When we were planning the trip, my dad had only two requests: to visit his land (2 square feet) and to see the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo. They had seen it before, but he wanted to see it again. He had other suggestions, but those were the only things that were “We Shall.”
I’ll be honest, I was not expecting much. OK, I knew it would be nice and worth seeing, but, you know, watching military marching bands? Right.
I’m glad I went…
First, the setting is just marvelous. There is something about Edinburgh Castle, it seems almost to be part of the hill, not man made. I am sure Tolkien was thinking of it when he created Minas Tirith.
I have mentioned several times in these posts that this was a family trip. Part of this was a visit to places about the MacDonalds, since that is our history. So I guess I should be excused for thinking that we were going to visit Glencoe for the history, to go and visit the site of the infamous Massacre of Glencoe. I assumed that was what the visitor center was all about.
Imagine my surprise when on our first travel day, after driving through some of the most beautiful mountains I have seen in my life, and I have seen many, that this was Glencoe.
We drove through Glencoe a total of three times. We didn’t get a chance to stop until the last time through. We spent some time, a little over an hour, at the visitor center and another 45 minutes or so at a scenic pull off that was crowded with people looking at the mountains.
In my overview post I talked about my first trip to the British Islands and how I chose to visit quite a few ancient sites. Unfortunately, with so many people traveling and with such limited time and so many things to do and see, we only were able to fit one place in, Clava Cairns. But it is a great place to visit!
The Clava Cairns, aka the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava, are a complex of chamber tombs, circle cairn and kerb cairns that are in such good condition to give their name, “Clava Cairn”, to the type of cairn that is found around Inverness. There are actually several other features from the same time as part of the complex, including other cairns, but the main group of 2 chamber tombs and a circular cairn with the small kerb are the main attraction.
Castles rise up in our imaginations as relics of a mythical past, set places for fantasy tales full of Chivalry and Romance. Or at least this seems to be the way most Americans think of castles. Of course the reality is far less romantic. A real castle is a defensive structure, often used as a base for offense, that lorded over a brutal time. Either way, they are fascinating!
A lot of people think of Scotland as a land of castles, and we did see plenty, though our trip wasn’t centered on them. Occasionally we’d catch a glimpse of a ruined tower or a full castle and then back to the typical scenery, which was gorgeous. Of course most of the glimpses were around water, not up in the moors or mountains.
At the end of one of our first days of the Scotland adventure, I was talking to my brother and nephew about the landscape. One of us said, “I was thinking, perhaps I’m not attracted to this landscape because I love mountains so much, but I love mountains so much because of this landscape. It’s in my blood, in my genes.” We all nodded. Each of us had had that very thought, that the reason we are as we are is that our ancestors lived in this landscape until only 250 years ago, a blink in the 5000 years since agriculture made its way to these shores.
Could it be that those few drops of Highland blood in my veins still called me “home”?
Riding out of Edinburgh we crossed a lot of countryside full of golden grain fields. It was pretty. From the Stirling Castle we could see the northern hills, which were nice. But then, a bit past Callander (we didn’t stop on the way out, but did on the way back a week later), something changed. There were these beautiful hills surrounding a body of water, Loch Lubnaig.
OK, at this point the hills weren’t as impressive as those a ten minute drive from my New Hampshire home, and in 20 minutes I can have water views that are similar.
And yet there was something special here. Everyone was glued to the windows, oohing and aahhing.
And then there was another turn, and the mountains became a little rougher with few trees.
And I was home.
A little later we passed through Glencoe, and wow! And then to Fort William, with water and mountains, including Ben Nevis (sorry, no good pictures of this tallest of mountains).
And more coastal Highland driving to Mallaig. I was ready to move in!
Part of the appeal was how few and far between the signs of Man were (not including the road). And then some castles as rugged as the landscape.
Of course my ancestors would more likely live in something simpler than a castle…
Our visit to the Highland Folk Museum was great. I enjoyed seeing how my ancestors 250 or 300 years ago lived. It was not a life of luxury! But most life would be lived outside, not in the dark, cramped, smoke-filled buildings. Everything that needed light, all of the crafts, would need to be outside. Is that why I would much, much rather be outside than in?
Back when I was in my 20s I traveled with my parents and oldest nephew, who was around 12, to the British Isles. We hit England, Wales and (Republic) Ireland. My parents had been before, so I chose a lot of the sites that we visited. Most of the places I suggested were ancient sites, so we visited chamber tombs, long barrows, standing stones, stone circles, etc. Some were so little visited that we followed narrow cow paths… But it was fun.
That trip was the start of a tradition for my parents. They took all of their grandchildren, and later, great-grandchildren, on an overseas trip when they were 10 to 12.
And I had traveled overseas quite a few times in those years, but never to the British Isles.