May 11, 2011

We met our tour guide Paul at 8:30 am as planned. Of course, it was really 3:30 in the morning EST and my eyes felt like I had sand in them. Mom had gotten a good 12 hours sleep but I stayed up late working on this blog and didn’t get enough. Jet Lagged! Paul met us in his full Scottish regalia.

Our Kilted Tour Guide Paul

After stopping at a cafe for some breakfast for the road, we drove past HolyRood, the centuries old seat of the Scottish parliament. Once we were outside of the city, the landscape changed dramatically. We saw brilliant yellow fields of rape seed (used to make rape seed oil used in cooking) and patches of thorny gorse, a bush I had read about in all my fantasy books since that’s what this country reminds me of. Driving along the coast of the Firth of Forth, the name of the body of water, we drove past Arthur’s Seat a mountainous area with beautiful cliff side views and an extinct volcano. Who knew there were volcanoes in Scotland? Paul told us that Edinburgh Castle we visited yesterday was built on an extinct volcano as well.

Then we headed off to Rosslyn Castle in Midlothian, about 10 miles outside of Edinburgh. I love to visit old cathedrals and chapels and we’ve been to quite a few as Vince can tell you, but this one was the most beautiful chapel I’ve ever seen. Building started in 1446 by the St. Claire family and although the complete cross shaped transept design was never completed, the portion that was finished contains some of the most intricately carved stonework imaginable. The vaulted stone ceiling was a work of art in itself and an engineering marvel. The outside flying buttresses (the supports that “push” the sides of the church in holding up the vaulted ceiling) were magnificent.

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn ceiling

The chapel is in a state of ongoing reconstruction which is overseen by the descendants of the St. Clair family and the Scottish Heritage Foundation. In the mid 1500’s, Scotland Reformation moved the country to the Presbyterian faith and all of the Roman Catholic churches were either destroyed, looted or closed. This beautiful place was shut down and not used again as a chapel until the late 1800’s when Queen Victoria decided to restore it. The Da Vinci code also brought world-wide attention to this chapel and since the movie was released, the visitor count has increased four-fold bringing with it more tourist dollars to be used towards the restoration. Check out

There was something about this place that just pulled at me. I went downstairs to see the family crypt, which was built even earlier, in the 1200’s. The crypt has been sealed for over 200 years. No one knows exactly what or who is buried there. Our tour guide told us of the many legends about the secrets hidden within the crypt. She said that The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Turin, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Elvis Presley are all some of the items purported to be buried below. :)

Rosslyn Chapel Gargoyle

The tour guide also told us about the Ley Lines that supposedly intersect at a certain spot in the center of the chapel floor. She suggested that we stand in this spot, keep an open mind and see if we felt the “energy”. Of course I tried it.

Standing under a hanging pointer that marked the intersect lines, I closed my eyes and waited. I tried not to think to hard about how silly I looked standing there with people milling all around me but within seconds, I “saw” four black intersecting lines. They weren’t in the shape of a cross but were rather angled like a big X. I stood for a few minutes, smiling at myself and what Vince would have said about my woo-woo gullibility.

The tour guide asked me if I “felt” anything. When I explained what I had “seen”, she paused and smiled. She said that only a few other people had said they had seen 4 lines but that was the number that was supposed to be intersecting. And then she said to me, “Were they crossed in a diagonal fashion?” I said yes and again she said that this is what she had been told by others. Of course you non-believers (and I know who you are!), don’t believe a word of this but I think I do. I think the concept of Ley Lines is fascinating (it’s been described as lines of energy that run around the world) and who’s to say it isn’t true? Look it up: Ley Lines

This whole experience just added to my overall awe of this place. Mom enjoyed it as well and while I was doing all of this, she was walking around looking at the carvings and the architecture. She agreed that it was remarkable place.

We left Rosslyn to drive to Linlithgow Palace, a palace built in the 1500’s by James V as a gift for his new wife Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. Linlithgow is a palace and not a castle, the difference being that a castle is built with fortification to sustain a battle or a seige. A palace is a big country house built for royalty to visit when they want to escape the smell of the great unwashed multitudes or the plague. It wasn’t an easy time to live in unless you were a royal.

Mom at Fountain at Linlithgow Palace

There’s lots of royal political history and intrigue everywhere in this country, not unlike England and I am just loving it. But at the risk of having your eyes glaze over, suffice it to say that this palace was built in stages over the centuries and then a fire started by some careless guests who left an oil lamp burning, gutted the entire palace, leaving only the stone walls. I roamed around these walls, taking Mom in wherever the floors were even and safe. She didn’t want to try to manage the stairs that led to other floors so I would go up and then lean out the window and shout down to her.

That's mom sitting waaaay down there!

Outside of the palace, St. Micheal’s cathedral is still operating as the local parish church. It was another beautiful example of architecture, stained glass windows and history. Although we didn’t take a tour, a friendly older man stationed inside to welcome visitors, was happy to tell us about the place. In particular, he showed us a mason’s mark on one of the stone columns, made by one of the stone masons that had built the original structure in the 1500’s. It was pretty impressive to see an autograph from 600 years ago.

Mason's Mark at St. Michaels

St. Michaels

Mom is enjoying all the history also although sometimes the different Scottish accents are hard to understand. As we drive through the small villages and towns, she keeps commenting on the architecture and stone buildings. Everything, both old and new, seem to be built of stone. Apparently, there is alot of it in Scotland and it makes for some beautiful buildings.

We had lunch at a restaurant that looked like a shepherd’s cottage. The building was low and surrounded by flowers and places to sit. Inside, Mom and I sat at a small table for two tucked into a side room. (Paul choose not to have lunch with us, saying he would wait in the car for us instead) After some delicious red lentil soup, salad with stilton cheese dressing and a glass each of South African Chenin Blanc, Mom and I were recharged and ready to go.

A very nice lunch!

Before we left, we used the loo (yes, toilet). I had to take this picture as I had never seen one quite like it!

What a pretty bowl!

In the evening, we went to see the “Taste of Scotland Show”, a dinner theater event. The show included bagpipers (which made Mom very happy) and Scottish singers and dancers. Mom really liked the show especially the Scottish songs and costumes. And although we were both very hesitant, we even tried the hagus which is a famous Scottish oatmeal and offal sausage-type thing. (And if you want to know why we were so hesitant, look up the word “offal”.) We both decided it wasn’t for us.

Mom and I at The Scotland Show

We’re back in our room now, already in bed. We’ve had two busy days and tomorrow we are off to Aberdeen. Mom is most excited about this part of the trip since visiting Aberdeen, the city of her ancestry, is the main reason we are here. We have dates and locations and will visit the Registry House to try to find out if some relatives still live in the city. We will also visit the address of the home where her mother (my grandmother Nanny) was born. And if the house is still standing, I plan to go right up to the front door, ring the bell and introduce ourselves.

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