All you need to know about Scotland in four items!

GTrayI’m excited to have  Sarah Kades writing on my blog on Wednesday.  She’ll be talking about her visit to Scotland, so I’ve decided to keep with the ‘theme’ and examine a little about the history of Scotland today and some of its great writers on Friday’s post.

Arriving in a Glasgow hotel room, we found the following four items waiting for us; a bottle of Scottish spring water, a bottle of Irn Bru, a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer and an apple. My husband commented that those four items told you everything you needed to know about Scotland, so although I might be stretching things a little in places, here I go!

waterWATER: As part of an island nation, Scotland is surrounded on three sides by water. The sea has exerted a great influence on the country’s history and culture. It has brought invaders (Romans and Vikings), Christianity and commerce (fishing, sugar and tobacco trade, oil and gas) to its shores.

For an island nation, it also harbours over 790 offshore islands within its total boundary, the main ones being Shetland, Orkney, and the Inner and outer Hebrides, but there are plenty more.  The Isle of Arran, which I’ve written about before, is only 2 hours travel west of Glasgow and known as Scotland in Miniature.

Because of its latitude, Scotland should experience similar winters to Scandinavia, but the presence of the Gulf Stream protecting its shores means that even in winter you can always find palm trees on the west coast.

Don’t forget the water which is essential in whisky making – uisge beatha – literally the water of life, or the rivers and streams famous for their salmon.

And… oh yes, it does rain in Scotland.  Sometimes quite a lot.  But that’s what makes it such a lush, green and beautiful place.

irn burIRN BRU: A local soft drink, produced since 1901, it continues to outsell the giants – Coke and Pepsi – in Scotland. As such, I think it symbolizes the uniqueness of Scotland and its people who posses a real warmth and friendliness – but also a bloody-mindedness.

Over the past few hundred years, Scotland’s influence on the world has been way out of proportion for its size of population. Although many factors are involved, some credit is often given to John Knox, an influential Presbyterian minister, who insisted that every single child in Scotland (rich or poor ) learn to read the Bible. An educated population gave Scotland a huge advantage during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

According to Wikipedia, 75% of US presidents can claim some Scottish Ancestry, and the first permanent settlement in America – Jamestown – was named after a Scot.  (King James VI of Scotland/I of England.)

Scots make up the 3rd largest ethnic group in Canada and the first prime-minister of the Dominion was Scots-born Sir John A. MacDonald.

caramelTUNNOCK’S CARAMEL WAFERS: Like Irn Bru, Tunnock’s is a successful Scottish company, created in the 19th Century and still going strong. (It’s also one of the few food companies who continue to refuse to make ‘own’ label products for supermarkets.)

Much has changed in the Scottish economy since I was a child. At one time, Glasgow was known as the Second City of the Empire because of its strong industrial base and I still remember the fading days of shipbuilding, steel, coal mining, car manufacturing, sewing machine manufacture and railway engine building in the Central Belt.

That has all gone now.  Modern industries include Oil and Gas, Banking and Finance, Computing and Pharmaceuticals while the traditional agriculture, forestry, fishing – and let’s not forget whisky! – continue to flourish.

appleAPPLE: Hmmm.  Scotland’s diet is not the healthiest in the world – remember that this is the country that gave the world the ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’!  Even a Scottish government report admits that the Scots’ poor diet is the second major cause (after smoking) of poor health.

But… Scottish food is amazing.  Here’s just a ‘taste’ of what’s on offer.  Haggis, Cullen Skink, Finnan Haddie, Smoked Salmon, Black Pudding, Mince and Tatties, Square sausage, Stovies, Blaeberries, Lanark Blue Cheese, Cranachan, Marmalade, Oatcakes, Butteries, Tablet, Tattie scones, Shortbread, Heather Honey.

So there you go, a brief  look at Scotland through four items found in my hotel room.  But there’s so much more that I haven’t even touched on. The scenery for one thing.  It truly is gorgeous.

I guess there’s only one thing for it – you need to come here and see it all for yourself!


Lamlash Cemetery – Part Two

In which I continue with my fascination with cemeteries, and particularly Lamlash Cemetery on the Isle of Arran

Other than gravestones, you never know what you’ll find in a cemetery.  A weary hiker sunbathing in his underwear just behind the bench… a crow (straight from a horror story perhaps?) perched atop a tree gazing down on his domain… or some rather creepy footprints embedded in the mossy grass.

Person         crow         footstteps

I did consider including some of the very beautiful contemporary headstones to be found, but decided against it. Some of the inscriptions were just a little too recent, and I would hate it if someone’s family member was to stumble on this blog and find a loved one’s marker. So you’ll just have to take my word for it – or visit yourself! – that there are some very thoughtful and moving memorials to be found.

Making your way past the ‘modern’ cemetery, (which is where you will find the military gravestones illustrated in my first blog on Lamlash Cemetery) you come to the walls of the original graveyard.

old        ood2

Amongst the more than one hundred or so gravestones ‘beyond the wall’, here are three of my favourites. The first one dates back to the 1700s and I find it interesting how the words roll into each other without a break. The inscription on the second, belonging to Lady Charlotte Erskine, eldest daughter of The Earl of Mar, intrigued me: ‘Where the tree fell, there should it lie’. Arran’s ‘gentry’ were the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, so perhaps Lady Erskine was visiting them on the island when she died.

1700                     lady

As for last grave… well it’s certainly one I wouldn’t want to run into on a dark night!



Lamlash Cemetery

Given my fascination with graveyards and the fact that I discussed my visit to a Russian cemetery in my blog post last week, I thought I’d talk about one of my favourite Scottish ones today – Lamlash Cemetery on the Isle of Arran.

Arran is an island off the West Coast of Scotland, two hours from Glasgow by car/train and ferry. It’s known as Scotland in Miniature because anything you can find in Scotland – apart from a major city – can be found on the island. Four thousand year-old standing stones? Check. Iron Age Forts? Check. Mediaeval Castle? Check. Victorian Castle? Check. Palm trees. Palm trees?? Yes, palm trees. Check.

Lamlash Cemetery commands a stunning view. Situated on a softly rising hillside, it overlooks a golf course in one direction and the Holy Isle in Lamlash Bay in the other.


But as someone who loves reading about history of World War Two, what I find most fascinating about the place is a row of war graves. They commemorate the men of RAF Ferry Command whose plane crashed into a foggy mountainside on the island in 1941, shortly after taking off from the mainland. I’ve visited Arran every year since the age of seven, and on each trip I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery to wonder about the stories of the men buried there.


These were men of all ages, nationalities and religion. As well as the two Canadians whose graves are shown here, there was a third Canadian, two Americans and an Australian amongst the Brits. It was their job to ‘ferry’ planes from the factories in North America to Britain. They were returning to North America from one such flight when their plane went down.


I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I ‘remember’ hearing a tale that, following the war, the family of one of the men wanted their son’s remains returned to his home. However, when they visited the cemetery and saw him buried by his comrades in such a peaceful location, they decided to leave him where he lay.

Kirsty Wark, a highly respected TV journalist and fellow Arran-ite, has written a novel which features the plane crash. Entitled The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, it is scheduled for publication on March 13th, so please check it out.

If you would like more information on the events of that crash, please click here and scroll half way down the page.

Bonfire Night!

Remember, Remember, The Fifth Of November, The Gunpowder Treason And Plot…

Of course our school teachers taught us the history behind Guy Fawkes Night – how he was captured in an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and executed – but as children, November 5th meant only one thing. Bonfire night – with fireworks on the side!

Oh, the excitement when Dad came home brandishing a brand new blue box of Brock’s Fireworks. I can see it all in my mind’s eye; my breath puffing in front of me like dragon’s breath in the dark frosty night, the damp air heavy with the scent of rotting leaves and chimney smoke.  Dad places the rockets in empty milk bottles and pins Catherine wheels to the trunk of the lilac tree before setting them off in a burst of colour. And don’t forget the sparklers! Oh no, don’t forget that explosion of golden stars in your hands.

guy fakwes

Then joining neighbours for a bonfire in the street, and next morning, us kids scouring for spent fireworks to see if we could relight them. (Thank goodness Health and Safety wasn’t around in those days.  They would have spoiled all the fun.)

But one of the most magical Guy Fawkes nights I remember was exactly ten years ago on the Isle of Arran.  Standing on the beach, with the bonfire roaring behind us, we looked across the 20 mile stretch of black water to the Ayrshire coastline as tiny prickles of colour – blue and red and silver and green and gold – sizzled to north and south as far as the eye could see.

Magic.  Pure magic.


Favourite Place

In response to Tuesday’s posting on my favourite poem, Anne sent me this verse by Rudyard Kipling.

God gave all men all earth to love
But since our hearts are small
Ordained for each
One spot shall prove
Beloved over all.

Her favourite place is the Isle of Mull (although she’d settle for Blair Atholl). Mine is also a Scottish island – the Isle of Arran. (Click)  Less than two hours from Glasgow (45 minutes in the car plus 50 minutes on the ferry), it’s often referred to as Scotland in Miniature.


Except for a cityscape, everything to be found in Scotland is in Arran; mountains, pasture, towns, villages, caves, forests, ancient standing stones, castles, beaches, waterfalls and even palm trees.  Yes, palm trees!


I’ve visited Arran at least once a year since I was seven and I love it. It’s where my soul breathes. If you ever get the chance to visit, go!