Inverness - chasing our ancestors and finding our clans.

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June 18th 2018
Published: June 18th 2018
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The unrelenting rainy and stormy weather while we were in Oban made it less inviting to explore but our final day was just overcast so we donned every warm piece of clothing in our cases and headed out. Our accommodation is almost under the Connel Bridge, so we had been waiting for a lull in the storms so that we could walk across it without being blown off the edge.

It is a solid, grey painted steel structure and not especially pretty. What surprises us more is that it is only a vehicle width, so there are lights at either end and cars can only go from one direction at a time. It seems extraordinary to build such a large bridge and make it so narrow, as it is on a major route to the northwest. Anyway, we got out to the middle in the howling wind and saw the rush of white water underneath where there is a drop of over a metre in the glacial rock. A friendly local on his bike stopped to chat and told us all about it.

Then into Oban, exploring a few small roads on the way, heading for the famous McCaig's tower on Battery Hill overlooking the town. Google outdid itself taking us a crazy route up the hill, but we got there and climbed the last steps to what looks like the top of a small Roman arena. It is what is sometimes called a 'folly' - built by John McCaig in 1897 for his family but never completed, it has 94 arches in two layers and is now a public garden. It is the best spot for views, and to our astonishment, the sun came out! Wonderful views across the harbour.

Parking in any town here is often beyond us, but we found a spot near the ferry terminal and discovered the pedestrian preCindy near the pier, station and bus terminal. With the sun still shining, it was time for fish and chips at a tartan top table next to the water, fighting off the biggest seagulls I have ever seen!

We spend the evenings editing and sharing photos, writing and maybe watching an episode of our latest series on a Netflix. We catch up with messages from home and also have to charge all our devices, cameras and booster chargers, and download maps for the next
Daviot Church of ScotlandDaviot Church of ScotlandDaviot Church of Scotland

This was rebuilt on the original site.
day’s travel so that we can get voice direction (even if it is sometimes wrong!). With bright skies at nearly 11pm we have to remind ourselves to go to bed!

All too soon it was time to close the cases again and travel on. We hit the road as early as we could and took three hours to get to Inverness in the north east- the furthest north we will get to, apart from a day trip. It rained all the way! We are amazed at how inadequate the roads are, mostly narrow, winding two way roads roads with pull off places for overtaking. It is almost impossible to get an auto rental car, so it is very solid driving with manual gears. There would be no use at all for cruise control! A fair bit of the trip was along the length of Loch Ness, but there were neither pretty photos nor monsters today. We listened to Australia-France in the World Cup, with reception dropping in and out tantalisingly at just the wrong moments. When the Aussies equalised the first goal we nearly went into a Loch Ness with excitement but it was a sad ending. With the cool weather and rain there was the added frisson of needing loo stops - there seem to be no public toilets in the whole of Scotland! With great relief we found Tescos in inverness which had both a comfort stop and lunch!

Inverness is small country town, exceptionally pretty, with more than its fair share of postcard views over the river and the surrounding lush countryside. Our BnB is wonderfully located within walking distance of the city centre and with views of the castle, which has been cleaned and would glow if the sun came out! We both have family ancestry lines from this area, so that is our main focus.

Keen to get going, we drove straight on in the afternoon to Daviot, just to the north, and began the search for the Rose and MacKintosh family roots. We found Peter's fourth great grandfather and mother's grave in the church cemetery and explored Moy and Farr looking for the mill that John Rose and then his son Thomas ran over 160 years ago.

On Sunday morning we went back and found more sites, like the memorial to the chief Laird of the MacKintosh clan and the Craggie Burn that fed the mill. The service in the Daviot church was at noon, so we went, and it was so refreshing after six weeks on the road! Just small, but genuine and welcoming. They were pretty much blown away that we had come from Australia to find the clan and were anxious to help. We met a lovely couple with the surname Rose, but strangely the connection was probably with the wife's MacKintosh line. After a cuppa at their place, his mother joined in and we were taken to her 95 year old bedridden brother, who remembered when the mill was sold and closed! His son then took Peter down the valley and there it was.

Elderly Malcolm was very sharp and thrilled with the visit. He told us that he reads his Bible and prays and Peter offered him a blessing prayer. It was a lovely moment. A small drive to the next door property, and there was the miller's cottage and a later house and more access to the mill site. Incidentally, the flower garden there was the loveliest I have seen in Scotland.

So there we were with Margaret in the back seat, who son Derek had suggested we could ‘drop home’ when we were finished. Well that turned out to be about a 25 mile detour into the country! But she had a wonderful day and was so excited to meet us. When we got her safely home (85 and living on her own) she shared some sadnesses in her family and shed some tears, so another pastoral prayer and some hugs and we were ready to find our way back. We saw a lot of green country as we drove and searched.

On our last day in Inverness we went north - the furthest we will get on this trip - 58 degrees north. Peter's ancestor Thomas Rose moved after ten years from the mill we saw yesterday to Golspie on the north east coast, and we had an appointment to see the current mill on the site. Michael the miller is a Kiwi who mills small quantities of organic grains, and runs the only commercial mill in Britain. He gave us so much time looking around, then let us go through his own yard down to the burn where the ruins of the original mill are.

It was like going back in time! We scrambled through the meadow grass, speckled with buttercups, foxgloves, yarrow and lilies, pulling aside the blackberries and sticky weed. Ancient trees - oaks, aspens, larch and beech (apparently introduced) hung overhead and the sun dappled through it all. Bird song and babbling brook added the tranquil audio and it wasn’t hard to imagine ggg grandfather walking to the mill each day. Peter climbed a stone wall and opened a rusty gate for me and there it was. Thomas moved there from the other mill and would have lived in the cottage that is still used. And then he emigrated to Australia - and today we came back. It’s pretty safe to say that we are the first to do this.

We pressed on north to Helmsdale, where there is a fantastic commemorative sculpture called The Emigrants. It is mounted on the hill facing out to see and is so evocative. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century, when the greedy lairds smashed homes and sent people off their land so they could run more sheep, forced many to migrate. The first from Helmsdale went to Canada, and there was a series of flags at the memorial, including an Australian one. It actually was quite moving.

We drove the couple of hours home (getting lost in the last mile, and we were busting!) feeling reflective as we soaked up the rugged northern country: the sea views of the coast, the huge rolling mountains, the long bridges over the firths, and everywhere the vast swathes of yellow horse, or whin, as they call it. So prickly and invasive but so gloriously yellow. It reminded me of NZ in spring, and apparently the Brits took it there and it is now their worst and invasive weed!

Sorry this blog is so long - if you are still reading! I am trying to catch up, but the rich experiences keep coming. Next stop Aberdeen.

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