Scotland 1998

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We arrive at Glasgow airport on Sept 28 and are met by Stanley Duffus, my father's second cousin. His grandmother, Mary and my Great-grandfather, Robert, were brother and sister. He takes us to his home in Linlithgow (between Glasgow and Edinburgh).  Stanley is 72, a retired schoolmaster, a life-long bachelor, and VERY British! 

Stanley has never met Susan and I think he worries that they will get along.  He very quickly discovers that Susan is knowledgeable about plants (and even knows most of the Latin names).  The two of them disappear for an hour into the lovely back garden and when they emerge, they are fast friends.

Stanley's house in Linlithgow
The back garden

Stanley lives a formal, structured life that is reminiscent of an earlier, middle-class British way of life.  He comes down for breakfast every morning wearing a three-piece tweed suit and a tie.  Each meal requires the table to be set with placemats, linen napkins in silver napkin rings and full place-settings of silverware and china. 

One day, Susan says:  "Since we are just having a quick bite for lunch, maybe we don't need the full table setting."

Stanley replies, in a quiet voice:  "This is just the way we do things in this country, Susan!"

Susan sets the table!

After a day to recover from jet lag, we set out in Stanley's car for a fascinating tour of Northeast Scotland.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish history and geography, and is an expert on Scottish castles.  Since retiring from teaching, he has worked as a guide and historian at several National Trust castles and palaces.  He has planned our itinerary, knows which sites are the most interesting and seems to have a reference book, a guide book and a map for each one.

Along the way, we stop at Glamis to see  the castle, Pictish carved stones and the first of many, many parish churches and graveyards.  Then to Aberlemno: more Pictish stones, a beautiful old church and another graveyard. 

Pictish stone carvings at Glamis Church
Church at Aberlemno

The next stop is the little church at Kineff, where we get a Scottish history lesson.  In 1651, Dunnottar Castle was beseiged by Oliver Cromwell's army.  The "Honours of Scotland" (the Crown Jewels) were smuggled out of the castle and buried under the altar of Kineff Church.  They remained safely hidden until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

From there we move to nearby Dunnottar castle.  This stop is disappointing as it is just closing as we arrive, and we don't have time to tour it.  Dunnottar is a spectacular, large ruined castle, perched high on a rocky point above the north sea.  It was a Jacobite stronghold and was destroyed by the English in 1716.


A history lesson at Kineff church  
Dunnottar Castle  

We arrive in the city of Aberdeen and stay in a bed and breakfast in a beautiful, elegant townhouse.  We are invited for supper by Stanley's cousin, Colin and his wife, Lynn who make us very welcome.  Colin is a sales representative for a feed company and he is able to arrange a tour of a pig farm a few days later.  Lynn works in the administrative end of a Scottish plaid and kilt-making business.  Colin is part of Stanley's mother's family and so not our relative, but we quickly warm to them and develop an enduring friendship.

Stanley, Colin, Lynn
Trying on Colin's highland dress

 From Aberdeen the next morning we drive west for about ten miles to the Kirkton of Skene.  The parish of Skene is situated around the Loch of Skene, and is the area where the direct line of the family of Skene of Skene lived.  Our family is not descended from the direct line and our relatives don't come from this area. Curiously, there are no Skenes buried in the graveyard of the church.  A few miles away is Skene House, a large stone house which is privately owned (not by a Skene any longer).  We sneak down the driveway and, since nobody seemed to be around, take a few pictures and get away without anybody noticing us.


 From Skene, we go to Turriff, where we stay at another bed and breakfast for the next five nights.  Turriff is not only the place where several generations of our Skene ancestors, lived but is also centrally located in Aberdeenshire, so it makes a convenient base for our explorations of the county.  Stanley grew up in Cumineston, which is five miles from Turriff and we go there to meet some of his relatives. 

Our first stop in Cumineston is Ardenlea, the home of Stanley's parents and where he spent his childhood. It is now owned by another cousin, Patrick Milne, and his wife, Lorna.  Stanley hasn't been to Ardenlea since the Milnes bought it and he is visibly nervous about this visit.  He is seriously concerned that the young new owners might have renovated the lovely old house beyond recognition.  On our arrival, he is vastly relieved to find that it remains the same gracious and stately house of his memories. Patrick is away working in the North Sea oil fields, but we are warmly welcomed by Lorna and we have a lovely visit.


Stanley's Uncle Edward and Aunt Mabel, both about 88, live nearby in a seniors' apartment.  They are bright, entertaining folk with terrific senses of humour and we enjoy them very much. 

Uncle Edward and Aunt Mabel

Edward treats Stanley more or less as if he were still his 10 year-old nephew in short pants, and we have a few laughs at Stanley’s expense.

At one point during our visit, Stanley slips out to speak to a lady he knows in the building.   After a few minutes, Uncle Edward says:  "Whar's Stanley gan?" 

Susan says:  "I think he has gone to visit an old girlfriend!"

Uncle Edward retorts:  "Stanley widna' ken whit tae dae wi' a girrul!"


Uncle Edward is a key figure in our itinerary as he knows an elderly farmer, John Duncan, very well.  John Duncan happens to own Jacobshall, the farm next to Chapelden farm, where my great-grandfather was born and raised.  Edward asked Mr. Duncan to take us to Chapelden in his Land Rover.  Otherwise, it would mean a long hike along a very muddy track.  

John Duncan at Jacobshall Uncle Edward and John Duncan

No one lives at Chapelden now, as the farm has been incorporated into John Duncan's neighbouring farm. The original house is still standing, even though it is now used as a cattle shed. A big door has been cut into one end, but you can still see where the fireplaces were, and a cupboard built into the wall of the kitchen.  It is possible to imagine what life might have been like in the 1870's.

Pictures of Chapelden that I had seen previously, led me to believe that it was a poor, infertile farm, where great-great grandpa George Skene must have struggled for a bare living.  I assumed that he was not a very successful man, who only lived in this barren place because it was the best land he could get.  However, Mr. Duncan spends quite a lot of time showing us around the property and he explains that the farm is considerably more substantial than I assumed.  In fact, he believes it would have required at least THREE HORSES to work, and therefore was, if not a rich farm, at least a reasonably comfortable living for a family.   Gr-Great Grandpa George left Chapelden, probably at the end of the 14 year lease, and moved to the much larger, and more prosperous farm of Sauchenbush, which we also visit briefly.  I come to realize that our ancestor was a more successful farmer than I originally believed.

The day before our visit, Stanley is fussing about bringing a gift for John Duncan to show our appreciation for his hospitality and to thank him for showing us Great-grandpa's birthplace.  He decides a nice bottle of sherry would be appropriate, but asks Uncle Edward if he agrees.  Uncle Edward does not!

"SHERRY???   Ye'll no' be guvin' a man like John Duncan a bottle of sherry, ye' daft booger!"  "John Duncan drinks whuskey!!!"

Stanley, very apologetic:  "Oh yes, Edward!  Yes! Whiskey! Yes, quite right! Whiskey! I'll be off to the shop for a bottle of whiskey."

When we return to Jacobshall at the end of our visit to Chapelden, Stanley presents John Duncan with a fine bottle of Famous Grouse.  Judging by the smile on the farmer's face, Uncle Edward had the right of it.

Mr. Duncan twists out the cork and says:  "We should just take the cream off the top, don't you think?"

It was a fine and entertaining day!

We also visit Kinbate farm just north of Turriff, where Gr-Gr-Great Grandpa William Skene lived, and where George and his brother, Alexander (Sandy, who came to Dryden in 1896) were born.  At the turn-off to Kinbate, there is a sign pointing to the next farm called Brackens.  Stanley, who seems to know every family in the county, says quite casually:  "There used to be a family called COWIE lived at Brackens!"  Well, on April 7, 1827, William Skene married Lillias Cowie.  What could be more likely than that she should live on the neighbouring farm?


On the edge of Turriff is a large stone house, called Ashton, that was built by William Skene.  He was the brother of our Great-grandfather, Robert.  William was a builder and stayed in Scotland while Robert emigrated to Canada.

Ashton - the home of William Skene

 Stanley takes us all over:  to Banff and Macduff, on the north coast, just across the Deveron river from each other.  We search out the house at 32 Skene street where (supposedly) George Skene was staying when he died.  The story goes that he fell out of his dog cart on the way home from the pub and died a few days later of injuries sustained in the incident!  Along the north coast are the picturesque little seaside towns of Gardenstown and Pennan, where the road into the village is so steep that you seem to look right down the chimneypots of the little stone houses huddled at the base of the cliffs.


View of Macduff from the church

One day we visit Fyvie castle where Stanley once worked as a tour guide.  Fyvie is a beautiful castle with towers and turrets and spiral stone stairs.  It is completely intact, fully furnished and was only sold to the National Trust in 1984.  Before that the Forbes-Leith family still lived in it, in all its baronial splendour.  In fact, family members still live in a private apartment in one portion of the castle.  The vast rooms, with their carpets and tapestries, ornate fireplaces, huge portraits and all the furnishings are just awesome.


Fyvie Castle
Key to the front door

A memorable stop is at an ancient stone circle near Daviot.  We walk up through a wood, to a clearing on top of a hill where a circle of Pictish standing stones looks out over a valley.  We are the only ones there and by staying real, real quiet, we can nearly hear faint voices from the 3rd and 4th century.


Standing Stone Circle near Daviot
Pictish standing stones

We manage a quick visit to Aberdeen on a drizzly Sunday.  The most memorable part of the day is the University with its "wedding cake" architecture, and the mediaeval King’s College chapel.

On the way back to Linlithgow, the road leads up over the Pass.  It is considered good luck to stop at the top of the pass and add a stone to the cairn.

Placing a stone for luck on a cairn at the top of the pass

Back at Stanley's place, we visit the ruins of Linlithgow Palace, which was the summer residence of the Scottish court. Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there on his way north after unsuccessfully invading England in 1745.  In 1746, the English army occupied the building, after being defeated at the battle of Falkirk.  Unfortunately, the soldiers accidentally set it on fire and now it is just a ruin.  We have a terrific afternoon, exploring the dungeons, climbing up and down spiral stairs, and peeking into kitchens, ballrooms and watchtowers. 

Linlithgow Palace
Inner courtyard and fountain


Fireplace in Great Hall


We also visit Hopetoun House where Stanley works now.  Hopetoun is not a castle but is a large mansion on a vast estate. 

Hopetoun House

We use the excellent train service to spend some time in Edinburgh and visit the big castle there.  We watch a little presentation carried out in period clothing describing the tools and life-style of an 18th century British soldier and a very fascinating display of how the early Scotsman prepared and wore his plaid (predating the sewing-in of the pleats etc.)  A little commentary also describes the habit of the earlier Scotsman " drop his plaids (kilt) and charge into battle wearing naught but his shirt and broadsword!"  Pretty effective, no?    At Edinburgh castle we take the opportunity to view the "Honours of Scotland" (Crown Jewels).  They are quite impressive. 

Edinburgh Castle
18th century soldier


We manage a quick trip into Glasgow the next day, where we catch a city tour bus at George Square and take in some of the sights.

 On one of the few really rainy days, we change plans due to the weather and tour another historical site called Callender House.  It is very interesting because it is staffed with people in period costume.  In the Victorian kitchen, with its huge coal fire, we enjoy a taste of Hotch Potch and some Lemon Pudding.  Upstairs, more folks are dressed in period costumes and working away in appropriate settings.   It is quite interesting to talk to them.   There is a clock/watch repair shop, a general store where I get to taste some barley sugar and a fascinating demonstration in the printer's shop.

 Finally we leave Stanley and Scotland and take the train to London, where we spend three days visiting Edna Blackwell (another second cousin, once-removed) and her husband, Ron. 

Ron & Edna Blackwell
Ron & Edna's house in Seven Kings

Ron and Edna take us to Greenwich where we see the Royal Observatory and admire the Meridian 0.  We also get to ooh! and ahh! over the Cutty Sark, and then we have a delicious lunch of fish and chips and pints of lager.

Cutty Sark                        photo by Krzysztof Belczyński

Royal Observatory            photo by  Steve F-E-Cameron 

We go downtown and tour the obligatory tourist sites:  Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, Westminster Cathedral, Big Ben, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral etc. 

Tower Bridge
St. Paul's Cathedral

Unfortunately we miss a chance to meet Aunt Dora.  Dora is 92 and is one of only two people left in her entire generation.  (The other one is 95, and lives in Zimbabwe).  Dora lives with her daughter, Ellie and apparently they are having a row about something.  At any rate, Ellie says they are too upset to have visitors.  It is a disappointment, as it is unlikely I will get another chance to meet her.

 On October 14, we fly home from Heathrow.  It was a terrific trip, and perhaps the best holiday we have ever had.  I would have liked to do some genealogical research, but you pretty much have to be alone for that sort of thing.  Susan already figures she saw enough graveyards to last a lifetime.  I don't think she would have been keen on my spending a lot of time in dusty archives.  I did manage to fill in some gaps on my family tree charts, and I even uncovered a couple of skeletons, so it was totally worthwhile.


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