Our recent trip to Scotland was the last stop on a two-week adventure that had taken us, mostly by train, through the French and English countryside and the coast of Scotland. It had been nearly 20 years since our visit to the Scottish capitol, and as the train pulled into Waverly Station, I wondered, what would be the one thing that would fascinate me in this ancient city of castles, kilts and kings.
The conference we were attending included day trips to the Scottish Borders, the zoo and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which serves as the official Scotland residence for Her Majesty the Queen. The dinners were planned in beautiful locations that included Edinburg Castle, built on a foreboding cliff called Castle Rock that dominates the skyline. Climbing to the top, where the black tie gala dinner was held, proved to be challenging for those who chose to wear heels and long gowns. My flat suede boots and fitted, tiered riding coat were perfect for the climb on the uneven cobblestone roads and the windy courtyard, where actors greeted us in full medieval costume. They were reenacting a siege on the rock, and the birth of King James by Mary, Queen of Scots. The tartan kilts they wore proved to be functional and fashionable, as they demonstrated on one of the attendees how to pleat and wrap it around the body. It reminded me of famed fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who designed his own tartan and embraced his Scottish roots by using it in nonconforming ways. As the swordsmen acted out their battle with sparks flying, it was as if we had been transported to a different era that was grittier, but exhilarating.
Cuisine is experiencing a renaissance in Edinburg, attracting young, European chefs who take the staples of the land, and create hip menus that are a far cry from the unseasoned, traditional fare of the past. Even Haggis has had a makeover! The national dish made of sheep's heart, liver and lungs, cooked in a sheep's stomach, was made famous by Robert Burns' poem, “Address to a Haggis.” It is read at Burns Suppers as they parade into the dining room, carrying the Haggis on a silver platter lead by bagpipes. Now, there are haggis-flavored chips, deep fried haggis, hamburger haggis and even pizza haggis. During dinner at Edinburg Castle the Haggis was presented as a delicate mousse starter, with sliced apples and cherry tomato garnish. Never once thinking about its origins, I savored the entire thing.
The trip to the Scottish Boarders revolved around the life of Sir Walter Scott. The tour included his Abbotsford home, a mix of ancient and modern decor. Sculpted stones from the ruined abbeys and great castles of Scotland are used within the walls and hidden in the gardens. His personal library of rare books is beyond compare, along with his collection of arms, armor and artifacts connected with famous figures of Scottish history. Dryburgh Abbey, where Sir Walter Scott is buried, is a magnificent example of Scotland's Border Abbeys. This is where I found my take-away. Surrounding the remains of the Abbey is a cemetery with headstones that date back centuries. I find these resting places as interesting as a museum or gallery. Established in 1150, Dryburgh Abbey is located in a secluded, wooded spot beside the River Tweed. The graceful architecture of the transepts reveals the best Gothic architecture in Scotland.
As I wandered through the cemetery, a headstone of a woman named Christina Shillinglaw, wife of William Brown, the Abbey’s custodian, caught my attention. Their eldest son Andrew, who died in 1901, is listed under her name along with other children. I wondered about Christina and her life at the abbey, and about her husband and children. The engraved calla lilies that are etched around the headstone entwine the story of a Scottish family.
Through her gravesite, I gained a new appreciation of Scotland's past, present and future and look forward to the next trip to Edinburgh, and to Dryburgh Abbey where I will return to visit the woman who shares my name.