Those Whose Shoulders We Stand Upon

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November 11th 2019
Published: May 30th 2021
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While on the train down from Leeds I had texted Uncle Walt the station and time I’d be arriving. However, not receiving a confirmation message in return, I began to wonder what would await me when I disembarked. To my relief I found my mom, Simon, and Simon’s rental car waiting for me. Simon seemed pretty grumpy about having to pick me up and all the headlights shining in his eyes at that time of night. But I was learning that that was just Simon’s way.

The old house was by now abuzz with activity as my cousin, Fraser, and his unique dog, Rocky, were now also in residence. Mom seemed to be in good spirits and happy to have me back in the fold. Apparently, Uncle Walt and Simon, had enjoyed ganging up and teasing her over the weekend. Little brothers can never resist having a devilish tweak at their older sisters. Even in their late-seventies it seems!

My room was as I left it with the North Seas winds still clattering away at the window. All five of us went out to dinner at the local haunt, the Ship Inn. In fact, we would go on to have multiple dinners there during our stay. It was only a five minute walk along the bay from the house. Once inside we would settle into the cozy environment, drinking and eating local fare, and discussing the current state of the world.

It was great having Fraser around. With my uncle spending so much of his time in London and Fraser living in nearby Edinburgh, Fraser now had sort of become the “laird of the manor”. He knew everybody in town and had all these projects he was working on. He showed us how he was fixing up the back cottages and his plans for future endeavors. Also with him around, we no longer had to come up with activities for ourselves. As Fraser always came up with something for us to do and was so enthusiastic about our doing it.

The first day we took a long walk to a nature area that we would have never even know existed. Through local lands and past private gates. The air was filled with an autumn coolth. Along the way Simon would whip out his smartphone and take pictures of all the local plants in order to identify them with his new app. Eventually we came out on to a large body of inland water. Across the water an ancient structure loomed up in the hazy distance. There was an aura of absolute peace and quiet wonder. Afterwards, we would walk back to town and take tea at the pavilion café. This quickly morphed into an all-on feed as the result of healthy worked up appetites.

That evening I took a solo walk up the coast and crags. Along the way I saw a truly remarkable sight. A couple of young local girls kitted up in bathing suits plunging into the cold ocean. This was Scotland in November, so you know the water had to be freezing. I remembered diving into these very waters on a July day twenty years earlier and I barely lasted a minute even then. What was amusing was the slim and slender one kept frigidly hopping in and out of the water, while the rather portly girl just swam serenely. A little meat on your bones does come in handy. But mad Scotswomen, eh.

After a time I reached my destination, the lady tower. The lady tower is a small stone structure built in 1770. It was built for Lady Janet Anstruther, a young noblewoman renowned for her beauty. She would change and later recover in the tower following bracing skinny dips in the water down below. Back then her servants would warn off curious onlookers with bells and withering glances. However, the servants were not there that day. Unfortunately for me, neither was Lady Janet.

I had remembered the place from family walks when I was a kid and was glad to have gone back to the tower on my own. I was the only soul around looking out of its portals at the roiling sea and gazing up upon the tower’s old stone walls. Dinner had begun to call however. I walked to the house in awe and very much alive in the moment. The town puts on the most gorgeous light show at dusk. Silvery waters and soaring art filled skies.

The next day brought another excursion. However, I was too much of a late riser that day and as I was heading down to breakfast the rest of the crew was heading out the door. They gave me directions that I seemed pretty straightforward. So after a bowl of Weetabix and a hot shower I was belatedly on my way. I walked through the town stopping to look at the old church and the stone plaque commemorating local boy James Braid, a champion golfer who won five British opens starting in 1901. History everywhere you turned.

I hiked along the beachy shore. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but to my relief I saw four friendly little specs up on the bluff high above the beach. I climbed up to see what they were up to. They were examining some old stone ruins that used to be part of a religious pilgrimage community. As soon as I got up there though the gang was off again and I followed along as we all trundled off further down the down the coast. Fraser mentioned that we might see some seals, but all we saw that day were some mighty sea birds. We stopped when we reached the outer edges of the old golf course.

The gang had had enough and were ready to head back. I hadn’t fully explored the pilgrim ruins though. So I arranged to meet them back at the Ship Inn for warming cups of tea. I was fortunate to have long legs and I was sure I’d be able to catch up with them before the first cup was served. Fast walkers my mom and Uncle Walt are not. I bid them farewell and doubled back to amble around the old ruins. I leant up against the stony walls and looked out to sea. I was trying to imagine and enter the mindset of the pilgrims who had dwelled here long centuries before.

My prediction about the timing of my return trek proved true. I walked through the door of the Ship Inn just as the cappuccinos were being served. Some kind person did let me have theirs and they ordered another. It didn’t seem to matter though as we were in there for a while. All set up around the roaring stone fireplace: swapping stories, theories, and cakes. The family living and celebrating life on a perfect Fife day.

That evening while eating a home cooked dinner around the kitchen table, Fraser asked if anybody wanted to go to the movies in St. Andrew’s. Everyone accept for Uncle Walt gladly accepted. With Fraser around you never knew what would happen next. That was how after what I thought had already been a long and complete day I found myself in a darkened movie theater drinking Irn-Bru and watching Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen repeatedly try to outwit each other. Back home finally I slept like the biggest of bumps on the proverbial log.

On our final day we would take one more journey into the past. In Largo, a nearby village, there is a church that dates back to 1160. Our family has been attending services there off and on since at least the 1300s. This includes our illustrious ancestor, Sir Andrew, who had been an admiral in the fleet of the Scottish kings.

Unfortunately, when we arrived the church was locked and we couldn’t get inside. Fraser however, seems to know everybody. He called around until he attained the number of the current priest. He then called him and explained who we were. He sounded trustworthy, I guess, because the priest told him of the secret hiding place on the grounds where a spare church key was kept.

While this was happening the rest of us were keeping ourselves content by examining the outside architecture of the building and poking around the churchyard. One of the tombstones was particularly notable as it was covered a mound of seashells. It was the grave of Alexander Selkirk, another local boy, who had sailed around the world and once found himself stranded all alone on a desert island for four years. His life had been the inspiration for the fictional, Robinson Crusoe. Now here he was lying in the churchyard of our ancestors.

Once inside we looked into every nook and cranny. There was a model of my ancestor’s ship. Also in one of the stained glass windows was our family crest in vivid color. It was really exhilarating to feel the power of history along with the comfort of belonging to a patch of soil. My mom, uncle, and cousin were chattering away delightedly about everything as I ascended the steps to the old balcony up above. There I took a birds eye view of it all. My family members in the centuries old church, all with huge enthusiastic smiles plastered on their faces. I sat back contently and said a prayer for future good fortunes for our family and a thank you to my long ago ancestors.

Later that day I took one more dusk walk to absorb and bathe in that magical Fife light. I walked out along the pier to the iconic granary building. I looked back at our house across the water. Everything around was striking blues and purples. All that is except our house with its windows emanating a warm yellow light. I thought about what that yellow light represented: family, warmth, love, timelessness.

When I got back Fraser’s wife, Davina, had arrived from Edinburgh. It was our last night in Scotland and she wanted to see us one more time before we left in the morning. We all strolled down to the Ship Inn for one more celebratory family meal. Having practically memorized the menu we ordered with aplomb. Afterwards, we walked back in the still dark of the night. The only thing piercing the blackness was a far offshore oilrig in the distance, glowing the skies red with a Mordor-like menace. The tales of old were indeed cavorting in the air.


30th May 2021

Scottish Ancestors...
My wife and I also have many ancestors in Scotland. We plan to visit there at the end of August/early September. Can you divulge your clan or family name...we might be distantly related.
31st May 2021

I hope you get there! Nothing better than walking in the footsteps of your ancestors.
31st May 2021

North Sea Winds
We have experienced those winds and they are wicked. Thanks for sharing the story about the mad Scotswomen. LOL. It sounds like you've had a nice time.
31st May 2021

November 2019
Back then it was a delightful family reunion, now it doubles as my last foreign adventure for the foreseeable future. It all depends on perspective. :)

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