Monday, December 1, 2008

Fàilte (or Welcome as they say in Scottish Gaelic)

I’ve just returned from the land of Highland Coos – those adorable shaggy cows that look like over-sized Shih Tzus. My husband and I spent a week visiting our daughter who is spending the semester at the University of Glasgow. Don’t ask me what time it is -- my internal time clock is on the fritz.

My husband is a Scottish history junkie. So for days we wandered from Cathedral to battlefield to castle ruins, he examining old relics, me sipping tea and holding an informal scone contest (which the café at St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art won hands down).

Our first stop was Rosslyn Chapel, a small fifteenth century exquisite stone church, every single inch of which is covered with ornate and detailed carvings. You probably recognize the name because it’s the site of the big reveal in Dan Brown’s thriller, The Da Vinci Code. With the publication of the book in 2003, visits mushroomed from 30,000 per year to 30,000 in a single month! By the way, talk about the power of the Internet for research – our guide told us that until they filmed the movie, Dan Brown had never actually visited Rosslyn Chapel. As a mystery writer, I was more intrigued by the whodunit our guide shared. One of the stone carvings, completed in the early 1400s, was of maize. Keep in mind that new world corn was unknown in Europe at that time, was not cultivated on the continent until several hundred years later – and Christopher Columbus had yet to sail the ocean blue! Hmmm.

My personal favorite was Paisley Abbey, built in the twelfth century, with magnificent stained glass windows. While my husband was studying the role this old abbey played in Scottish history, I was enthralled by the romantic story our guide told. Marjorie, daughter of Robert the Bruce (think Braveheart with Mel Gibson), married Walter Steward, a local nobleman. Pregnant, she was on her way to the abbey when her horse stumbled and she was thrown. The monks desperately tried to save her, but alas she died. In a twist worthy of the best of the tearjerkers, her son survived to become Robert II, the first of the Stewarts (later to become “Stuarts”) who ruled Scotland until 1689.

I found great ideas for mysteries everywhere I went (does this mean I can deduct the trip as research?). We spent an afternoon at Scone Palace (which incidentally had only mediocre scones in their teashop). This is the crowning site of Scottish kings. I loved the ornate rooms and the absolutely phenomenal collection of porcelain which dominates the bookshelves of the wood-paneled library. The owners, who still reside at the palace, made the pragmatic decision that visitors would be more interested in looking at their huge collection of china than at old books. As an author, I feel honor-bound to protest. But the unsolved mystery, which perhaps could be the storyline of the next Sullivan Investigations book, is what happened to the Stone of Destiny? Also known at the Stone of Scotland, upon which the Kings of Scotland were coronated, it was stolen by the British in the 13th century and held in Westminster Abbey until Queen Elizabeth II returned it to Scotland in 1996. Sounds good except that the stone now residing in Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh isn’t the original, according to experts who have studied its composition. So what really happened to the Stone of Destiny? Did the Scots, knowing the British were close, hide the Stone? If so, where? What happens in a whodunit when all the major players have been dead for more than eight centuries?

Sadly, even the best of vacations have to end – otherwise, what would you be vacationing from? Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of cheer, love, and good food (haggis, nothwithstanding).

Slàinte (or bottoms up as we say here in the colonies!),

Evelyn David


  1. If you actually do write a story with elements based on your trip, took notes, photos you can use to prove that's what you were doing, sure you can write off your trip.

    Sounds like a wonderful time.


  2. My husband and I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin a couple of summers ago for a family reunion weekend and the house was actually part of a farm that had a few hundred of these Scottish Highland cattle. They were the cutest things: the babies/calves were like big dogs with very long eye-lashes, mostly cinnamon colored but some ivory white. We got to feed them with half-gallon baby bottles.

    Not that this comment helps you any.


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