Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 – Episode Twenty

Monday 6th February 2006

After a reluctant but fond farewell to Chris and Jan and “The Wheatsheaf”, I moseyed my way leisurely north to my Edinburgh pad – a one-bedroomed flat with parking, and within minutes of Princes Street. The flat is relatively new, well-furnished (for a rental property), spotlessly clean and has everything that I need to cater for myself (groan) for the seven to ten days I’ll be here.
The only real negative is that it doesn’t have a phone, which means I have to use my mobile more than I would like to and go hunting for a WiFi “hotspot”. As the flat has been empty for a couple of weeks it was decidedly chilly and I didn’t waste any time turning on all the heating to warm it up. Fortunately it’s very well equipped in that regard. In the late afternoon I did a basic shop at the local Tesco Supermarket (5 minutes away at most) and generally got myself settled in.
With the luxury of a washing machine, getting the first load of an accumulation of laundry was a high priority, and I daresay that I’ll be spending part at least of tomorrow working my way through that.

Tuesday 7th February 2006

As anticipated, the morning was spent in laundry mode, but with drying hanging space at a premium, I might have to postpone the balance until later in the week. How sad!
As heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for later today and probably into tomorrow, I bussed it down to Princes Street. This was partly to reorient myself to the city, but mainly to locate the General Register Office for Scotland, where I hope to find the records of some of those elusive “living” Butlers. Having found the GROS where they’d said it would be, I reserved my seat in the Search Room, and that’s where from tomorrow I hope to spend much of my time.
Then, because it’s mainly downhill, I walked back to the flat – a somewhat faster trip than I’d been told it would be – but then there was some wind-assistance! It was good to get indoors and warm up again.

Wednesday 8th February 2006

A fine, if chilly, day but thankfully without the strong winds that had been threatened. But, having paid my £17 per day GROS search fee, those traces of Scots blood wouldn’t have let me be deterred by the weather even if it had been bad. So, appropriately motivated – and with some optimism, I was off to the GROS relatively early – well, early enough for its opening at 9:00 am!

Regrettably, after five hours of searching, the motivation was still high but the optimism was a little dented because, while I had been able to add another four or five “much removed” cousins and gained some birth, marriage and death information for some others, I didn’t trace the ones I was really hoping to find. I hasten to add that I’m not unhappy with what I did find today – I couldn’t have done so other than personally at the GROS – It’s just that, as always, it’s less than I had, perhaps over-optimistically, hoped for. Back to the drawing board!
If nothing else, all the washing is done. Now to the ironing!!

Thursday 9th February 2006

Determined to postpone the ironing, I took a trip into the city – and Waverley Railway Station, in particular – so I could take advantage of the free WiFi access there. Mind you, sitting in a draughty concourse, concentrates the mind (and body) on sending and receiving e-mail rather than surfing ceaselessly – now there’s a nice bit of alliteration!
Then still reluctant to face the ironing, I started to map out my touring plans for Scotland for the next two or three weeks – including routes, places to visit and, of course, places to stay. To what extent I follow the plan, starting Monday, will depend largely on the weather and I may be forced to migrate south again if it gets too cold, wet or snowy.

Friday 10th February 2006

The postponement continues – for good reason, of course. For some reason or other, the dealer from whom I bought the car failed to advise the Vehicle Licensing Agency of the change of “keeper” and I had to arrange for the issue of new papers – something that became relatively urgent when I realised that my tax disc expired on 31st January. Anyway, thanks to Roger’s advice and mail-box service, the papers arrived in this morning’s mail, so I wasted no time finding the nearest Post Office where I could pay my dues and stay out of gaol – or, at least, trouble!

As I was already in the city – and the day was just beautiful, I had no trouble persuading myself that a visit to Edinburgh Castle was just meant to be. As a major tourist attraction, most of you will have visited it at least once and will probably have no difficulty in understanding how I could spend most of the day there. Certainly the weather helped, as I hope the accompanying photographs will testify, but it turned out to be one of those just wonderful days. Contributing to that were the history of the place, the simple beauty of the tiny St Margaret’s Chapel, the firing of the “One O’clock Gun”, the splendour of “The Honours of Scotland”, and the Shrine in the Scottish National War Memorial which I found very moving.

During my exploratiion of the Castle and quite unrelated to any of the above, I stumbled across a display case of jewellery. Not usually attracted by such fripperies, I found what I saw very appealing. I had been thinking about buying something as a welcome gift for Carol when she joined me in April but had not thought of jewellery. The display was of the work of Sheila Fleet, an Orkney Islands jeweller, of whom I had never heard. But as you probably have already guessed. I wasn’t likely to, was I?
I particularly liked one pendant and was tempted. But, while attractive, it didn’t leap out at me and say, “This is me, Carol”. So, following my instinct, I left the piece where it was. Nonetheless its design and workmanship did impress me enough to want to keep an eye out for her work.

Edinburgh Castle – Upper Ward
10 February 2006

Photos: My visit to Edinburgh Castle, Midlothian – 10th February 2006

Saturday 11th February 2006

After yesterday’s high, let’s just say that it was a “chores” day. But, at last, the ironing is DONE!!

Sunday 12th February 2006

Not cold, but drizzly, grey and miserable – an impression not helped by my failure to send or receive e-mails despite a special trip to my Waverley Station Concourse office to do so. So with my tail between my legs, I returned to the flat for another important chore – and one which I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve neglected for some weeks, namely to back up my “My Documents” folder containing those “Global Updates that has grown, with the help of a photo image or two, to close to 2GB! Needless to say that took a while.

Meantime I had ample time to prepare tonight’s dinner – breaded scampi (the UK variety), minted baby peas and chunky chips, all frozen – but say he hastily, none the worse for that in my capable “cuisinic” (how’s that for a new word?) hands. The accompaniment of an acceptable Tesco Pinot Grigio helped it down, but made my move tomorrow to something other than self-catering at the Bridge of Allan, near Stirling, somewhat more attractive – and provides more than ample evidence of how spoilt he’s become!
For all that, it’s been something of a break to be able to just sit, catch up on some reading, listen to some good music, watch some good – and some awful – TV, and generally, have some R&R! Perhaps I was ready for that. But if I’m not off viewing I won’t have any photos to lighten the text, so best I do that!

Monday 13th February 2006

Off on tour again! An unpromising day weatherwise but not sufficient to deter me from my two targets for the day: Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace.

Built in the 1440s, Blackness has at various times been a lordly residence, a state prison, an “impregnable” fortress (at least until Oliver Cromwell’s guns came visiting), minor garrison and, finally, an ammunition depot. It would certainly win few prizes for beauty, and what “looks” it has, reflect more its prison and fortress roles than any other. For all its grimness, Blackness was worth visiting if only to trace the modifications that were made to it over time for its many and varied purposes.

Blackness Castle, Falkirk,
13 February 2006
Firth of Forth Bridge from Blackness Castle, Falkirk
13 February 2006

Linlithgow Palace looks nothing like a fortress or a prison. Beautifully sited overlooking Linlithgow Loch, it looks every inch what it became – a palace. It too had been the site of a royal residence in the time of King David and his heirs in the 12th and 13th centuries, and of a fortress/base for the “Hammer of Scotland”, Edward I, before Robert the Bruce retook it for Scotland.
The present palace, however, was begun by James I in 1424 following a fire that destroyed its predecessor. His aim, as the Guide Book puts it, was “to emphasise the cult of kingship by building a ‘pleasure palace’ that would leave his subjects open-mouthed in admiration”, something it is suggested he learnt from his counterparts, Henry IV and Henry V during his captivity in England. His heirs followed his example and over the next two hundred years developed it to what we see – in ruins – today.
There’s a lot more history to Linlithgow than that, of course, including the fact that Margaret Tudor here heard that her husband, James VI had been killed at Flodden, and that Mary Queen of Scots was born here, but that’s as much as I’m game to bore you with!

And what did I like about Linlithgow? Its setting of course, the “three tier wedding cake fountain”, the proportions of the Great Hall, but most I think that it felt, despite the “pleasure palace” label, a residence – with the warmth of a place that had been lived in.

Linlithgow Palac, West Lothian – East Front
13 February 2006
Linlithgow Lock – from the Palace, West Lothian
13 February 2006

Photos: My visit to Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland – 13th February 2006

By mid-afternoon I was booked in at “The Royal” at the Bridge of Allan. The fact that both Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stephenson stayed here in 1876 will perhaps give you some impression of its former grandeur – emphasis on the “former”!
For all that, the room is large, the bed’s comfortable, the plumbing works and it’s clean. It doesn’t have WiFi – “What’s that?” asked the receptionist – but it does have an additional phone point so dial-up access doesn’t require me to unplug the phone – in some hotels a real challenge.

It also boasts an AA Rosette, but I’ll reserve judgement on that until I’ve had more than one dinner. I had mixed success with my choice tonight of soup and pork loin roast. The soup “Classic Cullen Skink” (chunky potato, leek and smoked haddock flake – in case you wanted to know) was really very good indeed, but the main just didn’t match that quality. It may be another case of “chef’s night off” – or is the fact that I was the only diner an ominous sign. Time will tell.

Off to Stirling tomorrow to view the Castle and, weather permitting, whatever else I can find there. Meantime, you’ll have to make do with this!