Scotland Road Trip | Day 8, Scotland Described, Loch Ness and a Family SCORE!

Scotland’s Landscape: Unique and Familiar
As we drove through towns, parks and cities of Scotland, I often asked myself “What does this remind me of? How would I describe this to people?” Well…I think I’ve got something:

The landscape of Scotland combines the best of coastal California, inland New England and coastal Maine. (Remember, I’m talking landscape here, not weather. We’ll get to that another day.)

Like New England in summer, Scotland is green – green trees, green grass, green underbrush, green moss – all attributed to the copious amounts of rain that fall year-round. When driving through some parts of Scotland, particulary the lowlands, I easily forgot I was in another country, and rather felt like I was cruising through the Berkshires, Vermont or New Hampshire. So many familiar looking trees, rolling hils, sheep and cow farms.

No wonder early immigrants named New England and Novia Scotia (translated “New Scotland”) as they did. And I’ve been to Novia Scotia, in particular Cape Breton, and yes, that area does look like Scotland. Perhaps I should have started with that comparison…. But for those of you who have never been to Cape Breton – which I’m assuming is most of you – I will continue.

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 7, A Family Find

Elgin Cathedral
We left Aberdeen for the northern city of Inverness, and on the way, we stopped at Elgin Cathedral. Abandoned after the reformation, the cathedral lies in ruins. Isn’t it interesting that we find ruined things so interesting…so beautiful? What does that mean for us, on those days when we feel like our lives lie in ruins? Something to think about. I obviously don’t have time to explore that question today. I’m a zillion days behind on my blog.

Somehow, the rain seemed fitting as we walked among the broken pillars, the moss covered stone, the floating archways and the gravestones.

A Family Find
One reason Jean wanted to come to the town of Elgin was to find information about her ancestors, some of whom lived in nearby Belle Moray. (Have I mentioned that Jean’s a genealogist?) So imagine her disappointment when she arrived and discovered that the town flooded years ago and still lay deep under water.

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 6, Gardens, Tea and Old Things

So today we decided to “take it easy” which meant not leaving the hotel until 10am. Everyone would really like a day to rest and relax but there’s so much to see and so little time.

Pitmedden Garden
Greeted by a bright, sunny morning, we drove about 30 minutes to Pitmedden Garden, an estate that dates back hundreds of years. One of the first things Jacquelyn said when we arrived: “Anyone else feel like they’re on Downton Abbey?”

Scotland Day 6 Pitmidden Gardens 2

Designed and maintained in a style reminiscent of the Victorian era, the gardens both soothe and inspire. Sunshine and temperatures in the low 60’s made this a perfect day for strolling through the various gardens, sitting on benches, taking photographs.

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 5, Family Castles, Golf and Rainbows

Crichton Castle
At my wedding, people kept asking Doug “How did you get Sean Connery to come to your wedding?” They were referring to my grandfather, Thomas Mansfield Creighton I. And he really did look a lot like Sean Connery.

Thoman Creighton Sr.

My Grandpa, Thomas Mansfield Creighton Sr.

My grandfather was very proud of his Scottish heritage. On his 80th birthday, we surprised him with a bagpiper. As the piper entered the room, my grandfather stood up and leaned on his cane, listening with tears in his eyes. That’s one of my favorite memories of him.

So coming to Scotland, and visiting Crichton Castle (Creighton is a variation of Crichton), felt a bit like having my grandfather with me.

We arrived at Crichton Castle first thing Tuesday morning, beneath steel gray, low lying clouds. Located in a small town, this castle would be impossible to find without the signs or a GPS.

PC: Doug

Creighton Ladies, PC: Doug

At the end of a residential country road, through narrow turns lined with high stone walls, lies the Crichton Church and just beyond that, a trail to the castle. Rolling hills, a patchwork of farmland and sheep pastures, surround the castle in every direction.

We arrived at the castle around 9:30am and were the only people there. This prompted the caretaker, a stout, gray-haired man, to offer to share the castle history with us. And of course, we said yes!

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 4, Edinburgh

Because of Edinburgh’s annual Fringe festival and the crowds that come with it, we opted for a taxi ride into the city. Our driver brought us up the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile, right to the castle gate. For only £25…just like royalty.

Edinburgh Castle
Guys, I hardly know where to begin. Passing through the gates of Edinburgh Castle felt like traveling back in time, or like being in a Disney castle…only Edinburgh Castle is real. And real people walked those halls, century after century. And for a few short hours, we walked in their footsteps.

I’ll get the bad stuff over with: the worst part was the crowds. So so so many people in tight hallways and poorly organized lines, which felt worse than the crowds at Disney World on New Year’s Eve. Also, the tattoo stadium seating covers a significant portion of  the castle esplanade so that we couldn’t see the entrance as it stands the other 11 months of the year. But we had so much to do and see that neither the crowds nor the obstructed view of the esplanade could squelch our excitement.

I could talk about this all day, so I will leave you with my favorite experiences instead:

  • Visiting the chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, standing since the 1100’s

    Amazing pic for a chapel right? PC: Jacquelyn

    Amazing pic for a chapel right? PC: Jacquelyn

  • Seeing the Scottish crown jewels which had been sought for centuries by Scotland’s enemies who wished to destroy them, and the Stone of Destiny. No photography allowed 😦
  • Standing in the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her only son.
  • The prisons where POW’s from the American revolution were held captive.

    One of the rooms where American POW's were housed

    One of the rooms where American POW’s were housed

  • Finding our ancestors name and title “William Crichton, Chancellor” and crest in the stained glass windows of the Great Hall.

    See William Crichton Chancellor's name on the bottom left. It's the top name on the left, so the corresponding crest (top left) is also his.

    See William Crichton Chancellor’s name on the bottom left. It’s the top name on the left, so the corresponding crest (top left) is also his.

  • The views

    From the top of Edinburgh Castle; PC: Christina

    From the top of Edinburgh Castle; PC: Christina

The Royal Mile
A mile-long cobblestone street connecting the low-lying Holyrood Palace to the towering castle of Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is lined with shops, restaurants, museums and, in August, street performers, artists, revelers, tourists…pretty much everyone.

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 3, Games & Castles

Not everyone knows this about me but I love accents. So much so that my family can predict how much I’m going to like…well…just about anyone…based on whether or not that person has an accent. My favorite accents are Indian, British and Scottish, which means I could basically sit in a coffee shop for the next two weeks listening to people talk and this vacation would be a win. Even so, I’m glad we’re doing more than sitting at a coffee shop for two weeks.

The Highland Games
We started Sunday at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games. Bagpipers, bagpipers and more bagpipers. Also, itty-bitty highland dancers and a birds of prey exhibit.

We had to leave before the heavyweight competitions began, which was a major bummer but we still had two castles to visit, both over an hour away from our hotel. And for some reason, everything in Scotland closes before 6pm, killing our sightseeing window…but also forcing us to end our days earlier than we would in say, Disney World or New York City or Boston. So Scotland, our feet thank you.

Campbell Castle
Our next stop was Jean’s (Doug’s mom) family castle, the Castle Campbell. Did I mention that Sunday’s weather included gale force winds? Literally. A trees-down-in-the-road, bridges-closed kind of wind. But we climbed over the river and through the woods (quite literally) to grandmother’s castle anyway!

The WIND!

The WIND atop Stirling Castle! PC: Jacquelyn

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Scotland Road Trip | Day 1 & 2

My First International Trip
Guys, I’m 42…no, wait…43, and I finally took my first international flight. Sure, we’ve been to Canada lots, and on a cruise of the Caribbean, and we’ve even walked to Mexico and back. But we all know that for Americans, Canada and Mexico don’t count as “international” travel, and a cruise is a cruise. All great experiences! But there’s something different about flying over the ocean and leaving your homeland behind.

I know it’s only the UK – where they don’t even speak a different language (although the Scottish brogue occasionally sounds like a different language) – but Scotland is another country, it’s not in North America and I had to fly here. So just let me have my moment, ok?

Now, in the spirit of my popular Cross Country series, I shall commence blogging about our cross Scotland road trip.

Scotland Blog - 5

Getting There
Our first flight left Boston at 9:30pm and arrived in Iceland at 6:30am Iceland time.

Turns out, my favorite quote of the day occurred on the plane to Iceland:

Christina: Mom, what language do they speak in Iceland?
Me: I don’t know. Viking? Ask Dad. Maybe he knows.
Christina: Hey Dad, what language do they speak in Iceland?
Doug: I don’t know. Viking-ish

This is what our kids have to deal with. Also, we’re so cultured.

We disembarked onto the tarmac (which we’d never done before, so that was cool) and stepped outside to a… um…let’s call it “refreshing” 46 degrees!. (So yes..I’ve walked on the paved roads of Iceland!) A shuttle bus transported us to the terminal where we discovered that our connecting flight was delayed. And we had to stay at the Iceland airport for FOUR hours instead of one. (Not cool.)

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I Heard Him in a Song

Three bars. That’s about all it takes. Three bars of this popular song:

and I’m itching to turn off the radio. Sometimes I listen, but most days it’s too painful.

On my brother’s first night in the hospital, I stayed with him. I sat in the recliner, while he drifted in an out of consciousness. As I waited through the quiet parts of the night, fear dominated my emotions. I could barely complete a thought, much less utter a coherent prayer. Desperate, I googled “healing prayers” and prayed words I couldn’t string together on my own. I tried to remember scripture and scrolled through my Bible app. I was not comforted.

Then I remembered the advice of a friend, “Invite Jesus into your difficult places.” So I prayed and invited Jesus into the hospital room, into our presence, into Derek’s presence.

A bit later, I found myself humming a song, one I didn’t know very well:

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
to be overcome by Your presence, Lord

I didn’t know the name of the song. Couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. And couldn’t remember any other lyrics. But there I was singing the chorus over and over again.

For the rest of the night, that song was my prayer. And I experienced a measure of peace. God was with us. I could feel His presence.

In the days and weeks that followed, I watched my brother teeter on the edge of death more times than I want to remember. I tried, on every occasion, to welcome the Holy Spirit’s presence. But some days, my faith was like sand running through my fingers. I couldn’t hold onto it and the harder I tried, the faster it ran out.

One day, after leaving the hospital, feeling completely bankrupt of spirit, I couldn’t bring myself to pray, let alone to hope.

What does God think, I wondered, when I don’t have any faith? What would he say to me now, when I can’t bring myself to speak to Him? Is He angry? Disappointed?

Then something broke through my thoughts – a song playing on the radio:

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere…

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When Church Hurts Like Hell

To the weary one, who has gone to church hoping to feel encouraged, accepted, inspired, but instead came away wounded, beaten and bruised…you are not alone. And I am so sorry.

I wish that never happened to you. I wish that never happened to me. I wish that never happened to anyone. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Why? Because people. That’s why.

People hurt. And the church is people. And so, church hurts.

No, that’s not how it’s supposed to be. But nothing in this fallen world is how it’s supposed to be. Not even the church. Not even God’s people. Which is probably why the Bible teems with reminders, instructions and commands about how to get along, how to do this thing we call community, how to live broken and love the broken.

Have you ever seen someone create mosaic art by hand? They begin the long process by mixing earth and water to mold the tiles, which are then dried, cut and fired. The artist then breaks those tiles into smaller pieces – cutting and chipping, sanding edges or sharpening a point, pressing the pieces into a muddy sort of clay before washing them clean. Hundreds, thousands of broken pieces fit together to reveal one, complete, stunning master-piece.

When the sun is shining and I believe God is good and my spirit overflows with gratitude, that’s how I envision community: broken lives on broken lives – with all our imperfect shapes and sharp edges and rough surfaces – being fit together and made to shine. In the hands of the Master, we become a Master-piece.

That’s on a good day. And with spiritual eyes that see through the veil of a fallen world.

But on a bad day…oh, on the bad days, I am fractured glass sinking in mud. Like quicksand, it pulls me under. On every side I am pressed and scratched and pulled and scraped. I want nothing more than to escape. What beauty, I wonder, could ever come of this? Hopeless. On bad days, I am hopeless.

Because sometimes church hurts like hell.

Sometimes going to church feels like stepping onto a battlefied. You come armed and armored, like you’re bringing your fists to a pistol war. And if, like me, your church is not only your spiritual home and family, but your place of work, there’s no escape. Which has been both a challenge and a gift. When church hurts, it’s complicated.

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Moments That Never Meet

There’s the drip drop of water
From the faucet
Dripping slipping unceasing
Onto
Tired
Porcelain
Stained yellow with time

There’s the drip drop of years
And words, and years of words
Dripping like echoes
Echoes
Echoes
Echoes
Hollow, haunting

And the drip drop of days
That linger in the slanting sunlight
Dripping like yawning, middle-aged men
Slow
Slow
Slow
Beneath an open window

There’s the drip drop of hours
And waiting, and hours of waiting
Dripping like the ticking of a clock
One
After
Another
Into a his veins

And the drip drop of moments
Moments that never meet
Dripping like singular tears
One
One
One
Slipping unnoticed into the drain