Scotland a Bonnie Place to Visit
Until recently I had visited Scotland only in my imagination. To see it at last in person was a seductive delight.
is a quiet land with a stormy past. Populated over the centuries by
Romans, Celts, Vikings, Gaels, Picts and Britons, it is an ancient
country of vivid contrasts and rugged people. The Lowlands feature
gentle hills quilted by green glens and golden meadows. The Highlands
and offshore islands offer quite different features: long-fingered lochs
(lakes), stark mountain wilderness and glacier-scoured gorges. Sheep
are everywhere as are castle ruins. Unusual place names dot the
countryside: Dull, Dollar, Tweed, Rum. Golfers from around the world
flock to the nation that founded the addictive game. Scotland's varied
splendor casts an enchanting spell.
Like the American South,
Scotland is haunted and inspired by its past. It is a country and a
culture animated by striking contrasts. Romance and myth clash openly
with modern values and high-rise cities.
Scotland, too, has been
the battleground for bloody clannish feuds and civil wars, religious
disputes and imperial rivalries. It has experienced defeat and
occupation at the hands of invading armies, all the while displaying a
Today Scotland remains an ambivalent member of
the United Kingdom. A vocal minority still yearns for independence from
Britain, and the decision to restore the Scottish Parliament in 1997 has
excited nationalist fervor.
The capital and second-largest city,
Edinburgh, exceeds its reputation; it is impossible to exaggerate the
city's charms and majestic power. Sitting astride the Firth of Forth
estuary on a sea-salted, wind-carved crag of solid rock, Old Edinburgh
is a regal colossus. The ancient castle atop the cliff provides a
reference point for the whole city. It is also serves as the western
terminus of the Royal Mile, a congested avenue intersected by narrow
lanes and alleys, ending at Holyrood Palace, the Scottish residence of
the Queen of England.
In between the palace and the castle are
countless stores, galleries, pubs, churches, hostelries and bookshops.
History broods over the city. It was the home of Scottish kings as well
as the lionhearted Mary, Queen of Scots, whose political judgment lagged
behind her stunning beauty. Edinburgh also hosted John Knox, the
fearless father of Presbyterianism who chastised Queen Mary for her
Catholic pretensions and social intrigues.
there is little sign of John Knox's stern Calvinism in Edinburgh. The
streets are roiling with revelers and troubadours. During the summer,
the city hosts seven major overlapping festivals that attract more than a
million visitors and create an air of unrelenting energy.
the last 50 years the Edinburgh International Festival has emerged as
one of the world's greatest celebrations of the arts, an annual
extravaganza of nonstop entertainment. It includes opera, ballet,
classical music and serious theater, nine days of jazz and blues, a book
fair, a film festival, art exhibitions, a stirring military tattoo
featuring massed pipe and drum units, and the Fringe Festival, a hip
counterpart to the International Festival which alone produces more than
20,000 performances by 600 different production companies in 207
venues, including phone booths, pubs, sidewalks and alleys.
though the best way to travel is with no goal in mind, I was on a
mission of sorts in Scotland. Our quest was in search of plaid. From
Edinburgh we made our way north to Inverness, ably guided by Frank and
Susan Shaw, ardent lovers of all things Scottish.
Atlanta resident, had commissioned James Scarlett to design a tartan for
Furman University. Scarlett is the leading authority on tartans, and he
proved to be a delightful host. The folklore about tartans, he
explained, has been terribly distorted by romantic literature and
passionate antiquarianism, commercial desires and public gullibility.
has become for tourists (and especially Americans) an exclusive form of
fancy dress was in fact an ancient Highlands art form dictated by the
region's poverty. Different communities preferred different tartan
patterns, but the rigid scheme of clan-specific designs did not emerge
until the 18th century.
Whatever the mythology surrounding
tartans, Furman's new plaid fabric will be an original design featuring
purple and white. Kilts and trousers, scarves, hats, and ties will be
available to all, regardless of family heritage. James Scarlett did
suggest, however, that we consider renaming the university MacFurman.
What a bonnie idea!