Wednesday, 29 March 2017

September 15, 2016: Our first full day in Edinburgh

The £5 pound discount-for-guests breakfast was not very good - very rubbery scrambled eggs. We decided not to have breakfast at the hotel again, despite the bargain basement price and a fetching orange tabby cat meandering outside the ground level windows.

Off to the Royal Mile: We walked up there from the hotel, and along the way saw lots of kilts, bagpipers, and cashmere stores. We toured St. Giles Cathedral, a splendid kirk (not really a cathedral) redolent with history, wonderful stained glass windows, and magnificent architecture. 

source: unknown, alas!
We saw a bronze sculpture representing the stool Jenny Geddes purportedly hurled in protest on July 23, 1637 against the imposition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer upon the Scots Presbyterians. 


This tone-deaf idea of Charles I led to riots in 1637 and 1638 in Edinburgh and eventually to the English Civil Wars at the end of which Charles was missing not only his ears but also his head. 

We continued to Edinburgh Castle and stood in line for 45 minutes to get tickets.  I should have bought them in advance, but we enjoyed the wait, as the snaking lineup reminded me a bit of Expo 67. There were people there from all over the world: from a woman in a black niqab, who was pushing a baby stroller, to a Japanese girl in pink and black plaid high heels (on cobblestones!) to the Tilley-clad couple ahead of us who were from Montreal.

The wait was worth it. What an historic place! We joined a guided tour; then once it finished, we went back to revisit what we especially wanted to see: the little cemetery for regimental dogs, St. Margaret's chapel, Mors Meg, the Crown Jewels, the tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future James I/VI, and the war memorial. Alas, for some reason I didn't take any pictures. Perhaps I thought better shots than mine would be found on-line.


The weather improved and later in the afternoon, the sun came out - still foggy in the distance, but much better views than the day before. This view, looking north across to the Firth of Forth, is not one of mine from the day we were there, but is reminiscent of the day's mistiness:

After our lengthy exploration, we were happy to finally sit down for a late lunch at a cafe there: pasta with salads. This is a shot near to where we ate.


Then we walked back down the Royal Mile, popping in and out of the  medieval nooks and crannies until we came to High St. We found the Museum of Childhood, a rather idiosyncratic collection of children's toys and historical items and therefore providing ...

... many opportunities for a walk down nostalgia lane:


We got back to our cosy little dungeon at the Cairn Hotel after we bought Babybel cheese and batteries for the camera, which may explain my lack of photos for this day! We added the cheese to the extras we had not eaten at breakfast: a banana, clementine, and muffin. After getting into our jammies, we watched Location, Location, Location (!?) and then Murder in Paradise. Humphrey, the lead detective, had been replaced by a snippy character,who was not as much fun, apparently.

I read for about five minutes and then turned the light out around 10:00 pm. Edinburgh is a very walkable city, as my legs could only too well attest. No journal note about insomnia from that night.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Onwards from Nairn to Edinburgh

What we did on September 14, 2016

I had spent a wakeful night while the codeine I had taken the day before wore off and cramps came back. I asked myself for several fitful hours, "Do I have appendicitis?"  (I didn't.) 

Early in the morning, we ate our next hearty breakfast. The oatmeal porridge was beyond sticky; however, with practice, I imagine our hosts at Cawdor House will get it to the right consistency. There was a magnificent coffee maker on the sideboard, which they had brought with them from Germany. It made equally magnificent coffee, which Greg enjoyed. I kept to tea.

Then off we went to the station to catch the train to Edinburgh.

The train station at Nairn on an overcast day.

The snack shop at the Nairn train station

The scenery cross-country to Edinburgh was not that exciting, my journal tells me. That surprised me, as I was expecting wilder highlands. There were fewer sheep, the hills were quite barren, and at one point some identical peppermint-green mobile homes were stacked all over the hill-sides, like hideously altered rectangular sheep. 

Arriving at Edinburgh, we found our way out of Waverley Station with not too much trouble, as there was good signage. We joined a cluster of people at the cab stand. A foursome of young people jumped the queue, but everyone else lined up decorously. The cab was very roomy: lots of space for our luggage and easy to get into. I was puzzled by this, as the vehicle was small. Greg pointed out this was because it had no trunk. And I thought I was the observant one.

A little cab like the one we took. Source:
Our hotel on Windsor St. looked out of the way on the map, but turned out to be conveniently located, at least for our purposes. 

Our room would have been behind one of the sets of lower windows.Source:

A very toothless but enthusiastic desk clerk explained our popout city map to us and recommended a restaurant for dinner.

My journal continues," Our room is in the basement and looks out onto the area beneath the stairs going up to the front doors of various premises. It is like a nicely furnished medieval dungeon down here, the darkest room I have ever slept in. But when the lights are on it is bright: white, orange, black, and maple - very modern, no chi-chi-stuff. It is long, narrow and clean!"

It was at the end of a long corridor of branching narrow hallways, which would have been used by the servants when the building was a residence. Our room would have been some sort of storage area, perhaps. My photo is a bit darker!

The Cairn Hotel on Windsor St was our home while we were in Edinburgh.

Once we got settled in, we went exploring: up and over Calton Hill where we saw several large monuments, but nothing else. A heavy fog obscured the magnificent view of Edinburgh; however, there was a unique atmosphere to the place, with people emerging and disappearing in the mist and the monuments looming like grey giants.

We made or way down the other side and found the New Calton Burial Ground (about half a mile from our hotel, as the crow flies). Opened in 1820, it has a watchtower to house the guards (and their families)  who watched out for grave robbers. With anatomical research on the upswing, there was a lucrative market for bodies in the early 19th century.


I was looking for the graves of the Ritchie branch of the family. My great-great-grandfather William Ritchie had been raised  by his uncle the Rev. David Ritchie, minister of St. Andrew's church and Professor of Logic at the University of Edinburgh.  The reason is that William Ritchie's own father died about 1806 when his son was only six or seven years of age. (Alas, I have no records about his mother, Mary Loudon.)

After a great deal of searching in the damp, and almost giving up, I motivated myself by saying it was not that large a cemetery. I retraced my steps and as my journal says, "I found the Ritchie plot!! It was directly diagonally opposite to the entrance and down the hill: furthest away, naturally, but there it was." 

I had narrowed my search in this area to the outside walls. Those buried earliest in Scottish Cemeteries often have their grave-markers embedded in the wall. In the photo below, the grave is in the wall just to the left of the green space at the far corner of the cemetery. Arthur's Seat is in the background. (Not my photo!)


Unfortunately I had forgotten my camera; the fuzzy image below is from the Gravestone Photographic Research site.


I copied down the information on a slip of paper, glad that the rainy/foggy atmosphere had cleared a bit and it was dry enough to write:

The William Ritchie memorialized above was the cousin of "my" William Ritchie. What caught my attention was that I was writing about his grave in my travel journal  on September 15th, the 119th anniversary of his death to the day (He died from a fever caught in Edinburgh). My William Ritchie, a Rev. Canon,  died from pneumonia at Sutton West, Ontario in his home at Dryden Bank at age 85 in 1885.

The Rev. Canon William Ritchie had a daughter, Agnes Pearson Ritchie, who is my maternal great-grandmother, named after Margaret Pearson, her great-aunt. Another mystery around an unusual second name has now been solved.

My journal notes: Then we walked back to the Taste of Italy, the Italian cafe recommended enthusiastically by the cheery tooth-challenged front desk guy at the Cairn Hotel. 

The restaurant was crowded. We got a high table at the front where my purse got tangled up somehow with my chair, much to the amusement of the people at the next table. Then a better table for two opened up and we were taken to it. I got tangled up in my Carswell jacket trying to get it off over my head, thus providing more free entertainment. Sometimes I  wonder if I have advanced in dexterity much past the age of six.

I had a tasty pizza topped with potato slices, pancetta and pesto. Greg had penne calabrese, which he enjoyed. 

We walked back to the hotel. I washed some socks and hung them over the towel rack. I also washed the insoles of my shoes as they had gotten soaked during our foggy drizzly walk. 

Once dried off, we watched DCI Banks or tried to: "The TV breaks up and the wifi won't work; it's either just slow or else there are too many cement and stone walls."

And there my journal ends for another busy day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

We get into mischief at Cawdor Castle

September 12, 2016

Off to Cawdor Castle soon, but first, we walked over to the museum in Nairn, where we chatted with a couple of the volunteers, and I got two names for future genealogical reference. 

Like most small-town museums, this one was a treasure trove of local lore, housed in a heritage building known as Viewfield House. Intriguingly, I later discovered it was built in 1803 by  a Col. Ludovic Grant and later bought by a James Augustus Grant when he married Elizabeth MacKintosh in 1813. The Grants in my family hail from Cawdor, near Nairn, and one of them did marry a "Mcintosh," but these Grants aren't direct relatives.

This is the exterior of the Nairn Museum,
the former Viewfield House .

We were also very taken with a special exhibit featuring automata (from the House of Automata located near Findhorn.)


An antique cat automata
or is he really Puss in Boots?

We asked the ladies behind the reception desk questions about the Grants and discovered that Budgate House (where lived my grandfather's father and several generations of Grants before him) was pronounced "budget," not "bud-gate."  My love of phonics occasionally leads me astray.

Then it was time to find the family farm, where, in the 1851 census, Caroline Grant, my great great grandmother, was listed as a 46-year-old widow and "farmer of  22 acres."  Her name was Caroline Masters Nicholls; she and my great great grandfather John Grant had been married in 1833.
John  died between sometime between the birth of their fifth child in 1844 and the 1851 census. I have not been able to find his death date, as apparently no deaths were recorded in Scottish parishes back then.  Caroline's surname solved a long-time puzzle for me, as my maternal grandfather's third name was "Nicholls."  How had that come about I had always wondered. Well, mystery solved: he had been named after his grandmother. 

Anyhow, we called a cab and the driver knew the present owner, who turned out to be one of the resource people mentioned by the museum ladies. Some of our cabbie's family had worked at the farm over the years.

Once we got there, I screwed up my courage, knocked on the door, and got permission to take a few photos.

Budgate farmhouse  as it is today near Cawdor

I wonder how long this stone wall has been there and if my forebears ever sat on it!.

Was this field part of the 22 acres?

Then it was off to visit Cawdor Castle of Macbeth fame. There is more about the connection to the Scottish play at this link:  

Since the castle was not built until the late 14th century, it has no connection to the historical Macbeth, who was born about 1005 AD. As the 5th earl of Cawdor was supposed to have said, "I wish the bard had never written his damned play." Nevertheless, it is a wonderful place to visit.

There was long, narrow, busy driveway into the castle, which we did not want to have to navigate afterwards to catch the bus back to Nairn. Our cabbie advised us to leave the castle by following a footpath to a gate, directly on the other side of which was the village of Cawdor, where there was a church yard, possibly housing deceased Grants, and a bus stop.

The castle was immensely enjoyable, especially as it was furnished and not a ruin as the ones in Kirkwall were.The Dowager Duchess of Cawdor still lives there. I was taken by how cosy the rooms we toured were made by the large, ancient (and likely priceless) tapestries festooning the stone walls. 

The gardens were spectacular as well: 

The Dowager Duchess Angelika Cawdor commissioned the Tree of Life, sculpted by Tim Pomeroy. According to a report on the website Black Isle Bronze, it was lowered into the garden by helicopter in 2011:


The minotaur is at the centre of a maze in the walled garden which was first enclosed in 1620. In 1981, Lord Cawdor had the holly maze planted in part of it. Later his widow, the dowager duchess, commissioned the minotaur sculpture.

The castle was begun about 1370 when William, the third thane of Cawdor began the central tower house. This photo shows a much later addition beside the burn (Gaelic for 'stream'):

Our curiosity about the castle and its gardens satisfied, we decided to follow our cabbie's advice and find that gate. It was not hard to find, but it was all chained up. Back we trudged to the entrance and talked to the young girl behind the counter about getting a cab. We told her we just wanted to get to the village of Cawdor and that it was a pity it was such a long walk around along such a busy narrow road. 

"Oh," she said, "just take the gate off its hinges,"  which is what the locals apparently do. In our brilliant way, we then remembered that the top hinge was not in its place, so back we went, flourishing our tickets at the ticket booth (good for the day, not just  the visit), re-crossed the sweeping front lawn and the blue bridge and headed up the path, and yes, Greg lifted the gate off its remaining hinge. We walked through, Greg replaced the gate on both hinges, and we found ourselves in Cawdor.

The only witness to our mischief was this sheep:

This is the house across the road from the sheep pasture. Cawdor is a charming little village.

We explored the church yard of the Cawdor Parish Church for a while. 

Alas, we found no Grant stones. 

Cawdor Parish Church was likely where my great grandfather was baptized. Duncan Joseph Grant was born in 1835; parts of the church, which date from 1619, are incorporated into the present church built in 1831. 

It seemed as if we would have to wait three hours for the bus back to Nairn. I thought there must be somewhere close by to eat, so we walked along and found this pub, the Cawdor Tavern.

It was cosy, low-ceilinged, and wood-panelled, and we had a great meal. I had pork chops, haggis and potato mash, more vegetables and Canada Dry ginger ale, which made me think of home. Restaurants in Scotland don't seem to carry ginger ale except as a mix for drinks, so our waiter apologized for the very small bottle. Greg enjoyed an Orkney beer and asked about why it was available here, of all places. We were told the owner of the Orkney Brewery, where we had lunched a few days before, also happens to own these premises.

Alas, we were told there were no longer buses running even though the route (#252) was listed on the Stagecoach web-site. We decided to take the locals' word for it and returned to Nairn by cab. 

The driver this time regaled us with stories about the lawsuit for continued possession of the castle which the Dowager Duchess fought against her stepson, the new earl after his father died. The son took his case all the way to the House of Lords, spent a million pounds and lost! The cabbie's sympathies were not with him. He told us of other profligate young heirs as well. 

We ended our day with our heads full of history past and present and concluded taking a cab in Scotland is well worth the extra expense.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

My "steely blue eyes" take in more sights in Thurso and Nairn

Hello again, folks,

I am trying to get you to Nairn as quickly as possible, but first, I must mention our  effervescent hostess at 4 Princess BnB in Thurso.
The very small sign indicates the  premises of the 4 Princess  BnB

She was, as my travel journal for the rest of Sept. 11 attests:

 ... very very talkative, but pleasant. She said my steely blue eyes were "evidence of my Norwegian ancestry." [I thought that was so cool: so I have steely blue eyes. Wow. As far as I was concerned, she could carry on and just talk and talk. But to continue with my journal record:]

We settled ourselves in our very small room, which fortunately had its own bathroom in the room, not off the corridor outside, as in Stromness and Fort William. 

Then we walked up the street for dinner —  nice cheese appetizer, which was a mistake, alas, for my innards later on. I had a teriyaki stir fry many veg (onions, broccoli, carrots, green peppers) but no noodles. Greg had a fish platter. 

It was rainy and cool the evening we made our way to the Holborn Hotel and the Red Pepper
Restaurant  (Source

We sat at the table to the right by the wall . The night we were there the place was packed.

Home by 8:30 pm — watched Poldark, the trial episode. I fell asleep, woke at  1:00 am, awake for  two to three hours. Grrrr.

September 12, 2016

We probably could have caught the 9:00 am train to Inverness, but we didn't rush. Nice breakfast: yogurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, dry toast for me. Pain and diarrhea, so I  took a whole codeine and felt better after a while. I would likely be enjoying the trip much more if I felt better. 

Our hostess again regaled us ... [in fact she had me laughing so hard at her comments about the state of my health, I almost didn't notice my stomach cramps on the way to the washroom.]

Then we headed out; it looked like rain and was very windy. We came to the train station and took turns going for walks. I found a nice park, The Mall, by the river.  

[This afternoon while writing this rather dull account, I decided to spice it up by adding Internet pictures and of course, more information: viz. "The Mall dates from Victorian times, but the new foot bridge was completed in 2009 after the old one washed away in a flood in 2006. The new bridge ... goes across the river in a single span." Source:] 

Photographer: Bill Fernie, and  taken on a much nicer day!

Then, while Greg walked, I  read a book by Trollope I had bought at a used bookstore:

It was a charming cubbyhole. Source:

Now we are waiting for the imminent arrival of the train back to Inverness.
The train was delayed 15 minutes and seemed to go rather slowly at other times with the result that we missed the connection to Nairn by just a couple of minutes. Our conductor was miffed that they wouldn't hold the train. However, the next one came in just under an hour [for the 15-minute or so trip to Nairn].

Our BnB at Nairn, Cawdor House, is a stone's throw away from the station. A very enthusiastic young German couple run it, and we have a bigger room that we have had so far.

The outside of Cawdor House on a day very like the one on which we arrived.
The postmodern photo-art was created by our host.

[We decided to explore Nairn High St. and walked down to the shopping area. On the way, we ran into the young woman from the BnB taking the laundry into a laundromat. We all said hello, and later I reflected that being the arty one in the family, i.e., her husband, had its uses]. 

We walked to a park by the sea shore (nearby, the Moray Firth joins the North Sea). I put my hand
 in the water just to feel close to PEI (Source:
The BnB proprietors recommended the Classroom Bistro down the street, where we had a very nice meal. I had sea bass, boiled potatoes and mixed vegetables cooked just right. 


Back at our BnB, our TV wouldn't work, so we read our books.

And that is the end of the excitement for that day.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

September 11, 2016 and our last day at Stromness

It is about time I showed you a map of the southern part of Orkney Mainland, with Stromness at the left, Kirkwall in the centre and St.Mary's, near to the location of the Italian Chapel, south of Kirkness.
 From Stromness, the ferry goes past the Island of Hoy back to Scrabster, not far from Thurso .

From my travel journal describing our final day on Orkney:

Yesterday (Sunday) we walked from our bed and breakfast to the church instead of taking a bus or taxi, as the weather was sunny and the route downhill. 

I tried getting money from a bank machine but couldn't because presumably my daily limit is so low. 

Greg got some cash.

We went to the wrong church first off, but someone from the Baptist church arrived just as we did. 

The Town Hall, now a community centre, used to be a church.
The Baptist congregation meets there on Sunday mornings.

He directed us up the hill to St. Mary the Virgin, which was tucked into the wall in what used to be the premises of the Legion (?). It was not much bigger than St. Alban's (in Souris) but better appointed,having recently been redecorated. It had a blue ceiling and blue altar hangings.

This is the outside of the church from a posting on the church's Facebook page.
The blue doors are in keeping with the colour associated with the Virgin Mary
 and abide by the colour scheme chosen for the historical section of Stromness.

This is what the little sign in the photo above says (also from the church's Facebook page).


Warm welcome: We were introduced to each of the 10 or so congregants and the priest, a retired interim from New York City. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Nice service: The 90-year-old organist played only the prelude and the postlude. We sang the hymns a capella. Good singing, which became a bit slower as the verses progressed.

There was a little four-year-old boy,a foster child of a couple in the congregation. This was his last day in Stromness. He was lively and dressed in a combination of Star Wars gear and a cincture lent by the priest. 

We went for cake and tea in a very small room afterwards. The village eccentric was there too in a somewhat outlandish get-up including lots of purple...He appeared to be very well-liked  and like us, was plied with lots of cake. 

The foster-parents of the little boy had two balloons and a present for their little fellow. He seemed genuinely surprised at the fuss and while unwrapping the gift, said, "O... for me? ... Oh... a buuhk? ... Oh... a Babble!" which he hugged to his chest and grinned with delight.

This is the Bible (from a picture on the church's Facebook page)

He will be going to England to live with his adoptive parents. I hope he gets to use and read his bible.

I didn't record in my journal anything about the striking stained glass windows we enjoyed in the church, so here are two images I found on their facebook page: 
This window commemorates St.Luke, symbolized by the winged ox.
Notice also  the doctor's bag and stethoscope for Luke the physician.

The sun shines through the window commemorating
St John, symbolized by an eagle.

After the service, we were walking further up the hill when Ann, one of the ladies at the church (whose husband is half-Orcadian), stopped and offered to take us on a little tour. She had an hour or so to wait for her spouse, who was off somewhere doing something else. 

First, she took us to the ferry terminal where we put our big bags into a locker - a brilliant idea.

Then Ann drove us around the town and beyond - so nice of her. She drove an electric car, which she was going to charge up after she dropped us off. There are 100 charge stations in Orkney! Ann told us it has a reputation for being very progressive in energy and experimentation.

This is the view of the town close to the mouth of the harbour.

This is overlooking the harbour closer to the downtown.

After we bid our tour guide goodbye, we walked along the extremely narrow main street : 

I thought it was a pedestrian mall until I realized - in time - that it accommodated
 two lanes of traffic. Pedestrians, look out!

Between many of the buildings on the main street, there were intriguing walkways up the hill.

And going down to the water, there were more vistas.

Here is the Stromness Hotel and the official (since 2007) flag of Orkney, showing blue for the flag of Scotland and red and yellow for the coats of arms of Scotland and Norway, thereby reflecting Orkney's connection to both countries..

Shouldn't every town square have one of these?

Now, where do those stars lead?

I was taken with the stone work and flowers.

Back from our walk,we repaired to a cafe near the ferry terminal and had a very odd lunch: potato skins with melted brie under a cascade of too much bacon. I paid 10 pounds in cash.

Back at the ferry terminal we chatted with a bicyclist who was doing his laundry. He found too late that there was no detergent, so he washed everything twice. It had taken him 11 days to cycle to the Orkneys from wherever it was that he lived.

The harbour at Stromness close to the ferry dock.

We forgot about the arrangement for our boarding passes until we handed the wrong,i.e.used, end of the ticket to the ticket taker. We were directed back to the wicket (where I had earlier asked about the wifi in the terminal) and were handed our boarding passes, which we would have picked up long before had we remembered what to do. There was not much in the way of foot traffic, so we boarded the ferry in good time in spite of the little glitch.

We had intended to eat dinner on the ferry but held off to see how rough it was going to get, as the bicyclist we had talked to had mentioned windy conditions once outside the harbour.

It did get rather rolling, so we just closed our eyes and went for the ride.

In Scrabster, another Ormlie cab was waiting for us. The driver turned out to have been the best man for the husband of the woman who ran the bed and breakfast on Princess St. where we were headed for the night. 

We were now officially back in Scotland ...

where further adventure awaited us. In my next blog, I will try to get us all the way to Nairn.