Scotland

The drive north from York took us through some really picturesque green farmland, the North Yorkshire Dales – Bronte country. And it’s also sheep country. There are lots and lots of sheep here – white ones, black ones, white ones with black faces, woolly ones, shorn ones. And then there were also fields of barley waving in the breeze. Everywhere. So now it makes good sense to me why Sting once sang “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley”. Because Sting is a native of this very region. He’s a Geordie lad from Newcastle on the River Tyne, and the road took us right past Newcastle today. Just before Newcastle we’d passed the famous Angel of the North statue, which I’d first learned about in a Billy Connolly television special.

We stopped to visit a remaining section of Hadrian’s Wall, a structure that once marked the very furthest northern boundary of Roman Britain. The wall isn’t so high any more because over the years many of the locals have removed the stones and used them to build their own houses and fences. From there it was just a little further down the road to the Robin Hood pub for a six pound ‘soup and sandwich’ lunch.

Our bus took us through some desolate, green, hilly countryside, much of which lay within the Northumberland National Park. On the crest of a hill we crossed the border from England into Scotland. It was quite breezy up there, but the views out over Scotland were wonderful. For both Marg and me, this is the land of our third great grandparents – my family’s Scottish forebears are the Todds from Dumfries and Marg’s are the Callans from Fife and the Peebles from Lanark.

A short distance over the border we stopped at the historic village of Jedburgh to have a short look at what remains of the abbey. It was fenced off, so we didn’t go in. But it was good to have breaks like this in the bus journey to get out and stretch our legs for a while. Like a few old churches I’ve seen here in the UK, there is a graveyard right alongside it. Stopping to read some of the epitaphs on the gravestones is an interesting thing to do.

By late afternoon, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. Our lodgings are in the older part of town, where the streets are lined with historic buildings, and where you get a glimpse of the castle every time you turn a corner. The blue skies from earlier in the day had now been replaced by grey skies and rain. Despite the gloomy weather, Edinburgh looked inviting from the moment we entered the town, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more of it over the next two days.

Many from our tour group took the option of a meal together followed by an evening walk. The restaurant was next door to an Oz Bar, which serves Australian beer and shows AFL and NRL games live on TV. The food was really good, though there was nothing particularly Scottish about it. After the meal we walked into the grounds of Greyfriars Kirk. This is a very old church where a little dog named Bobby patiently sat by his master’s grave each day for many years. His master, John Grey, is buried in the kirk yard, and so is Bobby. A small brass sculpture of Bobby is just across the road. It is considered to be good luck to rub Bobby’s nose, hence the sculpture has an unusually shiny nose. When I was a kid, I remember seeing the Disney movie ‘Greyfriars Bobby’. Some other gravestones here are rumoured to have influenced some of the characters J K Rowling wrote about in her Harry Potter books. Rowling is an Edinburgh lass. We passed The Elephant House, where she is reputed to have begun writing the first Harry Potter book on the back of a paper napkin, and shortly after we passed The Balmoral where people claim she wrote the final chapter of the last Harry Potter book.

It was still raining when we made our last stop for the day at Calton Hill, where a small number of us climbed the steps to the top. The buildings up there are unspectacular. One was supposed to replicate the Parthenon, but the funds dried up over a century ago and it was never finished. The views out over the old part of Edinburgh and all the way to the castle in the distance made the climb worthwhile. We returned to the hotel, hoping that the rain will disappear overnight and we’ll have sunny blue skies for our day in Edinburgh tomorrow.

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