Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Getting in touch with our Scottish Roots


When morning dawned in Scotland the whole situation seemed a lot brighter. We soon packed up the car and were ready to drive into Edinburgh. We had been debating driving vs taking the train in from Falkirk, where our hotel was, and thanks to some happy accidents we eventually ended up at a Park and Ride not too far from Edinburgh. It saved our sanity and sold us on the idea for the rest of our trip, when possible. 

As soon as we boarded the bus we began indulging in a recurring theme of I LOVE SCOTLAND. I was won over by the fact that the bus had plaid upholstery. We knew where to get off the bus because we spotted Edinburgh Castle atop its mountainous hill. We were all struck by the beauty of the landscape, with famous monuments rising up here and there and lush green park in the valley below the castle. A quick discussion had us heading for the castle, and being sensible folk we decided to take the most direct route—namely to scale the giant hill rather than walk ‘round for an easier incline. 

The castle was certainly worth the entrance fee. We ended up spending most of Sunday exploring it—it has a myriad of museums, gift shops, and memorials. The view was also incredible. There was something that met with each of our interests. I got to walk through rooms where Mary Queen of Scots walked, and stand in the chamber where James I was born. We saw the crown jewels of Scotland, and we saw numerous exhibits & monuments to Scotland’s military past. Dad & John kept trying to point out the Firth of Forth from every rampart we passed. The gift shops made a fortune off of us that day, especially once mum found the ‘Mitchell’ branded items. I have always felt a stronger connection to my Slavic roots than any pretence of British ones, so I did not walk away with ten million ‘Mitchell’ items, but I did fall prey to a few choice pieces depicting the scotch thistle. 

We left the castle in the late afternoon and began our walk down the Royal Mile, pausing every few meters to look in shops in hopes of finding Mitchell tartan fabric. Our search was relatively unfruitful, tempers were getting short, and so we decided to call it quits and instead went in search of a late afternoon lunch of haggis. And, because natives always do it best, the haggis was the best any of us had ever tasted. We also introduced dad to the world of British meat pies, which fostered a meat-pie addiction that lasted up until he went back to Canada. 

We stayed in the pub until early evening, at which point we emerged in hopes of finding some sort of Sunday service. We had passed by a church when we arrived in town that morning and noticed that they had an evening service, so we retraced our steps and joined with a small Church of Scotland congregation for our Sunday worship. Presbyterian churches are not frequented by any of us, so I sat in happy surprise at the beauty of the words of the liturgy, and my parents seemed pleased that it was a communion Sunday so they were able to partake in that (I will say this for the Baptists tho—at least they cube their bread. When the pastor elevated a crustless slice of wonderbread I had to choke back a laugh. I meant no disrespect, but really...). After church we wandered back towards the center of town in search of our bus, which led us past the Sir Walter Scott memorial and meant one happy father & daughter. 

On our second day in Edinburgh we walked the length of the Royal Mile, down to Holyrood House (the Queen’s residence in Scotland) at its other end. We stopped in ten million shops along the way, each looking for a bit of Scottish cloth to take away. We also discovered some delicious local fudge and various shops selling whiskey. I eventually dragged everyone off to the museum, where dad & I wandered among the ancient, Medieval, and Stuart exhibits while mum & John read. Then, in a search for lunch, we found the cafe where J.K. Rowling did some writing. The menu didn’t suit us, however, and the day was getting late. So we split up with plans to reconvene at a pub. Mum and John went to look at swords whilst dad & I went down a little alley and found the Writer’s Museum.

The Writer’s Museum is, as its name suggests, dedicated to famous Scottish authors. We began in the basement, which housed a number of effects belonging to Stevenson. Then we went up to the top, where the printing press that printed some of Scott’s novels is held. After that we wandered among the personal & literary effects of Burns, Scott, and Hume. It was awesome. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures. 

When we finished at the Writer’s Museum we wandered to the pub, where we found John in a very good mood as he had just acquired a new short sword. Mum had her last taste of haggis, dad made another foray into the world of meat pies, and then it was time to go. We hit the shops one last time, to ensure that we had left no blanket unturned in our quest for souvenirs. In the end, John and I both walked away with 100% highland wool blankets (Stuart for me & McKenzie for him), Mum got a wonderfully soft cashmere blanket, and dad got a white & black plaid cap. As we set off for the bus we ran into my friend Dr Andrew Simpson, of the University of Aberdeen. I confess that I found it more than a little amusing that I ran into the one Scottish friend I have on the streets of Edinburgh!

To finish off our time in Scotland we thought we would drive to the Firth of Forth. Finding a place to park proved a little difficult, as there seemed to be no clear direction to the water. Eventually we found a Tesco’s, and after buying some provisions for the evening meal were able to get directions to the water from one of the cashiers. The sun was just beginning to set as we strolled out along the dock, and I kept warm by putting my new blanket to good use. The wool really does keep out the chill! After a bit of a stroll we decided to head back to Falkirk, but on the way we noticed signs declaring “Blackness Castle”. Seeing another castle was too good an opportunity to pass up, so we took a detour and found ourselves in a beautiful setting.

The castle was perched above the sea, and the sun was still setting as we arrived, making for some beautiful pictures. The wind was just right. Although the castle was certainly more fortress than fairytale, it proved a beautiful walk and a fitting end to our Scottish adventure.