"Home to Scotland" by Don Bruce.
Day 1. 23 June 2014, Monday: We arrived in Scotland yesterday and immediately went to see our chief, Lord Elgin, to pay our respects. He and Lady Elgin welcomed us and told us of all the plans for the week to celebrate Bannockburn. Today we went to Edinburgh with our sons and daughter in law who are here too. It was great to see the sights with them and show them the history. We have seen little about the coming vote on independence. I am not sure what to expect while we are here. It will be interesting. Tomorrow it is Stirling and Bannockburn and a visit to the new Visitors Center. Can't wait. More later.
Day 2. This day in Scotland was the actual anniversary date of the Battle of Bannockburn. We spent it with many of our family members at the Bannockburn Heritage site. The new Visitor Center is absolutely amazing. The technology for the 3D battle show and the interactive battle game is top notch. It was great fun and very educational, even for someone well versed in the battle history. We followed that with a visit to Stirling Castle, always a treat. The palace building is newly refurbished since we were there last and is quite impressive. I certainly felt a lot of emotion today seeing the grand equestrian statue and knowing that this was the date 700 years ago. My sons got to meet their chief and it was a memorable day for us all.fas. I was reminded again how much I love Scotland and how friendly its people truly are. What a treat to be here today.
Day 3. Today our chief took us on a boat tour of the Forth River and to the island of Inchcolm. He provided us with great commentary as our tour guide. Inchcolm Island has an abbey that dates back to the 13th century and much of it is still standing. What a fascinating place! Tomorrow we visit Clackmannon Tower to see our ancestral home, as we are all Bruce's of Clackmannon.
I am still struggling with driving over here, even though I have done it before. This time I have a manual transmission, so I am struggling with trying to figure out the signage, watch the traffic, watch what gear I am in and try to maintain my cool. It seems like we get lost at every roundabout. Hopefully it will get better soon. We are gradually figuring out the car's GPS. On to tomorrow!
Day 4. Today we visited Clackmannon Tower. Our chief thought it would be a good example of medieval life for us and it was. It was built as a military installation first but was given to Thomas Bruce by King David as the home for the Bruce family in the 14th century. It served as such until about 1791 when Lady Catherine Bruce died at age 95. She hosted Robert Burns there shortly before her death as I explained at the Burns dinner in January. It is not open to the public as it is being restored and we had to wear hard hats inside. Fun!
We then toured Culross Palace, built by wealthy merchant George Bruce. Our chief thought it would be a good example of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Very interesting and well preserved town. Tomorrow is the big day of our family celebration for Bannockburn. Can't wait!
Day 5, Part 1. What a day today was! We started our day with a trip to Glenkinchie Distillery in Lothian. Nothing like whisky for breakfast! Then it was on to the main event of our trip, our family's celebration of King Robert's victory at Bannockburn. We started with a celebration of victory and magnanimity, as our chief put it, at Dunfermline Abbey, which of course is the burial place of the King. William Bruce, president of our family organization, was in the procession with Lord Bruce, carrying King Robert's sword, The Lord Lyon, members of the Elgin Brigade from Canada among others. He also read the gospel for the ceremony. It was a great honor for our Family of Bruce organization. Afterward, my sons got to see the tomb of the great king on the altar in the abbey. It was truly a moving experience. Then we proceeded to Broomhall, our chief's home, for a tented party. There was so much happening I will have to do 2 of these today.
Day 5, Part 2. So much to tell and so little time. The celebration at Broomhall was wonderful. Plenty to drink, including some specially bottled whisky. Then a wonderful buffet meal. The evening was highlighted by the unveiling of the Bruce throne. This is a project of the Strathleven Artizans, who have carved a throne for King Robert from the Bruce oak. It was absolutely beautiful. Our chief was invited to sit in it and he did so with great humor. You can see the throne on line by googling the Atrizans and the Robert the Bruce Centre. We finished this amazing evening with a tour of the home. There is so much history there it is like going back in time. As I said, what a day.
Still no signs that there is an important vote coming up. Elections and campaigns seem very low key over here compared to our non-stop campaigns. I have no feel whatsoever for where things stand on the question. People seem very reluctant to speak out for either side. Interesting!
Day 6. Today was the last day of our organized Bruce events. We visited the Ceres Games. Ceres is a little town near St Andrews and has the oldest continuous games in the world. They actually date back to 1314 and were approved by King Robert for individuals from his army at Bannockburn. It is a relatively small games, but was interesting due to all the history. Today was the first day we had a goodly amount of rain so that was disappointing. When we returned to Broomhall, Phyllis, Kathy and I were given a tour of the grounds by Lady Elgin, a very lovely and gracious lady. We got some great pictures of the front of the manor and of the gardens. Then we were unfortunately forced to say our goodbyes as this was the last time we would be at Broomhall this trip. It was sad because our chief is 90 and who knows how much longer he will be around. Thus the first part of our trip comes to an end. Tomorrow we travel to St Andrews to spend the day in the town and at the links. It will be fun for our sons to see this wonderful town.
Day 7. Today we visited the lovely town of St. Andrews, one of my very favorite places in Scotland. We toured the cathedral and castle ruins and climbed St. Rules Tower to get a great view of the city and the North Sea. We had a nice lunch at Chariots Bar near the links and then, because it was Sunday, we were able to walk out on the Old Course. It was a beautiful Scottish day and we really enjoyed the walk. The course is absolutely beautiful, green and immaculate. The size of some of the double greens is amazing. You need a driver to putt! We then returned to Dunfermline for a great dinner at an Italian restaurant in town. Another glorious Scottish day. Tomorrow we head for Melrose and the abbey there, for more Bruce touring.
Day 8. 30 June 2014, Monday. Today our children left for home and it is now the 4 of us, William, Phyllis, Kathy and I, touring. Our journey today took us to Melrose Abbey to see where the heart of King Robert is buried. After a stop at a laundromat to get some clean clothes, we headed out. Melrose is a quaint little town with lots of activity. The abbey is in ruins, but interesting nevertheless. We did find the spot where the heart is buried, marked by a heart shaped stone. We then continued on to the wee town of West Linton, where our friend, Helen Bruce, lives. Some of you may remember her from when she lived in Minneapolis. She was a regular at Scottish Country dancing. It was wonderful to see her and she gave us a tour of her village, as well as a wonderful Scottish dinner of fish pie. We eventually had to say goodbye and head back to our hotel. This may be the last posting for awhile, as we head into the Highlands tomorrow and wifi may be hard to find. I will do my best, but no guarantees.
Day 11. 03 July 2014, Thursday. I'm back in civilization! At least if you can call Portree civilization. At least we have wifi at our B and B We were in the central highlands for 2 days staying at our friend Ann Chesin' s house near Aberlour. What a beautiful place! We toured Glenfiddich and the Knockando woolen mills. We stopped at the Walker Shortbread factory for some great buys. On the way there we toured the Blair Atholl castle that has been beautifully restored. Today on the way to Skye it was Eilan Donan castle. We are having a great time, but the weather has changed on us and we are getting rain and wind. Our run of great weather has run out. It has been a wonderful trip but I think I'm ready to come home. We leave Monday. I will have more postings before then.
Day 12. Today was spent exploring the absolutely amazing Isle of Skye. We listened to the wind howling and the rain pouring all night and left Portree in a heavy rain for Dunvegan Castle, home of the McLeods. After we started touring the castle it started to brighten up. By the time we finished and set into the gardens, it was nice. After lunch it got absolutely beautiful. A bartender advised us of little known directions for a "scenic" drive. We went up to Uig, and what we got was absolutely sensational. The landscapes, the seascapes, were tremendous. We all could understand why they write songs about this beautiful place. We are headed out for dinner in a little bit to celebrate the 4th of July although it is obviously just another day here. Tomorrow it's ferry time back to the mainland and on to Oban. More later.
Day 13. Today started with a quick drive from Portree to the ferry and back to the mainland. Once we got to Mallaig we headed off for Fort William. On the way we stopped to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, now probably better known as the Harry Potter Bridge. What an amazing structure to see! Then it was on to Oban. This incredibly picturesque city is very busy with tourists this time of year. I had a great meal of mussels and prawns in "the seafood capital of Scotland" tonight. One more day to spend on Mull and then our incredible journey is done. I can't believe how fast these 2 weeks have gone by. We have been blessed with great fortune and good weather for this trip. One more entry and then it's on to Glasgow and home.
Day 14. This is my last post from Scotland as tomorrow we head home. We have been here 16 days, spent a ton of money, and every minute and every pound was worth it. Today we ferried out to Mull and visited Duart Castle, home of the MacLeans. We met the MacLean chief, Sir Lachlan MacLean, who was actually acting as one of our guides here. What a very nice gentleman! From there we bussed up to Tobemory, another incredibly picturesque village with its colorful house fronts. The weather has defied the forecast and been beautiful. We got off the ferry and ate at the Waterfront Fishhouse, a recommendation from Neil Johnson. I had the best scallops I have ever had and finished it of with sticky toffee pudding. What a meal to finish on. I will post one more time after we return home to sum up our experiences. See you soon.
Finale. We got back to Minnesota around midnight on Monday after 24 exhausting hours of travel. Now that we have been home for a few days, I have had time to kind of digest what happened on our trip. It truly was an amazing experience to be there for the Bannockburn anniversary, to be on the battlefield site on the actual anniversary day, to be able to participate in a family celebration for something that happened 700 years ago, but is still such an important part of Scottish history. My sons and daughter-in-law were quite impressed and maybe only now have begun to truly appreciate the heritage that is their family history. I know I truly appreciate it and am humbled by it.
The entire trip was all that I had hoped for during the 8 years that we anticipated and planned for it. There really isn't anything I would do differently. We once again were made to appreciate the genuine friendliness of the Scottish people, how helpful they were when we needed it, and how glad they were to see us Americans come over there to celebrate their history. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventures. I enjoyed sharing them with you. Writing them down made me think through what happened each day and helped me form the great memories that we now have of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now I just have to adjust to the idea that the trip we had looked forward to for so long is over.
See you at the Fair!