The Residence

I would like to take a moment to talk about the Edinburgh Residence. When a friends mother generously offered up her time share over a year ago, I took about three seconds to consider it. To be honest, there was no thought as to where it was located or what type of accommodations it might be, I was just on a mission to get to Scotland and the offer sealed the deal. While extremely grateful, I had no idea what we were to walk into.

Based in the West End village, a trendy up and coming area that borders Queensfery Rd., the location is home to some very cozy pubs and upscale restaurants, close to the Haymarket Train Station and only a couple blocks from Princes St. – easy access to both Old Town & New Town.

What I wasn’t prepared for were the 12 foot ceilings, enormous bow window with the gorgeous view down into the Historic Dean Village. The washroom is the size of an average NYC hotel room and a thing of beauty. The staff are very helpful, offering suggestions and assistance, I think slightly amused by a couple of wide eyed Canucks.

Feeling truly spoiled and very appreciative. Life is awesome!

Posted in Scotland

Day Seven

Where did seven days go? It feels like yesterday that plane landed on Scottish soil.

A bit of an ‘off’ day today. No real plans and downtown is totally jammed because the queen is visiting. As far as I can tell, she is on holidays – hope dare she, it’s my time in Edinburgh! The visit doesn’t even make the local paper… Sort of like when Stephen Harper goes to Toronto.

Looking for somewhere of note for breakfast, we stumble into “Browns” on George St. Better known as a cocktail bar, they serve up a mean breakfast. Scottish salmon, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and fruit for 7 GBP. Best so far on my list..

After that, a few hours wondering New Town. First planned city ever. Such practical people, these Scots. High end shops, galleries line the streets, statues and tributes on every corner, views of the Firth of Forth…. Sunshine. All is good.

All good things must end and it’s time to move on. There is a suitcase to be packed, travel arrangements to be made. Tomorrow early the train leaves for Glasgow and then transfers to Oban. The second stage of this adventure begins. One last pub meal in Edinburgh at Berts – famous for a pint & pie meal combo, a few local tastings and back to the residence to sort and be ready for a 6am start.

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Day Six – coach trip into England

Back in the early 1980s, I picked up something to read in a second hand book store in Irvine, California. Holy Blood, Holy Grail has been read about 4 times now, and referred to often. This book set off a curiosity in me for the time of Templar Knights and mysteries of the church during that period in history. I’m not a religious person, but totally fascinated by what can be learned of history from religious writings. Key to the end of this book is the authors musings about a certain church in Northumbria where Templars, knights and Robert the Bruce legends live strong today. And then a few years ago, Hollywood got a hold of a fictional story, based loosely on the book and recruited Tom Hanks to lead. Since the Devinci Code, visitors to the now famous Rosslyn Chapel have skyrocketed, most hoping for a glimpse of something familiar from the movie, but many also interested in this bizarre church, that has a long and painful history. The masonry and symbolism will probably never stop being a source of discussion, but a first glance the place looks like some sort of art project gone amuck.

The tour began early Saturday morning. A small group of 24 on a small coach van capable of going down those country lanes not accessible to the larger busses. The itinerary included Rosslyn, Melrose, the Borders and Hadian’s Wall. Rosslyn Castle and the Chapel itself was as mystical and intriguing as imagined. First construction began in 1446 by Sir.William St.Clair, the chapel survived reformation, Cromwell, and fire. It remains in the ownership of the same family almost 600 years later. The castle is now a ruin, but a country home on the grounds still functional and in use.

We continued through the countryside to Melrose. A charming little village, famous for its Abbey ruin, the very spot where legend dictates the heart of Robert the Bruce has been buried. A perfect spot for a picnic lunch and some local ice cream.

After that, we headed into the Borders. This area earned its name because of the multiple disputes over where the border between Scotland and England should be. It moved so many times, no one really knew where it was. It’s an beautiful part of the country, high rolling hills and mountain vistas…. And a very formal Border marker.

From the border, we headed to the Northumbria National Park, to what was once a Roman fort, and a portion of what is left of Hadian’s Wall. No one mentioned until we arrived at the visitor center , the in order to see the wall, there would be is little hike up one of those beautiful hills. A mile and a bit uphill later we stood in the fort ruins with the most amazing view of this Roman artifact. It was very worth the effort. Just stunning.

Some very tired but happy tourists returned to the bus, and we headed back towards Edinburgh. A quick pit stop in the village of Jedbourgh an viewing of another Abbey Ruin, we finally made it back to the big city by 8pm. It was a very good day.

Posted in Scotland

Day Five

Awake bright and early this morning and it was still is a little grey. Forecast was for rain, but time is wasting and there was a bus calling! Found a Marks & Spencers on Princess St that served up a mean smoked salmon on toast as their breakfast special. Now I know why my mother-in-law always loved that place. Best ‘filtered’ coffee so far. scottish coffee is designed to wake you up fast! Haven’t seen decaf on a menu yet, they obviously feel its a waste of time.

So, it was a day to tour the outer parts of the city using the local hop on / hop off system. One price and you spend as much or as little time where ever interests you. First stop the Royal Botanical Gardens. Home to the largest collection of Chinese plants and other exotic species in the world. The grounds were beautifully laid out. A couple hours wondering the paths just flew by.

Returning to the bus and the tour continued past the Herriot School made famous by the movie Chariots of Fire, out to the Leith Harbour and a viewing of the Royal Yacht Britannia, a quick stop into the Leith Mills outlets shops and then back down to the bottom end of the Royal Mile. The official residence of the Queen was closed to the public today because someone was in residence. Much less grand then Buckingham Palace, its still workable as a country estate.

The palace is directly across the street from the Scottish Parliament, a modern building looking very much out of place in this ancient city. We continued strolling up the Royal Mile towards the castle, then returned to Waverley Bridge on a mission to find a recommended pub – the Abbotsford’ found on the far east side if Rose Street. It was time to try the famous Haggis, Neeps, and Taties. YUM. This pedestrian lane is chock a block with pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes and specialty shops. Smack in the middle was the most amazing popup market filled with Italian food treats -cheese, meats, pastries… Oh lord how tempting!

More walking and poking what is definitely a big tourist area, dodging the ghostly presence of poets past, Stevenson quotes, Peter Pan references… It was a grand afternoon. Finally a light ploughmans board for dinner an interesting new brew to try in a small restaurant called the Mellville in the little West End Village, just finished off the day nicely.

Posted in Scotland

Day Four

First rainy day of the trip. The original plan was to take a tour that hit all the Unesco World Heritage highlights, but sitting up top an open double decker for some reason didn’t appeal. Going back to bed for a few extra zzzs did, so it was a late start to begin with. After catching a late breakfast, the plan changed. Taking a stroll down Kings Stable Rd is like stepping back in time. the lane branches off a busy city street and leads into what is called ” old town”. it suddenly becomes quiet, a history practically oozes out of the cobblestones and 11th century stone walls.


As you enter the Grassmarket area, it doesn’t take a lot to imagine what life must have been like in this Market area. Today, of course, the street is lined with pubs and cafes but they don’t overshadow the martyrs circle – the spot where burnings, beheadings and other forms of public executions took place. Spooky doesn’t quite describe being close to this place.

Around the corner and up the street, Greyfrairs Church is found. Once used by Cromwell to house his horses and store gunpowder, the main part of the church was destroyed when there was a little fire…. Of course Greyfriars is more known today as the spot a small dog showed his devotion to his dead master. Bobby is buried just outside the grounds, but his presence in the site can not be ignored.


Where is the best place to spend a rainy afternoon? The Scottish National Museum, of course. Great place to get lost in, with an awesome collection ranging from iron age civilization, through to the middle ages and well into Scotland now and hopes for the future. Totally free to the public, highly recommend it.

From there the street lead up to the Royal Mile & to St.Gilles Church. For some reason, I have little interest in actually going into the castle. Love the views from down below, but fearing I could be disappointed if the whole thing was too “touristy”, Option 2 was to wander back through Grassmarket, down Victoria st., drop into a cheesemonger (don’t you love that word?), a bakery, wine shop…. quick stop in one of the pubs for an adventure with a Scottish washroom that I could have lived without, another local brew tasting -this time something dark, and then back to the residence for a cozy night in with the feast gathered this afternoon, and an early night.

Interesting thing about Scotland that had never been considered before…. it’s summer – and it never gets very dark. There are sunsets, but by midnight it’s still bright enough that you can walk around without requiring a light on. By 4am, its totally bright again. While not a 24/7 daytime like the Canadian north, the heavy draperies that line the windows in this suite are much appreciated.

Special treat for the evening – sinking into the massive soaker tub with my new friend. This is a tough life. Hopefully tomorrow will be more coach tour friendly, but this was a great day…..



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Day Three – Burntisland

When I first started researching the family history, it was because of the Millars. My mothers family, specifically Alex Millar and his wife Janet Crombie, came to Canada in the early 1850s, settled in PEI, with most of their children. Today I was going to discover where they came from, actually walk on the very land they lived, and try to imagine their life before taking what could only be described as a monumental leap of faith …. Relocating 1/2 way around the world.

So, up early, breakfast, and off to Haymarket train station. A lovely ride down the commuter line, stopping at several small villages, but finally …. Burntisland.

The original charter for this town in 1572 spelt the name Birtyland. By 1795 official Maps called it Bruntland. There had once been an island the burnt – it’s that simple. Due to a massive reclaimed land project that created a harbour the town is famous for, the island no longer exists. When it was there, it never recovered from the fire – was just a blackened rock, or “Birty”.

The first thing discovered when departing the train was the Burtisland Kirk. Not only is it unusual in shape and other details, but it was the first church build after the reformation in Scotland. It is also the very church where the Scottish King James VI (James 1 of England), announced that he was forming a team to translate the Bible to English ….. we know his bible today as the “King James Bible”


After wondering the town for a bit to discover many of the really old buildings in in this town have been replaced in the mid-1960s, but it is still very charming. First on the list was a visit the library to see what could be found in their local history section. I was pleasantly surprised to find several books, including parish records and an index detailing the gravemarkers in the Kirk cemetery. The first page opened, and the names of “David Abercrombie and his wife Agnes Reid” jumped off the page at me. My 4xs Great-Grandparents! Paydirt. I found much more, but will never forget that particular moment. On a list of Burgess Tickets, I also found Alex Miller of the SeaMill, 1848. Only slightly disappointed he does not appear on the 1832 voting list. Without a ticket, he was not able to participate or have a say in town politics, so while I have in my notes that the family lived here and started baptizing children in 1826, this was the earliest record of them I was to find on this day.

Then, after a celebratory lunch of fresh Fish & Chips “carry out” enjoyed on a park bench down near the beach, it was time to visit the local history museum, where I was set to meet Ian Archibald. A very pleasant man, retired cartographer, who loves history and grew up in Kirkcaldy – a town not far from Burntisland. He hadn’t planned to come in on Wednesday, but because of our email conversations his wife put off her weekly shopping so he could meet me.

The first thing he drags out is a reproduction of a painting of the Tidal Mill or SeaMill! I almost fell off my chair. Its a clear picture of the farm/complex that was built in the 1600s, where clever manipulation of the tides powered a number of different milling operations. We know the Millar family rented it before leaving in 1850, and it continued to run until early 1900s when most of the buildings were left to decay – only one small out building remains.

After a brief history lesson on the town, and establishing what I hope to get out of the visit, Ian grabs some paperwork and announces he’s ready to start his tour. Off back to the Kirk, where he helps locate what remains of the Abercrombie stone and a few others I have interest in, inside the church he revealed more about its uniqueness, and pointed out the very pew my Millars would have sat.

Then, we were off to the village again, historical information flying at me faster than I can keep up. I learn the town and local castle was originally establish by the monks of Dunfermline, then annexed by the King in 1571 . It was later given to Sir John Melville, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots. She often visited and there’s an amusing story about a smitten French Poet found hiding in her chambers at Rossend Castle. It was his second attempt to get close to her …… And his last. We climbed up the other side of the village, and stopped by to see the castle. After nearly falling under a wreckers ball in the 1950s, it was saved and restored by an architectural company, now used as office space. Simple, efficient, Scottish.


Then down the hill to where the SeaMill had been for centuries, which turned out to be on the Rossend Estate.

The large mill pond has been filled in now. Canada’s Alcan had once had a large aluminum factory. On this site. It was cleaned up and now hosts a large park where football goalposts stand, so It’s nice to know that the community is enjoying this space. A modern home subdivision surrounds the area, but tucked into some shrub is that one small storage building my Millar family would remember.


Owned by the town council, and currently rented out for storage, there is some talk of converting it to an interpretation center to teach locals and tourists about the Mill, once called a “wonder of the Fife”. I was able to share what we know of the family who lived & worked the mill, so long ago. Another perspective for the local historian to note.

Finally, Ian had to get back to his wife, so after many thanks and promises to stay in touch, there was only one thing to do. A stop in at the local for a pint. What an amazing day. WOW, I’m in Scotland. Another check off the bucket list. I’m SUCH a happy girl.

Posted in Scotland

Day Two

Edinburgh. A city I have dreamed of for so long. Its everything and more. Living history and modern Architecture, something for everyone.

The day starts at a French cafe, where the server is …. From France. Lots of French live and work in this town. Almond croissant, americano cafe… A tourist I am.

From there it ‘s time to wonder, discover the downtown – or at least the ‘new town’. While dating to the mid 1800s, new town is just across the street from ‘old town’, where views of Edinburgh Castle, tutor buildings and large stone ancient churches temp the traveler. A wonder up Princes Street, where glass modern meets stone historic. I am totally in awe.

Views of the day include Edinbugh Castle, Waverly Bridge and Jenners Dept Store. OMG this place is amazing.

This afternoon, a stroll through the historic Dean Village and climbing the hill again to wander Moray Place back to the Residence …. truly inspiring. Again, can’t say enough for locals, who constantly want to make sure a visitor is welcome and not lost, but being lost is the best in this city of cobblestones.


Between a long flight the day before, a busy day of walking this old town and a healthy dose of fresh air, an early night is in order. The 8am train to Burntisland is the plan for tomorrow. My first glimpse of ancestral grounds. Let this journey begin.


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