When I left off, I was just about to begin our day with my Nana’s cousin. He showed us around, bringing us to childhood favourites and the places that meant the most to him. It was a beautiful day, filled with family and a certain Scottish sensibility. If you missed the first part, it’s here! Here was that gorgeous summer (well, summer in date, but not exactly warm) day.
The day began with a drive to Finlaystone, where the our clan has its seat and the chief lives with his family. It’s an estate, where we wandered through the lovely gardens and admired the castle-like home. We looked at the photos and a portion of the research about the history of our clan. Speaking to fellow clan descendants and even meeting the chief for a moment, I was fascinated. Seeing how we’re all connected, watching the spread of our last name (in a large number of forms) and the people that bore it from a few corners in the Scottish Highlands to Canada, the United States, Australia and I’m sure other places. Luckily, we know a bit about our particular branch of this expansive tree. We came from a tiny little corner of the world called Murlagan (more on that later). If nothing else, visiting Finlaystone made me want to dig up the family tree my grandfather began and fill in more spots and spaces. The beautiful thing about family trees is that they will never stop growing – not just from the birth of new individuals but by exploring every branch of the tree. You never know what you will find, which makes it all the more fun .
He then took us out to a garden centre. The largest one I’ve ever been to, bursting with the most beautiful plants and complete with a cafeteria. It was our lunch, and it was perfect. I could eat, but that wasn’t the most important part. The moments that shone through were the stories. The stories about his life, the lives of his friends, and not only listening to what happened, but seeing the emotion on his face. Honest and true, going back to that moment will always make me stop and pause to remember all that I have to be grateful for. It’s something that can get lost so easily in the bustle of life, but take this moment and honour those that got you here. Those that fought for your rights, those that were persecuted for doing the right thing, those that lost their families, their lives.
That very feeling, of gratitude and sadness and the indescribable wish to comprehend the terrible things these people went through was what I felt every time we visited a monument. Be it the Massacre monument in Glen Coe or the one honouring the soldiers at Spean Bridge, I had to stop for a moment at each place.
The one monument, just outside of Spean Bridge especially got me. Off to the side of the monument, which had fresh garlands placed at the base, there was a circle of tributes. Some were just little crosses with poppies, others had photos and words stating the life and death of these soldiers. Some were from the world wars, but the ones that got me the most were the recent ones. The young men who had passed in Afghanistan or Iraq, with photos and 2008 written. We were excited that day, because we were heading to see other things, but it got me. Writing this, my eyes are glassy and my blood is begging to shake and remember those soldiers I never knew. That’s the thing with memories, you can’t remember things you haven’t seen (or dreamed). So thank you, to those who fought, who are remembered everyday as well as those who have become nameless and faceless. It mattered. It still does.
After the garden centre, filled with magic and stories, he took us to Largs. Largs is a tiny little seaside town, where he spent all of his summers as a child. (Later, we were asked why on earth anyone would go there, but I felt it’s subdued magic.) We had someone who loved it with the passion of childhood memories as our guide. Yes, there was wind and rain, but it is Scotland. The rain gives it the abundantly green fields and mountains and hills. The wind ushers the water to slam against the rocks. Gulls fly and dive, picking up every scrap of food that has slipped from someone’s hands. The boardwalk was just that, filled with people, gulls and even a ride and a candy stand. With a patchwork hill to one side and lively, comforting water (complete with a ferry to the island which seemed close enough to swim to) on the other, it was meant for childhood. That, and the fact that there was this wonderful ice cream shop (restaurant too) which we must have seen three of in the two streets we saw. It was our pit-stop. The ice cream was wonderful. Raspberry ripple with chocolate fudge sauce. Yes, please.
Driving back to Glasgow, watching the trees whirl by as our 85 year old guide drove on the wrong side of the road (to us, he was correct for the UK), I simply absorbed the countryside. It all felt right, meant to be just the way it was. The sheep, the hills and of course – the green. Everything was bursting with greenery and growth. I wanted to take that home with me. I wanted to explore it, to photograph it with a friend. As we drove by, I could see the wind; not just in shaking leaves, but engraved in the trees. Through each valley, trees were wind-warped. Pulled by the wind, with branches that stayed horizontal when there was not a breeze to be felt. Trunks went headfirst into the wind, at an acute angle in an attempt to offset the inevitable pull of the wind. It was painterly and each tree had a presence about it which blended both land and growth to create harmony.
Back in Glasgow we went to his favourite neighbourhood cafe, where he was obviously a regular. It was good wholesome food. Everyone was incredibly kind, and we ended up staying until closing talking not only to one another, but the lovely people who worked there. It felt the way a neighbourhood restaurant should be – filled with regulars and warm, open people who are not only working there, but loving it. If I ever was to open a place, I would want it to feel like that.