Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
We set off to trace our Scottish roots this summer, the clan Webb in tow, consisting of my 85 year-old father, husband and daughter. Webb is actually an English name, and we were looking for the Glenns, my great grandmother’s people. Family lore said we were descended from the oldest daughter of Robert the Bruce, a towering historical figure. My father, the family genealogist, had never been to Scotland, and we were looking for a family experience to remember. On so many levels, we found exactly that in Scotland.
Traveling with multiple generations is an adventure, and we were concerned how my father would fare on his extra plane trip from Los Angeles. He arrived in Chicago, eager to go, the wheelchair attendant pushing him speedily down the concourse at O’Hare airport where we all met for the non-stop, overnight flight to Edinburgh. The airline was very accommodating of his travel needs, bumping us both up to the front the economy section with seats together.
Arrival at the Edinburgh airport meant another mad wheelchair ride through customs and passport control; pushed by a lovely man who’s accent made him almost unintelligible. He, however, got us to the taxi stand in record time. We were so early in fact that I woke up the rental agent to ask her to meet us at the apartment with the key. She groggily agreed.
Edinburgh has an array of lodging from bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels. We choose a self-catered (meaning you cook) apartment in New Town, the heart of Edinburgh, built in the 1800s. I wanted a place that had a sleeping room on the first floor so my Dad didn’t have too many steps. Traveling with a cane now, he was a bit unsteady on his feet. The stone steps to the front door were the first challenge.
It was right then we were introduced to the kindness of the Scottish people, which became a repeating theme throughout our week. The cab driver was very concerned that the agent wasn’t standing at the door when we got to Royal Crescent Street, and the row of grey stone townhouses. He insisted on parking the cab and helping my Dad up the stairs to the door. Then he unloaded the bags and waited with us.
Our apartment was very stylishly furnished and included the ground and lower ground floors of a magnificent Georgian “A” listed building. Built over a period of some 85 years, between 1765 and 1850, New Town was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had made one small error, which was not checking that the half bath was actually on the first floor. My Dad had to navigate half a spiral stone staircase to get to the facilities. Note to self—never do that again!
We organized our week by two day-long guided bus trips and sight seeing in the city. The skyline in the Scottish capital city Edinburgh is dominated by the Castle for the last 1,000 years. Not very accessible to a man with cane, the three of us visited while Dad rested. The other royal residence, Holyrood Palace, however, offered free wheelchairs and was very accommodating. This is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth although she is in residence one week a year when she throws a 8000 person garden party. Our invitation must have been lost in the mail. The palace was built by King James IV of Scotland and improved by his successors into the marvelous building it is today. Mary Queen of Scots lived in this palace and married both her husbands within its walls.
We selected Rabies Tour Company to escort us into the countryside on our family history quest. Rabies offered small 16 passenger buses and lots of personal attention that suited us perfectly.
It seemed that Robert the Bruce was similar to George Washington in the U.S., every place in the country had some claim to this national hero. Our first trip was into the Kingdom of Fife where our illustrious ancestor had ruled as king. A quick stop at St Andrews golf course was not really part of our historical visit but was fun to see the windswept golf links. Our second trip took us to the ruins of Melrose Abbey where Robert’s heart was buried, brought back from the Crusades. Melrose was founded in the 12th century by the Cistercians order. Walking among the stones and half walls, we got sense of what life was like in the earliest days. Our last visit was to Rosslyn Chapel, of DaVinci code fame, a perfectly preserved 15th century family chapel.
Our trip wasn’t in search of the HolyGrail. Instead, we were looking for some important family time to make new memories. Scotland proved to be a wonderful place for that and much more.