch.
Buckled in (barely), we once more took to the airways, flying over the United Kingdom toward our final destination — Edinburgh, Scotland — the land of our forefathers. Sitting together, we held hands and grinned from ear to ear, looking down as the English countryside gave way to the majestic landscape of Alba…
to be continued
Wha, for Scotland’s king and law,
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa’,
Let him on wi me.
~Robert Burns, Scots Wha Hae (1793)
From BBC News: Archaeologists have recovered remains from at least eight people after initial excavation at a Neolithic tomb site in Orkney discovered in October.
A narrow, stone-lined passageway leads to five chambers, two of which have been part-excavated so far.
Fragments of skull and hipbone have been unearthed, some carefully placed in gaps in the stones, suggesting the 5,000-year-old site is undisturbed.
The bones point to a range of ages at death including a child of about six.
It is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to look at a Neolithic community, says Orkney Islands Council’s county archaeologist, Julie Gibson.
Orkney contains some of the best preserved Neolithic remains in Europe. Just a few hundred metres from the dig at Banks on Ronaldsay lies the larger Tombs of the Eagles complex where remains of more than 300 people were found.
But the recent find is the first undisturbed burial of a Neolithic community to be discovered in Scotland in three decades.
“It is now possible to find out where someone grew up, for instance. And in the case of the Amesbury Archer, found near Stonehenge, it could be seen that he had travelled from the Alps.
“It is by no means certain that all the people in this tomb will have been born here.”
There are signs of rituals taking place at the site, for instance the complex was filled with layers of earth suggesting repeated use over a period of time. And large stones were used in the construction and sealing of the chambers.
The site was discovered accidentally during landscaping with a mechanical digger which damaged one end of the complex. The underground site is now subject to flooding and archaeologists are keen to investigate the site while it remains undisturbed.
Initial excavations carried out by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology have now been completed and there are plans to return to the site in the summer. The dig has been sponsored by Orkney Islands Council and Historic Scotland.
By BEN McCONVILLE, Associated Press Writer (Tue Apr 27, 4:14 pm ET)
EDINBURGH, Scotland – What lurks beneath the dark waters of Scotland’s Loch Ness? Newly released documents on display Tuesday in Scotland show that during the 1930s, police in Scotland were convinced some sort of creature inhabited the Highlands lake — so sure, in fact, that they worried about how to protect it from big-game hunters.
The files from the National Archive of Scotland show that local officials asked Britain’s Parliament to investigate the issue and confirm the monster’s existence — in the interests of science.
“That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness now seems beyond doubt,” wrote William Fraser, a senior police officer, “but that the police have any power to protect it is very doubtful.”
The Nessie Files, kept secret for 70 years, were revealed as part of an exhibition on government secrecy. The exhibit examines how governments once kept almost everything secret, and how attitudes evolved to move toward more open government in modern times.
Nessie, of course, was the epitome of mystery. The loch in which the monster is said to swim is the deepest inland expanse of water in Britain. At about 750 feet (230 meters) to the bottom, it’s even deeper than the North Sea.
The legend of what lies beneath the surface dates to 565 A.D., when an early Christian, St. Columba, is recorded as having driven away a water monster by the power of prayer, the National Archive said.
After spending this past Saturday night camping on the island Geller stated that he had a strong feeling there is buried treasure there. Geller, armed with a set of dowsing rods, explored the island over the weekend.
“It was a very tough trip,” he said. “It was hard to get on to the island. It is very steep and slippery, and we had a lot of equipment, but once on the island, it was amazing. It was mesmerizing. It was everything I expected and more. It was a fantastic night, although it was freezing. I put up my tent but I didn’t sleep. I wanted to experience every moment of being there.”
The 63-year-old Geller bought Lamb Island, which measures just 100 yards by 50, for £30,000 last year and believes it is one of the UK’s most historically important sites. “I used my dowsing rods and I did feel something,” he added. “I will approach the official channels for permission to excavate.” He said he hoped to win permission to search for Egyptian treasure which he believes could be buried there. Geller theorizes that the sister of Tutankhamen, Princess Scota, was exiled to the island after fleeing Egypt 3 millennia ago… and she may have left gold and jewels behind.
“There is a place where I think there is something,” he added, with a hint of a twinkle in his eye, “but it is a very long shot.” His enthusiasm is contagious and his love of the island and the Scottish people is obvious. “I love Scotland more than ever. I was overjoyed I managed to buy this island and I’m amazed the Scottish Government allowed it to be sold, but I will make sure it will stay an animal sanctuary.”
Tom Brock, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said, “We had been looking at the Lamb purely from a wildlife perspective so it’s been fascinating to hear Uri’s thoughts on it, particularly as he does seem to take the conservation aspect very seriously. The Lamb may have long been in the shadow of its world famous big brother, the Bass Rock, but we’re delighted that, thanks to Uri, it’s going to become better known.”
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Coming in August of 2010.
by Bob Freeman
Hell is empty and all the Devils are here…