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Published: January 20th 2021
Our final morning in London was spent sitting in Uncle Walt’s flat eating breakfast and watching England being unexpectantly flattened by the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup Final. But that was earlier. Mom and I were now gazing out of train windows as the cold waters of the North Sea became the Firth of Forth as we eased around St. Abb’s Head. We were officially back in Scotland, our ancestral home, after being away for too long.
As he dropped off of at St. Pancras Station Uncle Walt told us to look out for Ally, who would meet us at the Edinburgh station to help us get sorted. I wasn’t much sure about what kind of help he would be however, since Mom and I already had a rental car all booked and wasn’t Ally just a kid. I hadn’t seen him for years. Ally, my cousin and Uncle Walt’s grandson, was now supposedly a functioning 22 year-old. Either way, it would be great to see him again nonetheless.
Mom and I were on our way to the coastal town of Elie in County Fife. There wasn’t a direct train line to the town so we were going
to drive there ourselves. Unfortunately, while on the train we discovered that the car rental place in Edinburgh was closing well before our train would arrive. After some frantic phone calls we were left in the lurch with no car and just a cancellation to our name. Maybe young Ally would be of some use after all.
Ally was there at Waverly Station to greet us at the platform as promised. It is always an odd though pleasant experience to meet someone again as an adult that you hadn’t seen since they were a child. He was a welcomed sight and we bundled our luggage out of the station and into his small car. We weaved throughout the streets of Edinburgh. The old buildings hovering over us in the November grey air, visions of stone and tweed.
Once back at his family’s house we started making phone calls One of the phone calls was to his parents, my cousin Fraser and his wife Davina, who were out of town for a couple of days. We tried to figure out if we should still rent a car ourselves, have Ally drive us to Fife that night, or to figure
out the train/taxi/bus route we would need to get there on public transport. After much backing and forthing and numerous cups of teas we decided on a train and taxi route. However, by then it was pitch black outside. We would go in the morning.
Luckily, with his parents and Ally’s sister out of town, there were more than enough beds for Mom and I to spend the night. Ally offered to make us a meal, but we insisted on taking him out to dinner. We could only trust the lad’s talents so far and he had certainly earned a meal by that point. The area where he lived was overflowing with restaurants and cafes. As we walked to one, Ally pointed out the rugby club where he and Fraser, who had played the sport professionally, spent many of their days.
The place he took us to was called the Raeburn. Ally said it used to be a traditional old school pub, but now was under new ownership. It still felt British, but now in an upscale low lit borderline swanky kind of way. The bar area looked like it was gearing up to be a happening spot
as the night progressed. The old nightlife maven in me still has a sense for these things. But the three of us were just there for a quiet meal. The 22, 41, and 80 year old.
I was in the mood for something Scottish so Ally directed me to a local Scottish beer called Innis and Gunn, which was uniquely aged in bourbon infused oaken casks. Of course I had to also try the Cullen skink. Our conversation that evening was deep, intelligent, and full of family feeling.
The next day Ally drove us to the train station and helped us to purchase tickets for Markinch where we would then catch a taxi to Elie. Unfortunately for us, the train was absolutely jammed with passengers on that weekend day. I quickly spotted the last remaining seat and gestured for Mom to sit down. I would stand in between train cars with our suitcases at my feet.
It was about a 45 minute journey and we gratefully disembarked as the train pulled into Markinch. It wasn’t long until the next traveler’s hitch presented itself. There weren’t any taxis to be found anywhere. In fact the whole station was
completely deserted. So hauling both of our luggage myself, I took off with Mom on a stroll to what hopefully was better luck and the town center.
Eventually, and not soon enough, we came across a taxi office. It was shut with a handwritten note on the door saying be back soon. We waited for a while and then whipped out our mobile and called the number posted in the window. A voice answered and said they would send a car around when they could. After a longish wait in a cold doorway our taxi rolled into view.
We rolled along the roads of Fife until at last we came across long forgotten familiarity. Here we were back in Elie. A town we knew oh so well. Mom and I had spent many holidays here back with our old nuclear family, back when my father and sister were alive. 1984, 1989, 1994, and 2002. I had vacationed here with a friend on my first backpacking trip in 1997. My mom and dad spent their honeymoon here back in 1974. This town and us had history. But it went further than that. The house we were staying in had
been passed down in our family for four hundred years. We directed the driver expertly down the lane that still bears our family name. I fumbled with the keys out on the curb, before opening the heavy door, and stepped across the threshold that generations of No Papers had passed through over the centuries.
The house always seems to welcome and envelop you in a comforting embrace. Mom and I stashed our bags in the upstairs bedrooms. I always choose the same room every time I stay. It is smaller than the others, but the bed is snugged cozily in between a large bookshelf and the window. The view outside the window looks out across the Firth of Forth. The dramatic tides reveal steely grey Scottish waters or velvety peach sands depending on the time of day.
Mom and I walked down to the local shop to purchase provisions for the next few days, breakfast for tomorrow, and some truly tasty gourmet meat pies for dinner. After dinner we lit a fire and watched some British telly. At last, it was time to call it a night. I welcomed the chance to crawl into bed and fell asleep
soundly to the sound of the North Sea winds buffeting the window outside.
We awoke to a rarity. A gorgeously sunny Scottish day. We didn’t want to waste it so we took a walk through Elie toward the old course, where locals have been playing golf since 1589. There is a relaxing and unfussy restaurant called the Pavilion Café just next door. The weather was so nice that we even decided to eat outside. The sun was strong enough that we would still be warm despite the November temperatures. We ordered a pot of tea and some toasted sandwiches. When our tea arrived we were introduced to something delightful, tablet. We were each given a square with our tea. Tablet is a sugary confectionary unique to Scotland, sort of like a buttery fudge. Mom and I decided we would make it our mission to find the best tablet in Scotland while we were there or eat our weight in the stuff trying.
Since the tide was out we walked back along the beach after lunch. We picked our way past piles of seaweed and seashells. We looked back at the old house hovering stately over the seashore in
the distance. We took pictures of all the gorgeous scenery, gazed out at the brightly glistening seas, and day dreamed about the present and the past. We got so caught up in our own thoughts that we hadn’t realized that the tide had started to come in. A rivulet of water now blocked us from getting to where we wanted to go. We would have to back track and go the long way around. We didn’t mind though. Any length walk in this town was a treasure on to itself.
The next day couldn’t have been any more different. Cold, blustery, with flecks of threatening rain in the air. Mom had imagined that since we didn’t have a car that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else until Uncle Walt arrived. However, when I was here as a young penniless backpacker I had discovered the local bus system. I was able to steer us to the bus stop, whose location I remembered from using it 22 years earlier. Once on the bus we passed through an eclectic variety of local towns until we arrived in the town of Anstruther. Our goal was fish and chips.
disembarked the bus, we saw a van pull up to the curve. Out spilled a young gaggle of Chinese backpackers. It was an unusual scene for this small Scottish town. Mom and I walked along the main street along the water until we reached our delicious destination, the Anstruther Fish Bar. On a family trip long ago we had discovered this place. Some of the best fish and chips in the country it was. My dad and sister were no longer among us, but Mom and I were still going strong.
We ordered a smorgasbord of food. Is there a Gaelic word for smorgasbord? Haddock, prawns, sausages, you name it. All fried in the most delicate and tasty batter. A squeeze of lemon here. A splash of vinegar there. All washed down with the syrupy sweetness of an Irn-Bru soft drink. Did I feel Scottish? Aye, I did.
We had eschewed the big table in the center of the room, opting for a more modest one by the window. It was a good thing too, as shortly after we sat down the group of Chinese came trundling through the door. They looked to have been led there by
a young local lad. After a nice eavesdropping session I came to learn that they were all staying at a hostel nearby and this was their authentic Scottish lunch excursion. Mom and I satisfyingly blended into walls of the local eatery.
After lunch, Mom talked me into visiting the old Fisheries museum. It was a lot bigger than I had remembered from when I was a child. In fact, the only thing that stuck in my mind from that long ago visit was an eel who had grown too big for his tank who longed to squeeze through a small opening to get back at the delicious looking fish in the adjacent tank. This time Mom and I had a grand time walking through all the old exhibits. They now even had full sized boats, both large and small. The place was so vast that we were positively racing through it at the end so that we wouldn’t miss the bus home.
We emerged out on the street into the dark and one of the coldest downpours you could imagine. We raced along to the bus stop and discovered that the bus wouldn’t be arriving for another fifteen
minutes. We couldn’t stay there. It was too cold and wet, so we ran into a warm shop across the street and ordered a couple of teas and of course some more tablet. We lingered a bit, but could not risk letting the bus pass us by. Mom stayed in the covered bus enclosure on the opposite side of the street. I waited in the open air area on the correct side, so that the driver would make sure to stop. Howling winds and driving rain cut me to the bone. Sorry Mom, this was not part of my vision when I suggested taking the local bus.
The bus did eventually arrive, and hot showers and more cups of tea awaited at home too. The next day, Uncle Walt and Simon arrived up from London. The old house brimmed to life once more, seemingly becoming happier the more residents there were residing within its centuries old walls.
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