Scotland 2006

The following are some thoughts on their first trip to Scotland, written by Kathy and Ken Junkins and published in JFA Newsletter No. 16, Summer 2008.

By Kathy

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006, at 3:30 p.m., the Duthies, (George and Charlotte) picked us up at home to take us, (Ken, Kathy and Logan) to the Trenton Train Station. We caught the 4:11 NJT train (track 5) to Newark Airport. The hour long trip took 1 hr. and 20 minutes.

Our plane left the gate on time (7:55 p.m.) but we had to wait on the runway for an hour before we took off. Expecting to take off in the light hours, we took off in the dark. Each seat was equipped with a pillow, blanket and head phones. I was unusually calm. It was very nice.

Once in the air, drinks and then dinner came. Chicken and Rice for me and Roast Beef and Mashed Potatoes for Logan and Ken. Drinks two more times and then the movie came on. "Aquamarine". It was corny but kept us occupied.

Everyone turned out the lights and took a nap. A small bit of turbulence but for the most part smooth sailing. Sleeping sitting up was not great, but we managed OK.

We only had about two hours of darkness. Once light, the flight attendants turned on the lights, passed out the Scotland entrance cards and promptly served breakfast and coffee. When that was done, we were 23 minutes from landing. We had traveled 3,270 miles in 5 hours and 32 minutes.

We landed on time and Grandpa and Nancy were there waiting to meet us. It got in with two bananas that I was so worried about. Actually, the customs desk was not manned and we went right through.

I forgot, it's now July 24th. We landed a day later. 5 hours time difference.

We went to Dad and Nancy's hotel so they could check out, and off we went to Dunbar. Scotland has rolling hills and patchwork land. It looks like a quilt. Lots of Barley growing with train tracks running through in even lines. (The train tracks are where the giant tractors have gone up and down the fields.) Boy, was I tired. Sightseeing was actually painful.

My thoughts about Scotland before arriving were that the food would be awful. Today, I had the best Chicken Salad Sandwich ever on a very fresh bagel roll.

Two and a half hours in the car, legs and back aching, we made it to Justinhaugh and Hunters Cabins. New, Clean, Roomy, the cabin was perfect.

I have yet to talk about the weather. Glorious! My hope is that the weather in heaven is like the weather we had today in Scotland: July.

Cool, Low 70's with a slight breeze. Cloudy but the sun is shining.

The cabin overlooks a big valley, more patchwork land. Cows in the distance. We have 2 porches. We have the windows wide open, no screens needed.

We met Robert, the owner of the cabin. We discussed top sheets. "Those stupid Americans" becomes the cartoon phrase for us. Robert graciously offers to purchase top sheets for us. We decided to "do as the locals do" and forgo top sheets. Bottom sheets and blankets only for us.

We eat Rice Crispies and toast and watch Big Brother, (the Scottish version). I finally get to sleep at 6 p.m. and sleep until 8 a.m.. Heavenly!!

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006 We wake up and learn how to work the shower. It's hot. I have slept. It's heaven. Weather again glorious. We open all the blinds, doors and windows.

We head to Brechin Castle Center. Nice shopping, breakfast and a tour of Pictoria.

We go to the cafe - we do know how to act or how to order. We decide on a raisin scone, a doughnut? and ham.

Remember how I said the food would not be enjoyable? Well…The scone with butter and jam was the most wonderful thing ever. Ham is actually bacon and very tasty and the doughnut was yummy too! Along with tea. I was moaning with delight!

The tour was informative. Learning US history is hard but Scottish history is so hard. They talk early centureis and I am doing math. It's hard to keep it all straight.

We next visit Brechin Cathedral. It's beautiful, old, and we spent a good long time looking at every detail. We saw the baptismal font where Robert Junkins was baptized in 1621. We walked down around Brechin Castle.

We decided to take the 3:15 tour of the Brechin Castle. Very beautiful, very informative. People actually live there. We met Tom, the butler, and we toured with Ida. We see the Maull Coat of Arms. Elspet Maull was the mother of Robert Junkins. Maybe we do have a Coat of Arms.

We then take a drive into Forfar. We are hungry. We find a restaurant serving High Tea. Scots have four meals a day. Breakfast, Lunch from 12 to 2, High Tea from 5 to 7, and Dinner from 8 to 10.

High Tea sounds amazing so we head in. We are seated in the bar area, comfy chairs. We have drinks. We are escorted to the dining room.

Remember what I said about food? Well…We are served about 4-5 pieces of toast each with fresh creamed butter, raspberry and strawberry jam. Yummy! Unlimited tea and coffee. I am still in heaven.

We are then brought cheese and vegetable Wellington with salad, peas and chips (French fries). Then, we got scones, pancakes, ???, cakes and more tea and jam. We could never eat it all. After High Tea, we decided to forgo dinner. We also skipped lunch.


Scotland has…or I have discovered:

  • No tall buildings, even in cities
  • Buildings are in stone or stucco and never wood siding, etc., with the exception of our cabin
  • Buildings are brown, tan and occasionally painted white
  • Most doors are painted red
  • No litter
  • People are always pleasant
  • No black people
  • Lots of fair-skinned people, I fit in
  • They eat their salads dry, my son Adam would be happy and I requested Mayo
  • They drink everything with no ice
  • All public restrooms welcoming and all clean
  • Driving on the left side of the road is nerve wrecking
  • It's calm and peaceful here
  • I have trouble understanding their accent.

By Ken

The first thing that impresses me, as an East Coast American, about Scotland is the lack of congestion, the wide open spaces. I was fairly drooling out the window like a dog on a road trip (y tongue wasn't hanging out though) as we drove along Scottish highways from Edinburgh to Brechin, and again later in the week to Inverness. Kathy and Logan repeatedly kept commenting "Haven't you already taken a picture of that mountain?"

Being an artist, I am a visual person. I prefer to describe things by the way they look rather than the events we experienced or the historical places we visited. And, so it will be here. I'll let Alan, Kathy, Logan and Nancy tell you who, where and how.

The skies are wide open and on this particularly spectacular week in Scotland, we experienced none of the typical bad weather associated with the British Isles. In late June and early August, the light throughout the day makes for sparkling blue skies overhead, occasionally dotted by puffy white clouds high above. When standing on a rocky shore, one can easily see far across the Firth of Forth to the opposing shorelines 16 miles away. And when cruising through the valleys between the Grampian mountains, those sheep dotted slopes, so many miles off, seem to be just within reach.

In Dunbar, our first top after our long flight was met by Alan and Nancy, we visited centuries old harbor towns and rolling fields of barley. It is hard to imagine that these silken peaceful fields, stretching off over the hills as far as the eye can see in most directions, and down to the open cobalt blue waters of the sea in the other, could possibly have been the site of the Battle of Dunbar, where Robert, along with hundreds of other loyal Scots, was captured by Oliver Cromwell over 350 years ago. The gentle sea breezes make the mature grain ripple like becalmed ocean of gold. We drove up Doon Hill to the battle site along narrow farm roads between split-rail fencing. I remembered the descriptions of the battle published in earlier editions of the JFA newsletter, but as I looked out over the countryside, it was difficult for me to see Dunbar as Robert would have on those cold, raining days in September, anticipating the coming battle against Britain's legendary General. At the top of Doon Hill we found a preservation of the foundation walls from an early 6th or 7th century compound, long gone when Robert was on the Hill.

Our cabin, 96 miles north of Dunbar and close to Robert's home in Angus County, was built on a railroad bed (abandoned in the 1960s as a result of the Beeching Axe cuts to railway services) just above the River South Esk, which runs out of the foothills of the Grampian Mountains down to Brechin and then to the Montrose Basin and into the sea. Sitting on our porch in the evening, we could watch the glow of the late setting sun backlighting the mountain range, across the Angus glens. I sat painting watercolors for hours in the quiet of the countryside. For those not accustomed to the high latitudes, (about 56° 42' N, equivalent to somewhere in the upper third of Quebec and far more north than any state save Alaska) the late setting sun of late summer can be quite a pleasant surprise. The sky was well-lit almost until 11 p.m.

From the edge of our yard, horses grazed on the hillside of a neighboring farm. Down in the Esk valley, an iron bridge spans the waters, giving shade to the fishermen who were sport fishing for salmon. A short walk down a country lane there stands a signpost pointing to the numerous hamlets in the valley: Oathlaw, Tannadice, Murthill, Justinhaugh, Finavon. Most of these "towns" are no more than a collection of four or five houses. In Oathlaw, where we went pottery shopping, a twisted one-lane road runs along a hedgerow that obscures any views of oncoming traffic around the next bend, and suddenly comes upon three low white cottages, one of which houses the potter.

Welcome to Oathlaw!

To the west of us was the town of Kirriemuir (population about 6,000) and to the south, Forfar (population about 13,500). These are respectable towns, and ones I fell in love with immediately. Kirriemuir is the birthplace of Peter Pan author, James M. Barrie. His house sits in the middle of a row, and from the street the sight of chimney-tops definitely gives way to fantasies of magically flying up and over the roofs of town, away to Neverland. The red sandstone houses stand three and four stories tall and snuggle in to make this town feel charming, warm and inviting. The streets of Forfar twist and turn, giving ever new views of the buildings and houses each 50 feet or so. These are the types of towns that gave inspiration to Walt Disney and other designers of amusement parks whose architectural diversities rely on being able to draw a person onward with rewards of new discoveries around each turn. In Forfar, I never tired of walking or driving down one street, only to discover a new alleyway or another street to explore.

Forfar is near to Glamis Castle, one of several that we visited while in Scotland. The castles and cathedrals of Scotland are a destination in and of themselves. Many castles are in ruins, many others restored, and still many more are contemporarily furnished and lived in by royalty or commoners. Cathedrals, which have stood for hundreds and hundreds of years, are still in use by local parishioners today.

A trip to Brechin (population 7,200), just 10 miles or so of highway travel from our cabin, allowed us to visit both an 11th century cathedral, and an 18th century castle. The Brechin Cathedral, like the towns of Scotland, has many faces, some open and inviting, some dark and foreboding.

Dozens of sculpted gargoyles, ruddy from the sandstone hue, gazed down upon us. Many comical, some scary, and the faces of the Apostles are intermingled, revealing the ancient mixture of superstitious Pictish beliefs and modern Christianity. The cathedral itself is ringed with a graveyard full of tilting monoliths and worn headstones, interlaced with flowerbeds in full bloom. Inside the towering sanctuary of the cathedral, sunlight is filtered through a series of stained glass windows, and splashes across the rows upon rows of wooden pews. Somewhere towards the altar, stands a squat stone baptismal basin, carved from the same reddish sandstone that the cathedral is built from. Three and a half feet high and two and a half feet wide, this now empty font where our ancestor Robert was baptized in 1621 becomes the focal point for a photograph of three generations of Robert's descendants as Alan, myself and Logan pose, in awe of our surroundings.

Brechin Castle, on the other hand, was not at all rustic. The current Lord and Lady Dalhousie reside there in all modern comfort. Yes, the castle was built in the 13th century and rebuilt again in the 1700s, but stepping inside for a tour, given by the butler, one finds an eclectic mixture of antique furnishings and modern amenities. The main staircase is hung with oversized portraits of the Earls of Panmure and their families.

If it were up to Kathy, we would have come to Scotland just to see the castles. There are hundreds of them, and we saw many: Glamis, Urquhart, Donnottar, Stalker, Edinburgh. By far, my favorite was Donnottar. Situated on a rock thrust up from the shore, it is well-defended by sheer cliffs. We approach the castle from inland, across a field full of grazing livestock. This day, the castle is enshrouded in fog from the sun-warmed sea coast. As we draw closer, the fog falls away to uncover a massive castle system, standing in ruins atop a high rock outcropping. Gulls wheel around the cliffs and sea lions splash in the clear water at the base of the castle palisades. To enter, we must maneuver down hundreds of stairs to the beach, and then up again, through the carved-out rock, and into the bowels of the castle. In a steep narrow cut, we are faced with gun holes and overhanging ramparts, flaked by musky dungeons. When we reach the top again, we are inside an open expanse of castle courtyard, surrounded by the ruinous buildings. The sunlight is plentiful here, where the castle livestock once grazed, or Scottish horsemen practiced battle, preparing to defend the royalty that lived here. We spent hours exploring the castle and imagining life in the 13th and 14th centuries here, and learned how a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell's army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crowned Jewels from destruction. On our way out, Alan turned to take a last picture of the castle, and seconds before he was able to snap the photograph, the castle was magically enshrouded with fog once again.

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