Craigelachie + ‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream.

Natalie and I just got back from a few days up in Scotland. This mini-adventure was very meaningful to both of us, because as far as we can tell it’s the the only common ancestry we know we have. Natalie is over 3/4 Scandinavian, with a lot of her ancestors immigrating in the last 2-3 generations. I’m a big mutt of Europeans over the past 300 years (we think John Settle hit Jamestown VA in the early 1600s) with a sprinking of Native American. However, Natalie has a bit of Clan Grant from her mother’s side, and I have some MacGregor and MacKenzie from my father and mother, respectively. All highlanders. With pretty tartans. So it was fun to go up and learn more about this little ancestry we share…

Edinburgh Panorama

We arrived in Edinburgh Thursday afternoon and tossed our stuff at my friend’s flat. Holly and I went to college together, and she did a study abroad in Edinburgh in 1999. She returned here to get a Master’s degree 3 years or so ago and now works here! She and her German boyfriend were quite busy with work and their Scottish social lives, and we were out sightseeing a lot, so we didn’t have a lot of time to hang out. We did most of our catching up the day before we left. But the time we did have was quality, and Natalie and Holly got along famously. At any rate, that first evening they went out to a party and we wandered all over downtown to get oriented. The panoramic above is from the top of Calton Hill, which we inadvertently hiked while trying to get back to the city center. You may not see if very clearly here, but to the left (behind Natalie) is the “old town” with a lot of Gothic and Medieval architecture. To the right (behind me) is the “new town” with Georgian architecture. Plus there are a lot of modern buildings scattered in between and among them. That was one of the most fascinating things for me, was the wild span of architecture, how the city was built on multiple levels, and often times older structures are built right into the hills and mountains, using bits of natural rock for the walls.

Friday we slept in a bit and then wandered into town, where we walked up and down the royal mile (the “main street” of old town, going up a slope neatly carved by a now-defunct volcano and the glaciers of past ice ages, ending in the majestic castle). We ate some carrot & coriander soup (yum!) and visited one of the Scottish National Galleries of Art as well. They had a nice collection of Scottish painters, of whom Joseph Noel Paton was probably the one I was most impressed. That evening, we also went on a “Ghost Tour.” There are several of these, which go through the streets, cemeteries, and dungeons giving you a history of Edinburgh’s seedy past as well as recounting some of the supernatural things that allegedly haunt such places. The one we went on went through Greyfriars Kirkyard and took us into a mausoleum supposedly housing the MacKenzie Poltergeist. Although I got a bit queasy, I attribute it mostly to the mild 24-hour cold/flu bug I picked up around that time mixed with the chilly night air. Although in the 15 minutes or so we were in the mausoleum, I think the poltergeist untied my shoe. What’s more, he followed me around for the next couple days untying my shoes as well. ;) But it was creepy.

Glencoe Panorama

On Saturday we took a looooong day-tour of the Highlands. about 12 hours of driving and sightseeing in total. The panoramic above is from a stop in Glen Coe, the valley where in 1692 a group of Campbells notoriously violated the Highland Code. They accepted hospitality from the MacDonalds (who controlled the Glen at the time) and then by order of William of Orange slaughtering them in their sleep. The grudge is still strong, and to this day there’s a pub in that region that won’t allow Campbells inside, even though they finally started serving the English a few years ago.

Loch Ness

The highlight of the day tour was probably our stop at Loch Ness. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a glimpse of the monster (other than the wire sculpture above). But I really love both mountains and large bodies of water, and it was very peaceful to sit and gaze out on a landscape that was, mostly I think, the same view that our ancestors had hundreds (thousands?) of years ago. And the thought that a small population of large prehistoric beasts still lives somewhere under the permablack is really appealing as well.

On Sunday we slept in and had breakfast (garlic eggs & onions) with Holly and Tom. Then we learned that we picked the right weekend to visit Scotland, because all the National Heritage sites were FREE admission that day, including the amazing Edinburgh Castle! So we showered, dressed, headed downtown, and up the royal mile. Usually admission is £11 per person, which would have been about $45 for both of us, so that saved us quite a bit (and there wasn’t even a queue to boot). We spent 3.5 hours wandering around this amazing place, which has been standing in some form or another for over 1,000 years. It’s definitely in my list of most amazing places I’ve been. Then we walked to the other side of town to hike up “Arthur’s Seat,” the tallest of the mountains that jut up throughout the city. Since Natalie wasn’t wearing hiking shoes and I had a gig to play at 8pm, we didn’t make it all the way to the top (so we say we hiked “Arthur’s Footstool”).

Live at Whistlebinkies

That night I played the longest gig I’ve played in nearly a year: two hours of music all by my lonesome. I think the crowd was really more of a classic-rock covers crowd, but they did seem appreciative of most of my original tunes. About 3-4 songs into my first set, though, I switched to using the “house” guitar since the battery in mine was fizzing out and is a pain in the neck to change. Playing with a foreign guitar wasn’t so bad, and I was lucky they had it… plus the promoter didn’t stiff me like the one in London! Holly came out to the show and asked during a set break if ever wrote any songs about a certain college girlfriend she was friends with. In fact, I had, so I played that one for her. There was also a group of girls studying abroad in London there, one of whom grew up in my hometown (I went to school with her older brother). And the final small-world twist of the evening: the guy playing right after me was another “yank” from Dayton OH.


Monday was our last day there, so we said goodbye to Holly and Tom in the morning and headed to the far west side of town to check out the modern art galleries. The photo above is Natalie on the “earth work” just outside the gallery. There was an amazing exhibit called “off the wall” that showcased a lot of really cool installations that utilized the ceiling and floor, but no wall space. The work of one artists, Martin Creed, we think we saw at the Venice Biennale representing Scotland in 2003. We couldn’t remember exactly, but his art seemed very familiar. All in all it was very cool.

A final fun fact we learned: The Grants (Natalie’s Scottish heritage) and the MacGregors (mine) fought together to secure their Highland castle from the Comyns. The title of this post comes from our Gallic clan mottos: “Craigelchie!” (”Stand Fast!”, of the Grants), and “‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream!” (”Royal is my Race”, from the MacGregors). And here we are, still taking on the world side-by-side.

1 Response to “Craigelachie + 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream.”

  1. 1 Mark Apr 24th, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Wow, those are beautiful panoramics. I hope we get to Scotland some year for vacation, it’s one of our long-term goals.

    And I can’t help but read this post with a bad Scottish accent running through ma heed. I da kna why.

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