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!


Scotland Day 5

Another day in the books! A record 25k steps- it seems as if Arthur’s Seat was a wee bit taller than we had previously thought… Either way, the kids were troopers as we walked like mad men and women across Edinburgh and Holyrood Park to make the summit before the rain. 


We began the day enjoying breakfast on Prince’s Street as the sun shone through the windows. We were all happy to replenish our Vitamin D as we finally got a morning of sunshine as we walked down the Royal Mile. The mile runs from the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle all the way down to the Palace of Holyrood- Elizabeth II’s royal residence while she is in the capital. We walked passed various Harry Potter stores, Kilt Makers, Street Performers and crowds and crowds of tourists as Edinburgh is about to begin a month’s worth of outdoor festivals. These include the Edinburgh Arts Festival, the Fringe Festival (those acts that didn’t make it into the “official” Arts Festival), and the Military Tattoo. As such, the streets are packed and the city is bustling with all of the set-up for these various events. I think most of us are excited to visit places outside of such a busy metropolitan area in the days to come. Well maybe not Alex, he feels at home in the big big cities!

We first saw Arthur’s Seat from the base of the embankment at Holyrood Park. Ms. South told us the story about how James Hutton had looked on those rocks as his inspiration for some of the earliest theories regarding geology and “deep time.” We made our way up the winding trail, which was also filled with visitors and an ice cream truck, and stopped off for a minute at ruined outlook tower and spent a minute researching an unfinished “Acropolis” that sits on another Edinburgh mound. It turns out this half finished monument was intentional. It was meant to memorialize those who served in the Napoleonic Wars, but funds ran out at the start of the nineteenth century and as a consequence it was never finished. It served as another haunting reminder of how Scotland doesn’t always get top billing within the British Empire. 

While our hike only took us about 800 ft above sea level, it was winding and long, and many of us were huffing and puffing when we reached the top. Arthur’s Seat is aptly named because this is perhaps the site of a historical kingdom that ultimately birthed the legends connected to King Arthur. Speaking for myself, it was an incredible experience, other than the fact that the rain rolled in while we were eating our picnic lunches! That sunshine doesn’t last long in Scotland. We made our way back down the hill, and settled in to take in the views of the Scottish Parliament before our tour.

Entering the Scottish Parliament building feels like you are entering an alien structure. Varied lines, and beautiful leaf designs make it both aesthetically pleasing, as well as entirely distinct. We learned how Scotland was given its own separate parliament in 1999, and how only certain powers (national defense, the environment, criminal justice) still remained with the Parliament in Westminster. The Scots are proud of their Parliament, and the referendum that brought it into existence showed a 75% approval rate for the measure. Scotland’s Parliament had dissolved itself in 1707 when they voted themselves out of existence and joined Queen Anne’s Parliament in London. Until 1999, the Parliaments had been united, but now Scotland has its own autonomous self-rule (in many categories). The building also featured beautiful quotations regarding Scottish history, poetry, and commentary. 

After leaving Parliament, we made our way back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner and our Edinburgh Ghost Tour. Some of us had Scottish BBQ, while others enjoyed a nice Mediterranean themed restaurant. All of us together though met our guide, Bek, on the side of St. Giles who took us on our tour of the old Greyfriars’ graveyard.  It is called Greyfriars because the Franciscan order that used to own the church were literally Friars who wore Grey! Outside of the ecclesiastical heritage, we had learned about the Covenanters earlier when we visited St. Giles, but this outing gave us a more personal look at the history revolving those people who had fought for their Presbyterian faith. Bek took us through the prisons that housed twelve hundred Covenanter prisoners, and we visited the nearby mausoleum of the man who was responsible for locking up these religious dissenters (Sir George Mackenzie). We even spent a second to snap a photo with the most famous of Scottish pups- Greyfriar Bobby- a Skye terrier who guarded his master even after his death! Perhaps most exciting for many of our students was visiting the grave markers that marked the inspiration for Mad-Eye Moody, Professor McGonagall, and Tom Riddle of Harry Potter fame before making our way back to the hotel for a well deserved night of rest. Today we leave for St. Andrews- the birthplace of modern golf!

Scotland Day 4

Let me take a moment to describe how we got in over 20k steps today. With loads and loads of sites and castle is how! I couldn’t be prouder of all of our students for the great attitudes they displayed all day. All of you have given 100% to Ms. South and I each day, and we are both so thankful to be sharing these sometimes arduous experiences with you. We know we are asking a lot of you, but keep trucking along and you’ll have these amazing memories for the rest of your life.

Today- we started with a wee castle… Well, Edinburgh Castle is anything but wee. It’s actually enormous and settled on an extinct volcano.  We made our way up the giant esplanade and headed into the castle right at opening. After a short tour from Gabby or Abby- the jury is still out on that one- we headed right in to see the Scottish crown jewels while the crowds were small. I was impressed by how many of our students knew about the sword and scepter as symbols of European monarchy, and all of us were in awe as we made our way and looked at the jewels up close.  No photos allowed in this area, so unfortunately we don’t have anything to share! After the crown jewels we made our way into birth room of James VI or James I depending on which period you are discussing. This gave me a great opportunity to share some impressive tales that really demonstrate the Stuart motto: Nemo me impugne laccessit (No one attacks me with impunity). We discussed how Mary Queen of Scots (a Stuart) had her husband murdered in a bombing after he had orchestrated the murder of her close friend in front of her!  No one attacks Mary with impunity!


Afterwards, we visited St. Margaret’s Chapel. This has the clear distinction of being the oldest building in the city of Edinburgh (11th century). We also discussed why Robert the Brus decided to leave St. Margaret’s chapel- hint hint, it included the fact that the Church was already upset with him after he murdered an arch rival in a separate church (we will visit this one too) under the pretenses of having a “peaceful” discussion! We had a chance to visit Mons Meg- the largest cannon ever built in Flanders which was given to the King of Scotland as a gift. We ended our time at Edinburgh Castle with spending time touring the dungeons, including a stop-in at an exhibit showing American POW graffiti from the American Revolution (picture included to show the sailor’s etching of the American flag!)

After leaving Edinburgh Castle we made our way down to see St. Giles. Originally built as a Catholic Cathedral, it was radically altered during the Reformation, but after some extensive modern renovations, a visitor today can see the Cathedral in much of its pre-Reformation glory. Within the Cathedral, we had the opportunity to share the story of the young women who led a riot against the minister of St. Giles when he tried to institute the Book of Common Prayer on the congregation (an Anglican text). St. Giles’s own architecture is so unique with its “crown” shaped steeple, and “who’s who” of Scottish history statues in the courtyard (including Adam Smith- the writer of The Wealth of Nations).

We enjoyed a quick lunch underneath the church, saw an impressive statue of Charles II as a Roman Emperor, and headed up the street to visit the Elephant House. This cafe has the distinction of being the place that J.K. Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter series. It was a charming little cafe that some of our students decided to relax a bit and take in the sights within. I took the group that was ready for a bit more of a walk and we came down the Royal Mile to look at various shopping venues as well watch an escape artist performing in the street. 

On the walk down the mile, we were able to see Cannongate Kirk. This church was an excellent opportunity for our students to juxtapose the Roman Catholic aesthetic with the Presbyterian one that was emblematic of the influences of John Knox and other early Protestants in Scotland. After a conversation regarding David I and his vision of the stag (which adorns much of the Cannongate Kirk), we finished down the Mile, and spend a bit of time having a look around outside the modern Scottish Parliament building as well as caught a glimpse of the Palace of the Holyrood- the Queen of England’s official state residence in Scotland. We made our way back up the mile in time to meet the rest of our group and head out to the local movie theatre.

We watched a hilarious comedy / musical / informative piece on the history of England created by a series called “Horrible Histories.” The stories poked fun at the Roman emperor Nero, and his inept managing of the Empire, as well as told the story of Boudica. Her story is one of survival and resentment of the Roman expansion into Britain. Much like the movie, we have focused on issues of Scottish identity in our class, and the movie itself seemed to encourage a future in which the descendents of Boudica and the descendents of the Romans might live harmoniously together in a synthesized new way. On a day when much of the politics has been divisive here in Scotland, it was a hopeful film that was useful in contextualizing long-standing grievances in Scottish history.  After the film, it was back to the hotel for some cards and “Around the Horn” before we dismissed everyone for a well deserved night of rest. Tomorrow we plan to hike to Arthur’s Seat, and will end the day with a Ghost Tour of Haunted Edinburgh.

Scotland Day 3

Day Three is in the books! 

This morning we got up early and enjoyed breakfast together before saying goodbye to Newcastle and eventually Northumbria. Our first stop this morning was at Warkworth Castle. A beautiful ruin that was originally a motte and bailey castle harking back to the twelfth century. Over the course of the castles’ life though, this border estate saw plenty of action between the thirteenth and fourteenth century feuds between the English and Scots amongst others. Today though, this castle featured plenty of space for all of us to run about and imagine what life was like for the ultra wealthy in the early modern period. It featured a private bathroom, two wine cellars, separate beer cellar, and its own cross shaped church that sat only feet away from the nearby keep.

The ruined nature of the walls was probably due to either Oliver Cromwell storming through and taking a cannonade to the castle defenses, or perhaps more surprisingly that the Lord of Warkworth Castle may have given permission to have pieces taking away from the castle’s fortifications. It is document that his original tower near the church was destroyed and the stone was redistributed to nearby villages. After a few months though, the lord missed the tower, and decided to have a new one erected! 


We stopped for a group photo, gathered some water, and then took a delightful stroll down a nearby river to visit the Percy families’ private hermitage. After a discussion with a nearby docent- we learned that the “Hermitage” was a privately funded (and beautifully constructed) chapel created for a private priest whose sole purpose was to pray for the lord who was living at Warkworth Castle. We climbed into a small boat, and found the chapel carved into the rock face for the hermit’s home. The hermit’s front door was flanked by two giant yew trees that almost seemed to crawl towards the river when we approached! The interior even had a miraculously preserved sculpture of Joseph looking down on Mary, and on a baby Jesus in one of the window sills.

After leaving Warkworth, Ms. South and I decided that the students should eat and have time to grab a book or two at a great used bookstore named Barter Books. We sat down to enjoy some avocado toast, cheese toasties, as well as a variety of fudge and cookies. Ms. South lets us know that this was one of her favorite places to visit, and that the bookstore had become world famous after re-discovering the “Keep Calm, and Carry On” label from a World War II poster. After the discovery, they began plastering that message on an assortment of items for sale. I’m sure many of you either own, or have seen signs speaking to this same quote. Secondly, the store itself is in a beautiful nineteenth century train station- lending a particularly powerful ambience to an extensive supply of both common and exoctic first edition books. We were sad to leave after a quick bite and browse, but were happy to be on our way to Holy Island (or Lindisfarne).

We arrived at Lindisfarne after negotiating the tides to ensure that we would not be swept away nor would we get lost as the tide was out. We were all excited to see that our students were putting many of our previous connections together. For those who did light painting, Ian had discussed how syncretic practices brought both Celtic and Roman Christian beliefs together by using intricate patterns on newly erected crosses. We saw an abundance of these items in the nearby museum dedicated to the priory, before setting out to see the abbey itself. Lindisfarne was the original home to St. Cuthbert (the saint who we saw buried in Durham Cathedral). We saw his first burial spot, (Zoe immediately ran over to stand where Cuthbert had rested) and spent a bit over an hour walking around and seeing what life was like for these early Benedictine monks. We explored what life would have been like for these martyrs after realizing that Lindisfarne is precariously close to the sea. That proximity brought Vikings, and other problems to those living peacefully at the priory. 

After leaving Lindisfarne, we had one final leg of the trip as we headed back towards Edinburgh along the beautiful A1. This car ride gave Alex the chance to find a great “Mashed Taters” joint that offered both haggis, boar sausage, as well as more traditional cuisine. It was a great restaurant, and afterwards, Ms. South and I decided to have a game night in celebration of having such a great group of kids! I picked up the cookies, and we met the students down in the hotel lobby to play “Guillotine,” “E.R.S.,” and my absolute favorite “Timeline.” While it was a close match, Miranda and Zoe were victorious and even managed to know some pretty obscure history tidbits to take home the victory.

Tomorrow. We will break our fast at 8:00 a.m. and enjoy the amazing castle sitting on the extinct volcano across the street. Sleep well everyone, Edinburgh is coming at you bright and early!

Scotland Day 2

Day #2 Update on the morning of Day #3. Of course, the reason this is a later entry will be explained at our conclusion this morning! 

We began the day heading down to Durham Cathedral to experience an early morning prayer service in the Anglican Tradition. The Cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of Norman / Romanesque Architecture (the circular windows as opposed to Gothic points), and its stunning arches are highlighted by the fact that the cathedral itself sits on a prominent high point in an otherwise low-lying area making it more difficult to attack. This will be important as we read on!  The service was led by a minister, and we engaged our students afterwards in a conversation helping to differentiate the Catholic tradition and Anglican one as we tried to better understand the Reformation. Durham Cathedral is actually the final resting place for St. Cuthbert (the patron Saint of England until he was usurped by Saint George). The cathedral is also the resting place for the Venerable Bede, a seventh century author who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.  Two Catholic Saints in one cathedral meant that Durham was a great hub for pilgrims all over England and western Europe. Bede’s tomb greets visitors as they enter the cathedral in the Galilee Chapel, while Cuthbert’s has the honor of sitting behind the altar at the rear of the Cathedral. 

According to local legend, the founding of Durham Cathedral is based on a site we are visiting today (Day #3)- named Lindisfarne or Holy Island. Monks fleeing the Vikings at Lindisfarne carried Cuthbert’s body (we saw his original coffin!) and asked a local set of milk maids for directions as they wandered further from Viking intrusion. According to legend, one of the monks had an incomprehensible dream tied to a phrase “Dun Holm”, and one of the milk maids pointed to Dun Holm as a place appropriate for the monks. Seeing this as divine providence, the monks decided to bury Cuthbert and honor him in what would become Durham Cathedral. While everyone enjoyed the history and dressing up as Monks, the highlight may have been visiting the Durham Chapter House on the west side of the Church. The house is unadorned, but has the fabulous distinction of being Professor McGonagall classroom from the Harry Potter Films! The Durham courtyard also was one of the famous filming locations involving Ron, Malfoy and slugs!

After leaving Durham Cathedral, we headed down the road to Bells for “proper Fish n” Chips.” The kids were real troopers and went for the classic English Cod, many even trying it with malt vinegar.  While we were waiting for our table, we had the opportunity to watch a local group of Morris dancers. This was a traditional English dance that neither Ms. South or myself had an experience in- so we spent some time researching this really fun and colorful performative art. 

After leaving Bells, we jumped in the cabs and headed for Beamish. Beamish is a living history museum that gave our students a taste of the lifestyle and living conditions for those who experienced the early Industrial Revolution in the seat of coal country. Beginning there, we headed for the colliery, and actually had the opportunity to descend into a non-active coal miner to get a taste of early experiences in the mines. Our guide showed us the terror involved in being so far underground, in nearly total darkness, trying to fill twelve carts of coal to make the equivalent of 80cents over the course of your ten hour day.  Other highlights included visiting the Masonic Temple for a band performance, a visit to the pharmacist (the kids were terrified by the tounsel removal devices), the garage (including a car with a chauffeur button for the “Club”- a necessary amenities for the early 20th century ultra-wealthy), and finishing at the Confectioner’s shop! We then were back on the bus, and headed back to Newcastle. The day was hardly finished though!

We went home for a few minutes only to head out to Prima for an Italian feast (at Miranda’s request). We were so fortunate to see so many beautiful outfits, as we were out in Newcastle on “Ladies Day.” A day when thousands of women all over Newcastle got dressed in their finest and hit the town after a day at the horse racing track. It reminded me of the pomp and circumstance related to the Kentucky Derby (including the hats!).

That evening we met a friend of Ms. Souths named Ian Hobson. Ian showed a group of our students all about “light painting.” An incredible creative and fascinating way of playing with aperture, darkness, and bright lights. Ella’s turned out the scariest, but all of us had a great job working with a tremendous artist and making a new friend. We are eating breakfast now and preparing for Day #3. Here we go!!


Scotland Day 1

Today or I guess yesterday we began our travels to Scotland. Our flight from SLC to JFK was easy enough- although poor Rachel had to sit on the same aisle with me twice, meaning she was forced to give me the thumbs up as I compulsively checked on all of them on both our earlier and later flights! Did I mention that I don’t like to fly?

We were greeted at the airport in Edinburgh with the ample need to eat anything other than airplane food- Zoe led the charge for “something, anything” to eat. We then stopped for a quick photo with the “EDINBURGH” sign, and made our way out to meet our coach driver for the day.  Peter the driver gave us a tremendous gift in agreeing to take our entire group out to Hadrian’s Wall, knowing that we had missed our opportunity to experience the wall yesterday. The hike took us on high ramparts with incredible views of both Scotland and Northumbria. While the toll was great on all of our tired bodies, we enjoyed the time better understanding the symbolic nature of Hadrian’s Wall after hearing the history from Ms. South.


Hadrian’s Wall was built in the 2nd century and served as the northernmost fortified stretch of defenses of the early English Roman Empire. While Antonius Pius would build a wall further north later, Hadrian’s Wall is incredibly well preserved and gives us great insight into the longstanding enmity shared between the Scots and English from the classical age. Every (1) mile the Roman soldiers who constructed the wall built a fort, and as we walked eastward across the wall, we passed two of these incredibly preserved structures. Parker and I shared a great moment discussing Roman cement and the immense ability to maintain its shape over the centuries. While walking up and down the battlements, I shared other conversations with Lexi, Miranda and Ella on the benefits of dogs, was serenaded by Dreeg’s phenomenal cover of a “Fire Emblem” song, and was happy to receive the kindness of locals who help me and our group when we were lost in the maze of the walls!
After our visit at the wall, Peter took us to our hostel in downtown Newcastle. Portions of Hadrian’s Wall are still visible in Newcastle today, but the city itself shines with all the life and electricity of a modern city. After getting checked-into the hotel, we went and grabbed a bite at the Fat Hippo– a local favorite burger bar. Of course Alex was excited, but Ms. South and I were excited to have substantive conversations with all of our students regarding their experience at the wall. What does this wall mean to Scotland? What does this wall mean to England? Why would a classical identifier of the separation be important to the separation between the Scottish and English nations. When we sat down to discuss, many of our students shared important insights but Kaira mentioned the views as something that will remain etched in her memory which sparked further conversations on the nature of the “English Heritage” organization versus its counterpart “HIstoric Scotland.” While neither of these share the title of U.K.- we agreed that much of this distress is still alive and well.  As a group we talked about graffiti, the nature of man, the origins of organized religion, the Presbyterian Church, Martin Luther and the trick to getting your lights on in your European hotel room (inserting your key into a slot on the wall ;)) Needless to say, a typical Waterford evening was spent before settling in for an early evening in our hotel. We’re up early tomorrow morning for a quick breakfast and then a trip to Durham Cathedral.