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One man’s Celtic Crusade …

02 August 2019 - By Jock Anderson

Jock Anderson is familiar to many lawyers from his long career as a court reporter and legal commentator and for the popular lawyer profiles he has written every week for the past four years for the Law Society’s LawPoints e-newsletter.

For 61 years Aberdeen-born Jock (now 72) had to admit to having never been back to his homeland. Then, for five weeks in March and April, Jock strode and drove the highways and byways of Scotland for the first time since 1958.

This is a sporran’s-eye view of one man’s Celtic Crusade involving a courthouse that’s a tourist destination, a wizard’s grave, an emotional trip to the Culloden battlefield, some traditional Caledonian cooking, and surviving a brief foray into ‘enemy territory’.

Stepping foot on Scottish soil – albeit at Edinburgh’s busy and ever-expanding airport – was something of an anti-climax.

Until, that is, I got a Scottish immigration stamp in my virgin passport and saw my old friend Elizabeth Robertson, who came to meet me from a 24-hour flight and take a travel-stunned prodigal to Edinburgh’s Braid Hills hotel, my comfy home for the next few days.

That was when the significance of where I was and the enormity of my personal pilgrimage hit me.

I drove all over Scotland, on motorways and occasional farm tracks, clocking up 2,402 miles (3,865km) from Edinburgh to Inverness, Aberdeen, Royal Deeside, the Caledonian Canal, Isle of Skye, down the west coast to Stranraer, ferried across the Clyde to Ireland – with a short side trip to Dublin, and criss-crossed the Border region.

I even crossed unintentionally into England but quickly realised my error and did a quick U-turn to safety.

Here’s a potted peek into a Scotland I barely knew as a child and one I know so much better now …

Culloden

Every Scot stands at Culloden.

That’s an expression I coined after I stood there and wept for our Prince and the clansmen who died for him on 16 April 1746.

Culloden is a national war grave a few miles from Inverness: a bleak, bare stretch of moorland where the mass graves of the loyal dead are marked by simple stones bearing their clan names.

Folk come from all over the world to touch the memorial cairn and walk the battlefield – stained more now with tears than blood.

A sweetie from Her Majesty

I would not have seen or boarded Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, de-commissioned and permanently moored at Ocean Terminal, Leith, had my friend and occasional tour guide Elizabeth not insisted. “You might be surprised,” she said.

She wasn’t wrong. The Queen’s former floating home is kept in immaculate condition by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust as a major Scottish visitor attraction, open seven days a week and visited by more than 300,000 folk every year.

It is said that she is now the single most popular visitor destination in Scotland.

Built on the Clyde by John Brown, and launched on 16 April 1953, Britannia sailed more than one million nautical miles before being retired in 1997. Her positioning in Leith coincided with a redevelopment of the harbour area, and the advent of Scottish devolution.

Britannia, liberally sprinkled with a host of toy Corgis, is a living reminder of an Empire and Commonwealth changed.

Our tour into every nook and cranny included a free sweetie, followed by drinks and scones on the Royal Deck Tea Room.

Grisly martyrdom in bookworms’ haven

In Wigtown, a literary destination best known for its many bookshops, I spotted by chance a little sign that pointed to “Martyrs’ Stake”.

Down a windy road, past the ruins of Wigtown Abbey and across a narrow boardwalk, stood a tall pillar of granite with a crude stone seat fashioned at its base, firmly embedded in what was once a tidal mudflat.

It was here, in 1685, that Scottish Covenanters Margaret Lachlan (63) and Margaret Wilson (18) were executed by Scottish Episcopalians who tied them to stakes and let them drown in the slowly rising tide, in the expectation the women would denounce their faith.

They didn’t.

In a country torn by centuries of invasion, bloodshed, treachery, violent suppression and ghastly torture – often in the name of the God of the day – Wigtown’s Martyrs’ Stake is one of the most chilling remnants of religious brutality I ever expected to encounter.

At the Wizard’s Grave

There was a limited number of possessions immigrants were allowed to bring to New Zealand in 1958. Essentially only pots and pans, clothing, bedding and Granny’s clock.

Wizard of the North's grave
Jock at the Wizard of the North's grave in Aberdeen

The bust of John Henry Anderson, the famous Wizard of the North, plus his top hat and gloves, had to be left behind. Where they went, I do not know.

But the story of the Wizard has remained with me ever since.

I did some research on him over the years, finding out how this master of stage magic managed, among other things, to burn down at least two theatres during his stage performances – one in Glasgow and the other being parts of Covent Garden Theatre in London during a particularly long and some say debauched performance.

The Wizard, also known as the Professor and the Celtic Conjuror, was – I suspect – my great great grandfather. That’s still a piece of the jigsaw to be found.

An orphaned Aberdonian, this great stage illusionist, magician and entertainer – the Elvis of his time – lived from 1814 to 1874 and lies buried beside his mother in St Nicholas Cemetery, Aberdeen.

Down a path that began with historian Rory Sweetman in Hawea, to historian Colin Barr at Aberdeen University, to the special collections centre at the Sir Duncan Rice Library at Aberdeen University, to Aberdeen Magical Society secretary Dave Goulding, I found myself standing by the Wizard’s grave.

A particular fan of the Wizard was the great escapologist Harry Houdini, who stood in the very spot this photo of me was taken by Dave Goulding.

It is said that the Wizard was the first magician to pull a rabbit from a hat and, while he didn’t invent it, he mastered the trick of catching a bullet in his teeth.

He was the first stage magician to break the tradition of dressing in oriental robes and wear full evening dress, including that top hat and gloves.

He travelled the world, performing before the crowned heads of Europe, including Czar Nicholas 1 and Queen Victoria. He didn’t make it to New Zealand but a daughter is said to have.

A master of personal marketing, he enlisted youngsters to go around the streets chalking “The Wizard Is Coming”, followed by “The Wizard Is Here” on footpaths. He distributed little pats of butter round coffee houses and taverns with the same words stamped on them.

Seeing a couple of places where he performed in Aberdeen brought the reality home. There’s much more could be said about John Henry Anderson but it will be in another forum. It is enough that finding his grave was a highlight of my Celtic Crusade.

Stovies and oatcakes

After a beer in the Airlie Arms Hotel in Kirriemuir, Angus, roughly between Dundee and Aberdeen – where they had run out of scones – I wandered hungry into Bridget’s Coffee House.

Bridget’s charitable profits go to school, water, medical and coffee growing projects in Uganda.

A big plate of steaming hot stovies (a potato and meat-based dish) with oatcakes, transported me back to my childhood.

Probably the most memorable meal of all, closely followed by boat-loads of haddock and haggis balls.

If you haven’t been seduced by a plate of stovies you’ve never lived …

A court for all seasons

Inveraray Courthouse was built circular, with high windows to allow light to shine on the dispensement of justice throughout the dreary Scottish seasons.

Inveraray Jail
Inveraray Jail

The courthouse and attached Inveraray Jail, are among Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations.

Completed in 1820, the buildings comprised one eight-cell prison block for men, women, debtors and children as young as seven. Airing yards for secure exercise were included in 1843.

In 1848 a new model prison, well heated and lit by gas, was completed, with 12 individual cells, a water closet on every floor, accommodation for warders, a store room and indoor exercise gallery.

Inveraray Jail closed in 1889. The Circuit Court met only twice in Inveraray after 1900, moved to Oban in 1953 and the Sheriff Court moved to Dunoon in 1954.

The old courthouse and empty prison fell into disrepair but fortunately their significance as the finest 19th century county courthouse and prison in Scotland was recognised.

The Scottish Office undertook an extensive renovation and in 1989 Inveraray Jail opened to the public and now attracts visitors from all over the world.

Visitors to the courtroom see it set out as if the Circuit Court was in session, complete with judge, prosecuting advocate general, defence counsel and their respective solicitors, clerk of the court, a 15-person jury, a witness giving evidence, the accused and his police guards and the mace bearer.

Monks’ quarters at Dundrennan Abbey

Dundrennan Abbey, near Kirkcudbright, in the south, is one of many fine partially ruined examples of ancient ecclesiastical architecture.

It was here that Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours in Scotland.

Dundrennan was the major abbey of the Cistercian order, which became wealthy from sheep farming. Founded on austere principles, an Abbott didn’t see why monks – who lived in these stone caves – wanted to sleep when God’s work was to be done.

The Dome

Arguably the most spectacular building I enjoyed in Edinburgh was The Dome, a magnificent restored banking chamber in George Street.

George Street and surrounding streets, were an 18th century town planning blueprint for gentrified “upstairs, downstairs” city living.

In Victorian times many Georgian houses were replaced by quality shops, showrooms, banks, small department stores and banks. Today the street remains essentially a Victorian townscape, with many commercial buildings converted into restaurants, coffee shops, bars and high quality clothes shops.

Designed by architect David Rhind for the Commercial Bank of Scotland, the building now known as The Dome is a mix of Greek and Roman. A pedimental sculpture shows a central figure of Caledonia, flanked by Prudence, Agriculture, Commerce, Enterprise, Mechanical Science and Learning.

Over the years the Commercial Bank of Scotland became the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 1993 the Royal Bank moved out and the building was bought by Caledonian Heritable Ltd, who created The Dome – featuring a magnificent glass roof over the former grand telling hall.

Caledonian Heritable also owns Ryans Bar, in downtown Edinburgh, which houses a superb underground whisky and gin sanctuary – Usquabae – claimed by some to be the best of its kind in Scotland. It was here Elizabeth introduced me to the beautiful Rock Rose gin and Fever Tree tonic.

Traquair House

As an amateur student of historic architecture I couldn’t resist a sign that took me seven miles south-east of Peebles to Traquair House.

Built on the site of an original Royal Stuart hunting lodge, Traquair dates back to 1107 and it is said that – for the last 900 years – it has been Scotland’s oldest continually inhabited house.

Traquair House Scotland
Traquair House

Currently the home of Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the 21st Laird of Traquair, it has been lived in by the Stuart family since 1491.

With an in-house brewing tradition going back centuries, the famous Jacobite Ale is brewed here.

Traquair wasn’t open to the public and no one appeared to be home when I drove up and took a photo of what I took to be the back of the house, later to discover it was the unprepossessing front entrance.

These days the house, once visited by 27 Scottish kings and queens, and a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots, hosts weddings, celebrations, corporate events, short stays and various exhibitions.

Secrets of the Silver Screen

No film fan can visit Scotland without seeing some of the locations that have made films that feature them truly memorable, if you know how to find them.

Segments of Highlander, Hamlet, The Queen, The 39 Steps, Trainspotting, World War Z, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chariots of Fire, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Whisky Galore, Hallam Foe, Mrs Brown, The Legend of Tarzan, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Braveheart, Skyfall and The BFG, to name but a few, were filmed in Scotland – along with many television series.

I picked up two great guide books: Set in Scotland – A Film Fan’s Odyssey and TV Set in Scotland, produced by VisitScotland.

The film location I visited was the Ellengowan pub in Creetown, in an inlet on the Solway Firth, a few miles from Newton Stewart, where I stayed a couple of nights.

The classic 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man was filmed around here, with the Ellengowan pub renamed The Green Man for an attempt by publican’s daughter Willow (Britt Ekland) to seduce devout Christian police sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward).

The fact is that while the film showed Willow (aided by a couple of naked stand-ins) writhing through the wall from the stoic Sergeant Howie, the actual filming of the scene took place in different locations miles apart.

Creetown has a Wicker Man museum. Several townsfolk took part as extras in the film with the pub and nearby butcher shop adorned with faded still shots from the cult classic.

The Devil’s Porridge

There’s a fascinating museum at Annan near Dumfries which tells the story of the Devil’s Porridge and how 30,000 people – mainly young women from all over the Empire, including New Zealand – worked in what was the world’s biggest munitions factory in World War I.

The Devil’s Porridge was how journalist Arthur Conan Doyle described the huge cauldrons of nitroglycerine mixed by hand for millions of shells and bombs desperately needed for Britain’s war effort

Nothing is left of the temporary township that once stood here – it was dismantled and taken away between the wars. In World War II Annan was a major Royal Air Force base where many New Zealand airmen served.

Ancient burial sites

Cairn Holy is the site of two Neolithic burial monuments dating back to 4000 BC and now in the care of Historic Scotland.

What are known as Clyde Cairns, they lie in what is now Cairnholy Farm, in the Dumfries and Galloway region, offering views over Wigtown Bay.

About 150 metres apart, Cairn Holy I is the most impressive, while Cairn Holy II is said to be the resting place of mythical Scottish king Galdus.

A taste of Italy

Mention of my birthday produced an impromptu little ice-cream cake with candle and much laughter from the charming family who run Papilio’s Italian Restaurant, a short stroll from Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield Hotel.

Like the butterfly they chose for their logo, and accompanied by Moet, lashings of Limoncello liquer and superb food, our visits to Papilio’s were delightful and will certainly linger in my memory.

Where civilised life began

The pilgrimage included a couple of days in Ireland, requiring an uninspiring motorway drive from the Belfast ferry to Dublin, and a £22 visit to the Guinness Storehouse.

This was as much for Sydney-domiciled Guinness devotee Doug Craighead, a Black Pinter who missed out taking a “holy side trip” on a recent holiday in Greece, as it was for me.

I was as fascinated by the structure of the seven-storey building which tells the legend of Guinness as I was by the slick marketing of Guinness merchandise.

You think of it, they have the Guinness brand on it. I settled for a couple of fridge magnets.

In closing

There’s much more could be said:

For example – £120 for a bed at Coolin View B&B in Portree, Skye, with breakfast next door and a pub “doon the road”; listening to a couple of blokes in Coldstream’s Besom Inn recalling in detail the 1513 Battle of Flodden, fought nearby, as if it was yesterday; struggling to make sense of indecipherable Irish road directions; scones at the Crown Hotel in Peebles; the Brew Dog pub in Castlegate, Aberdeen, opposite the Sheriff Court; Galloway Gold beer in Ship Inn, Gatehouse of Fleet; Loulabelle’s Café in Innerleithen where “Dugs are Welcome”; listening to the many tongues and variations of Scottish; resisting the temptation to buy tartan condoms; falling in love with Edinburgh and planning to return; and coming home several thousand dollars under budget.

There’s an expression we Scots who choose to live in New Zealand have and that is ‘New Zealand is our home but Scotland is our country’.

My time in Scotland brought that home to me …

Jock at the Wizard of the North's grave in Aberdeen

Inveraray Jail Stuart Wilding ba

Traquair House Bernt Rostad b

Last updated on the 2nd August 2019