Mary Mills Kennedy
While on my vacation to Scotland I had the
privilege of meeting Alastair and Ranald McIntyre (no relation that either
will admit), and while discussing what I was so impressed with during my
holiday, they encouraged me to write an account of my adventure. So, here
it is, my adventure and my account. I hope you enjoy it.
Day 1 - Saturday
It’s Saturday and we finally arrive at
Glasgow’s airport around 11:00 a.m. The airport itself seems deserted to
me, but then again, I’m used to Dallas/Ft.Worth’s airport where 2600
flights a day go in and out. I have brought along my cousin whom I haven’t
spent any time to speak of, since we were children. Although I enjoyed the
company, I also feel that I would have enjoyed much more of my holiday
alone. Not that we didn’t get along. We were just different. She’s a
smoker, I am not. She’s a drinker, I am not. I’m a walker – a fast
walker – and she is not. All in all it went fine. But most of my account
will be about my perspective, not ours.
We finally get our luggage and the rental
car and make our way outside. I nervously get behind the wheel and get a
feel for driving in the parking lot. This is not as easy as it looks.
My first lesson in Scottish culture is that
Scot’s do not give the type of directions that Americans are used to.
Every distance is judged by the number of traffic lights, round-abouts,
and t-turns or 1:00 turns or 3:00 turns. I’m used to specific street
names and distances. But not here. In fact, I quickly learned why they don’t
give street names – they are nearly impossible to locate in the city. On
the main thoroughfares – or "high speed dual carriageways" –
directions and signs are plentiful and seem relatively clear.
After 2 hours and 14 minutes I finally find
my way to the B&B in Edinburgh. Mind you, it’s really only about a
50-minute drive from Glasgow, but my way took me a lot longer. My first
four days were spent at Highfield
Guest House on Mayfield Road. I highly
recommend it. The rooms are large, clean, and reasonable. John and
Christine Watkins make you feel right at home and the breakfast is
wonderful – made to order.
We no sooner put our bags in the rooms than
my cousin announced she needed a nap. A nap! I’ve waited 38 years to
make it to Scotland and she wanted to nap! I allowed her a nap and I took
off on foot to explore the neighborhood. Two things I learned quickly. A
sign that says "Scotland’s Oldest Book Makers," does not
literally mean the making of books – it means placing bets. And, you
gotta love a place where you only have to walk three blocks either way and
find a pub with friendly folk in it. Leslie’s Pub is a neighborhood pub
that caters mostly to the above 50 crowd of locals but had a few younger
people in it. The atmosphere and the people made it very special to me. It
would be the first of three visits to the pub. I quickly made friends with
Howard "Bub" the bartender and his brother-in-law, Gavin.
A few hours later I returned to the room,
woke my cousin, gathered her up and we returned to the pub to enjoy in
some local conversation and nightlife. It was a wonderful time and I have
never been made to feel so welcome so quickly in my life. While my cousin
couldn’t get used to room temperature beer, I enjoyed the different
varieties of cider (no hard stuff for me).
Day 2 - Sunday
By Sunday morning I was ready to go. I had
waited all my life to explore this city and today I would explore it top
to bottom. I bought an all day ticket on the bus line and made my way to
Lawn Market. From there I made my way across the bridge and up the hill to
Nelson’s monument and park. From this site I could view the whole city
and waterway. It was unbelievable! On my return walk, I stumbled across a
cemetery that I couldn’t resist. On walking through I recognized one of
the statues. Odd, I thought, that Abraham Lincoln should have found his
way into this ancient city. But not so odd. The monument was erected as a
memorial to the Scots who fought in the American Civil War.
I quickly walked back down the street and
over the bridge toward Edinburgh castle. The streets here are all up hill,
and my cousin was having extreme difficulty to keep up with me. But I
would not be slowed in my adventure. It started to rain a bit, but even
that didn’t dampen my spirits. The castle was all that I hoped for and
more. I spent about 2 ½ hours walking through and even that didn’t seem
enough time. Upon leaving I visited the woolen mill and of course the
whiskey center where I picked up more than a few good souvenirs – Sandy
and Doug would be proud of me.
The next hike was all down hill, but I
stopped often along the way. I was headed toward Holyrood. It was
magnificent! When I left and due to Sandra’s sore feet, waved down a
taxi, I thought to myself, "I wonder if these people know how lucky
they are to live here?"
Day 3 - Monday
Today would be the biggest adventure and
test of my driving abilities yet. We were scheduled to meet Alastair and
the gang at the Leapark Hotel for drinks in Grangemouth later that
evening, but in the mean time, we were headed to St. Andrew’s. I was
prepared for the golf course along the way, but not the absolutely
spectacular little towns, scenery, hills and beauty along the way. The day
was crystal clear; the sky’s an unbelievable blue, and the breeze cool
and crisp. St. Andrew’s Golf Club was all I expected, however, my real
surprise was in the Abbey and graveyard. As I made my way to the top of
the tower to have a clear view of the city and bay area, I found myself
asking the same question, "I wonder if these people realize how lucky
they are to live here?"
The drive back was even more than we had
bargained for. We stumbled, almost literally, upon the Wallace Monument.
The huge site was visible from about 10 miles off the road and I just had
to know what it was. I didn’t realize what it was until we were nearly
on top of it. From the monument I was able to capture one of the most
spectacular sunsets I had ever seen – looking out over Bannockburn, it
slowly rested behind the mountain and left the valley in a sea of orange
and yellow and brown, until finally it was darker than I had ever imagined
night could be. I felt at peace. I felt calm. I felt worry free for the
first time in many months. I felt at home.
We wound our way back toward Stirling and
caught some photos of Stirling Castle late that evening. The town of
Stirling was nearly as impressive as the castle. But we would see that
The trip to Grangemouth was not as
difficult as we had expected. In fact, I was finally getting the hang of
this driving thing – sort of.
Sandra and I had a wonderful dinner at the
hotel and after dinner I walked up the street to collect my new friend
Alastair. It was wonderful to finally meet face-to-face. It was grand to
sit and talk and discuss what we had seen. In fact, it was Alastair who
asked me to write this. I said to him the words that had drifted in and
out of mind several times, "I wonder if you know how lucky you are to
live here?" I said, "It must be amazing to turn any corner and
be faced with your history, your parent’s history, your country’s
history back 1000 years. I cannot fathom what that would be like." He
commented as I’m sure I would have had someone commented on the beauty
of the Grand Canyon, "I never really thought about it."
As human beings we often take for granted
the simplest things. But to me, this was no simple thing.
We had a wonderful evening with Alastair
and Ranald that had to end too soon. Besides taking a wrong turn to get
back to the B&B – we crossed the bridge again not realizing how far
west we had come making it unnecessary to do so – we arrived home by
Day 4 - Tuesday
We woke early – or I should say I did –
I forgot to mention Sandra doesn’t like to get up early either – and
began our visit back toward Stirling. Along the way, out of the corner of
my eye I spotted a beautiful structure across from a lake along the
carriageway. I immediately pulled over and took a picture fearing I wouldn’t
find it again.
Stirling Castle was magnificent in all its
steeped history and glory and again we were blessed with a relatively dry
and clear day. The one thing that bothered me was that they seemed to be
attempting to fully "restore" the castle, so much of it, in my
opinion, was not authentic or conducive to the period. It was amazing
nonetheless. From there we made our way to Linlithgow. Our B&B owner
had told us to pass it up, but on the advice of a famous Campbell I know,
I wanted to see it.
When we pulled up to Linlithgow and got out
of the car, I realized that it had been the structure that had struck me
from across the roadway. Although it has no roof and it basically is just
a shell of the castle left, the walls, floors, and fireplaces are for the
most part in tact. It, by far, was my favorite stop. It made me feel as
though I were literally walking through the pages of history. Although it
was very cold inside the structure, I took my gloves off and ran my hands
along the walls, stairs, and floors. I wanted to feel what 400-year-old
stone felt like. I wanted to know if it would make me feel different. It
did. At every turn, at every stair, I felt as though I were being followed
or watched. It was not fantasy or imagination; it was a true feeling of
history overpowering me. At the top of the turreted tower, I found myself
looking across the lake and saying, "I wonder if these people know
they are the luckiest people in the world?"
We closed Leslie’s down that night. I
left with a Stewart Tartan Scarf given to me by my friend Tom, with whom I
made a joke and in the process a respected friend. It was a wonderful
evening and leaving would be harder than I thought.
Day 5 – Wednesday
Not wanting a repeat of some of my driving
mishaps, I purchased a map for our long journey to Inverness. Nothing I
say here, nothing I print, nothing I show you will describe the beauty of
this ride – there and back. I had not expected so much greenery, so much
forest, so much water, and so many mountains. I had not expected the
beautiful little towns, the kind people, the thousands of sheep! I was
awed at every turn and admittedly poked my way through.
Before heading to our destination spot for
the evening – Castle Stuart – we took a side trip to Culloden. As we
pulled into the centers parking lot, the wind picked up and the clouds
came in. It was bitterly cold and windy. In retrospect, it made it more
memorable for me. I bundled up and walked the paths through the park. At
each clan stone, signifying the clans that fought, I touched them hoping
to feel some of what they had felt. When I reached the lookout station,
viewing the battlefield area, the wind was harder than before. But other
than the whistling of the wind, it was eerily, deathly silent. I was cold,
but not from the weather. I could not help but weep at what must have been
horror on this moor. I felt no premonitions, or no "sightings"
of past happenings. But I did recognize the historical significance of
what I was seeing. I recognized that my Murray relatives had a hand on
this moor and their efforts had not been totally in vane.
Stuart Castle was everything I expected and
more. It’s history of haunted happenings was easy to believe and more
easy to feel. We were the only guests of the castle this night and not
surprisingly, we didn’t sleep well. But the morning brought sunshine and
crisp air and we were happy to make our way back toward Glasgow.
Day 6 – Thursday
I could not believe that it was already
Thursday. Two more days and I would have to leave this place. I was going
to savor every moment. The view going to Inverness had taken my breath
away. The view returning gave my breath back to me. It was far more
beautiful and peaceful than I had expected and it took me a while to
concentrate on both the road and the view. Our first stop was the Loch
Ness museum. A must, whether you’re 5 or 50. From there it was on to
Castle Urquhart. Sandra couldn’t make the hill down, but that didn’t
stop me. Once again I found myself making my way through ruins of walls,
stairs, and cellars and my heartbeat faster every time I touched a stone.
I stopped on the outlook over Loch Ness and wept again. I wept more
because I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in this place, and I
couldn’t believe I would actually have to leave this place. On my way
back up the hill a few construction workers, working on a new visitor’s
center (which by the way will destroy much of this magnificent view)
decided to be friendly with me. They asked where I was from, did I enjoy
my visit, where was I staying, would I have drinks with them tonight –
the usual questions. I love the friendly people here. (lol)
The remainder of the drive was mountains,
water, waterfalls, sheep, bridges, beautiful little hamlets, kind people,
more mountains, more water, more bridges, lots more sheep, many more
beautiful little hamlets. How could you ever get tired of this?
Glasgow was – well Glasgow. It reminded
me of New Jersey. Take that as you will.
I do not recommend Myfarrclan House to
anyone staying in that area. The service was poor, the owner was loud and
too talkative, and there was not enough privacy for the guests. Other than
that, I was glad to still be there.
Day 7 – Friday
Not sure where to go on our last day, I
made a bold decision to head east again. Our mission was Dirleton Castle
and Glenkinchie Whisky Distillery. Although different in terrain, this
drive was no less magnificent than the mountains. Driving along the
coastal waters was one of the most peaceful experiences of my life.
Dirleton was another ruin, but the grounds and gardens are impeccable and
help you to imagine its’ once grand state. I enjoyed this one for a long
time. I climbed to the top of the tower and just sat looking out over the
water. I sat for longer than I had planned, but it was worth it. Every
color, every image, every stone, every whisper of the wind is etched in my
memory – permanently.
The distillery was interesting – I’m
glad I stopped – but again the countryside was what made the trip
worthwhile. Our last stop was the Edinburgh Crystal Center. A real must
for souvenirs and take homes. I spent a nice piece of change there – and
every last pence was worth it!
Day 8 – Saturday
We were leaving. I was so sad I couldn’t
talk. I felt as though I couldn’t breath. And as our plane took off from
Glasgow I looked out over the sleeping city and asked my question again,
"I wonder if they know they are the luckiest people on earth?"
For 10 ½ hours I ran through my mind of
ways to get back. How could I find a job? Where would I live? Question
after question. In the end, I couldn’t answer my questions.
What I know is this – Scotland was
everything I had expected and more. In all my life, I have never felt more
at home, more at peace, in any place before. Having moved around a great
deal as a child, and then again as an adult, I didn’t have a sense of
"home" anywhere. Yet, I visited this strange land for merely 7
days – one week’s time – and left with that very feeling. I felt
such a connection there it was unbelievable. No words were spoken to
anyone that I was a distant relative. In fact, I didn’t mention
genealogy to anyone. I didn’t seek out gravesites or old homes of my
ancestors. Rather I felt I understood why they had hated to leave their
land and why they had always wanted to return.
I will not forget Leslie’s Pub or
Edinburgh. I will not forget Stirling, Bannockburn, Alloa, Clackmannan, or
Kincardine. I will not forget Musselburgh, or Dalkeith, or Penicuik. I
will not forget in this lifetime, Killiecrankie, Dalwhinnie, Kingussie or
Aviemore. I will never forget Inverness – for that is where I felt most
at home. I will always remember Invermariston, Fort Augustus, Invergarry,
and Fort William. And I will most assuredly never forget Culloden or
I will not forget any of the little towns,
any of the beautiful sites, or any of the amazing people. And if my memory
begins to fail me, I need only bring out my highlighted maps and 211
photos and sit in my chair and weep at the beauty and the magnificence
that is Scotland.
I hope these people realize that they are
the luckiest people in the world.
Mary Mills Kennedy
Cost of my trip
In booking my trip to Scotland I relied on the every faithful Internet and
of course my experience with travels. I travel a great deal for
work, so I figured I could manage this. My airline ticket would have
cost me $861.00, but I had enough air miles to obtain it for free. I
use American Airlines most frequently since DFW is an American hub.
My flight from DFW to London and back was American, however, my flights
from London to Glasgow and back were British Airways. All in all, it
worked out very well.
I use a number of car rental agency's when
I travel and for this occasion I chose Avis. My rental itself was
$194.00 total for the week. My advice is to check with your own
insurance company to see if you need to carry any additional insurance.
The hotels were really a stab in the dark.
I searched the internet tirelessly until I found what I thought I wanted.
I was extremely satisfied with Highfield House in Edinburgh and with
Stuart Castle in Inverness. I was not happy with Myfarrclan in
Paisley. I thought the room was priced too high for what was
received and the owners were overly talkative, rather rude, and could be
heard fussing at their children late at night while we attempted to sleep.
That is the down side to booking your own travel and not knowing exactly
what you're getting.
All in all, things turned out very well.
Total cost for me, with souvenirs, hotel, food, car, gas, and extras was
approximately $700. However, keep in mind my airline ticket did not cost
me anything. But trust me in this, it will be the best $700 you have
spent in your whole life!"