Category Archives: Travels in Scotland

Haggis and a wee dram

The culmination of the fiction retreat at Moniack occurred with a dinner of haggis and clapshot, a menu designed, I was informed by the Scotsman next to me, to line the stomach for an evening of whisky drinking.

The haggis was served with “Burns Supper”  ceremony — the “piping in of guests” by Hamish, and the “Address to a Haggis.” Thanks to Harpal for providing this photo.

Boggy brogues

Research in books is all well and good, but I find conversations especially rich. Asking weird questions at improbable moments elicits some of the most intriguing ahas! Today, I was talking to this Irish guy about history, and Scottish history, and Ohio history. We were ranging over a wide variety of topics when I thought of an account I’d just been reading about an immigrant Scot in the mid-1700s taken captive by a Native Americans. I told him how I’d been especially impressed by the report of how the Native Americans had traveled great distances with their captive to avoid the British troops, running over 30 miles a day.

“So I’ve been wondering about that. How do you think the Highlanders traveled? I mean, other than by boat, do you think they ran? Before roads and carriages and such? They didn’t ride horseback, did they?”

“No, I don’t think by horseback,” the Irish guy said. “Actually, I doubt they ran. I think it’s more likely they trudged. It has to have been more like trudging, doesn’t it? The land here is so boggy.”

“Right, I’ve just discovered that, trying to walk in the woods out here,” I said. I had an inkling now of what he meant by boggy, having veered off into a forest near Moniack the other day for a quarter mile or so. I couldn’t believe what difficult going it was, the cushiony-deep, mossy ground. It was the oddest sensation, like walking across couches.

An example of boggy ground, the pillows of mosses and heather to the side of this spring

“Sure,” he went on. ” It’s like that in Ireland, too. You can see it in the brogues we wear. The bogs make for slow going, and they’re so wet. These holes in brogues originally had a purpose. The Irish designed them that way because the land was so boggy, when their feet got wet, all they had to do was lift up their shoes in such a way as to let the water run out of the toe holes. It’s one of the Irish contributions to the world, really.”

I gaped at him in disbelief, but tonight, a quick internet search proved him right. My Grandpa Lindsey, and my Grandpa Patterson, Scots-Irish and Scottish, always wore brogues. Hmm.

A peek outside and in

 

This morning I woke to a rainbow pillar, stunning, and it turned out, a warning that gray clouds heavy with rain were headed our way. No matter, after a couple of hours at the desk trying to unscramble copious notes and plotlines, I managed to get outside and stretch my legs and take these photos, especially so I could give you a better idea of the Moniack Mhor Centre.

The inside is pleasant as well — a large farm-style kitchen, everything labeled and organized (I cooked with my team the first night, so am off the hook for the rest of the week).

Breakfast is on your own, lunch prepared, and dinner is a shared affair. I’ve been getting in walks, as well as writing. These flowers I found in an obliging field.

 

Scotland tales

As far back as I can remember, when growing up in a small mid-century home on the Southeast side of Cleveland, Ohio, there was this map at the end of our bedroom hallway.

It was actually pretty huge, about 2-1/2 feet wide by 3 feet tall, taking up most of the end of a hall lined with doors leading into the family bedrooms. So I saw it often, every single day of my formative years. I tell you what, without a clue what it was, that image captured my imagination. Does it, or does it not, resemble a witch with her skirts swirling around her?

When I grew older, my father impressed on me that it was there because it held family significance, it being the clan map of Scotland. “We’re Mackintoshes,” he used to say. “Touch not the cat bot a glove.” Apparently, Dad was quoting the motto on the Mackintosh crest, but again, for my young American English brain, life was full of mysteries. (It means, before you pick up a wild or feral cat, be sure to protect yourself with safety gloves.) The war cry of the clan was “Loch Moigh,” referring to their homeland in the Inverness region.

Today, after not a little effort and many hours of travel, I find myself ensconced very nearby Loch Moigh, just north of Loch Ness (Loch means Lake) at Moniack Mhor Writing Centre. While I’m feeling a bit jet-lagged, I’m oh so excited to have returned. As in, returned to Inverness-shire since a short visit here with Dave in 2015, and as in, returned to Inverness-Shire after my ancestors left this homeland for good circa 1803.

On the map, the Mackintosh clan laid claim to the upper shoulders of the witch, just beneath her head. Where all the muscular tension resides, come to think of it. The territory of the former site of the fateful 1746 Battle of Culloden.

I’m close, but I’ve actually missed the mark slightly. Judging by my rough calculation on the map above, Moniack Mhor is located in Fraser clan territory. Oh aye, now I’ve put my foot in it. But from what I understand, by the late 18th century, the clans weren’t warring so much with each other as they were struggling to survive under the “galling yoke” of England.

Or so first person accounts say, of those who emigrated in a last-ditch effort to escape the “galling yoke.” I’m looking forward to finding what I can about the Daniel Mackintoshes (McIntoshes) before they emigrated. They didn’t depart alone. Their exodus included the Roses, the McBains, the MacGillvrays, and others. A whole fistful of disaffected Highland Presbyterian Gaels, right at the scruff of things, it would appear.

So, after five days at this Tutored Fiction Retreat with Paul Murray, Amanda Smyth, and Jane Harris, my aim is to dig deeper and find out more.

Scottish cookery

scottish cookeryLucky me, at the Friends of the Library book sale, I found Claire Macdonald’s Scottish Cookery. It’s a small booklet of 30 pages, with gorgeous photos of Scottish standards, including “Cullen Skink” (Finnan haddock soup), “Clootie Dumpling” (fruit pudding steamed in cloth), and Herrings in Oatmeal, “one of the most traditional meals in Scotland.”

Here’s a recipe in Scottish Cookery for dressing up turnips and potatoes.

Clapshot

Serves 4
1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb yellow turnip, peeled and cut up
5 Tbsp single cream or 5 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp snipped chives
salt and black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Boil the potato and turnip in separate pans for 20 minutes, until tender. Drain them, return them to the pan, and shake them over the heat to dry. Mash thoroughly until smooth. Mix in cream or butter, and chives, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Continue to mash over the heat. Serve immediately. Apparently, south of the boarder Clapshot is called “swede.”

skirlie

Abroad and at home

This May, I had the privilege of visiting the Archives Research Centre in Inverness, where I took a peak at Croy Parish Church registers. The Kirk, as it was known in those days. Unlike modern church sessions (at least, those of the mainline denominations with which I’m familiar), these Kirk sessions included provincial trials of misdeeds such as fist-fighting on the Sabbath.

Here’s an excerpt from one such record:

Croy July 13 1740 James Mitter Gardiner in [Cabrach] & Margaret Gordon in Mitten Delated for undecent correspondence are appointed to be cited to our next meeting of the Elders appointed to enquire into the grounds of such report. …
Croy July 20th 1740 Compeard James Mitter & Margaret Gordon & refusing their keeping any undecent correspondence the Elders were enquired if they searched into the grounds of such report & answered that they found there was such a flagrant story passing at that part of the Parish but that after diligent search they could find no ground for it. Closed with prayer.

Can you imagine such a meeting of sessions at a mainline church today? People might actually turn out for the show. Strange words appear in the text: Delated. Compeard. Then again, it’s fortunate I didn’t have to decipher them from Gaelic.

“Delate” does appear in the Merriam-Webster, an archaic word that means to denounce or accuse. Not so the word “compeard.” Perhaps it is dialect? I don’t believe it is a misreading of the handwriting–here’s a sample of transcribed text of another such record I found in Google books:
book scots regional dialect

Back home, I found another tidbit of Scots 18th century history in the oddest place — the Genealogical Abstracts from Newspapers of the German Reformed Church 1830-1839, collected by Barbara Manning.
book genealogical abstracts
In an abstract from the Weekly Messenger of the German Reformed Church dated Aug. 9, 1837, is the following:

//LONGEVITY. RICHARD TAYLOR, the oldest pensioner in Chelsea Hospital England, died on the 10th of June, aged 104. He was a drummer boy at the battle of Culloden in 1745; his last action was that of Alexandria in Egypt where SIR RALPH ABERCROMBIE fell. //

Other than the fact that the Battle of Culloden occurred in 1746, let’s give this the benefit of the doubt and assume the rest is correct. The announcement tells me several things. First, that Richard Taylor was most likely a drummer boy for the British side of that engagement. Second, that if Taylor did live 104 years, he was a drummer boy in the King’s service at the young age of 13 years. Third, back in the day the Battle of Culloden was so well known that the editors of  this small German denominational newspaper in the U.S. felt this news from England worthy of note. Yet today, many people I talk with have never heard of Culloden.

Food and drink adventures

It wouldn’t be a travel blog without a post about food and drink. On Dave and my recent tour through Scotland, the Netherlands, and Germany, we’ve tasted such a delicious variety. The most unusual dish I had in Scotland: wood pigeon with black pudding, served on what appeared to me to be a (carefully scrubbed) slate roof tile.
Wood pigeon with black puddingI ordered it at a restaurant in Inverness called the Mustard Seed. The wood pigeon is the largest bird of the dove family, also known in England as the Culver.

The previous day, I had asked a waiter about Scottish black pudding, and he’d paused.

“When I describe it, you’ll think it’s gross,” he said.

“Try me.”

“Well, you take the insides of an animal, the stomach I think, they clean it and fill it with blood and–”

“Okay, stop. You’re right, I don’t want that,” I’d said.

But a day later, by the time we were dining at the Mustard Seed, I’d seen black pudding on enough restaurant menus I thought–oh, what the hell. The waiter assured me I would not get a large quantity, just a few small slices served with the wood pigeon on arugula. The taste reminded me of blood sausage (which it basically is). Rich, but very good. A similar concoction is added to Scottish haggis, which makes some turn up their noses to that breakfast selection.

Anyhow, back in Edinburgh, at a bar/restaurant called Whiski on High Street (really), I tried a whisky “flight,” a scotch whisky sampling adventure that didn’t require as much courage as the black pudding, but perhaps more fortitude. The waiter served me four bar staff favorites: Balblair 2003, Dalmore 15 Year Old, Jura Prophecy, and Ardbeg 10 Year Old, to be sampled in that order. I find I’m a fan of the less smoky, first two scotches. Just sayin’.

whiskey flight at Whiski in Edinburgh
Skipping ahead to Freinsheim, it’s time to enjoy kuchen–a traditional Palatinate dessert. At Tante Inge’s yesterday, Dave and I enjoyed slices of this delicious Apfelkuchen (Apple Kuchen).
Tante Inge's Apfelkuchen

In the evening, at an outdoor barbecue (the weather has been so warm and pleasant in the Palatinate) our hosts served up white asparagus, with hollandaise and cheese sauces.
imageNaturally, the dish was devoured.image

The meal concluded with a digestif — Pear Schnaps, a German form of fruit-based alcohol also called Obstler. This schnaps is not to be confused with the candy-cane tasting Peppermint Schnapps liqueur. Two different drinks entirely. Distilled just a few doors down from our courtyard barbecue on Wallstrasse, the Pear Schnaps was a satisfying finish. And we slept well, too.
German Schnaps

 

Are you here because of “Outlander”?

imageDave and I started off our morning at the harbour at Nairn. After we’d soaked up a little sunshine (and rain and hail), we dined on fish and chips at the Dolphin, then stopped in at the Nickel and Dime, me still clutching a cup of coffee.

“I don’t blame ya,” the shopkeeper said when I apologized. “Ya need somethin’ to keep ya warm.”

Time to head back to Edinburgh. On the way through Cairngorms National Park, we paused to stretch our legs at the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore.

image“Are ya here because of Outlander?” the exhibit interpreter asked as we entered the 17th century Highland village. She seemed so pleased about this connection I felt embarrassed to tell her not entirely.

Check out the gorgeous vest she’s wearing — the fleece of it was spun, dyed, woven and sewn on site.

imageThis living history museum was a serendipitous joy, real fires burning in the crofts, careful attention to every aspect of the buildings, artifacts, and the grounds, a replica of a village uncovered at an archeological site a few miles away. And also providing Dave and me with the added status of being able to say that, while in Scotland, we visited a genuine film location from the first season of Outlander. Not to mention the gorgeous forest path one takes to access the village. What a treat.

Family history and archive at Inverness

imageInverness, Scotland is a land of rainbows. We’ve seen at least half a dozen during our short stay here. Despite the breathtaking beauty, the weather–forty degrees, wind gusts and intermittent, torrential rain–drove us inside. (Conversation in the Ladies WC:
She: “Having a good day?”
Me: “Excellent, regardless of the downpour.”
She: “You mean, downpours! It’s usually so much nicer in May and June. It’s just been so cold this year.”)

imageFor shelter, I sought out the Highland Archive Centre, housed in a sleek building right beside the Ness River Islands. This is great. Apparently, enough family history types have come calling to warrant an investment in this state-of-the-art facility. No appointment necessary. I was helped by really knowledgeable, and patient, assistants.

imageMy favorite hour was the last, spent browsing through the church session minutes of Croy Parish (1730-1775). Lest you roll your eyes at the dryness of it all, these were steamy pages, accusations and confessions of fornication and adultery, or attempted same, quite detailed accounts in session after session. Gives one a whole different perspective on the Presbyterian Kirk of old.

Culloden Battlefield

imageWe’ve made it up to Inverness, where our first stop yesterday was the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre. In April of 1746, a loose coalition of Highland clans mustered to the call to restore the Catholic Stuart dynasty to the Protestant Hanoverian English throne. The ill-fated political and military manuevres of Prince Charles Edward Stuart failed at this very place called Culloden. Not always a student of history, I had no idea how large this event loomed in Highland memory.

imageUntil recently, I mainly knew about this battle from family lore, which goes that my ancestor Daniel Mackintosh was a newborn infant in a croft (a thatched peasant hut) on that very Culloden field where the battle flared up that day. When it was clear the Highlanders were in retreat, his mother (my 4x great grandmother) was forced to gather up her babe and run for it.

imageNow Culloden is an uninhabited field, but this artwork of the battle depicts a manor and homes on the grounds. (Double-click on the image for a large view). It was a chilling day for the 13,000 Highland and British men who engaged in the rout, which ruined Jacobite hopes and started the final demise of the Gaelic Highland clans.

imageIt was a productive visit, especially since  this Scotsman helped me arm for battle as a Highlander. I tried on a shield and sharp dirk (dagger) with my left arm and hand, and clumsily practiced wielding a heavy, basket-hilted sword with my right. The Scotsman only flinched once.

Later, we visited the Inverness Museum, where they had an excellent display of the round, leather and metal Highland shield and array of dirks and swords.
image