Our final full day in Scotland landed on a Sunday. Perfect. We woke up and my daughter-in-law served up her daily cup of coffee and we prepared for the day.
This day was packed with sites and emotions. I hate saying goodbye to my kids. I was relieved and thankful to have been a part of their daily life in a foreign land. I knew they were safe and extremely happy. But I was holding back tears all day. I miss them. And I fell in love with Scotland, as I knew I would.
This morning we attended a traditional Anglican Church. I admit that it has been a while since I worshipped in this way. A flood of memories of my very young Catholic days came back to me. I confess that I looked around several times for nuns. I had a fear of them as a child. Go ahead and laugh at me, I’m laughing. It was totally irrational. I almost decided not to partake of communion due to my irrational fears from childhood. Silly. I went forward and followed my son and daughter as what to do. Again, I confess that the moment I should have been reflecting on Jesus and what He did for me on the cross, I was focused on the “bread” and how it wasn’t the kind that instantly melted in your mouth but rather the kind from my childhood that sticks to the roof of your mouth and the tiny bit of wine the priest offered me didn’t help to unstick it. I had thoughts of grabbing his arm and taking a larger chug. Once back in my seat I was able to be thankful and hold back the laughter of how silly I was. I did enjoy the service.
From there we sent our daughter on ahead to purchase pasties for lunch. We met up with her on The Royal Mile and sat on a bench and partook of their deliciousness.
Onward we trudged to the Edinburgh Castle. I was so excited to go there because the real Stone of Destiny was on display there.
This castle is intact and functioning. Soldiers live there and it is like a village within the walls. The view is spectacular and overlooks the city and the Firth of Forth. Enjoy these pics…
Queen Margaret, of Scotland, later St. Margaret, was a woman of prayer and benevolence. Her son built her a chapel within the castle walls…….
We finally did see The Stone of Destiny. It was in a room, guarded, enclosed within glass and no pictures could be taken. But I saw it and it was wonderful!
Time for TEA!
And on our way….
My advice to all…. visit Scotland or whatever land you dream about. It is worth the money and the emotion and it is pure joy.
As we alighted the train an excitement met me, face-to-face. I love beach towns. The more quaint, the better. As we walked down the hill, yes, another hill, lovely cottages and homes greeted us. Narrow street and sidewalks beckoned to me to keep going, the best is yet to come.
We entered the town center and I drank in the small businesses that wore the garments of charm. The sidewalk and street became even more narrow as we walked on
We turned left and could see the Firth of Forth ahead of us, calling my name. The colored homes, all stuck together as if one, put a smile in my heart.
Then at last…. the beach! The tide was out and the view was magnificent. Oh how I love to walk near water. The wind was blowing hard and the air was so delicious to breathe in and drink of.
We enjoyed a lunch in a local pub – fish and chips for me…..
I was in heaven. What a wonderful time at the beach! The big rock off in the distance is home to Puffins, aka Tommie Noddies, in the warmer months.
The song of the sea was singing to me that day. I would pack up and move to this great town if I could. This was a highlight to my trip to Scotland. I am smiling as I type these words. I hope you can feel my delight as I did. And, if you find yourself in Scotland, you must go to North Berwick. Cheers!
Last year my husband and I came across a movie to stream called “Stone of Destiny“.
We were pleasantly surprised. Not only did it star Charlie Cox – aka: Dare Devil, but the plot was based on the true story of Scotland’s Stone of Sconeand a few university students who actually stole it from England and brought it back to Scotland.
As soon as we found out we were taking a trip to Scotland to visit our kids, my son told us to think of places and things we want to see.
I asked if he knew where the Stone of Destiny was? He, being a history major, knew exactly where it was and it would be easy to see.
So on our journey we went. In my previous posts on MY Scottish Journey, I talked about some of the challenging aspects. All the walking up and down hills and on hard cobblestone surfaces. A bit painful by the time we fell into our bed at night but so worth it.
I wanted to suck all I possibly could from my Scottish heritage and connection to this amazing land. One day, just before Christmas, we set off by train into The Highlands. Be still my heart. The beauty, even in the dead of winter, is surreal. How one small bit of land in this vast world can be so diverse is mind boggling. Or is it? I come from the USA where the difference in terrain goes from frozen tundra to wide vast prairies to rocky shores and sandy beaches on two different oceans and tropical places all along the southern border! But SCOTLAND has more magic, at least to me. A fascination that draws you deep inside of its very heart. And faeries! Don’t forget the fairies. 😉
Here are some images from our train ride into The Highlands taken through the train windows..
Our destination was Fort William. I beautiful and quaint town set into the hills and water – Loch Linnhe, one of Scotland’s longest sea lochs. One of my goals was to walk on beaches. Any kind of beach was wonderful to me. In Fort William there is a beach and that day the tide happened to be out. My son and I set off onto the wet stones that covered the bottom of the inlet along with seaweed. It was a bit slippery but nothing stops me from walking on a beach.
Camera in hand and a smile on my face I walked and snapped images and looked for some wee treasure to take home with me. And there it was. Right before me in the wetness of low tide, MY personal Destiny Stone.
I bent over to pick it up after taking a photo. It was so slippery and I was layered with warm clothing, I just couldn’t get it. I started laughing. My son came over and asked if I needed help. YES! It’s my stone of destiny! He was quite surprised at that “C” on that stone for his mom. He picked it up and I was thrilled. I could go home a happy woman. My gift from Scotland.
Here is a glimpse of Fort William…
After enjoying Fort William and our stay in an Air B&B we boarded a bus the next day and went to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. What an enjoyable and beautiful place. I did look for Nessie but she was no where to be seen that day.
From here we bused up to the city of Inverness. Oh Inverness, how I fell in love with you. I promise to spend more time with you in the future. The locals have thick Scottish accents and I love it, even though you have to listen very carefully to understand them. And unicorns…….
From Inverness we hopped onto and train as the sun was setting and ended our trip back in Edinburgh the day before Christmas Eve. A very satisfying and beautiful journey.
Everybody loves food. I do confess that food is not on the top of my list when I travel. I just want sustenance in order to do and see all I can.
I have to say that I did enjoy eating in Scotland. Since we stayed with family, some of our meals were fixed at home or packed up and brought with us. I was delighted. The home cooked meals consisted of leftover Christmas turkey turned into meat pie with puff pastry for the topping. YUM.
We had creamy porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast some mornings. Toast made from the incredible hard crusty loaves that are found unwrapped in grocery stores. Oh the bread is to die for.
Lunches were salami, pepperoni, cheese and rocket sandwiches. Rocket is what we call arugula. There is a description on the bag of its peppery flavor. My husband only ate it once because he swore it had too much peppery flavor for his liking. My son and I just looked at each other before we both insisted it was exactly like the US arugula and that the advertising worked into his head. Anyway, all those ingredients set inside a soft Scottish bun and maybe even a smidgeon of brown sauce or ….. Scottish bun with brown sauce and bacon! Yes, please.
Dinners at home, made by my son, also consisted of curried rice and smoked salmon. And take away gyros or kabobs as they like to call them. So savory and delicious.
Not to mention the shortbread and ginger nut biscuits (cookies). And did I mention puffpastry? It is in abundance in the UK and so much cheaper than in the States! Good grief.
Now let’s talk scones. I’m not a fan of dried or candied fruit. I actually gag at most raisins. I can tolerate raisins in oatmeal cookies or granola but cannot stand them plumped up and cooked.
Anyway, it is hard to find scones in Scotland with zero raisins, currants or peel of some sort. But they are cut up very small so I bucked up and ate them. Of course the fact that they bring you a large bowl of fresh, real whipped cream and a bowl of jam to slather all over them really helped. A lot.
Now, about hose raisins. My son gave me the heads up before flying out there. He warned me several times about raisins being in many things. Like Plum pudding – raisins galore. So when they insisted we try Christmas Pudding, we were fair warned. And I already knew that what those UK people call pudding is not what we call pudding. Sometimes I think we left the UK and came to America to be free from puds and raisins!
Anyway, I could not do the Christmas Pudding. It smelled great. It looked great. But I just couldn’t. I tried to eat the “cake” part around the raisins but that proved impossible. I have to say the brandy cream poured all over it was good and warm.
So not to go on and on with my words…. Let me give you a gallery of great foods…. Enjoy!
But last of all I want to show you the Pasties we ate on our last day in Edinburgh. Those who watch the Great British Baking Show will know the term “Pasty” – well they are just as you would imagine! Deliciously wonderful! I am a fulfilled woman. Pastry filled with a delicious beef stew, of sorts. Wow.
I’m pretty sure group tours are a great way to see and learn about your trip. Our family, however, have never taken a group tour or preplanned tour (The Great Wall of China was with a group but no one spoke english so it was just a magnificent guided walk). We love to get into the flow of everyday life among the people who live there.
Our son and his wife have a lovely flat. When you stand in front of the building, and look to the end of the street, you have lovely view of Arthur’s Seat. It’s a hill that pops up out of no where. A lovely back drop to streets lined with what we, from the US, may call brownstones or apartment buildings.
I have to say that I was impressed with their flat and the simplicity of appliances and such. While the bathroom was narrow, to say the least, it was practical. You can even brush your teeth while sitting on the toilet. But the most practical was the hot water heater for the shower. Just a box that held the shower head and heated the water instantly as you needed it. I’ve heard of that type of hot water heater in the states by builder friends but for some reason they don’t seem to have taken off. I like them.
The ceilings were super high, it was an old building. The windows are old but also very high. The kitchen was small – my small kitchen at home was bigger – theirs is more practical. No dishwasher but a washing machine under the counter! Tiny, but held a lot of laundry and washed them well! The radiators in each room proved to be excellent dryers in the winter months.
The refrigerator is the what we may call a dorm fridge. Also under the counter, and that meant shopping fresh every other day or even every day. So “old world” to our spoiled, busy world. So quaint.
We had a great mattress plopped on the living room floor each night. Warm and comfy right next to the fresh Christmas Tree.
In the winter, because they are quite a bit further north than we are at home, the daylight begins at about 8:34 and ends at about 3:34! Say what? Short days and that threw us off kilter a bit. Had to get moving a bit faster than I like in order to see things in the daylight!
Our daughter made us fresh coffee each morning with toast or porridge. It was wonderful to be waited on.
Our first day…..
We are not use to city life. We live in a small country town and there is little to no public transportation. So out the door we were hustled and walked at a fast pace to the nearest bus stop. We felt old. My husband has a knee that can act up and both of us have lungs that wish hills didn’t exist. But onward we went.
We arrived shortly to Princes Street near Waverly Station ( the train station when we first arrived to Edinburgh) where the festivities began. The Christmas Market! But wait! I heard my name, “Mom”.
My son pointed and there was a young man holding a Barn Owl. I looked at my son and said, “Can I”?, like a child in a petting zoo.
Here is the result……
Okay, my trip was done, I could go home fulfilled. I held an owl and learned all kinds of info about them. Pinch me.
The Christmas Market was wonderful. Here is why:
Vendors of all kinds form everywhere
smell of food cooking…….
happy people all around
amusement rides all with the backdrop of a Castle
did I mention the people?
Let me tell you about the people. It was so crowded at the market and got even more crowded as Christmas approached. BUT, unlike America, we encountered not one rude person. Smiles everywhere. No pushing. No anger. No bad looks.
I thought it was because it was the whole Christmas outdoor market thing…. but wherever we went in Scotland the people were the same. Just plain nice. All the time.
I fell deeply in love with Scotland that day.
Here are a few random images of the beginning of our trip…….
O Christmas Tree
The Christmas Market from a distance
I have to say that from the start, the people impressed me. I confess that I had a “picture” of the Scots in my head – loud, rowdy, etc. And I have to say we never encountered a single one as I had preconceived. A wonderful happy folk.
The last big trip we took was in February of 2005. The same son who is studying now in Scotland was studying in Shanghai, China for a couple of semesters. So why not go to China?Good grief, prior to that we only went as far as our country could reach and a little into Canada and Baja California.
This was a serious journey. Prepare we did. I learned two phrases in Mandarin and spoke them wrong while there. Our son took us on a jaunt to the Great Wall of China – crazy beautiful and a challenge physically. But rewarding.
This trip to Scotland we are in the second half of our sixties. A little plump here and there and live in a town where hills are almost non-existent.
Edinburgh, Scotland has hills. Yup. The first hurdle was the actual route to get to Scotland. Our local “International” Airport tends to be rather pricey. To save money we booked an Amtrak train to Chicago. A great ride – very roomy and plenty of time to sleep.
Union Station, Kansas City, MO
Union Station, KCMO
Thankful for KC Coffee
I was anxious about arriving in Chicago. My tummy tightens even now as I type these words. We packed way too much baggage and our airline check-in bags were very heavy. Not to mention that they were “outdated”. Did you know that they make baggage with four – 4 – spinning wheels on the bottom???? (insert laughter) They can go in any direction! Where have we been? All these twenty-somethings and their new bags were leaving us in the dust.
Then there was the Uber driver. His job was to get us from Union Station to our hotel by the airport for the next day flight. Apparently it was not his job to get out of the car and help the senior citizens put their HEAVY bags in his car. It’s amazing how fast we can lift and move with car horns blaring at us in downtown Chicago.
At the hotel I had to chat with Iceland Air about our flight to Glasgow. Their mechanics, a necessary position for an aircraft, were on strike. They booked us onto KLM – Dutch Airline– to Amsterdam then to Glasgow.
Relieved, we got a good night’s sleep and got ready for the shuttle to the airport. That went great. We were almost on standby until an angel from The Netherlands walked by and said, “Oh. I booked them last night. No standby for them.” And no charge for the extra bag we checked.
Fly KLM – no extra charge for food and a very pleasant flight.
waiting to board in Chicago
come fly with me
We were so happy to be on the ground in Glasgow. All we had to do was claim our monster bags and find our son.
While waiting for the bags I received a text stating that our bags were still in Amsterdam. I think I was relieved because they were heavy! Our son popped off a bus and got us to the train station in Paisley……..
I know the dwarves enter here
As the train was entering Edinburgh I was beside myself with emotion. I wanted to capture every moment on my iPhone and just couldn’t do it justice. My emotions were running all over the place. Foreign land, yet not. So many of us Americans dream of Faerie Tales and Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses. We are in awe of Downton Abbey life styles and high tea and accents from the United Kingdom. My husband and I watch endless BBC dramas and PBS series that tell of a different time and place. Not to mention so many of the classics came from this fair land that I was now in. I’m still in awe of the fact that we were there.
A dream come true. It was overwhelming to take it all in. As a matter of fact, I’m still taking it all in. At the end of each day I cried. I’m not even sure why. Part of it was the aches in my legs of the hills and cobblestones. Part of it was my insecurities of being in a place far from home. And part was that I was in SCOTLAND!!!
What an opportunity my son was given to be able to study in a place he loves. As we stayed in their flat I grew closer to his wife and saw she had blossomed in her many gifts of creativity. She became more alive in the magical land of Scotland.
Yes, magical. All you thought it would be it was that and much more. I can’t stress enough for you to not give up your dreams. They’ll shift and change some as time passes, but the ones that are meant to happen will, if you don’t give up. They may come suddenly for you or in time and planning and very probable will come to you in a very different way than you thought.
Thank you for patiently going through my processing of this journey. This is just the beginning. Enjoy the images (as simple as they are) and part three is to come……..
I have always had a love for Scotland. I think it began deep inside from my ancestors, I’m convinced of that, or I choose to believe that.
My mother’s grandfather came from Paisley, Scotland when he was a young boy. I never knew him but the few times she mentioned him it was always in a fond voice.
My mother also kept me enshrouded in plaid. I love plaid. I am still attracted to all things plaid.
Many years ago a friend introduced me to the Scottish author George MacDonald. The first book I read was The Lost Princess – a fairy tale. I fell in love with this man’s writing and how he lived his life. Looking for images for this post brought up books of his that I have not read or heard of. A new quest is at hand.
One day, in a small mountain town in Southern California, this wife and mother was engrossed in yet another tale of The Scottish Highlands and deep characters, when I had to set book aside and load the four kids into the car with husband and head down the mountain to do grocery shopping.
As my husband navigated down the winding highway I was lost on the moor and the heather hills. I actually said to myself, “I wonder when I will see the heather in Scotland”.
After parking the car I grabbed a cart and headed into the market. I came to an abrupt stop right inside the door. There, spread out on a long table and hard to miss, was a radiant display of Heather in full bloom. The sign on the table shouted my name: “SCOTTISH HEATHER”.
Who needs food? I grabbed a plant and proudly placed it in the cart. Was that a gift from God? I believe it was. I felt like He was giving me a glimpse of my dream trip that was sure to come.
The kids are all grown and have families of their own now. Every now and then I wondered when we would see Scotland. Then it happened. August of 2017 our middle son and his wife packed up and moved to Edinburgh, Scotland for him to pursue his passion at the University of Edinburgh.
When our son was accepted we talked and decided we would come and visit. We chose to spend Christmas and New Years there. They agreed and we booked the tickets. I was beside myself with excitement and trepidation. Being a person full of imagination and creativity, I tend to be a bit dramatic – at least to me I am. Probably to others also, but I try to keep most of it to myself.
However, I have never taken my life’s journey lightly. What I mean by that is that I tend to, and I plan to, glean all I possibly can from this life. If it’s a move across town or country or a new job then why am I here? What can I learn from the process of this journey?
And what a journey it was. I hope to convey to you, Dear Reader, a land seen through the eyes of a hopeful dreamer and therefore, you can step out and into your dreams, whatever they be. Life is too short to sit and wonder or to dream and not grab the pot of heather placed right in front of you. Go further. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. But it does matter that you get there.
I am a grandma five times now plus one great grandson. Not too bad. I love it. But I will always be a mom.
In the back corner of my mind I thought that once the kids grew into adulthood and had their own families going, when their careers and schooling and such were all in tact, well, I thought somewhere in the crevices of my brain that I would be done being a mom.
Silly, I know. Because I think I am more a mom now than ever. What I mean by a “mom” is that my heart is bigger and more soft and vulnerable than when I spent many hours feeding, cleaning, burping, guiding, etc.
Now I have more time to look at what my children have become and are still growing into who they are. I give myself and my husband a great big pat on the back for who these kids are. And who their kids are becoming.
But as I watch, I cry. I cry tears of joy and silly sadness. One of my boys and his lovely wife is moving to the UK in just a few weeks! The UK!!! I live in the USA!!!
The good things are……. they will be there for a year (could be longer, who knows?). The better thing is that this is a dream come true for our son and his wife…..an opportunity to study at the University of Edinburg!
The BEST thing is that my husband and I will take our dream trip this Christmas and spend two glorious weeks in Scotland and a bit of Ireland! I’m beside myself with excitement! The child rearing years have paid off.
Then why the sadness you ask? Just knowing they are not and hour and a half away makes me cry a little. I actually feel a little lost. I go through that with our oldest and his family being twenty hours away by car.
I’ll make it. I couldn’t be more proud of all my kids.
But being a mom is hard.
Here is a “seed” a friend sent me… my first spending money:
It was late January of 2005. Our family was grieving the loss of our daughter. Her memorial was on the 17th of January (you can read our loss journey here – Darkest Day). A dear friend looked at us and said, “Don’t you dare cancel your trip to China or I will drive you there myself!”
Now, back track a few months. We sold a house when the market was high and the first thing we did was purchase two round trip tickets to China to visit our son who was there on a scholarship to learn Mandarin at Shanghai University. What an opportunity, for both our son and us. How many times will we know someone who lives in China and speaks the language? So we seized the moment and bought the tickets. We got our passports and spent a day in NYC enjoying great food, great Holiday decorations and a trip to the Chinese Consulate to acquire a visa into mainland China.
The twenty-one hour flight from eastern USA to Shanghai (via Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) was fantastic. I say that because the plane was practically empty. So we spread out. We saw Mount Fuji sail by, beautiful. It was a reflective time for me. Here we were many miles above the earth and my heart and mind was with my daughter. I knew she was in heaven having the time of her life and that comforted me. I even felt closer to her up in the clouds. But my heart hurt. I wanted to enjoy this trip and time with our son. We three needed each other at this time. I was determined to make the best of it. Looking back, it was a great place to visit when in grief. No one could talk to me and no one wanted to and I didn’t speak the language. It literally was very foreign. That was a comfort to me.
So, here we were, the three of us, in a nice hotel in Shanghai, China. No forks, lots of rice, and a very messy table in the hotel restaurant due to my long flight and a lack of using chopsticks (and you thought rice was only thrown at weddings).
There is so much to tell of this trip but I want to concentrate on The Great Wall of China. We did see much in Shanghai and New Year’s dragon dance and the Chinese Circus and museum and The Forbidden City in Beijing. Such an old land and so beautiful.
We checked into a Youth Hostel in Beijing. My husband and I had our own room and our son was elsewhere in a dorm-type room. After eating an amazing Beijing Duck dinner he informed us that we were signed up to see The Great Wall of China in the morning. A shuttle bus would pick us up early. We were ready – it was winter so I purchased some Chinese long johns in the market place the night before. I put orange drink, peanut M&M’s, Pringle and a water bottle in my bag with my camera. We were picked up early, after our breakfast of Chips A’Hoy cookies and orange drink, and proceeded to pick up other victims, uh, er, I mean tourists for the visit to The Wall.
Three hours later, in a non-heated vehicle, we arrived in the middle of Nowhere, China. We lived at sea-level in the US and here we had to climb stairs just to get to the Wall entrance. Lungs nearly fell out of my body. We entered that “door” behind us and started on the approximately six mile(?) journey of the longest stair stepper I’ve ever seen. Thank God my gym did not have this equipment. Our guide, who spoke only a bit of english, kept saying, “Two more towers”. She made this journey several times a day in the summer with such “tourists” as us. Near the end I wanted to throw her off. But she was so sweet and tried hard to converse with us.
The section above had no steps. But to give you a mental image…… you either walked on flat stones OR steps that were short, steps that were too high for average humans, steps that were steep enough to use your hands also (hence the term climbing The Great Wall) and steps that went down a steep incline so that your guides grabbed your jacket so gravity didn’t take you first. It was amazing and exhausting and in the middle of nowhere. I am thankful for the snacks I brought in my bag. And I am most thankful for the three guides who were conversing together when I heard an english word in the middle of their conversation, “SHORTCUT”. I grabbed our guide and said, “Did you say Shortcut???????”
My husband and I decided to take the shortcut with two guides (appartenly we needed two guides) while our son ventured forward on the wall and we would meet up – somewhere???
The short cut was magnificent. Easy on the lungs, we caught our breath and saw things that were quite amazing….
After a while we came to a bridge (where my camera battery died) – a bridge much like one you would see in Indiana Jones – suspended high over a river. Did I mention that heights and I do not get along? Well, it must have been the lack of oxygen because I started out fine, following my husband and enjoying the view – UNTIL the cables that hold the bridge and acted as side rails decided to drop down to knee level, rather than over my head level. All security left me and I shoved my husband aside and RAN to the other side, leaned against the wall (The Great Wall of China) and refused to look back at that cavern. We waited there for out son, who we saw coming over a high peak toward the bridge. Before we saw him, his guide ran up to me speaking rapid Manderin and threw in english words like son and police. I thought he fell off the wall. Our guide stepped aside and caught our eye and kept shaking her head slightly. What does that even mean? I was starting to panic when two lady tourists of Asian decent approached us and I asked if they understood Chinese and if they spoke english. They did. The guide wanted my son to buy a t- shirt and he said, “Ask my parents”. Go ahead laugh.
I bought the t-shirt:
So, from there we had to get back on the wall – it was so steep that I clung to the steps with all fours, put my head down, and cried. Yes, I cried on The Great Wall of China. My son thought I was having a heart attack or something. I simply said, “I want to get off the freakin’ Wall!”
“Two more towers”, she said. And that’s when I thought of taking her to the bridge and tossing her over the side. Just a thought. When I started to climb to the third tower, she grabbed me and said, this way. We exited The Great Wall and low and behold, a wide paved road stretched before us that lead us to some building. A bathroom and a restaurant!!! I told my son to order anything – don’t care what I eat – I headed to the enclosed hole in the ground to pee. Ahh.
We waved goodbye to our lovely guide, she kept waving as if we were old friends. On the bus back to the hostel we all asked for heat. They turned it on for us. We freshened up and went out again for duck and slept like babies that night.
My son told me recently that we could have gone to a more “tourist” friendly part of the Wall where there are elevators and Starbucks. But he chose the harder route. I am very glad he did. Really, I did CLIMB The Great Wall of China and even bought the t-shirt to prove it. It feels good to have done that and I will never do it again.