Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thoughts on Castles

It’s no joke, there are castles everywhere, and they are the most immediate example that this land is rich with story and lore and heritage. You feel it instantly. I’ve sensed this a few times in the US - say, traversing Gettysburg battlefield, roaming through founding neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan or Philadelphia, even well-preserved Colonial or Craftsman homes in Connecticut and California. The feeling is pervasive here.

The North Sea & Lichen

Before my flat is ready for move-in, I am spending my first few days about 25 miles east of Edinburgh, in the town of Dunbar, in the region of East Lothian. I am staying with the lovely and generous Alan and Elizabeth Burchell. Alan is a first year Rotarian and as my host counselor, I will work with him and his club to arrange projects and partake in local service. Particularly, I am hoping to link Dunbar and my sponsor club, LA5, in applying for and completing a project with the help of a Rotary Foundation matching grant. 

Alan and Elizabeth have given me an incredibly generous welcome. They met me at the airport in my most jet-lagged state, and didn't mind that the first thing I wanted to do in Scotland was take a nap. World travelers themselves, they knew where I was coming from. They have been cooking tasty food (salmon, roasted chicken, exploding apples!), preparing many pots of tea, and showing me around this coastal region that they know as their own. Dunbar is actually the birthplace of John Muir. I can see how starting out here would inspire a life dedicated to the natural world. Gorgeous is an understatement. 

My tour guides, Rotary host counselors
Alan & Elizabeth Burchell of Dunbar

We spent the bulk of 2 days exploring, and my first taste of Scottish history was thorough. Dunbar Castle is considerably crumbled, but imposing; standing along its foundation facing out to the sea, my imagination wandered to the figures who defended the place through generations. One feisty woman was named Black Agnes. Her husband was out to lunch, so Agnes succeeded in defending her digs through five months of attacks.     

   Laundry Day in North Berwick

Dunbar Castle & the North Sea

Tantallon was considerably more preserved, and we were able to climb to the top of it- something I figured would have been off limits because it is so ancient. At this castle,  I purchased a Historic Scotland pass which grants free admission to some seventy more during the year. Store discount too -- now taking orders for fine whiskys and anything plaid...

Something interesting I learned from Alan is that if part of a historic site in Scotland crumbles, it is against the law to put it back together AT ALL. Guess this comes from fear that it might be re-constructed improperly, or that touching it would make it fall down even more. 

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