Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Exploring Scotland’s Treasures

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Charles MacQuarrie holds an M.Litt in Celtic Studies from the University of Edinburgh, and a PhD in Medieval English and Celtic Language and Literature from the University of Washington.

This summer, Charles led a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers on a tour of Scotland’s Treasures.


During our boat trip on Loch Lomand, amid the beautiful views and smooth sailing, we approached an inlet with a famous cave. The cave of Rob Roy MacGregor, where after having been made an outlaw and forbidden from wearing his clan tartan or speaking Gaelic or even using the name MacGregor, Rob Roy held up for some 10 years. As the guide on the boat noted, next to the cave mouth someone had painted in white paint “cave.” The guide quipped that it was a wonder that the English didn’t find Rob Roy with the label right next to his hiding place. Dorinda, who had studied Latin, turned to me and the four or five of us who were outside on the top deck of the boat and said, “Maybe it is from Latin “cave” beware. That would make more sense.” She had a point; I told the guide about Dorinda’s joke, and he told me he was going to add it to his repetoire.

Loch Lomand

Loch Lomand in Scotland. (Photo courtesy of flickr user k4dordy.)

A few days later we were at the battlefield of Culloden, and it began to rain as we approached the gravestones that marked the place where so many MacGregors had died in the battle. Killed by vollies from English rifles as they charged over the marshy plain under orders from Bonnie Prince Charlie, who stayed safely behind the lines. The guide took us to the point where the English line had been, and told us about the artillary that the Highlanders would have been facing that day, and the rain started to pour down as if on cue. We hustled back into the exhibit building for tea, and explored the museum, listening to first person accounts of the Highland rising of 1745 read by actors from letters that have survived from the time.


The memorial cairn at the center of the battlefield of Culloden. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

When we arrived in Edinburgh, the weather was fine, and we were all delighted to move into our rooms at the George Hotel. Down the street was the tent for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and Michael Palin was reading from his new book the day after we arrived. The Fringe festival had taken over most of the rest of the city, and plays, musicians, and comics abounded. The biggest treat for most of the Smithsonian group, however, was the central event of the official Edinburgh Festival — the Edinburgh Tattoo, where drum groups from all over the world delighted us all. I heard the song:

O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and Ah’ll tak’ the low (road)
And Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye
Fir me an’ my true love will ne-er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomon’

as I walked down the Playfair steps on my way back to George Street, and I couldn’t help but think of the beauty of Loch Lomond, Dorinda’s witty comment about “cave,” and the somber dreich day on the battlefield of Culloden.

The streets of Edinburgh. (Photo courtesy of flickr user Moyan_Brenn.)

Our trip had taken us, rather like the itinerary of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped,” into the sublime natural beauty and Gaelic culture of the Highlands, up from Oban to Skye and Inverness, and then back to the lowlands and to the national capital. We had seen so much, and we had covered so much ground, but being back in Edinburgh, at the close of our journey, there was a sense that the strands were coming together, and we had made a kind of sense out of some of the most prevalent dualities that characterize this very civilized and wild country that is English and Gaelic, Lowland and Highland, Modern and Medieval, and at least until the referendum vote in 2014, British and Scottish.


Read more about Smithsonian Journey’s “Scotlands Treasures” tour.

Video: Hole in One

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

The British Open is celebrating 150 years in 2010, and each year has its share of highs and lows as champions from around the world vie for the Claret Jug. One unique situation occurred in 1981 on the 16th hole at Royal St. Georges in England, where there wasn’t just one spectacular shot. There were three holes in one.

Great Britain is home to many of the best golf courses in the world. But for most golf fans, St. Andrews is the best and the Old Course is the big finale of the British Open. As Tiger Woods has said, “’Winning at St. Andrews is the ultimate.” But for many of us, just playing a round there would be a once in a lifetime experience.

Known as Scotland’s finest golf course, St. Andrews is also one of the most difficult courses in the world and has remained relatively unchanged since the 1700s. The city itself is far older; it dates back to the 8th century, when the relics of the disciple St. Andrew were brought to the area by a monk named St. Regulus from Constantinople. Other notable sites in the area include the cathedral, consecrated in 1320, and the University of St. Andrews, founded in 1413, which is Prince William’s alma mater.

The Old Course, which dates back as early as the 15th century, originally had 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back. In 1764, the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, which later became the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, decided that some holes were too short and combined them. The result of this decision is the standard 18-hole course played today.

Now you can go back in time and check out highlights from the 1978 British Open with narration by a much younger Sean Connery.

Explore St. Andrews for yourself at the The British Open.

What’s your best golf score? Share below.

A Novel Journey

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Lourdes Fernandez is an avid traveler, reader, and photographer. She recently joined Smithsonian Journeys on our Mystery Lovers tour. Click here to see her bio.

A deserted beach in Northumberland. Photo: Lourdes Fernandez

A deserted beach in Northumberland. Photo: Lourdes Fernandez

“They were at the southern end of a long sweep of beach, about four miles long. At the northern end it swung into a narrow promontory where the lighthouse stood, almost lost to view in the haze … Julie stopped again. There was that salt breeze that you only ever get by the sea.”
- Hidden Depths, Ann Cleeves

Authors write from their imagination, but they also write from what they knowespecially the places they’ve been. As a two-time Smithsonian Journeys traveler on their mystery tours, I’ve walked through Morse’s Oxford, Dalgliesh’s London, and Rebus’ Scotland. On one particular blustery day in September, a group of us found ourselves gingerly negotiating a British stile for the first time and walking a deserted beachalmost the very same described by British author Ann Cleeves, who sets some of her books in the windswept coastal villages of Northumberland.

It was a simple thing, but for our mystery buff group, it was an adventurenot the usual type of tourist activity. And that’s what sets these tours apart. Let others walk the museums, our mystery buffs will walk the moors of The Hound of Baskervilles, or find the spot amid the Oxford colleges (at least approximately) where Lord Peter Wimsey proposes to Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night. At the right time, Study Leader Rosalind Hutchison will whip out a book from her voluminous briefcase and read the appropriate passage, putting us at the scene of the crime, as it were.