Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Great Scot!

I had an entirely different beginning for this post, until I realized how often I start stories with "When I was 12 or 13..." I suppose they were my formative reading years, when I developed a taste for certain literature and specific historical interests, but that's not what (at least all of) this post is about.

This summer, I am going to Scotland -- Scotland -- for two weeks in June, and -- as it's been at or near the top of my travel bucket list for a very long time -- I am nigh unto giddy about it.

Wyeth's Wallace, the blondie.
You see, when I was around 12 or 13 -- sorry, I can't help it, really -- a trip to our local bookstore (pre-Amazon, pre-Barnes & Noble/Books-A-Million, natch) yielded a book called "The Scottish Chiefs," by Jane Porter. Most of the yearning for said book was based on the fact it was a reprint of a 1921 edition, and had truly gorgeous, technicolor illustrations painted by N.C. Wyeth (who also provided illustrations for other adventure classics such as "Robin Hood" and "Treasure Island"). Written in 1809, it's a fairly romanticized version of the William Wallace story (so, yeah, I knew all about Braveheart before Mel Gibson made the movie), although he's still brutally executed at the end. Wyeth made Wallace blond for some reason and, at the time, I was disappointed when Gibson's Wallace didn't have the same golden locks.

Highland calf, or Ewok?
But if you can fall in love with a place without ever having visited, then I fell in love with Scotland. Several of my next purchases/birthday/Christmas gifts included histories of the country, or photo books of castles and lochs. I marveled over the sparse beauty and gushed in an exceptionally teenagerish way over the Highland cattle (I called them "fluffy cows," an exceptionally twee appellation my mom still uses because, naturally, it stuck) and ruined, picturesque castles. But it was my reading habits that saw the most impact.

The just stunning title page.
"The Scottish Chiefs" made me curious to know more of the country's past. Although I'd already been introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen, "Chiefs" led me to the tragic history of Mary, Queen of Scots, which in turn led me to Elizabeth I, her father, Henry VIII and his wives ("divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived"), the two princes in the Tower and all the rest of English history (which, in turn, had me reading French and Spanish history as time went on, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns). So, in way, Scotland is to blame for me becoming an Anglophile. Not that I'd every say that to a Scot. ;)

You'd think the interest would pass, but it never really did. My junior year of high school, an extra
Cute, no?
credit chemistry project involved using a pattern to create a stuffed mole, since moles are a unit of measure in chemistry (don't ask me what they measure. I struggled through the class and my memories of anything learned therein are shady at best). Most of the girls in class took it fairly seriously (my friend Sabrina, obsessed with the "X-Files," made a matched set named (what else?) Mole-der and Scully), while I recall many of my male classmates were busily stitching moles made from notebook and newspaper the morning they were due. Mine? He wears the pleated kilt and plaid sash I sewed for him. I named him Duncan McMole, and while he normally sits on one of my bookshelves, I'm half tempted to take him to Scotland with me.

Anyway, after my dad passed away, my mom talked about wanting to take a trip. Dad wasn't big on traveling, preferring rather to stay in one place -- the result of being a Navy brat as a kid who moved constantly. His attitude, favoring armchair travel, almost inevitably gave all three of his children a bent toward wanderlust. My mom, curious by nature, has always wanted to go exploring, too, but for the last 30-plus years, was busy raising children and working before officially retiring from teaching in October. The last time she was out of the country was a summer in Guatemala with the Red Cross in 1972, and she didn't even know where her long-expired passport had gone.

Talking about it one day, I asked her if she'd given any thought to where she'd like to go. My mom was a Spanish teacher, so I assumed she'd chose Spain, or a South American country, Belize, perhaps, or Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. But no, she wanted to go to Scotland, at least in part because one of her grandmothers was Scottish. And when she asked if I would go with her, well, I almost laughed, as the question was so ridiculously moot.

So we're going. After taking in the Dunedin Highland Games this past weekend (mom wanted "a taste of Scotland" before the actual trip), airline tickets were purchased. The plan, not entirely formalized, will see us making a circuit of sorts. Edinburgh (the castle, naturally, Holyrood and Arthur's Seat, which I fully intend to hike up) and Glasgow certainly, Stirling, the Isle of Skye, and Iona, where St. Columba brought Christianity to Scotland. We've also pondered several stops at locations with either excellent (Inverness) or multiple (Wigtown) used bookstores, which is really no way to plan a trip, but very much us. A ride on the Jacobite steam train (aka the Hogwarts Express) from Fort William is also practically definite.

Planning tools
The final itinerary should come together hopefully this coming weekend, but we've had plenty of fun pouring over guidebooks and websites making lists, which so far include at least one of the abbeys (Melrose, where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried, perhaps?) ruined in the "rough wooing." Loch Ness? It rates at least a drive by to see Urquhart Castle. A handful of museums are on the list, too along with a whiskey distillery tour. I will try haggis at least once (because you do), and I fully intend to master driving on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road (and will be somewhat disappointed if, at some juncture, we're not stuck in the car somewhere, surrounded by a flock of sheep). Mom jokes that perhaps I'll meet a handsome Catholic Scotsman. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one, but certainly wouldn't complain. :)

We will surely run out of time before we run out of things to see, and I'm looking forward to traveling with my Mom. It's the only trip I have planned this year, but I can tell you right now I likely won't want to come home. The fact that Scottish summers are typically 30-odd degrees (if not more) cooler than Florida summers is reason enough to want to stay, lol.

As for Mom, well, I wasn't completely wrong about where she wanted to travel. She's already booked an educational trip to Portugal and Spain in October, and is busy researching one of her pet interests, Spanish ship building during the age of sail. :)

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