Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, and Stirling Castle (comments are on now)

Today’s port was Greenock, which is the gateway, not only to Glasgow, but also to Loch Lomond, the Trossachs (a national park area), and Stirling Castle. We mostly skirted Glasgow, and went straight for the pretty stuff.

The driver/guide on out tour was a chatty fellow who knew his history and had a large number of musical selections he’d gathered together to play as background music for the various points of interest. It took me aback at first, but then he played so many recordings I liked that I started writing down the bands’ names. As much as I liked the music, I also liked his attitude, which was to try to make the experience as rich as possible.

When we went to Loch Lomond, most of which was invisible due to rain and mist, our guide not only played “Loch Lomond” for us, he told us the story behind the song. According to our guide, the song’s lyrics date back to the Jacobite uprisings that came to a bitter, bloody end in 1745/1746.

During the war, he said, two Scottish soldiers who had ended up in England were trying to make their way home again. Unluckily for them, they were caught. The British gave a particularly cruel order — one was to die, and one to be released, with the soldiers themselves responsible for making the choice. They drew straws, and the man who drew the short straw wrote a farewell note to his companion in arms:

You take the high road (i.e., you walk upon the earth),
And I’ll take the low road (i.e., I’ll be buried in the ground),
And I’ll get to Scotland before you (i.e., spirits travel fast).
But me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

If the guide’s story is true, it’s a very sad song . . . but a very beautiful one too.

The guide also told us that Scotland’s unofficial national anthem is “Flower of Scotland,” which was written in 1967 to commemorate the Scottish victory over Edward II’s English forces at Bannockburn in 1314. (The official anthem, of course, is “God Save the Queen.”) As you can see, it’s scarcely a celebratory song, as it mourns the loss of Scottish greatness, and vaguely hopes that Scotland can rise again:

1. O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.
2. The hills are bare now,
And autumn leaves
Lie thick and still
O’er land that is lost now,
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
To think again.
3. Those days are past now
And in the past
They must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again!
That stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
To think again.
4. O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.

There are many voices that think that the buoyant “Scotland the Brave” would be a more suitable unofficial anthem. I have to say that, speaking of anthems qua anthems, “Scotland the Brave” is more suitable. But in terms of modern day Scotland, there’s a lot to be said for a vaguely mournful dirge. I won’t repeat what I said in yesterday’s email about Scotland’s antisemitism, but you just can’t see a brilliant future for a country that’s dependent on oil, sheep, and the welfare state.

Before I get more into what we saw today, I have to admit to being massively conflicted about Scotland particularly and the UK generally. Whenever I’m in these places, I feel as if I’m where I belong. I love the look of the places, the sound (I really like Celtic music), the art, the history, the accents, and the ordinary people I meet on the street. I even like the way these places smell. Whether I’m in Scotland or a Wales or the English countryside, there’s this indefinable green, flowery, fresh smell that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

Having said that, I hate the fact that the UK has flooded itself with Muslims, raising the strong possibility of a majority population that has values antithetical to everything that is British; I hate the way the welfare state has leached away British values and backbone; and I hate the ascendency of anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings throughout the whole of the UK (and Ireland too).

The UK, from Scotland on down, fundamentally lacks vitality. All of this means that, when I’m walking around glorying in a place that feels like my spiritual and aesthetic home, I can’t decide whether I’m the equivalent of someone foolishly in love with a dying consumptive (very Bronte-ish) or if I’m the equivalent of someone even more foolishly in love with a wife-beater — and I’m the wife.

But back to today’s tour….

From Loch Lomond, we made a rest stop at a tourist trap, except that it turned out to be a tourist trap with a difference. All around the building there were sheep, lots and lots of sheep. And ducks and miniature ponies. Despite the rain, we were charmed with the animals.

It got better when a sheep farmer from Lombardy who is studying sheep stuff in England (and I’ve completely forgotten the scientific term for “studying sheep stuff”) did a herding demonstration with his border collie, a former world herding champion. There are few things funnier than watching a border collie effortlessly herding a quacking, flapping group of ducks hither and yon.

If you’re a fan of the movie “Babe,” you probably remember that, at the end, when Babe the pig has proven his herding abilities, the farmer says to Babe “That’ll do, pig, that’ll do.” It turns out that “That’ll do” is the universal herder command to these border collies. Absent that order, they’ll never stop herding until they or the animals they’re herding drop from exhaustion.

From sheep, we wended our way through the beautiful Trossachs, Scotland’s first national park. The Trossachs are like a microcosm of the best of Scottish nature: meadows, mountains, forests, ferns, heather, sheep, cows, and wild flowers, especially fireweed, a brilliant purple flower that brightens the landscape.

I’ve always heard that the Inuits have more than 20 words for snow, since its so omnipresent in their lives. I have to believe that the Scots must have at least that many words for green. I’m sure I counted 20 or more different shades of green as we drove through the countryside. Additionally, Scotland has more than 31,000 lakes, and we were lucky enough to see at least a few as we drove by.

Our ultimate destination was Stirling Castle, a renaissance castle that James V, father to Mary, Queen of Scots, built when he married the French Mary of Guise. After the 18th century debacle that was the Jacobin uprising, the British turned the castle into a military base. That means that the castle’s interior was stripped of every sign that it was ever a royal castle and it suffered some hard usage along the way.

The Scottish agency charged with historic sites decided to do something interesting, since the castle was a mere shell. It spent ten years and millions of dollars recreating what the interior would have looked like when it was just built.

When Stirling was officially reopened in 2011, it had undergone a second renaissance. Its walls are hung with tapestries, the ceilings are painted with brilliant colors, and the gray stones have been smoothly plastered — all of which would have been the case during its heyday.

The tapestries are actually a work in progress, as the Trust is using original weaving techniques to create identical copies of the “Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries currently on display at the Met in New York. Well, not precisely identical. Rather than being faded, as the originals are, these copies are in the vibrant colors the original tapestries once boasted.

From Stirling, we abandoned country roads and took the motorway back to the ship. This drive took us through Glasgow.

In my mind’s eye, Glasgow is frozen in the 70s — a broken-down Victorian city. Although I saw only a little of it from the motorway, I might want to revise my viewpoint. There were many Victorian buildings, but most looked renovated. There was also also sorts of modern buildings, including high(ish) rises, that were obviously built within the last 20 years. It brought home the fact that, while Edinburg is the capital, Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city.

Tomorrow, on to Dublin. No tour tomorrow, so we’ll have a longer, albeit less structured day. I’m looking forward to visiting a city that has so much Georgian architecture. I like that look. I’m also looking forward to hearing a lot of Irish accents. The Celtic accents — Irish, Welsh, and Scottish — fall pleasantly on my ears.

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  • http://www.celiahayes.com Sgt. Mom

    Thanks for the run-down, Book. I have lovely memories of visiting various places in Scotland in the summer after I finished college, in company with my younger brother and sister. (God, how did my parents ever dare to let the three of us go all alone? Different times, I guess. 1976, the Bicentennial Year.) We did it on the cheap; youth hostels, BritRail passes and a cheap student charter, and had a purely wonderful time. Stirling – that had the prettiest railway station, all adored with lovely hanging plants and beds of flowers. The youth hostel was high on the eminence which supports the castle – being the ancient townhouse of one of the old noble families.
    We also stayed at a youth hostel near Spean Bridge – where the memorial to the Commandoes is, and went to Well of the Heads, and a  nearby high-end hotel which heroically managed to overlook our lowly station, and brought us tea in a salon which looked like a set from Downton Abbey. And also we sat out all day, on the hillside overlooking Loch Ness, and that monster never appeared – that faithless b**ch! I went and took a day trip to Iona, from where we stayed in Oban, on the west coast. It was enchanting. We were in the habit of going to services at any nearby church. (Very often there was not much else to do!) The minister preached the most rip-roaring sermon I had ever listened to. I was amazed that he wasn’t mobbed at the  doorstep. (It was on the theme of true Christian belief not being the province of the elect and respectable. He took the verses about Rahab the Harlot giving assistance to Joshua as his theme. We were impressed, being Lutherans of a particularly scholastic bent,.) 
    I am sad too, to think of how enervated and basically destroyed that Scotland is. It’s been coming on a long time. John Prebble wrote about it in a book about the Highland Clearances. All the backbone and salt of the earth country people in the highlands were kicked out during the 19th century land clearances, and those who managed to elude that catastrophe must have been killed off in WWI.
    Ave. Sic transit gloria mundi. Or at least, the glory of Scotland. The best of them emigrated. John Prebble said that you would probably find more authentic highland blood and tradition at a Highland gathering in Canada, the US or Australia.

  • dustoffmom

    Wait……where is the narrative about Stirling??  I was particularly wanting to see what you thought as I have quite specific thoughts on that city!  Am I missing half the entry or did you run out of time and not get to the Trossachs and Stirling??

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    @dustoffmom: I’m guessing the internet timed out – you have to pay for it by the minute at many places. Some of the youth hostels we stayed at put in a wireless router so that residents could share the connection they used for taking reservations and such, but it was strictly up to the person running the hostel.  I never saw a hotel that didn’t make you pay and pay….of course, that was 2002 most recently, so maybe things have changed.  However, I’m betting……
    I wanted to hear her take on Stirling, too – we LOVED that town.  I don’t know that we found it BETTER than Edinburgh (where we stayed with friends), but Stirling holds a very special place in our hearts.  We had peeled off the stickers we thought would identify our rental car as such, because we were warned that thieves target tourists in part by looking for the rentals.  When we got back from the Castle, a couple of constables were just finishing up writing a ticket because we weren’t displaying the sticker that was the equivalent of a license plate (don’t ask….that’s how I understood it).  I explained the situation, and the big ruddy copper got on his cellphone, explained the situation to his superiors, canceled the ticket and wished us well.  I told him that any time he came to the States he should look us up and we’d give him a place to stay – worth something since at that time we lived in Napa Valley.  Anyhow, his buddy asked if he couldn’t come and stay, too….and I told them there was no way we could put up the whole of Scotland in exchange for canceling ONE ticket!  They laughed and laughed…so “American”.  In England one can never dare to make such jokes for fear of insulting a person….in fact, word play is almost impossible in much of the south because instead of “getting it”, one is almost invariably corrected.  The Scots, Welsh, and Cornish were far more regularly “humorous” – we loved those places…they felt so much like “home”!

  • Gringo

    It took me aback at first, but then he played so many recordings I liked that I started writing down the bands’ names.
    Celtic music has had a profound influence on our own music. First, many of the folk songs were directly imported, and then influenced our own C&W music. Say what you will, there is some truth to cultural stereotypes, and the stereotypes of Celts being songsters, talkers, and drinkers.
    Disclaimer- my proportion of Scots/Scots Irish ancestry is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2.
    An interesting book on the Scots:
    How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It

  • Danny Lemieux

    Here’s another superb book on the Scots-Irish experience: James Webb’s “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish shaped America”. I reference this book anytime I hear others denigrate “rednecks” and “hillbillies”. 
    Also interesting is Thomas Sowell’s observation that “poor black” culture is actually a reflection of “white redneck” culture.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Webb made a good book. However, he was elected as a blue dog Democrat in the South. Aka another word for a Leftist in sheep’s clothing.
    Celtic music, magic, and culture makes for interesting studies. I began to be interested in them mainly due to their war potential shown against the Roman Empire in 400-200 BC.
    In one simulated history, one of their tribes even made it as far as Turkey. The division of their politics between 3 independent branches: the political tribal head that makes the final decisions, the witch/doctor/spiritual leader that determines religious interpretations, and the warlord guardian or protector (aka warlock).

  • Gringo

    Celts didn’t end up only in the British Isles. Galicia province in northern Spain has a strong Celtic influence. Bagpipes are found not only in Scotland, but also in Galicia. Here is Susana Sevaine playing a Gaitera Celta on a bappipe. Interesting that an accordion accompanies.
    Like their Celtic brothers in Scotland and Ireland, the Galicians/Gallegos immigrated en mass to the New World. Most of the Spanish immigrants to Argentina and Cuba in the late 19th and 20th centuries  were from Galicia – including Fidel Castro’s father. In Argentina, the correlation with immigrant from Spain and being from Galicia that anyone who is of Spanish immigrant stock is called a Gallego [Galician].
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=631-b07omIU  Susana Seivane – Gaitera Celta

  • jj

    Celtic fingerprints are found throughout the Languedoc, too, often rather oddly. 

  • lee

    It’s not that odd since the Celts are thought to have originated somewhere in what is now France/Switzerland/Germany/Austria, before spreading out… The language of Gaul (that Rome conquered) was Gaulish, a Celtic language. Vercingetorix was from a Gallic tribe. (So I guess Asterix is a celt…) The whole Gaul/Gallic nomenclature gets problematic, but basically, the peeps of the area of France conqured by the Romans were Celtic.
    (And there is a certain irony that France is called France today, since it derives from the Franks, which were Germanic…)
    What is left of the Celtic languages today is Irish, Scotts Gaelic, Breton, Cornish, Welsh and Manx.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Let’s not overlook the fact that, before they spread out through Western and Northern Europe, the Galatians came from Greece (Thrace) and Turkey (Anatolia).