Dinner at the Thistle Hotel was indeed a Banquet with Scotland’s longest running stage show. We loved the haunting renditions of the bagpipe, the violinists, pipers, highland dancers and singers , with a lively commentary from one of the stars of local radio. The show included a potted history of Scotland, which was much enjoyed.
One of the highlights of the evening was the Ceremony of the Haggis, the piper clad in splendid kilt with the skirl of his bagpipes made the hairs prickle on my neck as he piped it to a table. This a savory pudding of sheep’s liver,heart and lungs, with oatmeal,suet and spices mixed with salt, has long been the brunt of jokes . Since Robbie Burns read his poem, ‘Address to the Haggis,’ in 1787, it has been considered Scotland’s national dish. The meal included a delicious leek soup, salmon in filo pastry, followed by the haggis, with mashed potatoes and neeps (turnips). Not knowing what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised. ‘Hey, that isn’t bad at all,’ said Marjorie. ‘Rather like a good quality sausage.’
Next morning we were sad to leave Edinburgh, yet guessed many wonderful vistas remained. We crossed the mighty Forth Bridge, and visited St Andrews golf course, named for the Patron Saint of Scotland, who was crucified on Patrice in Greece. Golfers in our midst were excited, since this was where it all began.
Glamis (pronounced Glamz) Castle shows the French influence with many pointed towers. The Lyon family have lived there since the 14th Century, but much of the present building dates from the 17th Century. We drooled over the many paintings and treasures. There are a number of legends of ghosts and apparitions in the castle. One tells of a monster , even a vampire, locked in walled-up rooms. In the family chapel one seat is always reserved for the Grey Lady, said to be Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis.
Outside it was raining. Sheltering under a huge oak tree, Marjorie and I enjoyed a picnic of sausages and bread, saved from breakfast. In the grounds we had our first glimpse of the reddish highland cattle, with their wild, long coats. On the coach Morag told us the locals called them Heeland Coos.
Pleased to know some local lingo, Marjorie remarked to the hotelier, where we had stopped for lunch, ‘I love your Heeland Coos.’
His eyes bulged. ‘We say Highland Cows. We’re quite civilized up here you know.’ Adding, ‘That’s an Americanism. We don’t go round all the time with heather in our ears wearing a kilt.’
Marjorie backed away, saying later. ‘I was only trying to be friendly.’
At Aberdeen, a prosperous fishing port on the East coast, Vince joined Marjorie and me as we explored, side-stepping puddles. The rain had ceased but the clouds were low and grey. the buildings grey and forbidding to match, quite a change from the delightful streets of Edinburgh.Vince was only in his forties but it seemed he was already a grandfather, having married young.
The Hotel Marriott was sheer luxury; ours a splendid room overlooking a huge blue pool, surrounded by a magnificent display of indoor plants. Silly me, I’d posted my costume back to Australia.
Next morning we left for Thurso, on the far Northern coast of Scotland, an area once ruled by Vikings who spoke Norwegian and Gaelic. The Tour Guide said,’ The population included Earls who ran summer fish farms; their activities included pillage and rapes. Thraels or slaves belonged to the Earls and Clan Chief. They had no rights. There were also free men who had independent farms. One of the more powerful Earls called Thorfin was said to be a half brother to MacBeth.
Someone asked how Scotland had chosen such an unlikely blossom as the thistle for a National Flower. According to Morag, there are a number of legends. ‘One says a Lord of the Isles, son of the Viking Chief, King Hakan of Norway, planned to fight Alexander 111 of Scotland, on the Isle of Arran, then totally Viking. In order to preserve the element of surprise, the Norsemen crept up towards the Scottish encampment at night. Unfortunately, their shortcut took them through a field of thistles and stinging nettles. Stabbed by the prickles on bare legs and stung by the nettles, their hoots and hollers alerted King of the Scots, enabling him to repel the attack. Under a 13th Century Agreement, they annexed some of the isles, including Arran. The King was so grateful to the thistle for his victory, he designated it the National Flower of Scotland.’
The road to Inverness traversed the coastline. The drama of craggy cliffs covered in brown heather under lowering skies, and rich farms growing barley kept cameras busy. Washing danced on the line next to some grey sandstone cottages, windows edged with yellow and white, below a delight of yellow daffodils and jonquils.
We shivered in drizzly rain on windswept Culloden Moor. In 1746 on this ill-chosen site 9000 troops faced Bonnie Prince Charlie’s exhausted men, who had spent almost 48 hours without food. The slaughter was over in an hour with the Jacobites crushingly defeated, as was the House of Stewart.The troops who managed to escape were told,’ Let every man find his way to safety as best he can.’
Afterwards, the Duke of Cumberland said,’ Every enemy soldier is to be killed.Every wounded man refused water. All houses who offer help or sanctuary or help will be destroyed.’ He placed a price of 30 thousand pounds on the Prince’s head – well over a million in today’s values. Cattle were stolen, homes reduced to rubble, women and children slaughtered.Butcher Cumberland was a hero in London. People danced the Cumberland reel and the flower Sweet William named. His enemies found a horrible weed and called it Sticky Willy.
After this battle, the wearing of the kilt was proscribed for 38 years. Bonnie Prince Charlie was famously helped to escape by Flora McDonald, dressed as her maid, Betty Bourke, he was taken over the sea to Skye, rescued by a frigate and taken to safety in France. Flora was arrested. Since she was an aristocrat her lot was to be taken to the Tower of London. Freed on the next amnesty, she married her cousin, Alan McDonald.
We saw the clan stones, now covered with moss, which mark the fallen. Looking across the flat field of heather and gorse towards beautiful snow-capped peaks, it was hard to imagine that fateful day so long ago.