Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celtic Britain travel journal part III

Celtic Britain TRAVEL JOURNAL--part 3 (Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, York)

Wednesday, June 28, 2001, late night, Edinburgh, Scotland!!!
We drove out of the Irish ferryboat and onto Scottish soil, port of Stranmaer, at around 7 p.m. We drove about three hours, and passed through Ayrshire ("Haste ye back," said the road signs at the village borders), Strathclyde, Midlothian, and whatever we're in now. Irregular fields of hay and barley, and the odd potato farm. Cattle, a palomino horse or two, sheep, a donkey. Views of the sea off to our left, with a sugarloaf mountain island out there. All beautiful, the whole way. The buildings don't seem as old as the Irish ones, though.
Since it's summer time and we're far north latitude, the sun goes down really late, after 10 p.m. We got to Edinburgh while there was still fairly bright twilight, after 10.
Oh, man, you can see the Edinburgh Castle across the street from our hotel on Princes Street. The tour mates were squealing with delight at our posh surroundings and address. Although our hotel faces the Royal Mile and the Walter Scott Memorial, etc., our room faces an alley and fire escape stairs!
After getting our bags into the room, six of us went out for a walk, and bought super-cheap paperback books at a nearby store which closed at midnight. Back at the hotel after midnight, I did laundry in the bathtub, and hung it on the heated towel bars to dry. I've fallen asleep multiple times trying to finish this entry.

Thursday, June 29, 2001, Edinburgh
Today was great all day, but I had my really special moments before noon.
Cobbled plaza at Edinburgh Castle, Firth of Forth
 After the hotel breakfast, we were taken to Holyrood Castle, which was unfortunately closed as of today, to prepare security for the Royal Family's visit on Sunday night. Holyrood was famous for its later occupants, Mary Queen of Scots, etc., but was started by David I, my ancestor, to memorialize his mother, St. Margaret, as the guest house for the nearby Holyrood Abbey, now in ruins. We drove through the medieval streets, up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. We bought admission for £7.50, took a 30-minute guided tour, and then at leisure, we toured the crown jewels and Stone of Scone ("skoon") exhibit. My ancestors sat on that stone to be consecrated or crowned king, from Kenneth MacAlpin in the 800s, to 1299, when my ancestor Edward I of England swiped it and carried it off to Westminster. Then every monarch since has sat above it. Just a sandstone rock, but it's seen a lot of royal arse. Oh, sorry, revered ancestral spirits.
Then I went to St. Margaret's Chapel, a barrel-vaulted little stone building, whitewashed inside, with small stained glass windows of St. Margaret and St. Columba (1800s). There were fresh flowers in the roped-off chancel. I could almost pray to the sainted ancestor, as millions have believed is right. As it is, I thanked God personally, with no mediator, for allowing me to visit this place I've wanted to see for 20 years. It was a moving experience, and I was able to block out, for a minute, all the other tourists.
Our bus took us away at 1 p.m., after the cannon was fired as a time keeper for the harbor. Walking from the hotel, I took 13 rolls of film for processing, got a sandwich in a department store café, took a narrated bus tour of Edinburgh, and shopped or browsed near the hotel. My feet are soooo bruised from walking the cobbles and the pavements. Ow, ow, ow. I wanted to shop in the touristy places in the Royal Mile, and see the mews and closes, but just couldn't. Too painful!
Our tour-mate Dolores has a single room on the seventh floor of the hotel, with a balcony that faces the whole west front of Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle is lit with floodlights, and there was a break in the clouds so you could see the half moon shining over the castle. Took a picture of that.

Friday, June 29, 2001, Edinburgh
What a long day. We had to be ready for the day and on the bus at 6:20 a.m. We drove about four hours northwest of Edinburgh to the west coast port of Oban. We were the last group to catch the ocean ferry to Craignure, Mull. Our bus drove off the ferry there, and we went another hour, the length of the island, to a passenger ferry at Fionnport, which took us a mile or two across the strait to Iona. While everyone else walked to the abbey, I rented a bike and got up there that way. With my knees to my chest, I chugged up the path. It was my first time on a real bike (not the stationary kind) in some years. Pretty fun! I parked it on the shoulder outside the several churches, and prayed at the altars.
I stopped first at a ruined stone church, and saw some ancient unmarked grave stones that might have been monks, priests, or my MacAlpin ancestors (or not), then rode along the blacktop path to the newer church down the road. I looked all over the churches and graveyard for the ancient kings of Scotland said to be buried there. There were some uncarved or eroded tombs that looked ancient, but no modern plaque to identify.
 The day, which had been drizzly on the drive and first ferry trip, cleared up miraculously while we were on Iona. Two hours later, after unmitigated gorgeosity (breeze, puffy clouds, warm and bright sun) just when it was time to head back, a few drops from a squall started hitting, but not really raining. It was exhilarating to ride the bike lickety-split downhill, into the teeth of the wind! Wheeeee.
I stayed out on the ferry deck again, and watched a castle, a lighthouse, and sailboats pass my view. Donna and a cute kid (with an even cuter father) were feeding shortbread to a seagull as he floated in the boat's slipstream.
We reversed the ferries and bus rides, along the same roads to Edinburgh, and were back by 9:30. I walked to Hard Rock Café and had soup, came back here, and then Michelle and Jimmie and I went to an Internet shop three blocks away, to do two hours of e-mail and web surfing. In case you're keeping track, it's now 2 a.m. Saturday.
My impressions now: Everything is as green, or greener than, the Emerald Isle. On the morning drive, it was raining in places and misty drizzle in others. As we drove through Perth and Crieff, and into the highlands, we saw much heavier runoff than we could account for by rain. Must have been pouring at the mountain tops! We saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of considerable brooks and waterfalls. They'd just appear at the top of the crag, and within a few feet, were strong enough to be seen for miles. Inevitably, the creeks and waterfalls became burns and flowed into the lochs. A couple of really large and beautiful ones were Lochearn and Lochawe. Near the latter, at about the mid-journey point (if you count the long drive on Mull Island) was the mountain, Ben Cruachan. My map says 1100 feet (must be meters); the guidebooks say 3600+. Coming from the mountainous US southwest, I wasn't expecting it to look like much. But I was impressed! It's all basalt covered in greenery, with shreds of mist for a crown, and waterfalls for a necklace. Puffs embroidered on its finery were thousands of sheep and lambs.
The first ferry ride, we barely drove on, and the boat took off. It was a bit rainy at first, but soon it was just damp and cold. Didn't keep me off the decks!
The island of Mull was 40 minutes off the mainland, and looked similar. This time, we had only a single lane, and we had to pull over for oncoming cars. The sheep and lambs walked through downed fences and grazed or ruminated on the shoulder or even on the road. We saw highland cattle, which look like a devolved, retrograde breed. They're a pretty red color, with horns, and their hair is all shaggy, with bangs on their foreheads. Really interesting! Yak-ish. At the end of Mull is a broken-off island with two volcanic humps, Iona.
As the legend goes, St. Columcille/Columba came to this wild place, maybe on a day like today, with 12 disciples, to found a monastery. When the guys decided this was too ascetic, treeless and rocky, and suggested going home, the future saint told them to burn the ships. The conquistador Cortez in 1519 did the same thing, and I used to think: what a waste of good transport, and how cruel. But the Steven Curtis Chapman song analogizes it to the Christian experience: we've come too far to turn back now, our goal is still in front of us, Satan may block our paths, but we still have a victorious leader, Jesus. 

Saturday, June 30, 2001, Edinburgh
It was so sweet to sleep 'til almost 9 a.m. The bus took us to the Adventist church in the Royal Mile, where our group took over the service. I played Brother James' Air for offertory (it is Scottish!), and O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go for a piano solo. To precede the solo, I explained that the tune is called St. Margaret, and here we were a few blocks from St. Margaret's memorial chapel at Edinburgh Castle. I said I'd play to God's glory, and to my ancestress' memory. Kit, Robert, Donna, Nancy, Dorothy, and John also contributed heavily to the service. There was a three year-old girl there who was so beautiful I could barely keep my eyes off her. She belonged to the organist, Audrey. After the service, Audrey and granddaughter took me up to the balcony to let me play the old pipe organ. The keys were stiff and uneven to the touch, and the pedals seemed spaced slightly different than modern ones. The "presets" were three sets of levers you pushed with your foot, which unstopped certain voices. When Audrey played the prelude, though, it was beautiful, so she's found a way to overcome, maybe even exploit, the handicaps of the old instrument.
The church members served a delicious lunch in their basement. The soup was pea and mint! I'm not sure if I would choose that one again, but it was delicious for the once. I sat with some Scottish ladies for lunch, and we chatted about their grown children and grandchildren. At 2:30, we were taken back to our hotel, as our Scottish "sistern" and brethren waved from the front steps of the church.
In the afternoon, I walked all the way to, and on, the Royal Mile. I poked my head in the closes and listened to a piper. Tried to get into St. Giles' Cathedral, but it was closed. I had a pint milk carton to discard, but could find no trash, so I talked to a policeman. "Your city is really beautiful and clean, but I don't understand how that's possible when there are no rubbish bins for blocks around!" He smilingly responded that today was the Opening of Parliament, and the Queen was coming tomorrow night… "Ah! No trash cans for security reasons," I said, and he nodded.
I was at the entrance to the Castle by about 5:30, but took a taxi back to the hotel because I was meeting Dorothy to taxi up to the bagpipe concert. However, she'd discovered there was no seating available, and we'd have to stand for a couple hours, so she decided to miss the concert. Michelle and James, those young whippersnappers who had walked as much as I had and seemed just as exhausted, taxied with me instead.
The concert started at 8:00, and we were there at 7 to get a good place. A security guard saw me leaning on my cane, and brought me his chair from the guard shack! So I got to sit, which was a blessing. (I'd never have made it back to the hotel later, otherwise.) We heard the rehearsals behind the castle walls, the pipes and the military band. Even though a bit muted by the thick stone walls and distance, it was beautiful. When they emerged from the gate and crossed the bridge, you'd get goosebumps even if there wasn't an extremely frigid wind off the Firth of Forth/North Sea. (And there was.) What is it about bagpipes?
Instead of taking a taxi back, I strolled with Robert and Janet back down the mountain with its curving canyons of old buildings. We stopped for supper in a café. I had broccoli/asparagus soup. It tasted great, but it was pureed or strained, so no chunks. Then we continued our long walk back to the hotel.
After a long, hot foot soaking in the tub, bedtime.

Sunday, July 1, 2001, 11:30 a.m., Holy Island, Lindisfarne, England
What a bucolic spot. I'm sitting on a grassy bank at the harbor. To my right are two boats, keels up, with double doors at this end. Either they're boat houses or sheds for equipment. Three fishermen just walked by, and in their Yorkshire or Northumbrian accents, said, "It was six feet long." The guys chuckled, and one said on a gust of wind, "Yeah, right, and 150 pounds for sure." Fish stories.
There's a blond retriever running around with a big doggie smile, and he met up with two friendly beagles who bayed happily at him and wagged tails all around. There are sheep in a pasture behind me. They were grazing quietly, but suddenly started doing the baa-thing and moving en masse. There are some pretty sea birds who spotted my lunch bag and are squawking angrily at me. One flies over, and you see an expectancy of chips or bread crusts in his beady eyes. Sorry. I have crackers, but I'm not sharing!
We drove south from Edinburgh this morning, along the coast route, with the North Sea on our left. What pretty country. Fields with red poppies, barley, or grazing sheep. Hilltop farmsteads. I was sitting in the jumpseat, as I've often done on this trip, snapping pictures out the front and left windows. We stopped at the Scotland/England border to take photos, but by then it was too late to see if we'd passed over Hadrian's Wall, because it was behind us. I never saw a sign for it, so maybe it doesn't reach the North Sea coast. Saw the sign for Thirsk, James Herriot's headquarters, and expected to see steep hills and deep valleys like the All Creatures movie and TV show. However, it was just a gently rolling landscape.
Later: Here in Lindisfarne, I bought a piece of fish (no chips) from a vendor in a roach coach. This guy could have been a Herriot character if he' been born 70 years ago! I asked where he was from, and he answered mostly monosyllabically, Yorkshire. Had he always lived around here? Yes. Do you have tartar sauce? No. Brown sauce. (Tasted like barbecue plus ranch.) What kind of fish is in the filet? (Cod? Perch? Whitefish?) He opened the freezer and brought out an 8 x 12" box. "This kind," he said, and returned it to the freezer. So, the UK version of Gorton's or Mrs. Paul's. (Unless they drop a net and the boxes float up from the deep.) Oh, well, it was crispy and delicious. Best I've had in years. I took my paper plate of fish up the road to the little village, munching all the way.
 Found the museum to look at the Lindisfarne Gospels on a computer (because the real thing is in the British Library in London), but decided to buy the CD rather than take time to look at it on their computer. Walked on to the priory, and paid admission to the museum and ruins. The apse was a semi-circle in which St. Cuthbert was probably buried at one time. I sat for awhile in the chancel, built in a semi-circle, on a block of stone, enjoying the perfect day: not too hot or cold, fluffy cumulus clouds in a pure blue sky, birds fluttering between the arches of the crossing, and the sun spotlighting me from a gothic stone arch. A golden moment. I was sitting at the place where the high altar had been for 700 years, and bare stone had been for another 600 years since. Then I heard God speak to my heart: "Present yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship." This moment was very powerful for me, there in that quiet and holy place. God spoke. I was a living sacrifice on the stone altar of a holy place.
The puffy clouds scudded by peacefully, but it was nearly time to go. Back through the museum and gift shop, I found Lisa looking for gifts for Dorothy and John, in appreciation from the group. She'd picked out an assortment, and asked my opinion for the final decision. I thought John would like the Chi-Ro illumination because of the Greek letters that begin Christ's name. Dorothy had told me months before that her house, like mine, is all in blue and white, so I thought the blue Celtic-design plate would be a nice choice for her. Apparently, Dorothy and John had already been in this shop, and had salivated after the very things that we decided upon, but we didn't know that until later!
When the bus got underway at 2:30 p.m., the causeway was still wet, and the tidal flats still held a lot of water. We just got to the island in the nick of time this morning, and then we had three and a half hours to relax before we could leave. Time and tides wait for no one. How profound. Wish I'd made that up. I'd have been as famous as the guy who really did make it up. Born too late, I was. Oh, yeah, and in a land-locked desert city. So I doubt I would have thought of it anyway. 

Durham and Yorkshire — About an hour or more down the road, we hit Durham. The coach wasn't allowed in the medieval, twisty streets, and had to park at the bottom of the very considerable hill. We started walking: up a hill, up stairs, up a small street, across a square, up a curvy street, up and up, and finally, there was the gigantic cathedral. Just massive. We got a tour from a soft-spoken woman who showed us the tomb of St. Cuthbert, the nine chapels or altars, took us into the chancel, and explained about the Caen limestone in the Neville Screen. HUH????
Neville, you say? I knew the Lords Raby (Nevilles) were buried at important sites around Northumberland and Yorkshire, and I remember there were several Ralph Nevilles, Lord Raby. I told our docent/steward that I was descended from Nevilles and Percys and Ros, etc., and she got very interested that this American chick knew the ancient names and places. She's a medievalist, and lived in Alnwick Castle one summer, she said. That's a Percy place, and some are buried near there. (We'd passed the turnoff in our bus, and I only got a picture of the Alnwick sign.) The docent said that there were two Neville tombs in the cathedral, and then showed them to me while the rest of the group went with the guide. Photography is prohibited, and there were no postcards or guidebooks with pictures of the tombs. I asked if I could make a donation as I did at St. David's in Wales, but apparently, that too is out of the question. The docent whispered that she could just disappear and I could snap the picture, and if the verger came around, she could appear to scold me. So I got my shot and no one noticed anyway. Yea! I did buy postcards of the chancel and the Neville Screen, though.
We then hiked back downhill, over cobbled streets. Those things kill my feet. I can see how they'd be good traction in rain or snow, though. Janet and Robert had bought McDonald's ice cream sundaes for the whole busload. Really hit the spot. How did they haul 23 cups of ice cream all the way to the bus? 

11 p.m., York, Yorkshire, England — Wow. Ancient city walls. York Minster. Funny streets like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Cobbles, bricks, stone buildings and sidewalks. Our hotel room looks right out at the north city wall. We had the group dinner tonight, and presented the gifts to Dorothy and John, who were thrilled with the choices. The hotel restaurant served this great soup, and I asked if I could just have another serving of soup instead of the entrée. They looked at me strangely, but said okay. Crazy American, only eating the potato/leek soup.
Even though sore and tired from all the walking already today, I convinced Michelle and James to go walking into the old city, only a block away through the Monkbar Gate. We saw the east face of the Minster, the largest medieval building in the UK, then we walked down a few streets looking for a convenience market. Nothing but pubs after 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. Finally found a roach coach with bottled spring water. Then we turned to come back, and we'd gone really far! Maybe a mile each way. And we were tired to begin with. Now I ache. Probably will tomorrow, too. I just BET I'll find more graves or mentions. My families ruled York for hundreds of years.
All the blue blood in my veins is throbbing in my feet and knees and hips. Must soak and medicate! 

Read on to Celtic Britain part 4


If you enjoy life sketches, anecdotes, and historical details like these, you can find them in the book Effigy Hunter, by Christy K Robinson. It's available in print from CreateSpace, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon

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