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Scotland

 

Scotland - May 1985

Vicky Blitz

We left England on a tour bus and crossed into Scotland and the first thing of note was Gretna Green, where the blacksmith used to marry eloping couples. Then, in Moffat we stopped and, my maiden name being Wallace, I was able to purchase some Wallace-plaid material and a couple coat of arms plaques at the local Tweed Shop. In the next block was the Wallace Butcher Shop where I also purchased some sandwich meat and made the owner stand in front of his shop for a picture. Needless to say, this was a very big moment for me. I felt I had come home and this was my kin. Mr. Wallace was kindly and accommodating; bless his heart. 

Back on the road and on to Ayr, which is Wallace country and the tour guide gave us a run down on the history of William Wallace and his connection to William the Bruce and Edward I. We had a stop at the birth place of Robert Burns and walked through the very humble dwelling, and got a picture of the real Briga Doon, which means "Doon Bridge".

At Ayr we dropped off those who wanted to do some shopping and the rest of us went on to visit the Culzeau Castle, home of the Kennedy Clan (from whence cometh our late president, John Kennedy). A delightful and feisty old lady showed us the castle and was a show in herself and well worth the price of admission.

In Glasgow, we stayed in the elegant Hotel Albany and toured the city the next day. Leaving Glasgow, we drove to Loch Loman, took a boat and sailed north for about an hour, getting pictures all the way, including one of the lovely honeymooner's island. Back on land and following lunch, we passed through the infamous Glen Coe where the Campbells slaughtered the MacDonalds after accepting their hospitality for three days.  This disaster was the unfortunate result of a misunderstanding due to a communication problem and had the truth been known, it would have never happened.  At least, that is my understanding of this dreadful event.   

One interesting note, when were going through the loch area, our tour guide mentioned that we were in the area where the continental plates were rubbing against each other. And, in the past thousand years the northwest part of Scotland has risen six feet and the London, England area has dropped two feet, and when it drops one more foot, the sluice gates on the Themes River will no longer work, to hold back the sea.

We passed through Ft. William where the clans met to sign their allegiance to the King of England. We bid farewell to the Loch Leven, where the salt water salmon have adapted to the fresh water of the lake. We passed the 4,000 foot Ben Nevis, which is often too enveloped in cloud and fog to see (we were lucky) and left the Great Glen. This is such picturesque country, one wished to be in a private car to stop often for pictures. Our tour guide did his best to accommodate our desire for those stops.

We drove along Loch Ness and passed Urquart Castle which was built on the site of Iron Age camp dating back to 200 B.C. The Urquarts unwisely supported Bonnie Prince Charlie and when the British won, they destroyed the castle so it could not be used again. I might add here that we did not see the Loch Ness Monster. 

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Caledonian in Inverness.  Our room was a bit shabby, but never mind, it was clean and had a wonderful view, overlooking the river, Ness.   During dinner in a neighborhood bar we watched a little floor show with an accordion player and a Scottish folk singer, which really made one feel one was in Scotland and that we were part of the scene.  Comfortable.  

We had a wee bit of rain and fog, leaving Inverness the next morning. We passed the road to Findhorn, crossed the River Spey, saw a prehistoric stone circle (1800 B.C.) in the distance, a Scottish Castle, and a Celtic Cross.

Coming through the Grampian Mountain Range, we were in fog and cloud so bad that our bus driver, Colin, later told us he could only see five or six feet ahead of the bus. The fog was thick like that for at least two hours as he skillfully maneuvered our bus around narrow hairpin turns, with cliffs on one side of the road and a drop-off on the other. We were dismayed that we were probably passing through the most scenic part of the trip and unable to see it.

During hunting season, the Queen resides in Balmoral Castle but hunting season isn't until after July 31, so we were able to tour the castle. We were there during the lunch hour so we had lunch in the cafeteria, where I had an eighty-five cent venison burger from out of the Queen's own Forest. It was delicious, but then venison is my favorite of all meat.

In route to Edinburgh, we came through Braemar, where they have been having the Highland Games for nine hundred years. Then, thru Perth, on the Firth of Tay, where John Knox preached such a rousing sermon against other religions, the people went right out and burned all the churches in town. And, on across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh.

In Edinburgh, we had a free night but Bob and I opted to dine in our own hotel, Hotel Mount Royal, and we were glad we did. We had the best meal of the entire trip. I had roast duckling with cherries and it was so delicious, I can taste it to this day. After dinner, Bob went jogging and one of our group, Julie, who was traveling by herself, invited me up to her room to see her magnificent view of the city and Edinburgh Castle. With all the lights on, it was quite a site.

The following day we found ourselves back on the bus for a city tour of Edinburgh led by a local guide, dressed in his Scottish kilts. We went past the beautiful memorial and statue of Sir Walter Scott and the houses of Robert Lewis Stevenson where he was inspired to write the Lamp Lighter and where he got the idea for Long John Silver and Treasure Island. We also drove past the houses of Simpson (inventor of forceps and chloroform), Sir Walter Scott Lister (antiseptics and Listerine mouthwash), Alexander Graham Bell and the on the Edinburgh Castle which dates back to the seventh century.

Edinburgh Castle was a particular delight for me because there was a statue of Wallace, and maiden name is Wallace. The plaque reads:

                                

Memorial to Wallace
Erected by
The Corporation of Edinburgh
Under Captain Hugh Reid's bequest
Unveiled 28th May 1929
The Rt. Hon. Sir Alexander Stevenson
Lord Provost

Pretty cool, eh?  And then we were turned over to another guide or docent, in kilts, of course, who took us through the castle and made it's history come alive.

We attended a Scottish night out that evening, along with about four to five hundred other tourists.  But as much as I detest crowds, I wouldn't have missed it.  The M.C. was wonderful, performing with love and true concern blending into his humor.  The singer was a real joy and a gorgeous lady.  The dancers, a young lad and two darling lassies, were adorable and were accompanied by a piper, a drummer and an orchestra of three in the background.  Every time they came back on stage they were wearing different costumes and each was more beautiful than the preceding.  The floor show was followed by the traditional Scottish Ceremony of the Haggis, which was rather cute, and the Haggis itself was very good.  However, they wouldn't tell us what was in it, nor how it was prepared, but it looked and tasted like a glorified hot dog or sausage.

Back on the road again the next morning and on to Melrose Abby.  As the story goes, Robert the Bruce wanted his heart to be buried in Jerusalem but the man who tried to take it there got caught up in a war and was killed.  So the heart was buried in the walls of Melrose Abby.  The Abby, built in 1190, was eventually destroyed in 1542 by Henry VIII when he was trying to force Mary Queen of Scots (a little girl at the time) to marry his son and unite Scotland and England.

On to the stately Floors Castle (1721), the ruins of the twelfth century Jedburgh Abby, through the Northumberland National Park and Hadrian's Wall before crossing into England.

 

 

A solitary piper on a lonely hill.
"Please stop the bus!  I want that shot;
And for that shot, I'd kill."
Why does he play here all alone in tam, kilt and coat?
And then, I heard "squeek, squalk"... my God!
He can na' play a note!

V. Blitz


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