Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dunblane

On Monday, during our week in Edinburgh, we boarded a train at Haymarket Station a little after 11AM. We were told that due to a bank holiday the train would NOT run all the way to Dunblane. Rather, we had to get off the train much earlier and board a bus that would take us to Dunblane - over an hour later than planned.
Grumpily, I thought to myself "We're hauling our asses all over Scotland to have lunch with the mother of some guy that Dave knows - and his name is Dave, too. Why are we doing this? We don't even know these people. This is a waste of time."
After an abbreviated train ride and a long bus ride, we arrived in Dunblane Station. We were assured that the busses would be running well into the evening so we planned on being back here for the ride home. We disembarked from the bus and waiting for us was Dave Clark and his brother Steven. Brief introductions were made and we climbed into their cars. Dave and Lisa got into the smaller car with David while Katie, Steve and I went with Steven and his daughter, Molly - 7 years old. Katie and I sat in the backseat with Molly between us.
While Steven talked to Steve about the local history Katie and I talked to Molly. We have never met a more polite or precocious little girl in our lives. She was fascinating. She talked to us about her stuffed animals (named after old british catoon characters), the local lands ("Sheep like it here - but not over there") and her schooling. Then she said, "I have a favorite character, you know."
"And who would that be?" I asked, expecting a Spongebob-type of reply.
She sat a little straighter and with a slight grin, "Captain Jack Sparrow."
"Really?" Katie and I said in unison.
"Oh, yes," she said, "He's quite wonderful, you know."

In fact, we did know. Captain Jack Sparrow is from the Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl and a great movie. What surprised us was that Molly knew who he was. Molly's encyclopedic knowledge of the character was amazing and she was even able to detail some of his motivations for being a pirate. Clearly, this was NOT your average 7 year-old girl.
When I had the opportunity to do so I listened in on Steve and Steven's conversation. From what brief snippets of conversation that I could hear Steven is well-versed in the history of his homeland and is quite the storyteller, too. The fact that "our" Steven is a history-buff must have made the ride fly by for him.
We continued on, through gorgeous winding roads in the wilds of Scotland, until at last we spied Drummond Castle. Mrs. Clark lives in Torlum Cottage on the grounds of the estate, and this is where lunch would be held. We passed the stonewall surrounding the fields on the right and came up to the cottage.

We pulled into the drive and climbed out from the back of the car. In the picture window we saw two older ladies, both smiling and waving enthusatically. I assumed that one of them was our hostess and I thought for sure she was waving at her boys until I realized that the greeting was for us.
They were waving at us, like we were long-lost relatives finally home again.
Whatever earlier misgivings I had about the trip to Dunblane disappeared in this instant.
We had come home to Dunblane.

Kath and Helen
We went around to the back door, where the house abuts a small garden and a lovely, rolling hillside. I would later discover that Helen (Mrs. Clark) has to shoo away the deer that walk up to the backdoor and eat her bushes. We went inside, and the first thing I noticed was the sense of belonging. The house was warm, full of great smells and many people. Introductions began. David introduced us to his Mom, Helen Clark, her best friend, Kath and David's partner Paolo. Through Steven we met his wife Jackie and their 16 year old son, Douglas. We had already met their daughter Molly. Then Helen explained that her son Andrew was going to be late but he would be arriving with his wife and their newborn.
We introduced ourselves to the Clark's, laughing when we realized that Helen's son's names matched the names of the men on the trip from Boston. Helen laughed (a hearty laugh) and claimed that it was fate that brought us together.
Then they offered us a glass of wine and led us into their dining room. This was a small area (it IS a cottage, after all) and all of the furniture was pushed against the walls. A buffet table stood to one side, covered in bread, chips, veggies, you name it - all from Marks & Spenser. It looked like a Thanksgiving Day spread.
I soon found myself in a conversation with Jackie and her son, Douglas. The family was together to celebrate Jackie's upcoming 40th birthday. Douglas and I discussed music, Colorado, skiing and drinking. At one point I looked over to see that Molly had perched herself on a stool near the small fridge - a vantage point that allowed everyone to have to talk to her.
Imagine my surprise when I looked over later on and found Molly holding court with Lisa and Katie who were listening intently to her tales.
Clearly, this young girl is a marvel.
Helen offered me a bowl of soup, while David challenged me to decide which soup I preferred more - his mother's or his own. My choices were a leek soup and a pea soup and neither would say who made which one. I accepted a bowl of the leek and, after careful tasting, declared that the leek soup was simply outstanding. The smile from Helen told me I chose wisely.
As I ate my soup and drank my wine I sat and talked with Kath for awhile. Kath has only known Helen for 12 years or so but they behave as if they have know each other all their lives. Kath and Helen have had some adventures, too. These adventures usually involve drinking and vacations. Nevertheless, I think that Kath was quite the flirt in her day and could probably give women half her age a run for their money. Helen joined us and began to tell me stories about her children. One story that stands out was about Jackie and Steven.
Jackie was apparantly the little neighbor girl next door. When Steven was 10(?) and Jackie was five, she used to come over to the house to see if Steven could come out to play. Which Steven politely did - for a while. As Steven got older, he outgrew playing with the little kid next door and moved on. Flash forward to college, and Jackie (who has stayed in touch with the family) told Helen that she was coming home for a visit. Helen made sure that Steven was home for her arrival.
Allow me to interrupt here. Have you ever seen "It's a Wonderful Life"? Do you remember the scene at the school dance when George approaches Mary, who is immediately smitten at spotting the man on whom she's had a crush since childhood? Do you remember how smitten George was with her after this meeting?
THIS is how the meeting between Steven and Jackie played out. They have been together ever since.
Later, I actually mentioned this similarity between her and the scene from the movie to Jackie. She smiled and said, "It was exactly like that."
"So you married the boy that you had loved ever since you were five years old?"
"Yes, I did. Ever since I was a little girl I knew that he would be the man I would marry."
Doesn't your heart just melt??
With another drink in hand (glenlivet) we sat down to eat. Helen once again proved a gracious hostess. She had heard that I was willing to try haggis - the ancient Scottish delicacy - and was glad to make sure that it was available for me. Furthermore, she made sure that there was an entire tray of vegetarian sandwiches for Katie.
For the next hour this house was full of good food, conversation and laughter. During this time Andrew, his wife and newborn arrived and more voices and laughter were added to the din. During this time I learned that Helen and Kath like to travel together. Katie and I extended an open invitation to Helen, Kath and the whole family if they ever arrive on our shores. They may just take us up on it.
After eating but before dessert we decided to take a walk over to Drummond Castle to see the gardens. On this journey were myself, Katie, Steve, Dave and Lisa. Our hosts included David, Paolo, Douglas, Louis (Doug's older brother and the source of some mischief in Colorado) and, of course, Molly. We walked down the country lane a bit to the roadway to the castle. Looking back over my shoulder I saw the cottage, and some closer inhabitants.
Looking beyond the cows, I realized that we were closer to the highlands than I was led to believe.

Truly breathtaking.
After we stopped and talked with some cows we continued on the path to Dunblane. The grounds are amazing. Old stone walls covered with moss that are lined with ancient trees are everywhere. The walking/bike paths go for miles through the property. I was walking with Douglas and Louis. As they talked to me they were also playing with Molly, who is clearly the apple of their eye. Both explained how when they were younger they used to ride their bikes all through this place, playing army, or knights or any other imaginative games. Meanwhile, Molly ran around, gleefully taking in the surroundings.
We came to an intersection where David was pointing out some aspect of the landscape when Molly cried out, "Oh! Don't get too close to the Goblin Bush!"
"The what?" I asked. "The Goblin Bush?"
She pointed excitedly. "The Goblin Bush! If you get too close then the wee beasties will get you!"
I looked over at her older brothers. "The Goblin Bush? Where did she ever hear that story?" I asked dryly.
Quietly (and proudly), both boys explained that ever since Molly was little they would come over here to play or take walks. One day the boys told her that this massive, overhanging bush was really a Goblin Bush, and if you got too close to it then the beasties would come out and grab you. Usually, while one of them was telling this tale, the other brother had already crawled into the shrubbery and shook the branches whenever Molly started to come near.
I laughed out loud. Boys will be boys, even in Scotland.
Molly ran over to me and warned me again not to get too close to the Goblin Bush. With all the seriousness I could muster I thanked her for her warning and explained that "letting the Goblins get me would be bad, because only a few moments would pass in their world while our here many years could pass in the blink of an eye."
"I know!" She squealed. "Dinnae let the wee beasties take ye!"
With a nod to the boys, and Molly running ahead of us now, we continued towards the castle. After passing through the gate that Liam Neeson rode through as "Rob Roy" we walked across the cobblestone courtyard and we saw this -
The dominant feature of the garden is a St Andrew’s Cross with the multiplex 17th century sundial at its centre. A strong north-south axis runs through the garden, down the impressive flight of steps to the sundial, through the classical archway and kitchen garden beyond, cutting a swathe through woodland before rising to the top of the opposing hillside. This idea of drawing the countryside into the garden is essentially French; however, Drummond is an eclectic garden and also rooted firmly in the Italian style with its fountains, terracing, urns and statuary.
It is simply stunning.
This is the view of the castle from the stairs.

As we walked the grounds we uncovered a greenhouse, a peacock and a marble bridge, with a great view of the castle and the keep.

We strolled through the garden for over an hour when we realized that it was near to 5PM, when the gatekeeper is slated to leave. We made our way back up the path and started the short journey back to the cottage. Along the way Andrew and his wife pulled up in the car. They needed to head home and wanted to say goodbye to David, Paolo and the wayward Americans. We bid them safe journey as we passed the cows once again.
Upon arriving at the Clark's house, dessert was ready. There was cheesecake (Marks & Spenser), coffee and scotch. I had all three. We sat and talked some more. Steven even told me the correct pronunciation of quaich. Basically, you have to roll the "ch" in the back of your throat. This would come in handy later, because I knew that I wanted to bring one of these home with us.
Around 7-ish, we realized that we had been here over 6 hours without missing a beat. We could have stayed a lot longer but we had a bus and a train to catch. Next thing we knew, they had arranged for a cab to pick us up and bring us back to Dunblane. Before we left, we wanted a photo of the family - minus Andrew and his family, unfortunately. They gathered at the back garden:

L to R:Steven, Douglas, David, Louis, Molly, Jackie, Kath, Helen & Paolo
I wish we could remember the dog's name. To quote Katie - "She was a cutie-pie!"
Our taxi arrived, Helen gave us a bag of sandwiches and snacks to bring with us. I paused and looked at the front garden in the evening light.
Somebody exitedly called out and pointed over the castle grounds. A rainbow had appeared and descended nearby. All agreed this was a good omen, indeed. With hugs all around, we got into the cab and waved goobye to the Clark's - people that I really hope that we see again.
And yet, our day was not over yet.
The cabride home was full of beautiful scenary:

Also, we had a cabdriver so full of local color he had his own pallette. He was 70 if a day and I remember him telling us that his wife had gone on vacation with their daughter. I asked when he would get his vacation and, with an accent as thick as haggis he said, "This is it. They're out of the house and its quiet for a change."
Needless to say, the ride back to Dunblane was full of laughter, too.
When we arrived at the train station the taxi driver told us that the fare had been paid by the Clark's. We silently thanked them and tipped him anyway. A very efficient rail employee told us that the bus wouldn't arrive for 25 minutes or so. After walking the tiny town square for a few minutes Steve and I decided to stop into the Village Bar for a quick pint while we waited for the bus. Katie, Dave and Lisa declined to join us. Lisa was particularly nervous about missing the bus so we put her on watch duty.
Steve and I crossed the street, walked through the door and bellied up to the end of the bar that was full of locals. We waited for a minute or so when a burly guy in a white shirt stepped in behind the bar. "Evenin' gents. What'll ya have?"
Steve ordered a Fosters (I think) while I asked for whatever he recommended on tap. He poured me an ale while I asked, "What is it?"
"I'll tell you in a minute" he replied good-naturedly as he continued to pour my drink.
After that minute passed he came over and introduced himself. We introduced ourselves to Tommy as we settled our tab. Tommy explained that it was an anniversary brew of a local ale. I cannot for the life of me remember its name. As I started drinking my beer Lisa came running into the bar and yelled "The bus is here!" and ran out again.
Tommy looked at me and then looked at my full glass. "Oh well", I said. "We can't let it go to waste" and I drained the glass in one long, continuous motion. Tommy nodded his approval; so did a couple of other patrons. We thanked Tommy for his hospitality and ran outside to catch the bus.
The wrong bus.
We looked at Lisa who said, "I thought it was the right one. The time is getting close you know."
Steve and I looked at each other and said, "We're going back to the bar."
We quickly told everyone how cool we thought the place was and Dave and Katie decided to join us. Lisa, ever-vigilant, remained on bus duty.
We walked back in. Tommy asked loudly "What happened?" and the patrons laughed when we said "Wrong bus." Then I introduced Dave and Katie to Tommy and asked for another round. We talked to Tommy for 20 minutes or so. He asked us where we were from and told us that he was visiting with friends from America at the back table. Tommy was a congenial guy and a damn fine bartender. In short order he made us feel like we had been coming there for years.

Finally the bus arrived. Now comfortably full of scottish ale we boarded the bus to bring us to the train to bring us back to Murrayfield. We boarded the 2nd level of the bus and sat right up front. What a great way to sight-see.
In fact, we saw more than we bargained for.
Steve has an interest in engineering marvels. Apparantly one of the most innovative engineering designs is currently in Falkirk, Scotland. The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde with the Unions Canal. The difference in the levels of the two canals at the wheel is equivalent to the height of an eight story building. Steve managed to see this structure off in the distance and was very excited that one of the bus stops was in Falkirk. After we dropped of the passenger at Falkirk a voice rang out from downstairs. The bus driver had asked if Steve would like to get a closer look at the Falkirk Wheel. "Can we do that?" Steve asked.
"Sure - why not? We're not busy."
The bus turned around and made its way to higher ground, affording Steve some fantastic views of this magnificent structure.
We enjoyed the rest of the ride by marveling at how amazing this entire day had been.
We decided to walk back home from the train station and on the way we stopped at the Roseburn fora quick nightcap.
This is a great bar on a corner site near Murrayfield stadium. It is spacious with high ceilings, and lots of room at the bar. We sat at a booth near the door.

It was near to 10PM and the sky was still a deep blue, not quite night. This place reminded us of Doyle's somewhat, and we decided we would be back later in the week for a longer visit. We paid the tab and headed out into the cool, Scottish air. We made a leisurely pace down Corstorphine and finally arrived at home near to 10:30PM.
Exhausted, we headed to bed and went to sleep with full bellies and a lifetime of memories.
This was my favorite day of the trip.

4 Comments:

Blogger Cynthia said...

A very good day indeed.

I enjoyed this immensely. I was drooling with envy.

There's nothing like being a guest in someone's home in another country. We Yanks do hospitality okay but we have nothing on other folks.

Will you be telling us anymore about the trip?

1:11 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Andy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. This was one long post to get through.

There were 4 more full days of vacation so there may be another tale or two.

2:52 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

Awesome! So worth the wait Andy. I'll stop pestering you now, but if you'd like to write some more, please, by all means...feel free.

I love cows. They're cute. Too bad they taste so good.

9:49 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger ohmollygosh said...

Molly here from Scotland,7 years really do fly-by! Lovely reading this blog I stumbled across. I still remember your visit and I still plan on marrying Captain Jack Sparrow some day.
Watch out for the wee beasties!
Molly

1:01 PM, March 13, 2014  

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