Scotland Final Day

Well we’ve reached the end of the line. Yesterday we had no intention of slowing day, and we enjoyed a final dinner with birthday singing and our big surprise for the group. 

We began the day with a short breakfast. Blood pudding still holds little appeal to everyone (except Alex), and we met up with our new driver (John) for our final day. We piled into a new van- with card tables… and headed to our first stop of the day- Bannockburn. 

We pulled up to the site of the great Scottish victory, and had a quick chat regarding the significance of the moment. Outside of the military implications, Robert the Bruce’s great victory against Edward II may be more symbolic than strategic, but it helps all of us understand why so many Scottish people and songs mention the exploits at Bannockburn. The site has an impressive statue to Robert the Bruce, but perhaps most impressively- there is a beautiful poem tied to our understanding of the Scottish nation:

“Here lies our land: every airt
Beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun,
Belonging to none but itself.
We are mere transients, who sing
Its westlin’ winds and fernie braes,
Northern lights and siller tides,
Small folk playing our part.
‘Come all ye’, the country says,
You win me, who take me most to heart.”

We left Bannockburn- with a quick pit stop at the Andrew Carnegie birthplace museum (that’s one for future trips) and we were on our way to Dunfermline Abbey. This medieval Abbey and palace are a collection of ruins and restored churches that now house the amazing burial place of King Robert the Bruce. The church today is an active parish, and we were all delighted in seeing the tomb up close. We left after a quick bite and landed in Edinburgh for some souvenir shopping.

The city was buzzing with energy as thousands of tourists had descended on the city for the official Edinburgh Art festival, thousands more for the Fringe festival and yet thousands more for the military tattoo. It was a sure change from the town of Stirling we’re all the stores closed at 6:00 pm. We had our birthday dinner for Lexi and were happy to finally announce the surprise: the Military Tattoo! The kids were thrilled, although we wished the weather would have cooperated a bit more. 

The tattoo featured acts from all over the world. Many of us particularly liked the “haka” performed by the group from New Zealand, or the original performance from the group based in Trinidad. It was an incredible display of marching and musical prowess, but we were all happy that they played “Scotland the Brave” as the pipers were the last to exit. While we were a little soggy, it was a great way to end the trip. Big thanks to Ms. South who convinced me that the Tattoo would be an awesome display nearly a year ago. 

That being said- I’ll take a moment to thank Ms. South for her knowledge and leadership on this trip with me. Her patience, guidance, and knowledge of both Scottish and English history made this trip that much more successful. 

This trip was great fun for me, and a huge part of that is because of each of you students. As you watched the tattoo, I took a moment to see the smiles on each of your faces. I was happy knowing that you were experiencing something special. I’m so grateful you decided to come on this journey with us. 

 When Kaira asked why lead a group trip to Scotland, I answered that sharing this beautiful country with you and getting to see your reaction to things I love is a great gift. Each of you brought your own great energy to this trip and our success was premised on this great energy and you! For those of you who I’ll see in a few weeks- I’m excited to start another year with you. Dum dum dum- here comes school!! ! For Miranda and Alex, I’m so thankful to have had this chance to teach you- I know great things are in your future! 

All of you know where my office is: and I’ll continue to update for a shared google drive for photos and eventually a travel book. You’ll hear more from me 🙂

But for now, Douglas. Out. 


Scotland Day 10

Well we’ve reached the tenth day of our adventure, and after losing consecutively at cards and then at spoons, I know that the kids haven’t tired of us entirely. Today we struck a mixed note of somber history with some terrific moments of brevity. It was another one for the books!

We began the day driving out from Fort William and set out to see some of the breathtaking landscapes before finishing our trip today in Stirling and tomorrow in Edinburgh. We passed some absolutely stunning scenery, but our trip to Glencoe was both beautiful and sad. This Glen marks the place where in 1692, Clan MacDonald was called to entreat with Clan Campbell in the harshest part of a Scottish February Winter. Tradition dictates that rival highland clans would grant each other safe passage, meals, and lodging, when it came to settling clan disputes. This time though, the new King of England – William of Orange, had given the Campbell’s permission to execute all of the MacDonald’s under the flag of truce- breaking a long standing Highland tradition. During the middle of the night, the Campbell clansmen snuck into the room housing the MacDonalds, and began murdering MacDonalds indiscriminately. Some of the MacDonalds were able to flee into the nearby mountains, only to freeze to death in the snow storm that rocked Scotland through the rest of the month. The Glencoe Massacre resonates today in the  Scottish mind as one of the greatest betrayals in the history of the Jacobite period, and truly demonstrated how shifting clan allegiances and ongoing feuds were tied into the wider conflict between Scotland and England. We were fortunate enough to share this experience with the descendents of two Campbell’s- both Ms. South and Lexi both have ancestors who are traced to this Clan, so it was particularly fascinating for us to connect this saga to their living descendents alongside us. There are no “bad guys” in this story- it seems that the MacDonald’s had done some pretty terrible things as well. The three mountains in Glencoe, with their cascading waterfalls were thereafter called the three crying sisters. The landscape is literally weeping for the thirty-eight men, women, and children who lost their lives in the ongoing battle between England and Scotland.

Knowing that we needed a happier note for the day, Oggie had the suggestion that he would take the kids to meet “two of his friends” from the area. With this ambiguous statement, we were off! Little did we know that Oggie took us to an adorable little roadside cafe that featured two “highlan coo’s,” named Hamish and Honey. The kids loved feeding these two MASSIVE cows potatoes and carrots. Their tongues felt like sandpaper, and I confess that they were absolutely a delight to see up close. It was precisely the type of activity we needed after taking in so much heaviness with our focus on Glencoe that morning. We kept the laughs going, as we visited Doune Castle. This is a restored Castle near Stirling that has been featured in Outlander, Game of Thrones, and most famously- as the Castle of the “taunting Frenchman” from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. The kids delighted in hearing Python veteran’s commentary on the castle, and loved dressing up as various Outlander characters as well. While much of the Castle has been restored in nineteenth century standards, it still gave us an opportunity to see some beautiful stonework, and a look at how the sixteenth century Earls of Scotland lived in luxury!

We left Doune Castle tickled with remembering some of the greatest scenes from the movies, and headed for Stirling and its own beautiful castle. I can’t help but to confess how sad it was for me to be showing all our students their final Castle in Scotland. But Stirling did not disappoint. In what was otherwise a rainy and rather ugly weather day, the sun came out for us in our final hours in Stirling Castle. This impressive stronghold held beautifully renovated chapels, and a Great Hall that gives you the opportunity to sit as the King and Queen of Scotland once did! Stirling was so strategic in nearly all points in Scottish history. The Battle of Stirling Bridge is nearby. At this battle William Wallace successfully beat the English calvary by developing a particularly ferocious strategy involving Scottish pikemen.  The Battle of Bannockburn (which we will see tomorrow), was the great victory of Robert the Bruce that made Scotland autonomous from England (for a time). Both of these battle sites were fought around Stirling, and legend has it that anyone who held Stirling Castle controlled all of Scotland. No wonder that both the Scots and English traded control of the castle over ten times! 

We had our final game night. I lost a lot, but it was too much fun, and Ms. South and I have continued to have such a good time just hanging and playing games. While my cold has often brought me down over the course of the day, you guys have kept my spirits up! It’ll be a great day tomorrow for our last day. I think we have a birthday to celebrate… I think Lexi’s gonna be fifteen…. Breakfast is tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Be sure and have everything packed as we head back to Edinburgh for souvenir shopping, perhaps another visit to Edinburgh Castle? Maybe Holyrood? We’d like to stop in Bannockburn, and to take some time at Dunfermline Abbey as well! 

Scotland Day 9


This morning we left our rather comfortable quarters at the Novar Arms in Evanton and headed out back onto the road. Oggie was in high spirits, as he’s a big believer in Nessie, and even “tempted the gods into a fight” to keep the sunshine out for all of us all day. Not sure about his role in the battle, but we certainly enjoyed another beautiful summer day in Scotland. We headed down from the Inverness area towards the infamous Loch Ness and all of her secrets!

We made our first stop at the head of Loch Ness, and snapped some photos of the dramatic and beautiful countryside. According to Oggie, the first suspected sightings of Nessie was in the sixth century. St. Columba’s records indicate that he ordered a giant monster from the loch to drop a local who had the misfortune of being chewed on. Fearful of this man’s large staff, Nessie obliged and dropped the man back onto the seashore. Perhaps apocryphal, but hilarious- this first suspected “discovery” of the monster of the Loch Ness helped to frame many of the places we visited today.  As we came to another overlook, we caught a glimpse of the ruined Urquhart Castle. This set of ruins were an important stronghold in the seventeenth century but were devastated by Oliver Cromwell and his troops as the marched north as part of forcefully putting down the rebellion against the Parliamentarian authorities during the interregnum. We didn’t spend any time at Urquhart Castle, but it gave us a nice touchstone point for some of the later sites as well. 

In returning to St. Columba, Oggie took us to the famous St. Columba’s well. This small spring was located off the beaten path near a beautiful creek and set of bridges. Who would have known that this was the location of a sixth century miracle? Only Oggie it would seem- as we were pretty well alone for the hour we visited.  According to legend, the Pictish kings were not convinced of Columba’s Christian religion or its power. For one king, he promised conversion to Christianity if Columba could clear the disease from the water. Columba then gathered himself, walked over, and cleared the well! No one was willing to risk drinking the water today, but it does illustrate another great example of how Christianity got to the Scottish highlands! We then spent about an hour walking around, enjoying the sunshine, and taking in the beautiful scenery!

We jumped back onto the bus and headed further south along the loch. Stopped for lunch at Fort Augustus for an hour, and then continued onto one of the most impressive nineteenth century innovations. Now known as Neptune’s Staircase, we came at the perfect time to see this interlochen system raise and lower the water to allow boats to move up the river seamlessly. What is incredible about this site is the fact that it was originally dug by hand, and was operated by hand into the twentieth century! This means that to close and open the doors of the system, a person literally cranked the wheels! While we were watching the canals work, we were greeted by a familiar sound… A chug chug chug of the Hogwarts Express coming into the station. Our next stop would complete our Harry Potter circle for the day.

Onto the bus, we made our way through the winding roads of the highlands into the small area known as Glenfinnan. The impressive viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films spans a gap between the mountains, so we were better able to appreciate the Hogwarts Express as it still runs across the tracks throughout the Highlands. Hogwarts itself was actually animated into this particular area as well. For us though, we had come for a more somber note connected to our thinking of Scotland as a nation. The Glenfinnan Monument (which was airbrushed out of the Harry Potter films) was an incredibly ornate statue erected at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (1815).  As a memento to remind the Scots of those highlanders who had joined the Bonnie Prince in 1745. This chilling reminder helps our students understand the significance of Culloden (the battleground we visited earlier). This was the place that the Stuart Pretender King landed in the Highlands and rose his nation to rebellion only to be brutally cut down at the field we had visited days before. Oggie perhaps tells us the story the best.

“Wee Charlie, was only twenty-six when he approached Glenfinnan and met with the Chief of the MacDonald clan. Only a thousand men had come in support of Charlie, with the MacDonalds being the biggest. That clan had lost thousands in the Old Pretender’s (Charlie’s Father’s) uprising in 1715, and they didn’t want any more violence. The chief of the clan (perhaps Alistair?) MacDonald stepped towards the Bonnie Prince and told him,

 ‘Sire, Go home.’ 

The Bonnie Prince, with all the charm and realization of the significance of the moment looked back at that the chief and said, ‘I am home.’ 

(Note: He had been outlawed from Scotland, and spent all of his life exiled in France). 

And he was home. The rightful king was home.” – Numerous iterations from Oggie 

It is clear that Glenfinnan still sits heavily as a moment of understanding and acts as a point of tremendous pride for contemporary Scotsman. Visiting this site helped our students better come to terms with our ongoing question. What does it mean to be a Scot? 

Our weather was delightful today, only matched with our awesome attitude. We couldn’t get a seat at dinner tonight, and I was so proud to see all of us come together and cook together in our community kitchen. The debate may have been heated on whether or not spaghetti should be broken before being cooked….. But otherwise, we got along just fine.

 Tomorrow is Ben Nevis. Let’s see how well I write tomorrow!!

Big thanks to Ms. South for writing up our summary yesterday for me- The plague may have struck me, but can’t keep me down for long! 

Today, we’ll have a much shorter post because most of what we did was walk. Walk a lot.. almost 13 miles to be exact over the course of the day. We left in the rain hoping to climb Ben Nevis this morning, but the Highland rains kept any summit attempt from happening. Instead, we took the Glen Nevis way out and around the mountain and headed for the Steall Waterfall. It was a 9 mile hike up and around Fort William and through the Glen Nevis glen. Mostly we walked on footpaths, took in the scenery- heck even walked a metal tightrope over a river! The waterfalls were spectacular, but some of us managed to soak themselves pretty well in the process. This meant we only hiked back down for a bit. Wet socks are the worst! While waiting for the cab though, we took in a filming location of Braveheart until, enjoying some ice cream and dinner. A few of us left the waterfall and went down to Oban on a side trip so that we could try two different fish n chips shops. They are both  world famous for their dueling owners who’ve each claimed the prize for the best fish in the area. I’ll let the kids who participated tell you which one they liked more! Of course pictures don’t do this justice, but I hope you can be proud knowing that all of us pushed ourselves to hike in this crummy weather- and enjoyed it!


Scotland Day 7

Back on the road again today as we bid a fond farewell to St. Andrews. While the time went quick, we were excited to get on the road to the highlands. Well some of us didn’t appreciate all the twists and turns of being in such a hilly area, but no one got terribly car sick! 

After leaving St. Andrews we headed directly to Arbroath Abbey. This ruined Catholic Benedictine site is important religiously, but more importantly as the site of the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320. Let me take a second to quote the words that might remind many of you if our own American Declaration of Independence: “As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.” We learned the history regarding the Declaration and the troubles Robert the Bruce had found himself with the Popes at the time. As a consequence of the Bruce’s less than upstanding behavior (murder in a Church), the Pope was unlikely to be an ally to the Scots. This will the Declaration was beautifully written, the Pope would not intercede on behalf of the Scots against the English.

We left Arbroath feeling inspired by the great words and deeds tied to this place of Scottish Nationalism and continued onwards towards Inverness. Our next stop was the Tomnaverie Stone circle where we enjoyed a picnic lunch as well as the site of a spectacular recumbent stone and circle. Sadly, much of the area is fenced off as the British had built an underground Cold War bunker right nearby!


After finishing up at Tomnaverie, we headed further north still. We came to a stop two hours later at the Battlefield of Culloden. This mood marks the final battle between the British forces and the Jacobites in 1746. We walked the battle lines, saw the mass grave markers and learned about how the Highland Clans had rallied to the Bonnie Prince. They believed that he was the rightful heir to the combined English and Scottish thrones. The Bonnie Prince and his forces were utterly massacred and the Stuart line would never again threaten the ascendency of the Parliament or the Hanoverian lines of English Kings.

We left Culloden feeling a bit downtrodden. Battle grounds are somber sites and many of us felt the electricity radiating from a field that saw so much bloodshed. We had one more site though, and made our way around the corner to see the Clava Cairns. A beautiful set of Neolithic burial mounds that included a variety of standing stones. I fought to be at the front of the group as I love being able to set myself in the center of these thousands of years old structures and try and take as much history as I can.  As always, our kids were fantastic today, even with all the somber moments- our Waterford students treat each day with so much interest and energy. Ms. South and I are so excited to share Skara Brae with all of them tomorrow. Although, they weren’t thrilled with our 6:00 am breakfast tomorrow… 

Scotland Day 6

Today we met up with our new driver- a short older man named Oggie. He’s a delightful chap from Glasgow who has regaled the kids with stories, traditional folk tunes, and his thoughts on Unidentified Flying Objects. He’s a character to be sure, but we’re excited to share some time with him on the roads of Scotland as we head towards the Highlands. 

We waved goodbye to our home on Prince’s Street, and headed on the A9 on the way out of Edinburgh. Our first stop was one that was suggested to Ms. South and I by Oggie. He took us to an overlook that housed three incredible bridges that crosses the Firth of Forth. Originally, this was the same pilgrimage track that took people from Edinburgh north to St. Andrews so that they could pray at the Cathedral in the ancient Kingdom of Fife.  The modern bridge today is still called Queen’s Ferry Crossing as a tribute to St. Margaret (we saw her chapel in Edinburgh) who was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Scotland. The three bridges span the crossing, one was built in the 1890s, one the in1960s and finally the modern Queen’s Ferry Crossing that was opened in the 2010’s. Together they form a delightful hub of activity carrying trains and people across the sea. We were grateful to Oggie for stopping and letting us take in these amazing bridges that span an incredible distance over the Firth of Forth.

After driving a bit longer, we arrived at our hotel for the evening- the Drumoig Golf Hotel. We hadn’t realized that this hotel would be so accommodating and that it would have its own small golf course. A fitting residence for our evening in St. Andrews! We left the hotel after checking-in, and had a more leisurely day that began with a walk up to St. Andrews Castle. Before we made it up, we were able to catch a glimpse of the little cafe that William and Kate had their first date in- the royalists amongst us were happy to have seen this important place in the history of the young couples love story. A bit further up we came to St. Andrews Castle. This fortification dates from the fourteenth century, but I was happy to share some of my favorite stories from this castle. First of all, the Presbyterian revolutionaries took control of this castle during the Reformation in the 1560s. John Knox and others raided the castle after the Catholic Bishop burned George Wishart (a Protestant preacher) alive outside of the castle walls as a way of “halting the heresy”. We stopped and waited a moment at the “GW” emblem on the ground of the road which marks the place that Wishart was executed. We explored the ramparts, grabbed some photos, and some of us even climbed into the mine that helps us better to realize the struggle involved in these early modern sieges. The royalist and Catholic forces outside of the fort decided to mine deep under the walls of St. Andrews Castle in hopes of planting a large amount of explosives and bringing down the wall. Realizing the ruse, Protestants inside decided that they would mine in an effort to stop them. What followed was a game of cat and mouse where both sides dug towards each other until the two mine shafts met and there was a small battle underground! 

After having our fill of St. Andrews Castle, and having a peek down their oubliette (or bottle dungeon), we decided to walk down to the beach. The water was lovely and many of us collected shells, sea glass, and rocks, as we enjoyed the refreshing breeze and sun. After getting re-energized, we headed back up the hill to the ruined Cathedral of St. Andrews. While the ruins are spectacular, it is hard to realize just how important this site was in early Scottish history based on its present condition. Our driver, Oggie, repeatedly lambasted John Knox for his treatment of these historic buildings. Knox was part of the group that looked to destroy this Catholic Cathedral, even letting many of the local peasants steal the remaining brick from the Cathedral so that they could build their own homes. While he may have had a theological point, posterity has lost a beautiful building.  All animosities aside, the Cathedral was once the largest Catholic Church in Scotland, and it still has the remnants of St. Rule’s Tower. This thirty-three meter tower gave some of our students an opportunity to climb up to the top and take in the views of the North Sea. I was too scared to climb up, and was too scared to go too deeply into the mine shaft. Those experiences are reserved for the kids who are much much braver! 

We ended the day by going and snapping some photos of the Old Golf Course at St. Andrews, including a photo of Lexi on the Swilkan Bridge. The history of golf in Scotland goes back to the late medieval period, but my favorite story was the early Stuart kings made all golf and golf related activities, including hitting pebbles with a stick, illegal! The thought was that he needed to outlaw all golf because all the men of Scotland were spending too much time playing a game, and not enough time practicing their archery and sword fighting skills. Little did he know that many of us still play golf today, and less of us have ever used a sword or bow. The walking was much more manageable today, but we were happy to have a more leisurely today still packed with plenty of sites and history. You guys continue to be an inspiration with your upbeat and fun attitudes. Ms. South and I are happy to be on this journey with all of you!