In August and September of 2013, I was able to see to fruition a dream which was planted in my head as far back as 1985 when my Uncle D and I used to daydream about one day travelling to Scotland together thinking that we might be able to finish a family tree which traced our family’s roots back to its beginnings in Newfoundland. We had hoped, you see, of one day being able to trace our family back to its Scottish origins and through its travels to Ireland and other places to connect it with the history we knew in Newfoundland.
The question always asked of genealogists, even those who do it as a hobby, is WHY? In today’s society, we tend to be more focused on the here and now and only recent past, but always looking forward to the future. But, as any good genealogist or philosopher will tell you, in order to know where you’re going, you must first know where you’ve been. Or, in this case, where your family has been. You see, you are not just you. You are the culmination of all the steps your forebears have made as every one of their steps and the steps of those before them, have led you to this moment right here and now.
So, with that mindset, I travelled with my husband to Scotland for the first time last summer. My Uncle D, though not with me in corporeal form, was definitely with me in spirit and I kept him in mind, particularly when we arrived in Dumfries where I had left a small stone procured from the beach near his home in Newfoundland, symbolic of just a little part of him that had made it there, and will remain hopefully for time immemorial. For, you see, without his musings and his enthusiasm, it likely never would have occurred to me to go at all, and without his footsteps – proverbial or otherwise – in which to follow, the gift of that trip and all the beauty and joy I experienced as a result, would never have happened. And so, I must firstly thank my Uncle D wherever he might be, for this immeasurable gift.
Travelling, to me, has always been a double-edged sword. There is the excitement of the upcoming adventure and insatiable curiosity at what lies ahead. At the same time, leaving my home for extended periods of time has always been a great source of anxiety for me as my Virgoan nature tends to want to take over and imagine all sorts of horrible things happening in my absence. For the most part, my logic takes over and calms everything down by simply pointing out that I cannot be in two places at once and I must choose one over the other.
So, that in mind, we set off. Arriving in Glasgow Airport expecting some sprawling structure, we were pleasantly surprised at the smaller nature of their airport and the expedient way in which we were processed for entry. We simply answered the usual questions at customs and were sent on our merry way to locate a cab to our first hotel, which was deep in the centre of Glasgow. To say that we felt as if we had stepped back in time a bit is to put it mildly. The taxi driver must have pegged us off as a couple of rubes as we stared gape mouthed at all the wonderful old buildings and structures as we travelled toward the heart of the city toward our hotel, pointing out nearly everything along the way and being so gobsmacked as to forget that we even brought a camera.
A few days there, and then a train ride to Edinburgh. The train ride was equally entertaining in that it gave us our first glimpse into the Scottish countryside, if only for an hour.
Edinburgh, like Glasgow, is a lovely city with so much history one cannot possibly take it all in during one short 4-day visit. One of the highlights was visiting the Scottish National Gallery and sitting in the same room as Rodin’s sculpture, “The Kiss,” which was on display there during our visit. I had to fight back tears as I stood in the presence of this beautiful treasure with only a few inches and a velvet rope separating me from it. The rest of the Gallery was equally amazing with its priceless works of art from all over the world, and an entire wing dedicated to Scottish artists.
After being in the cities, it was a lovely break to get away into the Highlands. There is no way to adequately describe the rugged beauty of the Scottish landscape. Suffice it to say, none of your senses will come up wanting. Castle ruins compel you to come close, as if being called by some distant and unknown voice. I was helpless not to heed their call. One such castle was Urqhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. To be on the storied banks of Loch Ness was a rare treat in itself, let alone inside a castle which Robert the Bruce himself defended hundreds of years ago. Placing my hand on the wall of such a legendary place, closing my eyes, I was almost able to imagine the people who must have worked tirelessly to carve each stone of its walls, who lived inside and on the surrounding hillsides, wondering what their lives must have been like all those many years ago.
I had similar experiences to these during our entire trip there, and our trip finally ended in the town in which my own family’s story began so many centuries ago. Dumfries. Except through a glitch with our travel agency, the first night we were to stay in Dumfries, we ended up staying in Dumfriesshire. Realizing that it was 70 miles away from where we were intended to be left me somewhat in a panic. To have travelled all that way, with my stone from Uncle D’s beach in tow! The thought of not being able to fulfill my purpose! My mood was desolate to say the least, and in that state of mind, I am useless to all. However, my quick-thinking husband came up with a solution and so we stayed the first night in Dumfriesshire, but while there arranged a hotel to spend our remaining nights back in Dumfries.
And so, the first night there, my husband and I took a stroll to the River Nith and with me I carried not only myself and all my dreams and curiosity, but also my legacy…and the small stone I obtained from Newfoundland on behalf of my late Uncle D who never got to take that path with me, but who will always be with me and always, at least in some small way, in Dumfries, Scotland, where each of our paths began fulfilling not only my promise, but in some small way, my destiny as well.