Chapter 15 - Bonny Scotland


Back to Terra Firma, I was about to enjoy a great trip with four Scottish Canadians of the Clan McDonalds. They were two pairs of brothers who were all cousins from Niagara Falls. They were young actors with a great sense of humour. It was their first trip to Britain. Their parents had instilled the belief that the McDonalds were the greatest clan in Scotland and that Scotland should have been an independent country. They were taught to hate England and all things English. Being a Sassenach, I was their number one target. We drove taking the northern road to Newcastle where we stayed overnight. They enjoyed the English breakfast, but had difficulty understanding the Geordie brogue. They liked the town with its famous Bridge. As we passed through the border towns, I pointed out that the Coldstream guards got its name from the little town of Coldstream that we were driving through.

We made our way to Edinburgh where they checked-in at the Caledonian Hotel, where else? The lovely city was built on a volcanic rock at the top of a hill over a thousand years ago. The intention was to build something like the Acropolis. It was never completed but the area is sometimes referred to as the little Athens of the North. Being theatrical, my new friends had to stay for the Edinburgh Festival one of the most popular and entertaining in the world. Having enjoyed that, they asked to see Scone Palace where Scottish kings were crowned. For their coronations a very special stone was used, it was called the Stone of Destiny. After a successful battle against the Scots, King Edward removed the stone and bought it to England in 1297 and it was placed under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey where it was called the Stone of Scone. The idea was it should serve as a symbol of unity but naturally the Scots have always resented that. The stone weighed about three hundred pounds. To the delight of every Scotsman, a group of students, somehow got into the Abbey and managed to lift the stone and abscond with it without detection. At first it was just a prank, but when it was realised it was serious, searches were made and the stone was found in Scotland. My little group laughed at the English, saying that they would like to do it again. I told them it would be impossible now. The palace of Scone was fairly close to the city of Perth, which had always enjoyed its reputation for the lovely maids of Perth.

Leaving Scone, we travelled west and saw a castle high up overlooking the countryside. It is now called Stirling Castle but it wasn't always, its name changed twice. Lots of fighting and slaughter took place in the area so it was called the Place of Strife and then Striveling and eventually Stirling. The castle is two miles from the scene of Scotland's great victory against the English. Their famous hero Robert the Bruce defeated the English King Edward II In what's known as the battle of Bannock Burn. We looked for the nearest pub to celebrate.

They decided that they wanted a little recreation and as they played golf I took them to St Andrews, the home of Golf. They managed to play a round there by hiring all the clubs and golf balls. They behaved as though they were the first ones from across the Atlantic to come and play there. I told them they were probably the first of the second hundred thousand. I had taken about forty myself. They were not very good golfers but they made me laugh. Every time they holed a put they did a jig.

They enjoyed their day of rest but showing them the next location was not very pleasant for them. We went to Culloden Moor where the last battle between the English and the Scots took place on English land. The Scots were led by Bonnie Prince Charles a very great favourite of the Scots. The English, led by the Duke William with a German army, defeated the Scots. The Duke’s father was German but because he was the nearest relative to the English Queen Anne who died without any live children. (all her many children died) and was a descendent of kings James II He became King George II. As Bonnie Prince Charles realised the battle was lost, he fled. He managed to get to the Isle of Skye, in disguise, with the aid of a great friend, Flora McDonald, who was arrested soon after. There's a very popular song about the Isle of Skye that is a favourite even with the English.

Flora McDonald went to America but came back to Scotland and Prince Charles fled to France. He did try to claim the English throne by birthright but to no avail. After making our way past some beautiful scenery my passengers paid their tribute to the Bonnie Prince and to their namesake Flora McDonald. We were not far from Loch Ness so we looked for the monster. In spite of some claims of it being seen, it disappointed us and went into hiding. For a special treat to themselves they stayed the night in on of Europe's most famous hotels where they have a special tribute to the Bonnie Prince Charles. It's called Inverlochy Castle. Next morning they told me it cost them an arm and a leg, but was worth it for the experience and they could now boast of having stayed there.

As we drove a little south we came to Scotland's highest mountain Ben Nevis We stopped at a nearby pub where there was only one customer. The publican came to us. He could see that they were visitors with a Canadian accent. He was very friendly and after the usual banter he said, “Would you like to hear the legend about the witch’s curse on Ben Nevis?”

The head of the local clan was a very rich man and owned most of the land around those parts. One day a lady approached him for little bit of land to build a hut. He refused her so she cursed him saying all his crops would be ruined in the summer. He said, “Get out of here you witch!” Ben Nevis is so high that the top of the mountain always remained covered with ice and snow even in the summer. However, by some amazing coincidence the following summer was the hottest they had ever known. All the ice melted and cascaded down the mountain like a waterfall and flooded the land. All the chief’s crops were destroyed. He didn't believe it was due to the curse. He thought it was a natural disaster and to make sure it didn't happen again he had large refrigerators fixed at the top. The publican said, “If you don't believe it I will arrange for a mountain climber to escort you up there.”

I climbed Ben Nevis with my dad and brother in 1968 - see photo.

I can vouch for the fact that there are no fridges! (HG)

When we finished laughing I took them to Glen Coe where one of Scotland's worst tragedies occurred by one clan attacking another. The Scottish people as a whole have a reputation for kindness, helping and hospitality. Of course in some areas there are bad people and occasions of drunkenness and fighting but from my experience of travelling all over Scotland it's mainly confined to a few areas. At Glencoe the majority of Scots belonged to the MacDonald clan, which has always wanted home rule for Scotland. There is another clan called the Campbell's who are on England’s side. One night the McDonald clan had gone to sleep when there was a knock on the door with a request for shelter. Being hospitable the McDonalds let them in. The Campbell's came in and murdered everyone they could find. It was a sheer bloody massacre. It cannot be erased from Scottish history and brought disgrace and shame on the Campbell's. My Canadian friends were astounded. What could any normal person think? Massacres have happened for thousands of years and still happening. Life goes on, good for the few and bad for the many.

I took the lads to Glasgow where they went to the theatre and watched a comic whose act included impersonating two great Scottish comedians, Will Fyffe and Harry Lauder, and singing their favourite songs, ‘I Belong to Glasgow’ and ‘Keep Right on to the end of the Road.’

I had to take them to Loch Lomond. This beautiful loch with its little islands and the fabulous scenery is known worldwide and many songs have been composed about it. It's always breathtaking to see. Time was running out for their tour so I asked them if they had ever heard of a town called Ayr. They said, “No, what is there?” I said, “You will see it when we get there.” When we got there I took them to a cottage. I told them the cottage had been owned by perhaps the most famous of Scotland’s many great poets and composers. His name was Robert Burns, known as Rabbie Burns, and there is a statue to him in the town. His songs are known worldwide and I told them, “I am sure you know at least one of them. When you leave we will all sing it together. It's called ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ My Canadian Scots understood the significance. We said goodbye at the airport as I told them, I enjoyed their trip as much as they did. I received a card of thanks, but never saw them again.

I have never been to Niagara Falls. It’s too late now.

We went in 1971 - see photo.