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Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Days 47 & 48– Blair Castle, Atholl Highlanders, Clan Gathering

Blair Castle, at the heart of Blair Atholl, is the historical seat of Clan Murray. The Atholl Highlanders, a private army created with the blessings of Queen Victoria, guard the castle and stand ready for orders from the 12th Duke of Atholl, who lives in South Africa. The castle itself is run by a national foundation, but the Highlanders have exclusive access to the ballroom below.

Michael Murray, Marquis of Tullibardine, and his younger brother, Lord David Murray, are sons of the Duke. Michael is in line to inherit the title of 13th Duke of Atholl. Both officers in the Highlanders, they were officiating over the annual Parade the Saturday before the Clan Gathering.

The Clan Gathering on Sunday was interesting for several reasons. We were looking forward to a Highland Games in Scotland so we could compare with games we’ve been to in Colorado. The usual food, jewelry, clothing, and amusement booths were in abundance, but there was much more of an emphasis on the Shot Put, Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, and bagpipes than we have seen. Once the games had concluded, Michael Murray kicked off the festivities, and the field opened up to family events and sports. Sporting events at games in the States are usually off to the side somewhere, and are not usually headline events.

We first saw fidget spinners in London, but many of the shops couldn’t get enough to keep them on the shelves. We didn’t know they had appeared in the States until we got home.

 

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 46 – Murray Tour

After traveling south from Inverness to Blair Atholl and the center of Scotland, we spent the afternoon visiting sights of interest to the Murray Clan, both Abercairny and Tullibardine. In the first photo below, Daniel Parker, President of UK Clan Murray and a cousin through his wife, Anna Murray, showed us around “The Stables,” a wedding venue they started a few years ago. The structure was actually the horse stables of the Estate of Abercairny a few miles down the road where Anna’s father lives. It was moved up the road stone by stone during the 1700’s, and is filled with original paintings of Murray ancestors.

Traditions and memories are the hallmark of the UK. Near The Stables is a small plot of land where the dogs of the family since the mid-1800’s are buried. There are also several gardens available for weddings, including this formal garden with 17th Century furnishings.

Tullibardine Chapel was our next visit, with its original wood ceiling beams and glass windows. The Murrays of Abercairny married the Drummonds of Strathearn, ending up with over 13,000 acres of land altogether. The Murrays of Tullibardine left the area and moved south toward Perth, eventually ending up with enormous holdings in their own right.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 45 – Loch Ness & Inverness

Inverness is the gateway to the west of Scotland and the isles (Skye and the Hebrides), and also the north of Scotland and the isles (Orkneys and Shetlands). Loch Ness and its famous, although questionable, inhabitant, “Nessie”, is BIG business in Inverness. An exhibition center and mandatory gift shop tell the story of Nessie, but also introduce visitors to the real science taking place in the lake over the decades. A major study of Zooplankton and other minute sea creatures has prompted sonar studies of the lake itself, eventually mapping the entire lake to its full 700+ foot depth. Loch Ness was also the site of an ill-fated land speed record attempt, one of the few recreational uses ever made on the lake.

 

The only way to truly “see” Loch Ness is by ferry. Loch Ness is actually one of three lochs and a canal leading north to Inverness. A lighthouse that doesn’t look much like a lighthouse makes the end of the canal where the loch begins. The ruins of Urquhart Castle lies on the west shore of the loch at its midpoint.

You can’t go on the lake without wondering whether you’ll see Nessie or not. One possible solution to hundreds of sightings over the years is shown in the photo below. When two boats, in this case large ferries, cross paths on the loch, the wakes eventually intersect and form loops that could be mistaken for “humps” of a creature under the right conditions. On this day, however, Nessie was nowhere to be found.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 43 – Aberdeen to Inverness

As I wrote yesterday, the name Gordon is big in these parts. Based out of Huntly Castle on the eastern Highlands, they ruled a vast area. George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Gordon, was known as the “Cock of the North” and has a song written about him. The Gordons were also the first family to be given the title Marquis. The inscription on the front of Huntly Castle denotes that fact.

Further down the road, we ran across Brodie Castle. Don’t know much about it, or the family now living in it.

Just outside of Inverness is Culloden Field, the site of another famous battle in Scotland’s history, although not one to be proudly discussed. The Scots who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles, son of King James II) were Jacobites (James in Gaelic) who fought in opposition to George, the English King from Germany, supported by other Scots. From what I know, the clans I’m related to were sympathizers of the Prince, and fought and died for him at the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746.

The two forces lined up in the huge field opposite each other. Noted by the blue flags for the Jacobites and the red flags for the British, they charged. Seriously outnumbered, over 700 Jacobites fell and died on the first charge. As the others tried to re-group, they were cut down in large numbers, as well. The Jacobite ranks broke and tried to escape, but the British had orders to kill every opponent, with some being caught and killed days after the battle. Others who died were civilians who had nothing to do with either side in the battle. Culloden became the last armed resistance between the Scots and the English.

Many clanmembers were buried in mass graves in the field. The owner of the property put markers on the graves in the late 1800’s to show the locations of known graves. Dead British soldiers were also buried in a large mass grave near the British lines.

On this day, as days before, the landscape was worth capturing in photos. Everything is in full bloom now, and promises a beautiful Summer for future visitors.

 

 

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 39 – Oban to Falkirk

Back towards population centers again….. the main goal being the area around Stirling and Falkirk, directly between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but further north.

Stirling, and its bridge, figure dramatically in the history of Scotland. William Wallace (Braveheart) and Robert the Bruce fought here, and chased the English out of Scotland after the Battle of Bannockburn. Stirling Castle has a long history of royal residency and royal burials.

Cyndie kept talking about the Kelpies. She had seen something about them somewhere, but I had never heard of them. They turned out to be these sculptures (pictures are far better than words for this)….

We found them in a large park in Falkirk, south of Stirling. They are made of stainless steel and stand about 90 feet high. The artist built them in miniature, then enlarged each piece at an industrial plant before assembling them on-site. We didn’t stay, but they are lit at night.

Besides seeing giant horses, we finally managed to get a good view of the Highland Cow (heilan coo) everyone talks about. I think this one was looking at me when I took his picture, but a few seconds later he went back to eating. They are supposedly plentiful, and adapt especially well to the Highlands, but we’ve only seen them in a few places, and then usually far away.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Days 30-31 – Rosslyn Chapel & the Four Abbeys

We really like the castles found in the UK and Ireland, but we also like the abbeys, churches, cathedrals, and other old structures we come across. This is not to say we don’t like old homes, schools, government buildings, etc., as well. These types of structures is where the history of a nation is contained and, if they are taken car of and protected, they last for centuries so others can see them and study them later.

If you do any genealogical research at all, you find yourself wanting to know more about where your ancestors lived and how they lived. History, very quickly, becomes a hobby to go along with the genealogy, and you have to use them together to successfully find out what you’re looking for.

Rosslyn Chapel, south of Edinburgh, is one of importance to my and my research. It was instrumental in the movie “DaVinci Code,” with Tom Hanks, but that’s not why it’s important to me. I have identified several ancestors who lived and ruled in the area. More pictures are coming of Rosslyn because the carvings are different from those found in other buildings, and also different from each other. Nearly every window, doorway, pillar, etc. is unique from the others.

The four abbeys below important because they were near the border between Scotland and England, and suffered destruction because of their location. They were all magnificent in their own way, and instrumental in wielding religious and political power for their congregations. Built during the 12th Century during David I’s rule as King of Scotland, they were destroyed by King Henry VIII in the mid-14th Century during the Reformation.

Dryburgh Abbey was a huge complex, but is known today as the burial site of Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish writer. Scott’s family owned the land Dryburgh sat on, and eventually turned it over to a trust in Scotland to maintain. As a side note, Scott also has large statues in prominent locations in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Kelso Abbey was one of the closest to the border, so suffered some of the damage more than the others. To this day, the cemetery at Kelso also seemed to have less care than any other cemetery we have seen so far on our travls.

Lennelkirk Abbey is currently undergoing reconstruction, to a point. The basic shape of the front of the building is being redone, then the workmen will move to the walls so they can be reinforced, although not rebuilt complete. Lennelkirk is a parish that uses the cemetery for burials even today, with some of the oldest going back to the early 1800’s. One of the most notable is Sir Alec Douglas-Home, a British Prime Minister during President Johnson’s term in office.

Melrose Abbey is another with some symbolic connections to conspiracy movies. It was also a huge complex, with what amounted to a small village operating within its walls. After Robert the Bruce successfully “removed” the English from Scotland in the 12th Century, he said that he wanted to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey near Edinburgh, but he also wanted his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. His heart went to the Middle East on a Crusade, but eventually was brought back to Melrose Abbey for burial. The round stone below marks its possible location in the cemetery at Melrose.

BONUS: Not an abbey, but a tower, Smailholm Tower was a watchtower-type structure near the Scottish border with England. It was eventually purchased by Sir Walter Scott’s family when they bought the farm it was on. It is said that Scott lived there a number of years and got inspiration from the solitude of the area.

 

 

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 24 – Bath and First Taste of Wales

Bath, England also has a huge cathedral like many other English cities, but it also has a long history with Roman history and ruins. Bath got its title for the natural springs of hot water welling up under the city. Since Roman times, there has been no slowdown in the water flow. The baths were one of the few things that mixed Romans of all social strata, allowing workmen, women, soldiers, government officials, and others to mingle in the therapeutic waters of the baths.

Cardiff, Wales is like many other cities in the UK in that it has survived hard times in the mid-2000’s and is now coming back faster than ever. Cardiff Bay, as shown in the pictures, was once much larger and came much further into the community it abuts. The new, modern Parliament building sits next to the old, red brick harbor offices.

And, yes, Cardiff has a castle, too! A new outer wall protects the original, older castle in the center. This is another location that will make me do more research on my lines. I have connections to Welsh royalty in the 7th and 8th Centuries, but the Earl of Cardiff who built the castle may also be an ancestor. One of the unique features of the castle was the family tree that was designed and built into the ceiling struts and walls, again full of Stewarts and other names found in my database.

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 22 – Plymouth and Around Devon & Cornwall

Plymouth is a large city found on England’s southern coast near the western-most tip of the country (near Devon and Cornwall). On this day, we were not to go to the “ends” of England, however (that was reserved for the next day). Plymouth has a rich naval history and, while we were there, a British frigate, a training cruiser, and several Special Operations boats (similar to P.T. boats) were busy in the harbor.

Plymouth’s name should also be familiar to anyone who has studied American History. There is a Plymouth, Massachusetts, a small port on the Eastern Seaboard where a small ship landed in 1620 with a contingency of crew and passengers and established the first colony in what would become the United States. Plymouth, England, was the last place they saw when they left England, leaving from the “Mayflower steps” in the photos above.

Two major farm crops from England and the entire UK and Ireland, are potatoes (under the rows of plastic below) and the bright yellow plant, rapeseed, the source of canola oil. Instead of using the oil for cooking, its primary use is as an alternative to diesel fuel. In each country, six-lane motorways (like our Interstate highways) ultimately end up as narrow dual-lane access roads and even narrower country lanes lined on both sides by plant hedgerows or rock walls.

Closer to the coast, the bus made a pit stop at the Jamaica Inn, made famous in the Alfred Hitchcock film, an updated version with Michael Caine, and a mini-series on British television. Smuggling was the main occupation in the area long ago, but this Inn has a hill between it and the ocean, unlike that in the movies. The interior was also a modern restaurant, gift shop, and bar, so I don’t know where the scenes in the movies were shot.

This day was completed at an English country estate. Lanhydrock is now owned by a national trust, but demonstrates exactly what you see if you follow Downton Abbey or other British shows that feature the “aristocracy.” This one will require more research on my part, but the Duke of Clifden was related to the Stewarts, the traditional kings of England and Scotland, as well as other families that may cross with mine.

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Salisbury – Day 21 – Stonehenge and Salisbury Town

We’re all familiar with visual images of people wandering around among the stones of Stonehenge. The truth is not quite the same, however. A highway runs by the site of Stonehenge no more than a few hundred yards away, but cannot reach the site. A shuttle bus from the Visitor Centre is the main way visitors access the site a few miles away.

Once you get to the site, you join a line (queue) of tourists going around the monument clockwise or counter-clockwise. Here you get a choice – which direction to go – but you can’t get any closer than about 50 yards. At certain times of the year (equinox and solstice, etc.) one can get a special ticket that gets them into the circle of stones, but you have to reserve it months or years in advance and pay a hefty price for it.

The closest village or town to Stonehenge is Salisbury, which seems to have a couple claims to fame. First is the HUGE cathedral (seat of a bishop or archbishop), but the second is much more exciting, at least to me.

Salisbury also has one of only four copies of the Magna Carta, signed on June 17, 1215 by 25 English barons, forcing King John to give the populace basic human rights. They were severely punished by the church and the king for taking their stand.

Cyndie and I both have several of the Surety Barons and signatories of the Magna Carta in our lineages, making Salisbury a key stop on our itinerary.

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Sligo into Northern Ireland – Day 11

Day 11 – Sligo, Ireland to Northern Ireland

Donegal, Ireland is on the other side of the peninsula from Sligo, and has more “history” than Sligo. Our first stop was the Donegal Famine Cemetery, a small plot of land near the river to enshrine those who perished in the Potato Famine of 1846-47. This single event caused more Irish emigration to the United States than any other in history. Families today speak of those who left and were never seen or heard from again after going to America. The interesting thing in this cemetery is the lack of headstones – this was a mass grave!

   

Donegal also has a significant role in the history of the royal family and the church. Built in 1474, the castle was occupied until the 1700’s, and then lay dormant until taken over by the country in the 1990’s and rebuilt. St. Patrick’s Church is a Catholic church named after the patron saint of Ireland.

Horses, cows and sheep are found on the farms in southern Ireland. Sheep become the animal of choice, and farms begin to spring up as you travel north. This time of year, the greening of the various plants brings subtle changes to the landscape each day.

The number one tourist attraction for many years in Northern Ireland has been the Giant’s Causeway. The Antrim Coast provided the perfect location for Finn MacCool to built a stone causeway from Northern Ireland to Scotland. Ancient volcanic eruptions have resulted in geometrically-shaped basalt columns in a fairly small portion of the coastline. The scientific explanation makes sense, but that doesn’t take away any of the magic when you see it. The photos provided below are presented with no comments – enjoy them for what you feel them to be.

As to the MacCool legend, to quote Wikipedia:

“According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realizes his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.”

To end the day before our dinner and last pint of the day, we visited Dunluce Castle, west of Bushmill. Dunluce, we are told, is a featured location in Game of Thrones. For me, it was another awakening, of sorts. Owners over the years included the Earls of Antrim, including the 5th Earl in the late-1700’s. A signboard at the castle gave me the name of the 5th Earl of Antrim in my personal database, previously called “UNK 5th of Antrim” and allowed me to identify his wife, as well, through Wikitree. I have added research into the Earls of Antrim to my To Do List, now that I also have links to them.