Scotland the Brave!

I’m completely blogged out, as I have just spent the evening catching up on posts for NYWM, where I have pledged to write ‘something creative’ on my blog every day. Tall order. Much taller than I at first thought. 8 foot, at least. Certainly too tall to date. I mean, I could only kiss him whilst standing on steps.
It was an especially tall order when I went off on a jaunt to Scotland for an extended weekend last Thursday.
Anyway, I’m going to force myself to sit and write some more about Scotland before allowing some brain suck in front of the TV. Oh, but I’m so tired.

Ok, in a nutshell, Scotland was amazing. Screw Ireland. Scotland is the best, best, best, best place on earth. I’m moving to Edinburgh the minute I can. The city is gorgeous, the people are fantastic, the scenery is astounding, the history is fascinating and the stories are magical. Amazingly, I was the only person on my bus tour who had Scottish ancestry (though more than 3/4 of the bus was either German or Asian, so that may have had something to do with it), and it gave me this strange sense of ownership over the place. I really had a feeling of ‘coming home’, which is bizarre, considering my family left the place many decades ago, and my father wasn’t big on his Celtic heritage. He was more down with the Welsh – we had to say ‘Happy St. David’s Day’ on March 1st and make jokes about leeks and listen to Bryn Terfel. He threatened my mother with calling me Myfanwy and we had to participate in eisteddfods from a tender age. I was 19 before I went to a Robbie Burns night. That was also the first night I had heard of Robbie Burns (and haggis, incidentally. Hard to ignore haggis when it is plonked down in front of you in all its steaming, intestine-spewing goodness). Though my first boyfriend was a Macauley, so maybe that counts for something. Anyway, there is actually a lot of Scottish heritage in my family. On mum’s side, we were Bruces, which, as I was told on my tour, is a very important last name in Scottish history – Robert the Bruce saved Scotland, as you should probably all know.

So, despite the fact that all my Scottish relatives came out in the mid-19th century (and as far as I am aware, none of them were convicts, so they all left Scotland willingly, its not they were flung out of their mother country and spent their days pining for it), I felt this strange feeling of belonging when I went to Scotland. I felt like things ‘made sense’. I think its a feeling a lot of people with Irish heritage go looking for when they go back to Ireland, and which completely passed me by, as I have only one Irish ancestor, and feel no connection to her whatsoever (having only discovered her existence last Christmas).

This may be a made-up feeling. I’m at a point in my life, as you will tell, if you’ve been reading my posts, where I am desperately looking to make things into some sort of order. Where I’m desperately trying to make my life and the lives of others, ‘make sense’. Whether this is because I have finished full-time study, or because I have moved countries, or because I can’t see where my ‘career trajectory’ is headed, of because its my ‘Saturn’s Return’, or because I’m almost 30, or because I’ve been single for a long time, or because I am currently not romantically in love with someone (unrequited or otherwise), or because I’m depressed, or because I’m overweight, or a combination of all these reasons and hundreds of other, who knows. The point is, I can feel that something is missing in my life. Its probably been missing for a very long time, but I’m only just now becoming aware of its absence. So, at the moment, I am looking for big feelings, for a sense of a narrative, a coming-together of strands and themes, a ‘Oh, this is what its all about’ feeling. And, for whatever reason, I found it in Scotland.

So many things just seemed to come together for me, and I kept getting really emotional all weekend, crying over mountains and music and stories. I felt an instant love for Edinburgh (not hard, its gorgeous), and an instant love for the countryside, which is much more rugged and mountainous than England. Its the landscape I’ve always loved – wild, rugged and remote. The people were great fun, and I got along so easily with every Scottish person I met, sharing jokes, sense of humour, way of thinking. The stories of the various warring tribes – the Picts, the Normans, the Vikings, the Celts – suddenly made sense to me. I’ve always wondered why I’m a natural blonde, with blue eyes, and a very Scandanvian look, when all my heritage is in the UK. Dad always explained it away with distant (possible) German ancestors on my mum’s side. But, I think now that it could have just been inter-marriage between Viking raiders with the Scottish folk. It also gave me this strange looping connection back to Norway again. Everyone looked kind of familiar, and there were so many blue eyes! So many names were familiar, in terms of surnames and places, and they were often names or places that meant a great deal to me. I may be talking out my arse, but I just felt like this was a place I was meant to be. One of my all-time favourite shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and there was an element of me living out my own version of that show all weekend, remembering bits and pieces of songs that Dad had sung me or stories I’d heard, putting it all back together in Scotland.

And, on that note, here is the story of one of the songs that my Dad always sang and the proper explanation of which had me promptly dissolve into tears, on the tour bus, no less.

The lyrics Dad always sang were:

‘You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
But I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
For me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’ 

I always remember Dad singing this song very jauntily, and I certainly used to sing it very jauntily too, thinking it was about a competition between two men as to which road was the best to travel on. This, of course, didn’t make much sense with the rest of the lyrics, but I figured lyrics in folk songs often made no sense, so I didn’t think too much about it. Its actually a very, very sad song. The low road they are referring to is the road of the spirits, the road you would take back home to Scotland from battle if you died. So, the story goes that during the Jacobite rebellion (when many in Scotland were fighting against England, because England had removed James II of England, who also happened to be James VII of Scotland due to the fact that he was massively Catholic, see and this made many Scots pretty grumpy), two Jacobites were caught by the English and put in a cell together. There was an old man and a young man. The English told them that one of them would be executed the following morning, and the other would go free, but that the English guards weren’t going to decide, and the two Jacobites had to decide who would die and who would go free. Then they shut the door. There was a silence in the cell, until finally the young man said to the older, ‘Let me die. I believe in my cause, I want to die for my country. Please, you are old and have worked many years, you deserve rest. Go home to your beautiful wife and spend the rest of your days in peace.’ The old man said, ‘No, my son, let me die. You are young and have so much life left, let me die and you go home to your new wife and your young children and look after them for the rest of your days.’ The argument went back and forth, back and forth all through the night, but a decision was never made. Eventually, the two fell asleep.
The next morning, the young man awoke to a silent and empty cell. He looked across to where the old man had slept, but found only a piece of paper, on which were written the words:
‘You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
But I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
For me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’

And then, our tour guide played this for us: 

Cue Jenny dissolving into tears.

There will be more stories of Scotland over the next few days, but I’m tired and sick of staring at this blog screen. In the meantime:

Towering in gallant fame
Scotland my mountain hame
High may your proud standards
Gloriously wave!
Land of my high endeavor
Land of the shining river
Land of my heart forever
Scotland the brave!

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