Mark Twain in Hartford

“Mark Twain” was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and it was in this house in Hartford that he wrote “Huckleberry Finn,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Innocents Abroad,” and others, including “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” One wonders whether his neighbors appeared in that story.

Clemens incorporated his opinions on a number of topics – race, equality, growing up, gender, religion, and more – into his novels, although he kept his thoughts about religion to himself, mainly. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” he wrote in “Innocents Abroad.” It was what he believed.

Sam Clemens earned his certificate to pilot riverboats on the Mississippi River, between New Orleans and St. Louis, in 1859. It was on the river that he learned the language of measuring the water’s depth – “mark twain” meant two fathoms, i.e. twelve feet. It was enough to float any steamboat on the river and was, therefore, considered safe water. (“Twain” is an old-fashioned English word for “two,” as in “Never the twain shall meet,” hence, “mark twain” was two fathoms.)

Clemens married Olivia Langdon, daughter of Jervis Langdon, a rich coal businessman, from Elmira, New York, in 1870, and moved into a house in Buffalo, New York, that Olivia’s father had bought for them. Later, in 1871, the Clemens moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to be closer to the American Publishing Company that handled Clemens’ works. Sadly, their first-born and only son, Langdon Clemens, died shortly after they moved to Hartford.

At first, the Clemens rented a house, but soon property and plans were developed for a house that would be built for them. This is the house I visited, pictured below, where the family moved in 1874.

This life-sized sculpture of Samuel Clemens is in the entry to the museum, with a picture of the house behind him.

The years that the Clemens family spent here were among their happiest. Livy edited Samuel’s writings, and she was an active proponent of women’s suffrage, along with her friend, Julia Beecher. Their three daughters were born here. Twain’s books were successful and the family participated in the social and literary life of Hartford.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Clemens initiated or participated in a number of business ventures, most of which were failures, such as the Paige Compositor, which was expensive to make, required lengthy training, and even then, linotype machines beat it to market. A self-pasting scrapbook/photo album was moderately successful, but the “Memory Builder” game prompted one reviewer to compare it to a “combination of an income tax form and a table of logarithms.” By 1901, Clemens would remark in his lectures: “My axiom is — to succeed in business, avoid my example.”

The only venture which had some success was the Charles L. Webster Publishing Company that had been founded by Clemens and his niece’s husband, Charles L. Webster. The company published Clemens’ writings, as well as Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, with great success. But it was not enough – other writers’ works did poorly. Those losses sank the publishing company, and in 1894, while in Europe, Clemens declared bankruptcy.

Clemens and his family had closed the Hartford house in 1891, permanently as it turned out, and moved to Europe. Ultimately, the house was sold. Clemens spent a couple of years giving lectures filled with his humorous – and often pointed – observations of humans and society, and was in great demand. This helped him pay off his debts, but personal losses – Livy died in 1904, Susy had died in 1896, and Jean died in 1909 – depressed him, despite success with further writings and lectures and an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Oxford, England, in 1907.

Clemens spent most of his years after Livy’s death in Manhattan, New York. He had been born two weeks after the closest pass of Halley’s comet in 1835. He frequently said that he expected to go out with Halley’s comet, and in 1910, two days after the closest pass of Halley’s comet that year, he had a fatal heart attack. Clemens is buried next to Livy in the Langdon family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York. His surviving daughter, Clara, had a two-fathoms-tall monument made to mark the Langdon plot.

The large lobby area is named for the actor who gave famous performances about Mark Twain for decades. The visitors’ center is used for occasional museum member gatherings.

Hal Holbrook, born in 1925, performed a one-actor show called “Mark Twain Tonight!,” where he dressed in Clemens’ signature rumpled white linen suit (“my dontcareadamnsuit,” as Clemens called it) and a wig, and spoke as Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens. The show was 90 minutes long and covered a wide range of Clemens’ writings.

Holbrook performed this show from 1954 until 2017, sixty-three years, making time for an active film and TV career, such as portraying Lincoln the president in a mini-series based on Carl Sandberg’s biography of Lincoln, the grandfatherly figure in “Into the Wild,” Republican Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” and the character Deep Throat in “All the President’s Men,” among many other roles. Holbrook passed away in Beverly Hills, California, on January 23, 2021.

There is a small, very enjoyable museum in the visitors’ center, and it does a good job of illuminating Clemens’ life beyond the writing of his novels.

Clemens’ writing desk. Clemens described himself as lazy, but he was disciplined about writing, spending most of every day producing about 4,000 words between breakfast and dinner.
Samuel Clemens and his nephew-in-law founded a subscription publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Company. They published the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant., a two-volume set which sold about 300,000 copies. While Grant’s memoir was a success, as were Clemens’ own writings, the publishing company closed in 1894.
Steamer trunks belonging to Samuel Clemens. My grandmother had a trunk just like the one on the left. Clemens traveled around the globe, and several times to Europe, with and without his family, as journalist and lecturer.

Visiting the house is available only to hosted group tours, and photographs are not allowed inside the house. I was one of a dozen people on the noon tour, hosted by an actor playing a character in the Clemens household and costumed accordingly. Our host was “Patrick, the coachman,” who lived with his wife and eight children in the apartment over the stable and coach house. He brought his mandolin and sang “Froggy Went A’Courting.” We joined in on the chorus. It’s an old song, whose composer is long lost in time, but was still a “traditional” song in the mid-1800s.

“Patrick, the coachman” using his mandolin and the song “Froggy Went A’Courting” to gather his group of visitors in the lobby area of the visitors’ center. Characters from the song were printed on the wall paper in the nursery for Clemens’ daughters.
“Patrick,” telling us about the building of the house, in “1874,” while standing on the platform between the porte-cochere and the front door.

The Clemens moved into the house in 1874, but the interior was yet to be decorated as would befit a well-off family of the era. The interior was done mainly by the Louis C. Tiffany & Company, Associated Artists – the public rooms on the main floor and other touches throughout the house.

Most impressive is the stenciling that was done in the entry and the drawing room. The entry is finished in dark wood paneling. Because it does not have many windows, the effect is very dark, indeed. But the dark panels have been separately filled with small, stenciled silver triangles, including the ceiling, coordinated with a few other geometric shapes. The effect is like looking at a wall of dark wood inlaid with small triangles of mother-of-pearl, shimmering in the pale light of the entry.

The entry hall of the Mark Twain House, a screen shot from the “Virtual Tour” on their website. Over the fireplace, instead of a mirror, is plain glass, which the Clemens had done to bring more light into the entryway. Through the doors is the drawing room.
The wall opposite the fireplace – notice that the stenciling was done on the ceilings, too. If you are able to enlarge the photo, the stenciling’s parts are easier to see, but this photo gives the overall effect. The house was lit by coal gas lights such as the one in this screen shot. The gas was piped to the house, and used throughout from construction until the house was sold.

The stenciling continues into the drawing room, but the effect is entirely different because the drawing room has much more light, and the small triangles form different shapes. There are several pineapples, composed of small triangles, and while “Patrick” did not say so, I’m sure the pineapples were symbolic of the welcome a host would extend to their guests. It’s a tradition in America that dates to early colonial days.

The interior could generally be described as Victorian – lots of wood, and textiles, used with some restraint. The house was filled with all of the “modern conveniences,” such as seven bathrooms, with flush toilets and copper-lined bathtubs, hot & cold running water that was connected to the city water system. The large kitchen was on the first floor, and had “modern” equipment such as a large wood range with two roasting ovens, six “burners,” and warming oven, and the ice box on the opposite wall. Throughout the house was a system of “communication tubes” for communicating with servants.

There was also a guest room on the first floor. “The Mahogany Room,” as it was called was a lovely room with, yes, a mahogany bed that looked both beautiful and comfortable. This guest room had a bathroom with two sinks, a tin-lined bathtub, and a flush toilet, and a separate dressing room (on the right.) It also had truly stand-out wallpaper designed by one of the Artistic Associates. It’s a beautiful representation of honey bees at work, done in a gold metallic ink, with a suggestion of the hive’s hexagonal wax cells in the background.

A screenshot from the Mark Twain House’s “virtual tour” of the Mahogany Room, showing the mahogany bed and honey bee wall paper. The originals were stenciled in gold metallic paint on the walls, but during the restoration, wallpaper was created as a more practical alternative. It’s still stunning when you walk into the room.

The second floor held Sam and Livy’s bedroom, a guest room used frequently by Livy’s mother, Susy’s bedroom (the eldest daughter,) the nursery for Clara and Jean, and a school room, where the girls were educated.

The third floor had another guest room, the butler’s room, and Sam’s writing studio, where he sometimes entertained male friends. It has a billiard table, a fireplace, his writing desk, chairs, and access to three balconies.

If you want to see more of the interior house, you can go to mark twain house.org and find the “Virtual Tour.” It’s very well done, with notes along the way.

The south side of the Clemens house. The third floor has three balconies: to the far left, you can see the pillars of the west-facing balcony; a second balcony’s railing is under the south-facing gable; and a third balcony is the hexagonal one to the right.

The conservatory that you see from the outside is attached to the library room of the house. It’s a comfortable library with a substantial collection of books, but in the Clemens’ house, the main function was a place for the family to gather in the evenings. Clemens entertained his daughters by making up stories (no repeats!) utilizing the knick-knacks on the shelves and mantel in the room.

On the third floor above the conservatory, the balcony is attached to Clemens’ writing studio. It had his desk, a fireplace, chairs, and a billiard table. To the left side of that balcony is another balcony, and to the right is the hexagonal balcony. All of them can be accessed from the studio. I wondered if there was another servant’s room up there, but that part of the house was not open to the tour, nor is it on the virtual tour.

A beautiful spring day at the Clemens’ house. The Harriet Beecher Stowe house is nearby, but was not open on the day I visited.

I had a great day learning more about Samuel Clemens and his family. I’m not usually given to falling in love with dead men, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Mark Twain. What a character! And he loved his family – it’s clear from his writings and from how happy they all were in this house. Reading about them makes me hope that they are now all together again, gathered in the library, watching their husband/father making up stories. I think Twain would find Heaven filled with good material.

The Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA

Robert Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company, married Francine Clark, former actress at the Comedie-Francaise, and they shared a love of all things “art,” especially paintings and sculptures. Eventually, the question, “What will happen to them?” came up. Maybe they ran out of room in their house, or maybe, my “tax-accountant spidey-sense” says, they realized that their heirs were going to have to sell them, so why not make it a public gift instead of letting these all disappear into other collectors’ homes? Mr. and Mrs. Clark had enjoyed the collecting and the collection for many years already, so why not share?

Having jumped the hurdle of that decision, the next was how to make the donation. Where would it be? Who would manage it? Their desire was to make the collection available for learning about the arts, about composition, color, technique, and history, too. And the public should see it, to encourage appreciation of the arts and the ways that arts enrich our lives, even beyond school.

The Clarks chose Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The building was officially begun in 1953, with a dedication of the cornerstone:

“IN THIS PLACE MEN AND WOMEN WILL BE STRENGTHENED AND ENNOBLED BY THEIR CONTACT WITH THE BEAUTY OF THE AGES.“

Cornerstone dedication, August 26, 1953

The museum opened its doors in 1955. There were only two galleries, displaying a fraction of their collection. More were displayed over time, slowly unveiling the width and depth of the works.

Sterling Clark died in 1956, and four years later, Francine Clark followed him. At that time, 1960, the museum received an additional sizable endowment from the Clarks, which was used to build an art history library so that Williams College could establish and staff a graduate program, a major goal of the endowment. “In 1972, the first graduate class entered the Clark in an innovative program co-sponsored by Williams College and the Clark.” (clarkart.edu)

If you enjoy art and you come near Williamstown, located in western Massachusetts, it’s definitely worth the stop. The collection is wonderful, and there’s a cafe, so you can take an intermission. I recommend the turkey panini. Here are some of the things I saw during my visit.

“The Elm Tree” c. 1880 Oil on canvas by George Inness, American, 1825-1894
“The Color of Night” by Frederic Remington, American, 1861 – 1909 (I thought I had the painting-specific information, but after I returned “home,” I discovered I did not and I haven’t been able to find it online. Sorry. It was one of my favorites. I was drawn by the sky at dusk.)
“Dismounted: The Fourth Troopers Moving the Led Horses” c.1890 Oil on canvas by Frederic Remington, American, 1861 – 1909 One of those things about fighting I didn’t know: If you called in the cavalry, soldiers arrived at battle in groups of four; three dismounted and the fourth led the horses away so they wouldn’t get shot at. Presumably, the horses were grouped & the soldiers joined the fight, but I don’t really know & it wasn’t explained.
My favorite. “The Bridle Path, White Mountains” 1868 Oil on canvas by Winslow Homer, 1836 – 1910 The placard says that the woman on horseback, “lost in thought” and separated from her companions, represents the growing independence of middle-class women. She may also be wondering why she has to ride sidesaddle.
“Rouen Cathedral, the Facade in Sunlight” c. 1892 – 94 Oil on canvas Monet, French, 1840 – 1926. I included this painting for a friend in Auburn, NY, who paints. Her work reminds me of Monet.
“Onions” 1881 Oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 – 1919 “Clear light and fluid brushstrokes define the onions’ round, solid forms and capture the shiny, papery quality of their skins. Sterling Clark often stated that this was his favorite of the many paintings by Renoir in his collection.” Clark acquired this painting in 1922.
“The Messiah” 1867 Terracotta by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, French, 1828-1887 The placard at the base makes note of the crucifixion-like pose of the infant Jesus as an artistic expression of Jesus’ fate yet-to-be.
“Madame Escudier” circa 1883 Oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent, American, 1856 – 1925. Sargent’s talent is apparent in the personality exuded by Mme Escudier’s face. Sargent was born of American parents in Florence, Italy, and died in London, England. He made several trips to the United States to do commissioned portraits, but it seems he was never a permanent resident. The Sargent portrait most familiar to Americans probably would be President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Tea Service of Famous Women” Painted by Marie-Victoire Jaquetot, Manufactured by Sevres Porcelain Manufactory. The Vincennes porcelain factory, founded in the early 1700s, was the “manufacture royale” in France, but in 1756 moved to the village of Sevre and adopted the village name. Most, but not all, of the famous women are members of various European royal houses: Catherine the Great, Maria-Theresa of Austria, Elizabeth I, Christina of Sweden, and several others. Joan of Arc was an exception, and the only non-royal that was familiar to me.
“Man Reading” circa 1648 Oil on canvas Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606 – 1669. For many years, this painting was thought to be of a specific individual, but recent research suggests it to be a “tronie,” a work used in the 1600s to explore facial expressions and clothing. The warm light and soft shadows are typical of Rembrandt’s work. The Clarks bought it in 1923 as an original Rembrandt. In the past forty years, however, it was thought to be a work by one of his followers. In the fluid world of art, it has recently been attributed once again to Rembrandt himself by Ernst van de Wetering, a leading expert on Rembrandt, who died in 2021.
“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” Modeled 1879-81, cast 1919-21 Edgar Degas, French, 1834 – 1917. Bronze with gauze tutu and silk ribbon, on wooden base. A version of this work was exhibited at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition, and it is the only sculpture Degas showed publicly during his lifetime. There is more in the paragraphs below.

The version of the Little Dancer that was exhibited in 1881, the original, is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It was sculpted in wax and had a sewn tulle skirt, a human hair wig, and a silk hair ribbon. After Degas died in 1917, the Degas estate chose to preserve the Little Dancer by having it cast in bronze. At least twenty-seven bronze versions were made at the Hebrard Foundry between 1919 and 1930, one of which was purchased by the Clarks. It is pictured above.

Degas’ sculpture began as a series of drawings. He made twenty-six drawings of the model, the fourteen-year-old aspiring ballerina Marie van Goethem, between 1878 and 1881, in detail so well-done that one writer commented that the young girl seemed about to “walk off her pedestal,” and declared Little Dancer “the first truly modern attempt at sculpture.” (Joris-Karl Huysmanns, as quoted by The Clark Museum)

Although the sculpture today is considered a masterpiece, the contemporary world of Degas’ time was not as impressed. Degas had chosen realism over idealism, which went against the artistic conventions of the time. Little Dancer depicted an amateur of modest means rather than a star of the ballet, a more traditional choice.

But it was not only the choice of subject that was unconventional. Previous sculptures relied upon a single material – stone, wood, metal – to create a work. Degas had incorporated human hair and actual textiles into his sculpture.

It was a landmark moment in 19th century art.

“Carmen” c. 1884 Oil on canvas Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864 – 1901. “When Toulouse-Lautrec first spotted Carmen Gaudin in Montmartre, he exclaimed to a friend, ‘How tough she looks! It would be marvelous to get her as a model.’ Gaudin consented and Toulouse-Lautrec painted her a number of occasions over several years. In this portrait, her expression is guarded, but her fiery hair and uncompromising frontal pose suggest something of the toughness that initially captured the artist’s imagination.” Comments by the Clark Museum curator.

I am always tempted to include too many photos from my museum visits. It is a wonderful way to spend a day, enjoying the talents of so many souls, most of them now departed.

The donors, Mr. and Mrs. Clark:

Robert Sterling Clark
Francine J.M. Clark

And one more, because I just can’t resist:

“Fumee d’ambre gris” (Smoke of the Ambergris c.1880 John Singer Sargent, American, 1856 – 1925. “A woman holds part of her elaborate garment over a silver censer to capture the perfumed smoke of smouldering ambergris. A waxy substance extracted from whales, ambergris was used in some religious rituals and was also said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Sargent began this painting in Tangier, with a model posed on the patio of a rented house, but he completed it in his Paris studio. The finished painting presents a fantasy for Western eyes, combining details of costume and setting adapted from different regions across North Africa.” (Notes by the Clark Museum curator.)

Ukraine, 2006, The OSCE Mission

When Karen and I were visiting the Maidan, there were lots of people gathered. It turned out that various candidates were making campaign speeches.

The heart was the symbol of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, a political party that had supported Yuliya Tymoshenko for president. What we would call a backwards R is part of Ukraine’s alphabet, and means “I” as far as I could tell. While I was there, I figured out some of the Cyrillic alphabet Ukraine uses, although I never learned how to speak any Ukrainian.

The speakers’ stage, Cultural Center in the background. The orange flags are supporters of “Our Ukraine,” the party represented by Viktor Yushchenko

The next morning, we all met our observation team. Martin, an attorney from Germany, would be my fellow observer. Nadia was the translator assigned to us, and Sergei would be our driver. Nadia was a Ukrainian national. I don’t recall if Sergei was also, or if he was a Russian living in Ukraine. He didn’t share a lot about himself, but that may have been a language issue, as it was evident that he didn’t speak much English.

Our initial tasks involved going to the various polling stations and inquiring about the voter registration lists. One of the ways that election results can be manipulated, of course, is by eliminating voters who are likely to vote for your opponent.

This election was the parliamentary election, but it was proceeding under the shadow of the 2004 presidential election. In 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, the Our Ukraine candidate, ran against Viktor Yanukovich of the Party of the Regions and various other smaller party candidates. Yanukovich was supported by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Neither Yushchenko nor Yanukovich received a majority, so there was a runoff. During the campaign for the runoff, Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, resulting in facial disfigurement and other health issues, although he did survive. The runoff gave a close victory to Yanukovich, but Ukrainians believed that the election was corrupted. Huge demonstrations in the streets followed, and became known as the “Orange Revolution.”

The case went to the Ukraine Supreme Court, which ruled that there should be a new runoff election. This time Viktor Yushchenko prevailed and became president of Ukraine in 2004.

Two years later, the OSCE was enlisted to observe the parliamentary elections, and this was when I came to Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovich was running for parliament, still a Russian-favored candidate. Yulia Tymoshenko was also running for parliament. Victory in their respective races would position them for becoming prime minister, a position with considerable authority in the Ukrainian government.

Against this background, the OSCE was supervising the various teams of observers. Martin and I were sent to Svitlovods’k, a large town along the Dnieper River. The Dnieper River flows from Belarus, through central Ukraine, and empties into the Black Sea. Along the way, at three or four points, the Dnieper River becomes very wide, resembling a lake more than a river, at least on the map. Kyiv is along the Dnieper River in the north. Svitlovods’k is much smaller than Kyiv, and positioned at the southern end of one of the widest sections of the Dnieper River.

We were being transported to our stations by bus. This cafe/bar was a stop along the way.

The place we stayed in Svitlovods’k was clean and comfortable, with the plain modern architecture. It was the first time that I ran into a European style bathroom – the shower and sink were in my room, the toilet (WC) was in the hall. It seemed to be a mid-century style. Older hotels and new hotels were arranged more traditionally.

Our quarters in Svitlovods’k.

Most of the polling places we visited were in schools or school-associated buildings, or in local government buildings. If you were unsure of who to vote for, there were printed summaries of the candidates’ backgrounds and political agendas posted on the walls.

Information about candidates was posted on the walls of polling places. The parties had names, but also numbers so that it was easier to remember because there were numerous smaller parties.
These were the ballot boxes. They were made of a clear plastic so that everyone could see that they were empty at the start, and were locked. The smaller boxes were portable ballot boxes – if you were unable to come to the polls, two election officials would come to you, bringing this box so that you could either put your ballot into it or see that your ballot was placed for you.
A polling place.

One of the things that caught me off-guard was how interested the Ukrainians were in me, the American. I’m sure all of the American observers experienced this because there was nothing special about me. The women in the photo below were grumbling in an apologetic way about the problems they had – heat that didn’t work, occasional power outages, things like that. I commiserated, mentioning how occasionally these things would happen in America, too. The woman in the white jacket said, “We hear that everything in America is perfect.” I said that things were very good in America, but not perfect. I was trying to strike a truthful balance. Compared to Ukraine, America is very rich, of course, so I had to acknowledge that, but power outages and heat that doesn’t work are things that happen here, too.

This is one of my favorite photos. These women were managing the polling place, and were interested in meeting “the American.”
One thing that struck me in all of the polling places we visited was that the people decorated them with curtains in the colors of Ukraine’s flag, and frequently flowers or other decorations as well. There were murals in all of the schools, which were wonderful.
The crystal clear ballot boxes were present in all of the polling places. While the clear boxes solved the fears of ballot box stuffing, it meant that voters had to fold their ballots or someone might be able to see how they voted.
Some polling places had prepared food for visitors.
And, because we were foreign visitors, they shared some of their songs.
As we left, the workers came to wave goodbye.
This woman was the supervising poll worker here, where Martin and I observed the ballot counting.

In the photo above, notice that the ballots were different colors. Ukraine had their elections for all jurisdictions, national and local, at the same time. The national ballots were long because there were many parties on the national ballots. The local races were shorter. Thank heaven someone had made the decision to make the ballots different colors for the different jurisdictions!

One color represented the national parliamentary elections. This was the election that Martin and I were responsible for observing the counting of. As I remember, the next level of government was the “oblast,” roughly equivalent to our states. “Rayon” was like a county, and then came the cities or villages. The polls were open until into the evening, I think around nine o’clock, so that the people who worked all day were able to come and vote.

In the slow moments, I had a chance to talk with Andrei, who was a fireman, and Sergei, who was a policeman. They were the security for the polls. Sergei may have carried a weapon, but maybe not. I don’t remember. It was pretty low-key.

What I remember very clearly from our conversation is how they appreciated the equipment they had received from America. Apparently, fire departments in the U.S. that buy new equipment – fire engines, hoses, etc. – and police departments that get new equipment – kevlar vests especially – pass along the equipment that is being replaced to other countries with fewer resources, probably through Homeland Security or the State Department. Until that moment, I had never thought about what happened to used emergency services equipment. But that is what some of the Ukrainian services were using. I suspect it even included uniforms. And they both expressed Ukrainians’ gratitude for their equipment. I was touched, and grateful in turn that we were able to help.

After the polls closed, the workers in this polling place pushed together several desks to make a large work surface, and then emptied the boxes onto the now-large area. The first task was to separate the colors. One person in the group was the gatherer for a particular color – goldenrod, blue, white, and pink. The other workers simply scooped up a few ballots then handed their bunch of one color to the color’s gatherer. Everyone was careful to keep the ballots on top of the table where they were visible to all.

When this was done, the focus was on one color. Goldenrod, for example. One worker had all of the goldenrod ballots. Another worker would position a seat above and behind the first worker, in a place that would allow her to read the ballot while looking over the first worker’s shoulder, i.e. a second reader to help assure accuracy.

The first worker would read the name of the candidate marked on the ballot. One of the workers gathered around the table would raise her hand (they were all women) and the first worker would hand the ballot to her. The recipient was then in charge of collecting all of that candidate’s ballots as the names were read. The next name went to another worker, and so on. The nature of voting with so many candidates meant that there were some who got no votes or very few votes, but of course they were managed and counted, too.

No machinery was involved. It worked well, but it took a long time as they worked through each color of ballot. Luckily for Martin and me, the workers had tackled the parliamentary election ballots first, so we were able to leave around midnight.

The polling place was a mess when Martin and I returned in the morning. The clerical staff and the supervisor who would sign the results had been there all night. The counted ballots had been put in large envelopes and labeled. Martin and I were there to get a signed copy of “the protocol.” That’s what Martin called it. Since he had done this before, I assume that was what the document was called by the OSCE, the final results of the parliamentary election. I always had thought of protocol as describing a process, but apparently it’s also used to describe the result of the process.

The “Morning After.”
Seated are the polling place supervisor, me, and the supervisor’s chief clerk. Standing behind us, left to right, are Andrei the fireman, a clerk, Sergei the policeman, and Martin.
Martin holding the signed protocol below the sign indicating the municipal building’s title. The smaller sign on the door is “Enter” or “Entry.”
This was another government building, I don’t remember which. The thing I was fascinated by was the utterly utilitarian style of these buildings left over from the Soviet era.
Close to the end of our journey together: Sergei, our driver, Martin, and Nadia, our translator.

I was surprised that Nadia and Sergei both had cellphones. This was 2006, and flip-phones (also called clamshell phones) had become common in the U.S. relatively recently, but they seemed to be everywhere in Ukraine already. There is an economic term, something like “leapfrogging,” that is used to describe this kind of phenomenon. An old technology (in this case telephone poles, wires, switchboards, and dial phones) was too expensive when it was new, and technology moved on to cell phones before Ukrainians could afford to catch up with the now-older technology. But cell phones were smaller and cheaper, cell towers didn’t require all the wires and poles to transmit electronic calls, and so Ukrainians were able to adopt cell phone technology more easily, making it ubiquitous contemporaneously with the United States.

I carried a passport from the U.S., and Martin carried a German passport. Nadia carried what she called her “internal passport.” Her “internal passport” carried demographic details of her birth, her school, her marriage, her divorce, and her place of employment. She was required to carry it with her, and had to produce it for review if a person of authority, like a policeman, requested it. I have to admit, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea that, if I lived in certain countries, I could be required to make such personal information available to any authority that requested it. As Americans, we enjoy an enormous level of personal freedom. We should never take that for granted.

People in Ukraine made a fuss over me wherever I went. It wasn’t personal, it was because I am an American. I think sometimes Martin was annoyed by this. If it was the other way around, I might be annoyed, too. At any rate, I realized that I was an “ambassador” of sorts for the U.S. and I tried to be conscious of this whenever anyone asked me questions or gave me comments about the U.S.

I forgot this lesson on our last night before returning to Kyiv, after we had turned in our election document. Martin and I invited Nadia and Sergei to dinner at a local restaurant. It was a small-scale celebration. As usual, Nadia translated the menu for us. I decided that I wanted a steak, medium rare, as a way of finishing off our time together. To give Nadia proper credit, she tried, as tactfully as she could, to steer me toward other choices on the menu. But, no, I was really in the mood for a steak. In due course, the waiters brought our dinners. I don’t know what exactly was on my plate, but it was most definitely NOT a steak. Not recognizably. The piece seemed to be made entirely of gristle. Martin looked at me, and I glanced at Martin. I knew immediately that I had been thoughtless – Ukrainians did not have beef commonly available, and the restaurant had probably come as close as they could to providing what I had asked for. So, I thanked them. And I tried to eat what I could of it, but that wasn’t much. I ate the vegetables and rice and bread that came with it, so I didn’t go hungry, but it was a lesson to me about being in a country that was not the United States. Listen to the people’s recommendations. They want you to enjoy yourself, so don’t ignore them.

We returned to Kyiv, where Martin and I parted ways from Sergei and Nadia, and rejoined our cohorts from the overall OSCE mission at a general celebration before everyone went home, or to wherever they were going.

I had changed my departure date, and would be on my own for the first time ever in a country I barely knew and a language I didn’t know, written in an alphabet I didn’t recognize. What I did know was that they were friendly!

This photo is about the elevator call system, which was arranged so differently than any that I’d ever seen in the U.S.
My bedroom in the hotel. My accommodation was a suite here – I had my own sitting room and bathroom. Too bad it was just one night!
The outside of our hotel.
A group of traditionally costumed singers entertained with Ukrainian folk songs.
Another member of the German delegation.
Martin, me, and a couple of young women from France’s delegation.

Ukraine, 2006, On My Own: Kyiv

It was the end of March in Ukraine, very cool and wet, not quite snowing. I was still wearing my coat, scarf, and gloves daily. The clouds were many and hung in the sky, steel gray puffs to flat, whitish-grey floating islands, with occasional bursts of sun.

I had changed the departure date on my airline ticket. I was on my own now – no driver, no translator, no Martin. Holding my Lonely Planet guidebook in my hand, my finger holding the page with the downtown-Kyiv street map, I was making my way to the train station in Kyiv.

The map named the streets in English. One would think that would be helpful, but it wasn’t – I couldn’t match the English street names, written with the English alphabet, to the Ukrainian street signs, written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Sometimes, I could identify a few letters that seemed the same. I identified a sight from the map that let me know what street I was on. I was counting the number of intersections between turns. That was challenging, too, since the smaller streets weren’t necessarily on the guidebook’s map, but by combining all of the “clues,” I was making progress.

I didn’t visit this church because I was focused on the train station, but it had all of the features of a church – cross on top, bells, cross-shaped structure. I found it remarkable because, before this, all of the churches I had seen were of a much older style.

I found the train station. There was a McDonalds and a modern church nearby, which I made note of as landmarks on the guidebook map. I spent breakfast reading my guidebook in McDonalds and forming a skeletal itinerary for the ten days that I had available.

The first day on my own in Ukraine included breakfast at McDonalds. Yes, I know, but, for this “stranger in a strange land,” it was also familiar, and even though I couldn’t read the menu or the prices, I knew that no matter what I ended up buying, I had a general idea of what it would taste like and I had enough Ukrainian Hryvnia currency to cover it.

I was grateful for the OSCE mission because I was able to get some orientation to Ukraine and to see a side of Ukraine that was unavailable to most visitors, but, there was so much more to see. I had ten days to explore Ukraine with only public transportation and I had to make choices. I decided that, through the mission, I had been able to see some small towns, so now I would visit the larger cities. I would make use of the overnight trains to travel while sleeping, and see three places: Kyiv, Lviv, and the Crimean Peninsula.

I left McDonalds and went to the train station, which was beautiful. I don’t know when it was built, but it reminded me of Grand Central in New York.

The Kyiv train station looks somewhat like a smaller Grand Central.

There was an electronically operated display that was clearly a train schedule, but there was not an English word in sight – it was displayed entirely in Ukrainian, i.e. Cyrillic alphabet.

I stood, staring at the schedule. My smattering of French and Spanish wasn’t going to help me here. I kept staring, hoping that I could pick up a clue of some kind – a pattern. In English, “e” is the most common letter, but of course, that’s based on the sounds we use to speak English, so I couldn’t count on the most common Ukrainian letter being the equivalent of “e.” Visions of hieroglyphics and Navajo code talkers danced through my head….

“Are you an American?” Someone behind me was asking. I stood out, even from the back, something I was getting used to. Working on the OSCE mission with all the other non-Ukrainians, people still immediately noticed the Americans. We were “a thing.”

I turned around and saw a young man looking at me, smiling. I said yes, I am, and smiled back. He introduced himself, an American Peace Corps worker from Indiana. I can’t remember his name now, but he was the first of several pinch-hitting English-speakers that I met during my travels in Ukraine. It seemed whenever I desperately needed someone to speak English, someone appeared.

After the pleasant exchange of where-are-you-from and what-brings-you-here, we got to the where-are-you-going part, which was my present quandary. The train schedule was almost literally Greek to me – the Ukrainian alphabet incorporates several Greek letters that I recognized from my DePauw days, but also has other kinds of letters about which I had not a clue.

There was not enough time for us to go into linguistic detail, but he helped me find the arrivals and departures columns, pointed out the words for Kyiv (which I recognized) and Lviv (which I had not,) how to read the times, and where to buy my ticket. He was on his way to somewhere else, but I was very grateful to have been found by him.

Buying my ticket was the next challenge. I could use the pronunciation guide in the guidebook glossary, I thought. I was wrong.

It was a simple phrase: “I want to go to ….” Then finish the sentence with my destination. I tried. I did. Three or four times. But I got blank looks from the person on the other side of the glass. She was nice. I tried English. I could see that she wanted to help, but she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. Neither did she suggest a different agent, which made me think that my luck would not be better in a different line. Other people were waiting, so I stepped out of line to ponder.

I decided the solution was to copy the phrase, in Cyrillic letters, onto my little notebook that I was carrying, including the name of the city, from the guidebook. I got back into line and, when I reached the front of the line again, I pressed my notebook up to the glass. Big smiles from the ticket agent. Success! A big smile from me, too, and a feeling of relief. Another hurdle cleared. I would not end up in Timbuktu, at least, not tonight.

I was taking the train to Lviv, second-class, as recommended by my guidebook. It would leave later that evening, so I still had the entire day in Kyiv. I began walking from the train station toward the older part of Kyiv, generally toward St. Sophia.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Kyiv, is built in the Byzantine style. It was begun around 1882 and finished in 1892. Monks from the nearby Pechersk Lavra produced one million bricks to be used in the cathedral’s construction.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral was built to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the baptism of the Kyivan Rus’ by Prince Volodymyr I of Kyiv. The Kyivan Rus’ was founded by the Viking Oleg, later called King Oleg, who began to gather East Slavic lands into what would become the Kyivan Rus in the late 800s. Kyiv, already a city located on trading routes, became the capital of an area of northern and eastern Europe. This included what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia.

Christianity was first brought to the territory that would become the Kyivan Rus’ by Saint Andrew, an Apostle of Jesus. Saint Andrew traveled across the Black Sea to the Greek colony of Chersonesus Taurica in Crimea.

However, paganism hung on for the next few centuries, and it was not until the conversion and baptism of Prince Volodymyr in 988, that Christianity gained a permanent foothold. The prince who would become known as Volodymyr the Great, ruler of the Kyivan Rus’ (958 – 1015,) was baptized at Chersonesus, in the Crimean Peninsula. He then baptized his family, followed by a mass baptism of his subjects conducted by priests of the church. Laggards were encouraged to participate so as “not to become enemies of the king.” A persuasive argument.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Kyiv. From this angle, you can see the golden dome and the smaller domes with golden stars floating in night-blue skies.

St. Volodymyr’s was the first Orthodox church I had ever been in, so it was especially interesting to me. The first impression is that the interior is incredibly elaborately decorated. It is cruciform-shaped, meaning it is shaped like a cross: a functionally central portion, intersected by another section that served as side areas. Priests conduct their services in the “top” of the cross, and behind a screen that separates them from the worshipers, who stand in the central section. Women cover their heads. There were no pews.

In the two side areas of the cathedral, there were places to light the long, thin, wax candles that would carry a worshiper’s prayers to the Virgin, a saint, or Jesus. There were icons of religious figures everywhere, and there was a body preserved, elaborately dressed, and encased in glass, situated on the left, in front of one of the pillars holding the cavernous ceiling. That person, I learned, was of importance to the church, something I found frequently in the churches – not necessarily a saint, but an important priest or metropolitan. The interior was rather dark, but I could still see the walls covered with murals that represented stories from the Bible.

The Zoloti Vorota, with the Church of the Trinity on top, is a replica of the original from the 11th century, which in turn was modelled on the Golden Gate of Constantinople.
From the other side.

The original Zoloti Vorota was built around 1022 – 1037, and is said to be modelled on the Golden Gate in Constantinople. It was begun during the reign of Volodymyr the Great, and completed by his son, Yaroslav the Wise. The original gate was the main entrance to the city of Kyiv in the 11th century, complete with the Church of the Trinity on top of the gate. Most of the gate was destroyed in 1240 by the Mongol invaders, and what was left was seriously eroded over time. In the 1970s, the foundations were measured, and plans made to reconstruct the gate. What you see today was completed in 1982. Today’s gate has added a statue of Yaroslav I, holding a model of the city gate.

Yaroslav I, Volodymyr’s son, contemplating a model of the Zoloti Vorota. Purportedly, Ukrainians refer to it as the “monument to the Kyiv cake.”

In the several hundred years between Yaroslav the Wise and 1793, Ukraine, like much of Europe, underwent changes of rule and changes of boundaries as small ruling families rose and fell and intermarried. Mongols, Turks, Lithuanians, Galicians, Germans, and Poles all played a part. But in 1793, Ukraine was handed to Catherine the Great and the Romanov dynasty in the Second Partition of Poland.

Ukraine language and culture were actively repressed under Romanov rule, and many Ukrainians migrated to the west, which tried to retain the name Ukraine, but there was much competition for the territory. Into this confusion rose Taras Shevchenko.

Taras Shevchenko statue and park in Kyiv.

It is next to impossible to overstate the importance of Taras Shevchenko (1814 – 1861) in Ukraine. Shevchenko was born in Ukraine and became what we would call a “Renaissance man” – poet, writer, artist, folklorist, ethnographer, and political figure – a major influence in the Ukrainian national revival. Shevchenko is credited as the founder of modern written Ukrainian language, building on the beginnings laid down by Ivan Kotlyarevsky in the late 17th century. There are monuments in his honor in Kyiv and Lviv, and numerous place names throughout Ukraine.

Tsarist Russia was not friendly to political activists, and Tsar Nicholas I took special interest in Shevchenko because of his enormous influence. Shevchenko opposed serfdom, and believed in rule by the people and in Ukraine’s sovereignty, so the Tsar imprisoned Shevchenko for about ten years in Russia, specifically forbidding him to write or paint anything. The Tsar kept surveillance on Shevchenko for years, but even so, Shevchenko managed to write. Friends and colleagues of Shevchenko continued to try to intercede on his behalf. After the death of Tsar Nicholas I in 1855, his name was removed from the traditional amnesty list, but Shevchenko’s friends were successful a couple of years later, and he was finally released.

At this time, he was allowed to return to Ukraine, but his political activities once again caused his arrest. He was barred from Ukraine. Shevchenko returned to St. Petersburg, where he fell ill and died in 1861. Shevchenko was initially buried in St. Petersburg, but, in keeping with his wishes, he was moved to Kyiv, Ukraine, where he is buried on Chernecha Hill, near Kaniv, overlooking the Dnipro River.

Ukraine fought the Soviets in the years immediately following the February 1917 revolution in St. Petersburg, but again, there were many competing interests fighting for control, and according to some historians, the years were completely chaotic for Ukraine. Somewhere in the 1920s, Ukraine lands were taken by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and, of course, the Soviet Union. In the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989 – 1991, Ukrainians held a referendum to declare national independence, which was overwhelmingly approved, and became Ukraine again.

I realize this is an enormous simplification, but it would require a full-length book rather than a blog post to properly cover it. And, although Shevchenko did not live to see the resurgence of Ukrainian national feeling in the twentieth century, his writings, poems, and life provided a focus for Ukrainian people to recover the culture which the Romanovs, then the Soviets, and now the Russians, have attempted to take from them.

The Taras Shevchenko National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv, built around 1901, hosts ballets and concerts, as well as operas.

Saint Sophia’s Cathedral was built in 1017 – 1037 to honor Prince Yaroslav’s victory over the tribal raiders attacking Kyiv. Most of the frescoes and mosaics are original, depicting religious scenes, the traditional decoration of Orthodox churches. The cathedral is named for the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul (Constantinople in pre-Islamic times,) and is built in the Byzantine style, with arches and multiple domes. The golden domes were added in the 18th century. The style symbolized the ascendancy of Kyiv as the center of religious and political power in the Kyivan Rus’.

Along the side walls are portraits of Yaroslav and his family, and Yaroslav himself was entombed in a chamber within the church. This was purportedly confirmed in 1936. His remains were removed during WWII by a priest, and believed to have been smuggled into the U.S., specifically a church in Brooklyn, NY. This is unconfirmed.

Especially notable is the large image of the “Virgin Orans” in the central apse. “Orans” is Greek for “praying.” This depiction of the Virgin Mary is unique to the Orthodox church. It is symbolic of the church interceding on behalf of humankind for salvation. The image in St. Sophia is a six meters (about twenty feet) tall mosaic, picturing Mary praying with her arms outstretched toward heaven.

I stood in the stillness and wondered about the people who worshipped here. Like so many cathedrals in Europe, people had spent years of their lives building these monuments to their religious beliefs, almost a thousand years ago. This building stood, looking as it had for much of those thousand years, in a silence that shouted their faith.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral is the oldest church in existence in Kyiv. The golden domes were added in the 18th century.
The tomb of Patriarch Volodymyr Romanyuk. His story is long, but suffice it to say that he had deep disagreements with the USSR, spent years in their prison, & advocated for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He was a founder of the UOC in 1992. The Patriarch died of a heart attack in 1995. Due to ongoing religious and political disputes, Ukrainian efforts to bury him inside the St. Sophia complex were rejected in violent confrontations, and so he rests just outside of the gates, in St. Sophia Square.
The 76 meter tall bell tower in the St. Sophia’s Cathedral complex, added in the 18th century.
The statue is of a Cossack hero, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, late 1800s. The view is from St. Sophia’s Square. In the distance is St. Michael’s Monastery. Originally built in 1108, it was torn down by the Soviets in 1937. The current church was built in 2001. St. Michael is Kyiv’s patron saint.
Street scene in Kyiv.
Street scene in Kyiv.
Street scene in Kyiv.
This building is on Andriivs’kyi Descent, described as a very steep, very old cobble-stoned street in Kyiv. The street name translates as “Andrew’s Descent,” referring to St. Andrew. Legend says that the saint climbed to the top of the hill and declared that a great city would grow on this spot.
Another view of Andriivs’kyi Descent. The guidebook called it a “quaint cobblestone street,” with shops and art galleries.

My first ride on the Ukrainian train was to begin in a few hours, so I returned to my hotel to gather my luggage. The train was a question mark. I grew up riding trains in the U.S., but I didn’t know quite what to expect here. I was going to find out.

Fincastle, Virginia – Population 389*

The town welcomed me into the past as I turned off of SR220. If, somehow, I could have cleared the automobiles from the streets and peeled away the blacktop covering the brick and cobblestones, I could almost have seen ghosts of the people from the 1700s going about their business here in Fincastle.

Fincastle, founded 1772 and named for Lord Fincastle, son of Lord Dunmore, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, was at that time the newly-designated county seat for Botetourt County, which had only been created as of January, 1770. The county had been named for the popular Lord Botetourt, governor of colonial Virginia. Today’s Botetourt County is contained within 546 square miles of present-day Virginia, but when it was created, the “Mother County” stretched from Fincastle to the Mississippi River, and included Kentucky, most of Illinois and Indiana, southern Ohio and some of what would become West Virginia, even a corner of Wisconsin.

Newly-minted Fincastle was forty acres (or forty-five – accounts vary) donated by Israel Christian, a lawyer-farmer and land speculator. Christian was an active land speculator everywhere in Virginia, but his home was in Fincastle. His house is believed to be the oldest house in Fincastle, a one-story log house built in 1772. Christian willed the house to one of his slaves, Becky Holmes. A room in the basement served as the first black church, and an adjacent room may have served as a school for black children.

Israel Christian’s house, believed to be the oldest house in Fincastle, began as a one-story log structure. A second story was added sometime later, and in 1811, a post-and-beam structure was added to the east side (on the right.)

Fincastle is a quiet town. A good number of the residents commute to the city of Roanoke to work, but there is activity in Fincastle, too. I was waiting for my pie from the Pie Shoppe. I was fortunate to be peering into the window of an old car dealership, now used as an artist’s studio, when the artist came to visit said studio.

Ed Bordett, Artist, in the studio, standing among unfinished projects. Things ready for sale are in the front room.

I said, “Good morning” to him, and it led to a tour of the studio and chats ranging from Brooklyn’s fire escapes to antique furniture. Ed Bordett was born on Long Island, attended New York’s Academy of Fine Arts, and graduated from Florida’s Ringling School of Art. After that, he moved to southwestern Virginia, and settled in Fincastle.

Ed offers prints of Brooklyn’s fire escapes along with other paintings and prints. I don’t know what his hours are, or even if he has “hours,” but the studio is at 5 W. Main Street, Fincastle, Virginia, one or two doors down from the Pie Shoppe, which is on the corner of Main Street and Roanoke Street. You can also find him on Facebook as Edward Bordett, or by googling “Ed Bordett.”

By the time we had toured the studio, it was time for me to pick up my pie – chicken, vegetable, and asiago cheese – next door, so I took another peruse of the art in the front room on my way out. I plan to return. That may sound like a “road not taken,” but I am pretty sure I’ll be back to Fincastle.

The corner door to the Pie Shoppe. The cafe on the roof is open during the summer.

The Pie Shoppe, which sits diagonally from the Botetourt Courthouse, is a very pleasant place to have lunch. Their menu is limited, but the pie is delicious. Their pies come in sweet dessert or savory entree, by the (large) slice or whole pie, to go or to eat in. Their lunch specials don’t all come wrapped in pie crust – there are choices, plus good coffee, served by friendly people. The cafe on the roof, a popular place to have dinner and a glass of wine in the summer, was not, alas, open yet. Maybe next time.

Botetourt County Courthouse, Fincastle, Virginia.

The courthouse in the photo is the fourth building on this site. The first was a log structure, probably built at the founding of Fincastle. It was replaced in 1818, and again in 1845. This third courthouse was partly destroyed by fire in 1970. The present courthouse was built and dedicated in 1975.

It is notable that the county’s records, dating from 1770, survived the 1971 fire because of the county’s vault, and are available for historical and genealogical research. The close call for the records resulted in the Virginia Public Records Act of 1975, which required land records, wills, and other vital public records to be inventoried and microfilmed. The microfilm is stored in the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

The now-former Botetourt County Museum, formerly law offices. The museum has moved to 26 E. Main Street. As I write this, the museum has not reopened, but will reopen in April or May of 2022.
Formerly the Western Hotel, a destination hotel until the early 1900s. The original Western Hotel building was wooden, and was destroyed in the 1870 fire that started in the hotel’s stable. This building was the replacement.

There was a brick tavern built around 1809 next to the hotel to provide entertainment for visitors and locals. With no hint of irony in the historical descriptions, the county’s jail was built next door around 1897.

The old jail building, built circa 1897, with its New Orleans-inspired iron grillwork. The jailer’s quarters were on the first floor, the women prisoners on the second, and the men on the third floor. It ceased to be a jail in 1962, and became a library. There is a new library on Academy Street.

There are so many historical buildings in Fincastle that it’s not possible to show them all. There is an excellent self-guided tour brochure that is easily available, and if you go to Fincastle, I recommend it. Below are some places of particular interest, at least to me….

In Fincastle, the oldest profession is journalism! The Fincastle Herald has published a weekly edition continuously since 1866, 156 years, making it the oldest business in town. The second-oldest business is the Bank of Fincastle, which is next door, founded in 1875.
The Big Spring, a public watering place since before white settlers, was part of the land granted to Israel Christian by King George III. Christian included it in his grant of land to the town of Fincastle in 1770. It is served by Water Street, which served as a market area.
The Fincastle Presbyterian Church building was erected in 1771, and originally served the Church of England. The Anglican congregation was replaced by the Presbyterians over the 1770s, given the politics of the decade. I was lucky enough to be around when some congregants arrived for choir practice, so I was able to go inside. It is a classic example of a 1770s church.
Interior of the Fincastle Presbyterian Church.
Cemeteries can tell an observer much about a community. One Fincastle family lost three sons to the Civil War.
This woman had a whole history written on her tombstone. The family names involved are prominent in Virginia history, which is undoubtedly why.
The First Baptist Church was organized in 1831 out of the Fincastle Baptist Church. Acting as trustees for the African Baptist Church, seven Freedmen, led by the Reverend John Jones, purchased the land for the purpose of building a church. The church is built mostly of handmade bricks. After the Civil War, a school for African-American children was established in the lower level.
The Anglican Church was reinvented after the Revolution as the Episcopal Church. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was built around 1837. The description says, “The Vestry of the Botetourt Anglican Parish bought land on the west side of Roanoke Street” to build a church. “The congregation dates from the 1770s,” so apparently the congregation supported the Revolution and stayed around as events unfolded.

I found Fincastle, Virginia, to be a charming place, filled with small-town character, friendly people, and a strong sense of history. It’s a worthy stop for art and history, but most of all, the wonderful people who live there.

*As of 2019, sources include the U.S. Census Bureau.

— March 31, 2022

Ukraine, 2006, Where It All Began

“Where it all began” isn’t exactly accurate. I have always wanted to travel. I used to daydream of wandering through the countryside with my backpack, or sitting by train windows, gazing at a new landscape, visiting romantic inns, and seeing wondrous things. The “no-visible-means-of-support” lifestyle in my daydreams was delayed by, well, no means of support, visible or in. But, this was definitely the trip that created the determination to make overseas travel happen for me.

In 2006, I found an opportunity to be an election observer for the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE conducts election observation missions because the European Union, the EU, has standards required of member governments, and among them are a free press and secure, transparent elections. The U.S. participates in the OSCE through the U.S. State Department.

I had been the Island County Auditor for eight years by 2006, and had learned a lot about election law, process, and management, even though I was not involved in the day-to-day work. Loann (also referred to as “the General,”) was the Elections Supervisor. I applied to participate and accepted. I had no choice of country – I had to go where they sent me – but this was okay by me. I had not been overseas at all, ever, so anyplace would be new to me. It turned out to be Ukraine.

The U.S. taxpayers paid for my round trip airfare and living expenses while I was participating in the OSCE mission (thank you,) as did the other countries who were participating in the mission, such as Germany and the Netherlands. Like the other American observers, I planned to pay the airline’s fee to reschedule my departure date and travel around Ukraine after the mission, seven days long, was complete. (And, of course, my expenses then were paid by me.)

On March 20, 2006, I sat in Sea-Tac, Seattle’s airport, waiting for a flight that would take me to Dulles Airport to meet up with the other American participants. In Sea-Tac, I met a woman from Alaska who was also going to Ukraine. In Dulles, I met another woman going to Ukraine from Nebraska – I remember where she was from because we talked about Nebraska’s unicameral state government. (A bunch of government wonks – what would you expect?)

And then we started the incredibly long flight to Ukraine, with a layover in Munich, Germany. By the time we arrived in Kyiv, we had been traveling over twenty-four hours. I was excited to be there, so I had the benefit of some adrenaline, but as soon as we arrived at our hotel, sleep took over.

My cohorts, as we were waiting in the Munich airport.
We’re here! The front of the Kyiv airport.

The drive to our hotel gave us a view of the city, and it is a mix of styles and history. Apartments were the main kind of housing, ranging from old and run down, to newer, more colorful apartments.

Apartments on the way downtown from the airport.
More apartments, obviously newer, probably would be deemed “luxury.”

After resting, the daylight was running out. We took a short walk around the downtown area. I didn’t think to take a photo of our hotel, which was very comfortable, older and well-kept. I wasn’t blogging yet, but I guess it was coming, because I took photos, and more frequently as the trip wore on. In 2006, I had a county-owned flip-style cell phone, which wasn’t going to work overseas, so I left it at home. I did bring a tiny Acer notebook and a 7MP Canon Powershot, a “point & shoot” camera with a built-in (and not very powerful) telephoto lens. It ran on four AA batteries, and working that telephoto lens used up a lot of power relative to the resulting magnification. I spent a couple of mornings during the trip looking for new batteries, which was not always easy in Ukraine. But I could upload photos to the Acer, a nice backup, plus stay in touch with my Island County staff and my email.

Kyiv at night. The cars are parked on the sidewalk because the street is narrow.
The steering committee for the OSCE mission. The chairman is responding to a question from the floor.

All of the participants gathered in an orientation meeting in the morning after breakfast. It addressed logistics: a list naming teams of two observers, what places and tasks they were assigned, and where they would be observing. Each team was provided with a translator and a driver, and the driver provided the car, which they assured observers had to meet EU safety standards. No bald tires, seat belts worked, engines were reliable, etc. We would take that for granted in the U.S., but you cannot do that everywhere. We would meet our observation partners, translators, and drivers the next morning and leave for our various destinations.

The observers from the same country sat together during this meeting – all the Germans, Dutch, Americans, Italians, etc. We all sat in the center section of the orchestra floor seating – except for one group, who sat in a side section by themselves. The meeting speakers would give their information, and then one person, standing and facing their group so they could be heard, would repeat, in a different language, what the meeting speaker had said.

Someone in the center section raised their hand. He said his name, and that he was from the Netherlands. “It was our understanding,” he said, “that the official language of the mission is English.” Pointing at the side section, he continued, ”That group has a translator. Why is that?”

The leader of the mission explained that the group he pointed to was from Russia, and their participants didn’t speak fluent English.

“Then why are they allowed to participate?,” asked the Dutch objector, obviously annoyed.

The Americans sat, quietly looking down, studying their lists and assignments, avoiding any eye contact that might lead to having to say something in this discussion. We just did it, no discussion needed, because we all recognized the optics that could result from participating in this particular discussion.

The mission leader replied that it was the steering committee’s decision. They thought it preferable for the Russians to participate and observe a European election. So when the Russians conditioned their participation on having a translator, they agreed.

The man from the Netherlands expressed his disagreement, but, having done so, sat down, and discussion moved on. We had a break during the morning, and then some free time in the afternoon. Karen, the woman from Nebraska, and I used the opportunity to go visit Kyiv’s Maidan.

Participants mingle during a break. Some people had been observers for other missions, and some, like me, were new.
Near the Kyiv Maidan. The Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” spawned a number of orange-colored political symbols.
These kiosks were all over the square, handing out literature about their parties. The word beginning with “Y” is Ukraine, spelled in Ukrainian.
Ernst & Young, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms. The small white letters below the English spell their name in Ukrainian.
And, of course.
More kiosks along the square.
These gates seemed to separate the public square from quieter business areas and sometimes residential areas.

Hop Scot

Scotland is filled with small towns. Sometimes the towns have multiple sights to see, and sometimes only one sight, but each town has plenty of character to offer: streets of old stone buildings in the Scottish baronial style, winding cobblestone streets lined with two-story row houses with gables or turrets (sometimes both,) small shops offering groceries, pastries, bread or meats, and ruins of abbeys and churches. The pubs and taverns that seemed to be on every corner each boasted that here, Robert Burns recited his poems, drank heavily, and flirted with beautiful women. After a while, it became obvious that only some of these were true, and other establishments simply didn’t let historical fact stand in the way of a good story. I could have stopped more often, happily spending a week, sometimes several weeks, in each place I stopped.

By now you know that two of my main interests in travel are history and literature. Scotland is a bottomless well for both. Not knowing when I could ever come back, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible, plus, I was still searching for a whiskey distillery that was open!

Even so, as much as I was enjoying seeing Scotland at ease, it was late August now. It had rained during the last couple of weeks, shifting quietly from warm-ish thunderstorm-rain to steady, drizzling rain with a slight chill in it. My plan for this trip was supposed to include Scotland and England, and be back in the U.S. for Christmas. I was dawdling. I needed to move a little faster – I still had places I wanted to see. Scotland is a small country if you count square miles, but a huge country if you count regions, geography, and history.

DUNFERMLINE

Dunfermline, like Dunblane, is an easy day trip from Edinburgh. The train crosses the Firth of Forth via the Forth Bridge.

Dunfermline is a short way from Edinburgh.

Dunfermline, population 49,700, has two claims to fame besides charm and age. The Dunfermline Abbey was founded by David I in the 12th century as a Benedictine monastery. There was a church there before the abbey, where Malcolm III (pre-1100 AD) had married the Saxon princess Margaret. That church was incorporated into the abbey’s church. Both Malcolm and Margaret were buried in the early church. Later, in 1329, Robert the Bruce was buried beneath the pulpit.

Dunfermline Church, nave portion.
Robert the Bruce is memorialised by the tower of Dunfermline’s abby church, which was added between 1560 and 1760.
All four sides of the tower are devoted to King Robert the Bruce.

Next to the abbey is the Dunfermline Palace that began life as the abbey’s guesthouse, but was converted to a royal residence for James VI of Scotland (James I of Great Britain,) whose ill-fated son was born here in 1600. The son later became Charles I, and was beheaded by Cromwell during the English Civil War.

Remains of the palace.

In 1560, the Scottish Reformation destroyed virtually the entire abbey. Between 1560 and 1760, the tower, steeple, and buttresses were constructed, and the church became a functioning parish again, belonging to the Church of Scotland. The church was closed because of pandemic restrictions when I was there, but it is still in use during normal times.

The Abbot House, built in the 15th century, was the only domestic building to survive the “great fire” of Dunfermline in 1624. It’s now a heritage center. (Notice the iron gate!)

Dunfermline is also the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. In 1835, Carnegie was born in the tiny house and workshop that still stands in Dunfermline. His parents were weavers, and the house is furnished as it was when they lived there. At age 13, Carnegie came to the United States, and by the late 18th century, he was – according to the museum that exhibits the life and work of Carnegie – the richest man in the world.

A loom for weaving jacquard cloth. Andrew’s father was an accomplished fine linen weaver, but it was still not a rich life.
One of the rooms upstairs, where the family lived. The ground floor was taken up by the looms.

The exhibits about his life were inspiring – Andrew Carnegie must have been a very dynamic person. He was single much of his life, but married at age 51 to Louise Whitfield, and they had one child, a daughter named Margaret.

Also according to the museum, Carnegie gave away 90% of his wealth to build libraries, universities, and schools all over the world. His birthplace also benefited – Pittencrieff Park next to the palace was a Carnegie donation.

Carnegie funded over 2,800 public libraries all around the world. This was the first, which opened in 1883. He was affectionately called the “Patron Saint of Libraries,” whose motto was “Let there be light.”

RAVENSCRAIG CASTLE, KIRKCALDY

Another short train ride took me to Kirkcaldy, a small town along the coast of Fife, a region of Scotland that was formerly an independent kingdom. I went there because I wanted to see Ravenscraig Castle. The castle was begun by James II in 1460 for his queen, Mary of Gueldres. James II died. Depending on whose version you read, the castle was finished, or left unfinished, by Queen Mary. Another version gives all the credit to Queen Mary, rather than James, for starting the castle. All versions agree that the castle was given to the Earl of Caithness, William Sinclair, in 1470, with only part of the east tower and wall completed.

The Sinclairs finished the castle, which overlooked the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. They added substantial walls that were 3.5 meters thick, reflecting the impact of gunpowder artillery on castle design. Below is a rendition of what it looked like when complete, and gives some idea of castle life in those days.

Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy, sign by Historic Scotland.

The castle belonged to the Sinclair family from 1470 until 1898, although it was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers during the same rebellion that saw King Charles I beheaded. After the rebellion, the Sinclairs had possession again, but the castle deteriorated into ruins. In 1898, it was sold to Sir Michael Nairn, from whose family eventually it went to Scotland as a national property. It’s a ruin still, albeit historical and in a picturesque location.

The entrance, approached now by a small wooden bridge. Through this passageway are the remains of utility buildings – storage, stable perhaps? It’s hard to tell now.
The passageway door to the left, and the utility buildings’ remains on the outcropping. North Sea is to the right and behind me.
The west tower, the residence, is on the left. The east tower sits to the right, barely visible, and extends down the side of the outcropping.

ST. ANDREWS

After Kirkcaldy, I took the bus north to St. Andrews because there is no train station in St. Andrews. For golf aficionados, yes, it was that St. Andrews, but, no, I didn’t visit the golf links, not being a golfer myself. I spent my afternoon in the town of St. Andrews, instead, but I will share some of what I learned about golf:

Golf has been associated with St. Andrews for over six hundred years. The game was so popular by 1457 that it was banned by James II because his troops were neglecting their archery practice in favor of golf, a distinctly un-military form of recreation.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, has its own golf course, which sits next to “The Old Course.” The Old Course is the one that non-members can play, and is, as the name implies, the more historical. Several other courses have been developed, which you can book if you aren’t tied to The Old Course.” In pre-internet days, you had to make reservations by the end of August the year before the year in which you wanted to play. Nowadays, you still need to book well in advance, and, like everyone, the pandemic restrictions have thrown “a spanard in the works.”According to their website, the greens fee is one hundred ninety-five pounds, roughly two hundred seventy-five US dollars, not including caddy or gratuities. There is a shorter notice lottery system if you’re feeling lucky (fees are the same.)

Bridge Street leads to newer sections of St. Andrew’s in the distance. Argyle Street leads to a gate in the old city wall, seen below, which now serves as entrance to the older, historical section of the town.
The Argyle Street gate. This older section of the town houses the University of St. Andrew, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and St. Andrew’s Castle.

St. Andrews was founded by St. Regulus (aka St. Rule,) who came from Greece, bringing with him the bones of St. Andrew himself. St. Andrew eventually became the patron saint of Scotland – their flag is blue with the white St. Andrew’s Cross – but in the meantime, the relics’ presence made the town a major destination of pilgrims and a major ecclesiastical center in Scotland.

St. Andrews Cathedral, an arch with part of the wall.
Part of St. Andrews Cathedral.

All that remains of the once-magnificent cathedral are fragments of walls, an arch, and a single towering gable, but the size is still discernible from these remains, and it was huge. The cathedral was founded in 1160.

The bones of St. Andrew were moved from the nearby Church of St. Regulus, and are interred underneath the altar still, although the sarcophagus is in the museum. The museum, per the guidebook, also houses an “excellent collection” of 17th & 18th century grave slabs and 9th & 10th century Celtic crosses. Unfortunately, the museum was closed. Pandemic.

Like so many Catholic cathedrals and churches, the St. Andrews Cathedral was attacked and much of it was destroyed in 1559 by Reformation believers.

St. Andrews Castle is mainly ruins. It was built around 1200 AD as a fortified home for the bishop of St. Andrews.

Although the ranking clerics of St. Andrews were housed in a castle, it wasn’t enough to save Cardinal Beaton. George Wishart (1513 – 1546) was a Protestant preacher and was betrayed to Cardinal Beaton. Beaton had Wishart brought here and locked him in the sea tower. Wishart was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake, March 1, 1546. Wishart’s friends plotted against the cardinal. On May 26th, 1546, the conspirators entered the castle, killed Cardinal Beaton, and hung his body from the battlements. While still in the castle, they together formed the first congregation of the Protestant Church in Scotland.

One of the gates to the University.

St. Andrews University, founded in 1410, is a collection of beautiful buildings. The older ones are organized into quadrangles, and entered from the streets of the town through arched gates.

The place where Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, died, February 29, 1528.

Patrick Hamilton, a member of the University, was born into a rich family and was related to the king. He studied on the continent for a time, and was greatly influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. When he returned to St. Andrews, Hamilton began to teach Lutheran doctrines. He was tried, found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake, aged 24 years. His initials, PH, mark the place where Hamilton became the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation.

Fortunately, times have changed, and religious differences are tolerated. The streets of St. Andrews are friendly and beautiful.

Holy Trinity Church in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland

Across the street from this church, i.e. where I’m standing, taking the photo, is the dry cleaning shop of a very nice man. I really didn’t want to lug my suitcase around the town – even on wheels it had gotten heavy, and it was awkward on the cobblestone streets. I looked in the window of the shop, and saw that he not only provided dry cleaning services, he made duplicate keys, and repaired shoes to boot (so to speak.) I went in and explained that I wasn’t staying overnight and therefore didn’t have a place to stash my suitcase, would he mind awfully if I left it with him for a while? He said he would, with the understanding that he had to leave promptly at four o’clock to pick up his daughter at school, and the shop would close. I promised that I would return timely, and I did – half an hour early, just to be sure. I also asked if he would allow me to buy him some refreshment by way of thanks, and left him with a ten pound note. I was happy to have walked around town unburdened, and he seemed happy, too.

The old Town Hall.
Relaxed diners in the open air, a common sight during 2020.

DUNDEE

My next stop was Dundee, a seafaring city from the word “go.” Located on the north shore of the Firth of Tay (east of Perth and north of St. Andrews,) Dundee was once a major center of the shipbuilding, whaling, textile, and railway engineering industries. “Dundonian” businesses owned and operated most of the jute mills in India, making rope and sacks. It was a cosmopolitan city. At one time, Dundee had the highest per capita rate of millionaires in all of Scotland.

I arrived in the afternoon, but had enough daylight to check into the Best Western Queens Hotel, and zip over to the V&A Waterfront and tour the HMS Unicorn, moored at the Victoria Dock. It’s the oldest ship in Scotland, and one of the six oldest ships in the world.

The Unicorn was built in Dundee and launched in 1824. It was at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, so the ship was never rigged, not ever, so it cannot move without being towed, even today. HMS Unicorn was used mainly as a depot ship, and became a museum ship in the 1960s.

HMS Unicorn, photo from the Unicorn’s Museum website.

She was designed to be rigged as a Leda-class frigate, for those of you who follow these things, and it was just a twist of fate that left her without rigging. As a museum, she is used as an example of her design – showing the construction, the sailors’ mess and bunks, the officers’ quarters, and her cannon.

On the gun deck. I thought the two-dimensional gunners were a good addition.
The officers’ mess
The crew’s mess
Passing the time aboard

THE ARCTIC CONVOYS

What I found most interesting, however, were the other stories that were told here, especially the story about WWII convoys and the animals who served.

The United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, and WWII began. In the next two years, the Nazis advanced, and invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941. As the Nazis moved toward Moscow, they blockaded the ports of the USSR, disrupting supply routes.

Millions of Russians were faced with starvation. The USSR asked the Allies to help, and so the plan was born: supply ships would travel from bases in Scotland and Iceland, across the treacherous waters of the Arctic Sea, evading German battleships and U-boats, to deliver supplies to ports in northwest USSR. The Scottish base was Skapa Flow, a body of water where the town of Stromness is located in the Orkney Islands.

These convoys continued between 1941 and 1945. Over one hundred Royal and Merchant Navy ships were lost to enemy ships and rough seas.

Animals, such as Bamse the St. Bernard, who rescued a man overboard, and Pollyanna the Naval Reindeer, a gift from the Russians, and served in the North Sea.

My favorite story was about Winkie the Carrier Pigeon. “In February 1942 an RAF bomber was shot down in the North Sea. The crew found themselves in the icy water and unable to radio their position. Their only hope was to release the on-board carrier pigeon, a little hen named Winkie. Winkie flew 120 miles home to Broughty Ferry and was found by her owner, who immediately alerted RAF Leuchars. The RAF were able to estimate where the aircraft had crashed, and a rescue mission was launched. The entire crew was saved and Winkie was awarded the Dickin Medal.”

His Majesty’s pigeon, Winkie, about to set out on her mission, 1942.

The RRS Discovery is very nearby the HMS Unicorn, and is reached easily by walking through the V&A Waterfront building.

When viewed from another side, it looks very much like a ship!
The chart room of the RRS Discovery. “RRS” stands for “Royal Research Ship.”
Captain’s Quarters.
Officers’ dining room
On the deck of the RRS Discovery, the V&A Waterfront building and the Firth of Tay in the background.

The museum next to the ship has a really, really excellent exhibit about the Discovery, the preparations, the mission, and what transpired. I spent a couple of hours in there, it was fascinating and so well-done.

The main downtown area of Dundee is up the hill from the waterfront. It’s a lively city of about 150,000, and the downtown is filled with shops, restaurants, and a lovely museum depicting the history of Dundee, among other collections. Nonetheless, the biggest photographic attraction is “Desperate Dan,” a beloved cartoon character with his own bronze statue in the city square.

Desperate Dan, Dawg, and Minnie

Desperate Dan is a character from the comic book “Dandy” published by DC Thomson comics since 1937 in Dundee. While many businesses – textiles, engineering, shipbuilding, et cetera – have moved away, DC Thomson is not just surviving, but thriving. The “Beano” and “Dandy” comics continue, and DC Thomson owns several regional newspapers. For a while, DC Thomson was the largest employer, but they’ve been overtaken by some of the newer industries attracted to Dundee.

Desperate Dan with Dawg and Minnie in the city square.
Queen Victoria, demonstrating proper regal demeanor in Albert Square.

Located in Albert Square is the McManus Museum, a gem of a museum in a beautiful building.

McManus Galleries, Albert Square, Dundee

The collections in McManus Galleries focus on the city, from the Iron Age to modern times, as well as other cultures around the world. There has been so much activity during the city’s lifetime that there is plenty of material to work with and it was an enjoyable time, wandering through the life of Dundee and the countries they visited.

In the Albert Gallery are indigenous artwork collections from the continents – Dundee’s ships traveled the world. This is a “curing mask or demon mask” from 19th century Sri Lanka. This mask represents the demon Kola-Sanniya and his 18 servants or “yakku.” Sri Lankans believed then that illness was caused by demons, and masks like this were used in ritual ceremonies to pacify the demons and restore the patient’s health.
From the gallery of historical Scottish paintings, 1750 – 1920. The Late Victorian group is a much-admired collection. This painting is of the also much-admired Highland cattle!
Who remembers Dundee’s orange marmalade? Dundee marmalade was invented by Janet Keiller in the late 18th century. Her son founded the famous Keiller jam factory, and it lived in Dundee until 1988, when it was taken over and moved to England.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots: “Queen Mary was a benefactoress to Dundee, having gifted by charter valuable property for the church and the poor.” Others memorialized in similar panels were William Wallace, the Scottish hero we’ve met before, and David, Duke of Huntingdon, who went with Richard on the Crusades.
In the droll tradition of the United Kingdom, a satirical look at the United States’ Uncle Sam, the door-to-door salesman, trying to peddle weapons as if they were candy, to the stereotyped (per the artist) Scotsman, dressed in kilt and wearing Glengarry beer cans on his belt.

I mentioned the Best Western Queens Hotel by name earlier because it had history of its own. It is a historical hotel, and you can tell when you ride the world’s slowest elevator up to your floor. It has seen better days but it was comfortable and well-located for someone like me.

It was well-located for one of my favorite people, Winston Churchill. At the time, Churchill was running for a seat in parliament, and Dundee was in the district. The hotel has preserved a letter that Churchill wrote to his wife, Lady Clementine, while he was staying at the Queens Hotel.

Fortunately, while I was staying at the Queens Hotel, the food was consistently better than the future MP Churchill’s! (I can’t help but wonder if he made it up to amuse Lady C.)

On the Way to Wick

Mid-afternoon, when I arrived at Pitlochry, is the warmest part of the day in the Highlands. It takes a while for the sun to get high enough, and another while to warm things up, but when it does, it makes a lovely day. I turned my face toward the sun to soak myself in it for a minute.

Pitlochry is a tourist town, a popular place to spend a weekend among Scots, Brits, and other tourists because of the outdoor recreation opportunities. This year, however, the pandemic precautions had closed some popular activities early on, and since it was now mid-August, in the Highlands, some of those businesses had written off the season. The advice was always “call first.”

As I walked from the train station to my hotel, it seemed as if there were as many restaurants closed as open, and the same with shops. Smaller hotels, inns, and B&Bs were allowed to serve food to their guests only. Pringle’s, a store selling clothing in traditional plaids, and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill had closed their shops for the duration in many places across Scotland.

Foreigners were staying home, even though Scotland was trying to open its businesses. As a result, there were a lot of Scottish tourists roaming the streets, looking for food, drink, and shopping. The open restaurants were busy. I was able to find a table at Hettie’s after a short wait to have tea and Victoria sponge, and a break before hauling my luggage up hill to the hotel.

The interior of Hettie’s, who serves a killer Victoria sponge. You may be wondering why there’s no photo of the Victoria Sponge. I’d eaten it. I’m not a “foodie” per se, so taking pictures of the food is always an afterthought. This time it was an after-eating-it-all-and-picking-up-the-crumbs-thought. By now I was drinking tea and looking at a “Things to Do” brochure, trying to discreetly take a photo of the shop from inside.
Except during the pandemic. Guests of the hotel only.

I choose hotels, inns, and B&Bs by location, price, and discernible character. As one travel guidebook phrased it, “The less you pay, the more you see.” The Rosemount is a good example. It was comfy, not glamorous, and staffed mainly by the owners. But I enjoyed the twisty-turny, step-up, step-down, hallway that led to my room in the far corner upstairs, where I could look out on real people (not tourists) walking to and from the center of town, since the Rosemount was on a residential street.

The Rosemount Hotel

The husband-owner was feeling expansive while I waited at my table for dinner to arrive that night. They had established The Rosemount years ago in Pitlochry, though they themselves came from Perth. Much of their business was from locals and nearby hotel guests who came to eat or drink here. Pre-pandemic, they had live music on weekends and a lively business. Ah, the good old days. In my mind, I pictured a local watering spot, friends and neighbors including travelers in their revelry, all in the good natured Scots way. They had a bright, lovely room where they served lunch and afternoon tea, and a darker, wood-panelled bar and dining room on the other side of the hall, with space for musicians. He and she were both older now, and the husband’s face, shining bright in reminiscence, lost the shine as he told me that he and his wife had planned to sell the hotel and retire this year, but now they weren’t sure when that would be possible. I didn’t know what to say to reassure him. Dinner arrived, and in the moment, I tried a cheery “We’re all hoping this will be over soon.” It didn’t seem enough.

The dam across the River Tummel generates electricity for about 15,000 homes. It is part of a much larger Tummel Valley hydro-electric network.

The next day I headed out to the Pitlochry Dam, to see what I could see. Others had made the same decision, but it wasn’t a crowd, and we smiled and nodded and wished each other a “Good morning” as we walked at our respective paces, socially distanced, along the road to the dam. The morning warmed up quickly.

Dams in Scotland are a major source of electricity. The Pitlochry dam alone generates enough power for fifteen thousand homes. The Tummel Valley area was being developed for hydroelectric power in the 1930s, and these early power stations were later integrated into a network. Here, the same water is used to generate power five times as it runs from source to sea.

Scotland invested in hydro-electric power beginning with the Hydro Electric Development Act of 1943. The network created by the Act consists of fifty-four power stations, seventy-eight dams, and one hundred eighty miles of tunnels throughout Scotland.

The Pitlochry dam, as it exists now, was begun in 1947. It was very unpopular with the public because there were concerns about the spa business that had brought visitors to Pitlochry since Queen Victoria’s day, and concerns about the salmon that annually swim up the river to spawn. Sport fishing was, and is, big business in the Scottish Highlands. The dam went forward anyway, and was completed in 1951 despite delays caused by winter flooding and a workers’ strike over the poor quality of food they were receiving.

This dam, like many dams in Scotland, incorporated a fish ladder. It may not be the ideal fish habitat, but they still have salmon. The time to see fish moving through the ladders is between November and April. There is an underwater room to see the fish in the water, although the above water observation deck is supposed to be equally as good, possibly better, according to locals.

Rather than walk back the same way, I saw a path that followed the Tummel River downstream, and chose that. The walk was cool and shady, and a footbridge across a narrow part of the river came into view. On the other side were a few streets with houses that Google maps identified as Port Na Craig. When the footbridge met the side of the river where I was, the path turned left toward the village, and I found myself back in Pitlochry. I wandered a little along the main street before heading back to the Rosemount.

The Pitlochry Church of Scotland

The weather had turned hot and humid, occasionally raining. It didn’t dampen the activity, until late afternoon. While traveling, in Scotland, I had become accustomed to eating dinner early. The hotels could serve food to their guests into the evening, but none of the hotels, restaurants, or pubs that were open could serve alcohol after six p.m., so the restaurants and pubs generally closed up.

It rained a lot while I was in Pitlochry.

I walked down the hill to the Cafe Biba, an Scottish-Italian restaurant on the main street whose menu had looked interesting. I’m not sure why, but the Cafe Biba was below the street level. I stepped down from the sidewalk by two steps in order to enter the building.

The staff was watching the rain, which fell heavier and heavier, and louder and louder. I ordered the scampi provençal, passing by the haggis pizza and the burger and chips.

Lightning flashed as the server brought my dinner, and thunder crashed on top of the lightning. Rain was not just falling from the sky, it was aggressively pelting the village. It was a deluge. I was eating my very good scampi when water started pouring into the restaurant. The water came from the sidewalk and gushed under the doors – the building was old. Time and settling had loosened the fit of the windows and doors.

My bag was already on a chair. I pulled my feet up to escape the water. Luckily the floor drains did their job. In a few minutes, the rain subsided a notch, just enough so it no longer came into the restaurant.

Lightning continued, along with the thunder, while I worked on my glass of wine. I dawdled until the lightning and thunder became more distant, and then walked back to the Rosemount.

The next morning, the hotel had no internet service and lighting came by way of their generator. After breakfast, I went down the hill to the main street, where the situation was the same – little power and no internet. After all the merchant signs that requested “contactless payment,” i.e. by phone or credit card, they could only take cash. This was a problem because most people had very little cash because no one had wanted it because of virus transmission, and now the banks’ systems weren’t working, either, so no ATM service. My African experience, where internet systems worked, but unreliably, had taught me to always keep some cash on hand. Internet service was back by around 5 p.m., though, so at least people could eat.

The violent storm and deluge of water had left mud slides and debris on the tracks going west. Sadly, one train was derailed and the engineer was killed. The train routes would have gone to Perth first, so I decided to go to Perth, which was still intact, and stop there for a day or two.

Train tracks going east were blocked by mud and debris, one train had been derailed, and tracks had been damaged.

Perth, in Perthshire

On the train to Perth

In Perth, I stayed in the Rowanlea Guest House, uphill from the historic area downtown. As soon as I was settled in, meaning right after I took the photo below, I went off to explore Perth.

My single room at the Rowanlea. It was en-suite, small by American standards, and very comfortable!
A beautiful park in downtown Perth.
Water Vennel, one of seven surviving vennels in Perth.

“Vennel” is a word that originated in the royal burghs that were created by David I in the 12th century. Remembering that the royal courts of that era often spoke French, it makes sense that “vennel” is derived from an Old French word, “vennelle,” meaning alley or lane. Unlike a “close,” a vennel was a public alley leading from a high street or ground to open ground. The Latin form is “vennella,” which is related to our English word, “funnel.”

Perth’s source of prosperity was its location on the River Tay, the highest navigable place on the river. As the city and the ships who traded with her grew larger, the port moved slowly down river where there was less population and deeper water. Perth tried to establish trade with North America, but could never seriously compete with the western Scottish ports. Perth’s importance as a port declined as ships grew bigger, but when diesel engines were developed, which in turn allowed shallower drafts, there was a brief resurgence. However, steel ships grew larger as diesel engines grew, and Perth’s importance declined again. There still exists a lively trade with countries around Britain’s east coast – Scandinavian, Baltic, and the Low countries, as well as England’s east coast.

Shipbuilding was an important industry for Perth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Timber was floated down the River Tay from places like Dunkeld and Birnam to the many small shipyards along the river. Shipbuilding declined for Perth, however, after steel ships with diesel engines became a more economical choice than wood for ships.

“The Boat Builders” by Scottish artist John Bellany
The rest of the painting – it’s about 5 meters across, or slightly over 16 feet.

John Bellany painted this in 1962, while he was a student at the Edinburgh College of Art. It shows a fishing boat named “Good Hope,” with the registration number LH-321, which would have been Leith, a town near Edinburgh. “Bellany” is the name on the stern.

Bellany was born into a fishing family, and grew up surrounded by the fishing life in Port Seton, also near Edinburgh. Boatbuilding scenes such as this would have been very familiar. I thought perhaps the artist was depicted in the painting – I found the man with eyeglasses in the upper left a possibility, but the notes accompanying the painting did not indicate it.

The Perth Museum was well worth the visit, filled with Scottish paintings and local natural history, with a gallery or two of classical art as a nod to the larger world.

In 1993, after “days of wintry weather,” a sudden warming caused major snowmelt and then major flooding of the city of Perth. The flood dumped over 450,000 gallons from the swollen River Tay into the collections storage and offices of the museum. The Royal Navy helped pump water out of their storage areas, and staff waded through the flood waters to salvage art works, photographs, and other artifacts.

The event resulted in losses, but a great deal of cleaning, conserving, and preserving was done, and the museum constructed an entire exhibit to communicate the efforts being made and to educate their public about what those efforts entailed. Today, their activities are mainly conserving and cleaning, but the staff still works where visitors can watch and learn. In non-pandemic times, there will be more communication – when I was there, we spoke very loudly through the glass.

When I was in the conservation area, she was working on a trophy, visible in the background, won by a local team.
She held up a piece that she had cleaned earlier.
It looked like someone in an ice skating competition.

The Scone Palace

Outside of Perth is the Scone Palace, pronounced “skoon,” that is the ancestral home of the Murrays, who became the Dukes of Mansfield.

The entry gate of another generation – in more touristy times, tour buses come through another entrance from the highway.

This is where the kings of Scotland were crowned, or at least, many of them, including MacBeth in 1040 AD. The line from Shakespeare’s play, written about five hundred fifty years later in 1606, gives one an idea of how entrenched the tradition was, especially since MacBeth was not the first.

“So thanks to all at once, and to each one, whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone.”

“MacBeth” by William Shakespeare

The earliest monarch to be crowned king of Scotland at Scone was Kenneth MacAlpin in 834 AD. Tradition says that it was Kenneth who brought the “Stone of Destiny” to Scone, but there are some who believe it was earlier. The Stone was stolen in 1296 by the English King Edward I, who took it to Westminster Abbey. England’s “Coronation Chair” had a special shelf underneath the seat that held the Stone of Destiny. The Stone was returned to Scotland in 1996. The stone at the Scone Palace is a replica. (At the end of the post, there is information about how to learn more about the Stone’s story, which is pretty interesting.)

The Stone of Destiny – this one is a replica of the real Stone, which resides now in the Edinburgh Castle.

King Kenneth’s Scotland was comprised of the Pict and Scot tribes, and did not have the boundaries of today’s Scotland, but it did represent a “trans-tribe” entity. It was about three hundred years later that King David I united the tribes into a nation that would be more familiar to us.

Reading the signage at the Scone Palace, one would get the impression that it was the Murray clan that “hosted,” so to speak, the crowning of the monarchs, but that’s not really the story. The Murrays had a castle built in 1580, that was replaced in the 18th century by the current palace. It just happens to be right by “Moot Hill.”

Moot Hill is the area upon which the Stone of Scone sat. Tradition says that the nobles who would serve the king, brought one of their boots filled with earth from their lands. They poured this earth onto the hill and swore their oath of allegiance and service to the king. No one explained why it is called “Moot Hill.” (My brain kept trying to call it “Boot Hill,” which even made sense, given the tradition.)

The Scone Palace

Scone was the site of Pict gatherings, and later of early Christian cults, beginning possibly as early as 700 AD. It is known that a priory was founded at the site around 1114 AD, but between 700 and 1114 AD, the early medieval Christian cult called the Culdees, meaning “Companions of God,” succeeded an earlier cult. The Culdees were succeeded by the Scone Priory, a house of Augustinian canons, and later the priory became the Scone Abbey.

It is likely that the religious activity made it a place where monarchs were crowned, and this tradition was established before the Murrays’ castle was built on the site. The abbey’s buildings no longer exist, but there is a graveyard at the site of the abbey.

Graveyard in the old Scone Abbey area.

There is a chapel on the grounds of the Scone Palace, behind Moot Hill, that is the resting place of several family members.

The Murray Chapel at Scone Palace.
Part of the interior, photographed through the bars that kept visitors at the doorway.

The Dukes of Mansfield were also interested in trees and botany in general. Apparently, the Dukes of Mansfield are from the same Murray family who were the Dukes of Atholl, the “planting dukes,” but the relationship is unclear. At any rate, it was a member of the gardening staff who guided tours through the gardens.

HM Queen Elizabeth was celebrating her 50th year as queen, a year filled with activities, one of which was to recognize the importance of the Douglas Fir to Scotland, United Kingdom.
Not the best-shaped Douglas Fir, but entirely grown on site.
The maze was very popular with visitors. There is a bridge near the entrance so no one was lost, at least not forever!
The oldest tree on the palace grounds.
The road leading out of the grounds for people who want to catch the public bus back to Perth!

The Stone of Destiny has its own story, which is interesting and only takes a few minutes to read the “20 facts.” Go to the website, historicenvironment.scot, then enter Stone of Destiny into the search field on the top right of the page. It will produce several links, but when I did it, “20 facts revealed…” was the top link returned. Just click on the link to read about when the Stone was stolen from Westminster Abbey, how it was returned, and the efforts made to return the Stone in 1996 to Scotland.

In Birnam Wood

“Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” – William Shakespeare

I stepped off the ScotRail at the Birnam station one grey morning, with coffee on my mind. It was August, and I was entering the Highlands where August mornings could be chilly already. The sun would warm things up, but hot coffee would fix me up right now. My breath hung in the air.

The train station is on the far side of the A9 from the village proper. Pedestrians have to follow steps and a gravel path that go down hill from the train station platform and turn right, going under the tracks and the highway overpass to get to Birnam. It’s a walk, especially with rolling luggage on the gravel, but when you get there, you are greeted by a charming garden along a charming village street, Perth Road.

Partly the inn (in the distance,) partly residences, Perth Road.

It was after eight o’clock in the morning, but there was nothing open that would be serving coffee in sight, and few signs of life. The Birnam Inn was open, not serving anything, but he – the desk clerk – pointed me down the road to a place that was open and, as far as he knew, serving coffee, tea, and some food. The lock-down in Scotland still had many things closed, especially smaller establishments.

The clerk also deserves mention because he said yes to letting me stash my luggage there while I visited, even though I was not a guest of the Inn. It was a very nice thing to do.

The place he pointed me to was open, and had places outside to sit while you drank your beverage and nibbled on the nibbles they were serving. People in line were a “unicorn apart,” and wearing masks. From the conversation and demeanour, I gathered I was the only tourist – these were people who were acquainted. While I waited for my mocha, I noticed the sign that said “Post Office.” It explained everything.

The Birnam Post Office & Tea Room, the official name. Obviously, it’s much more!

After coffee and a pastry, I walked further down Perth Road, just to see what was there – houses, mainly, and the occasional car – so I walked back toward the inn to take a look at the garden.

The garden is called the “Beatrix Potter Garden” because her family, the Potters, stayed at the nearby Dalguise House during summer holidays for ten summers, 1871 – 1881, from the time Beatrix was five years old until she was fifteen. Not connected to the garden per se, there was an exhibit about Beatrix keeping a diary, starting at age fifteen, that she wrote in code. In her later years, she couldn’t read it anymore, and it wasn’t until after she died that the papers were given to a university student who cracked the code. Just FYI.

The garden is small, with neat flower beds, and relaxed edges. The visitors’ shed was closed, of course, but the garden was open. There were, interspersed among the plantings, characters from Ms. Potter’s various stories. I spotted Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and Mrs. Rabbit, who was trying to corral Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. I didn’t see Farmer MacGregor – the designer may have decided that visitors supplied enough human intrusion.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher – he’s there, but you have to look closely!
Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, hiding inside her house.
Mrs. Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

The “woods that were” are Birnam’s main claim to fame. There are still many trees, but the old growth forest, the Great Birnam Wood, that used to line the banks of the River Tay is gone, save for one very old oak that still lives on the edge of the river, the Birnam Oak.

The Birnam Oak is not as old as the 11th century, which would have been the time of MacBeth, but it is one of the last trees of the ancient Birnam Wood. It is 24 feet (7 metres) around, estimated to be something over 600 years old.

There are signs along the path to where it grows that are designed to help visitors – many of them city dwellers who don’t necessarily know one tree from another – get to the right tree:

“It’s not me, I’m a sycamore.”
“Not me, either…keep going!”
And here it is, The One. Another visitor kindly posed for me to give an idea how big it is.
It’s had some help staying upright. The trunk is hollow for the first ten feet – you’d think that would kill it, but the nutrition it needs travels upward through the bark and outer layers. Trees like this provide habitat for insects and birds.

Tradition has it that Shakespeare was inspired to write Macbeth after visiting the area as an actor. Records show that a company of English strolling players were given permission to stage a play in Perth in 1589, but no names are listed in the entry. So, a “definite maybe.”

“The Young Pretender” is a sycamore, but, even though very large, it is half the age of the older oak. Sycamores are not native to Scotland. They give “excellent white hardwood” that does not taint food, so it’s good for cutting boards and rolling pins, in case you ever need to know, but best of all, bees like them!

Walking through the village, following the river, I found the bridge that leads to Dunkeld. The two villages face each other across the river; Dunkeld is larger, or at least, so it seemed to me.

The bridge had an interesting sign on it:

“Toll Riots.” Really?

The toll keeper’s name was Peter Murray, was deemed a “peaceable man:”

Toll Keeper Peter Murray

Peter Murray lived in this house:

And the house was on the bridge that crossed this river, the River Tay:

The River Tay.

An act of Parliament in 1803 gave the Duke of Atholl authority to build a bridge across the river at a cost not to exceed 18,000 pounds. The Duke was allowed to be repaid this expense from the tolls and “pontages,” meaning “a duty or tax paid in lieu of personal service for the building and repairing of bridges,” (Merriam-Webster,) plus an additional 1,500 pounds to be invested to support maintenance. When the 19,500 pounds was collected, the Act provided that “all right and title of the said Duke and his heirs…to demand tolls…shall cease, determine, and forever be extinguished.”

Work started on the bridge in 1805, and finished in 1809, although the bridge was opened to the public in 1808.

By 1853, forty-five years later, the paying public was beginning to feel that, surely, the debt owing to the Duke had been paid off. There were rumblings.

Not rushing into anything, it was 1867 when the congregation of the Free Church requested that the Duke forgo collecting tolls from the members of all denominations when proceeding to and from church on Sundays. The Duke refused this request. That was when the public meetings began….

Alexander Robertson became the “Convener” of a small committee to fight the bridge tolls. The committee didn’t make much progress, and so Robertson held meetings to rally public support for their position. These meetings took place over the next couple of years, but after an “incident on the bridge,” Robertson was imprisoned for assault.

Alexander Robertson

A flyer for one of the meetings.

The situation continued to deteriorate, with lawsuits filed against the Duke, and the Duke filing counter suits. The gates were ripped off and thrown into the river. Gates were replaced. Gates were ripped off. Things got so bad that the Black Watch regiment showed up to keep the peace.

Finally, in 1878, some seventy years after the tolls were first imposed, the Roads and Bridges Act removed the tolls, a victory for “the people,” and ending the Toll Riots. The gates were removed. This time the gates were stored under the bridge, not in the river, and stayed under the bridge until 1942, when they were hauled out and given to the Wartime Drive for Salvage.

One of the early Jacobite uprisings came to Dunkeld. Fought right on the heels of the Glorious Revolution, the Battle of Dunkeld took place in 1689, and was so furiously fought that it destroyed virtually the entire village, including Dunkeld House, home to the Dukes of Atholl, and the Bishop’s Palace, belonging to the Dunkeld Cathedral.

Dunkeld House, the home of the Dukes of Atholl prior to the 17th century, had been surrounded by different gardens, glass houses, arbors, and clipped hedges. This had been the style for the previous two or three hundred years.

But styles change, frequently prompted by new discoveries or explorations, and both were taking place as the “New World” was discovered and explored by Europeans.

From the 17th century right up to the early 20th century, the landscaped setting of the big, important houses, such as the Dukes’ Dunkeld House, which was rebuilt a little further up the river, was as important as the house itself. “Designed landscapes” became the fashion. Some of Scotland’s designed landscapes are protected as historic examples of the trend.

Where the old Dunkeld House had manicured gardens, the desire by the 1700s was for a more natural look. Plant hunters and botanists were traveling the world and bringing back the seeds of exotic new plants.

The Dukes of Atholl liked to plant trees, and they planted a lot of them. They played a big part in trying to revive the timber-based industry in Scotland.

On Dunkeld’s tree trail is an historic larch tree, the “Mother of Millions, the Parent Larch.” Five larch seedlings were planted in 1738 by the 2nd Duke of Atholl. One was cut in 1789 to become the axles in a mill; two were cut in 1809 to become ships; a fourth was cut in 1905 and became part of a great lodge. The fifth still stands today.

The Parent Larch

The “Planting Dukes” of Atholl made Perthshire the “cradle of Scottish forestry,” planting over fourteen million larch trees over a hundred years, 1815 – 1915. They turned Scotland’s rocky hillsides into Scotland’s first large-scale managed forests, and turned a profit as well. (After all, they didn’t have the bridge tolls anymore.)

The American tree with the Scottish name, too tall for a single frame!

Another tree that caused a sensation in Scotland and England was the Douglas fir. This tree is native to the Pacific Northwest part of the United States – Washington, Oregon, northern California, and, in Canada, the province of British Columbia. Douglas firs are extraordinarily large trees, in an area of other extraordinarily large trees, such as Redwoods and Sequoias.

This type of fir tree was first described to science in 1792 by Archibald Menzies, a Scottish doctor and plant-hunter, who sailed to North America with the Royal Navy. Menzies was a Perthshire native from Aberfelly.

In 1827, another plant-hunter, David Douglas, introduced the species to Britain. Douglas was raised in the village of Scone, near Perth, and trained in his field at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

Both men are commemorated in the names of the tree. Menzies’ name is part of the scientific name, “Pseudotsuga menziesii,” and Douglas’ name in the common English name, “Douglas Fir.” This tree, while popular as a specimen, did not become the commercial success that the larch did.

Another Douglas Fir

The trees grow around the Dunkeld Cathedral, which is now a parish church and still in use. There is not much known about the history of this church, only the “Vitae Episcoporum Dunkeldensian,” written by Abbot Alexander Myln around 1515, wherein he describes the elaborate interiors.

The bell tower is at the rear of the structure. There was going to be a large window in the arched opening next to it, which would have been at the rear of the nave.

After the Protestant Reformation of 1560, adornment was frowned upon, and austerity became the style of the day. The choir section of the cathedral became the parish church, and the nave section, no longer used, deteriorated so much that the roof fell in, creating the “romantic ruin” of today.

The roofless nave – some restoration work is going on, as you can observe from the scaffolding on the interior. The bell tower would be to the right, the choir to the left.

Dunkeld itself derives its name from a large tribe of Caledonians. The Gaelic “Dun Chailleann” means “fort of the Caledonians,” according to the signs. In the 790s, Constantine, the son of Fergus, king of the Picts, built a monastery here for Christian monks, the “Culdees,” or “companions of God,” according to a different sign, both from historical sources.

The choir section, at the front of the building, used as the current parish church, which was closed because, pandemic.
The door to the Chapter House, now used as a sacristy, to the side of the choir section.
In the corner of the grounds around the ruin was this stash of slate pieces used, I assume, to make repairs to the current church roof.
I included this photograph to indicate the size of this place – it is huge. Those are people in the lower right corner of the photo.

Relics of Saint Columba were brought here from Iona in 849 by Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of both the Picts and the Scots. The relics were brought to safeguard against Viking raids, but they also made the monastery a place of pilgrimage. Around 1114, Cormac became the Bishop of Dunkeld, and a “medieval age of peace and prosperity” followed. Construction of the cathedral began in the 1200s with the choir section, and continued over the next three hundred years.

The Protestant Reformation of 1560 caused the cathedral to decay, and the Jacobite uprising, manifested here as the 1689 Battle of Dunkeld, destroyed the Bishop’s palace along with most of the village and Dunkeld House.

The Old Rectory

That’s why the Old Rectory, originally a manse, is Dunkeld’s oldest surviving (intact) house. The blue Heritage sign tells you that fiddler Niel Gow and …wait for it…poet Robbie Burns entertained here in 1787.

Other parts of Dunkeld are charming, and I spent a very lovely afternoon here, lunch in the village, window shopping the main street, and enjoying the views into the closes along the way, before gathering my luggage from Birnam Inn, and catching the train to Pitlochry, further into the Highlands.

A Cathedral, a Garden, and Village Life

There are small towns around Stirling that make for lovely visits – short, sweet, and full of character and characters. I spent a Monday exploring along the ScotRail track.

Dunblane was my first stop, recommended by Adrian, my B&B host, as a picturesque rural village. And, he was right about that. The cathedral is the first thing I noticed. It’s hard to miss.

The village and the site of the cathedral are intertwined. The location is at a ford on the Allan Water (the name is a medieval variation of naming rivers – we would call it Allan River.) Saint Blane, born on the Isle on Bute in Scotland, studied in Ireland and became a monk, returned to Scotland, and established a presence on Holmehill around 590 or 600 AD. As it grew, it was called “Dunblane,” or “fort of Blane.” According to the church history, the area was populated by bears and other wildlife, plus there was no real law at the time, so fortified shelters were in order. Little is known about Saint Blane as there are no contemporary records.

The current church building dates from about the 13th century, although the bell tower, which was formerly free-standing, was built in the 11th century. The bell tower was incorporated into a later medieval building and also made taller in the 15th century. The stone changes color, marking the place where height was added. Details of how the church was established and grew to be a cathedral are sketchy.

Prior to the Reformation, it was the seat of a bishop – the remains of vaults believed to belong to the remains of an episcopal palace (meaning where the bishop lived) lie to the south of the main building.

Technically, it is no longer a cathedral since there are no longer bishops in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. They were abolished after the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688-89, when Catholic King James II (VII of Scotland) was deposed and replaced by Protestant Queen Mary and her husband, William III of Orange.

After 1689, the choir section of the now-former cathedral became the parish church. The nave fell out of use and the roof fell in. The nave was re-roofed and re-furnished between 1889 and 1893 under the supervision of Robert Rowand Anderson.

The bell tower side of Dunblane Cathedral, a huge church in a small village. The congregation from the village and the surrounding area numbers about a thousand.
As usual, I spent some time walking around the kirkyard.
The main doors of the church. Like so many at this time, there are no services held in the church. I found that they hold services by Zoom on a regular schedule, however!
The stained glass windows probably date from the repairs in the late 1800s, but the building was closed so I wasn’t able to see them.
While I was reading gravestones and taking photographs, along came this very nice couple who live in Dunblane. We had a lovely time chatting about this and that – life, the church, the pandemic, how we missed being able to visit with friends and neighbors, and anything else that came up.
I learned that her name is Caitronia, which I think is a beautiful name.
They were delightful to visit with, and made my visit to Dunblane memorable. And the gentleman, who listened so patiently while Caitronia and I chatted, is named Alex.
This building houses a small museum and offices, but was closed.

While I was working my way around the church and taking photos, I noticed Caitronia walking toward me. As she got closer, I could see that she had my card in her hand and I wondered what was on her mind. It turned out that when she and her husband got to the cafe and sat down, and she really read the card, she saw that my name is Sinclair, only she pronounced it more like “Sink-ler.” It turns out that was her mother’s maiden name, which she thought was worth remarking on. I did, too. An interesting coincidence! So maybe Caitronia and I are distant cousins of some sort – it’s fun to think about these things. She gave me her email address, so I will be sending this post to her. I hope she enjoys reading it and remembering as much as I do.

In the afternoon, people were getting off the train and walking home. The train ride is short enough that people commute to Stirling or other small towns along the line for work or university, rather than drive everywhere.
My guidebook identified this as a road where weavers’ shops were located.
It turned out that the weavers worked on Sinclair’s Street.
St. Blane’s Church of Scotland along another town street.

I walked around the town’s streets to see what I could see, and when I walked up to the top of a hill, there was a man puttering around his yard. I smiled and said “Hello” as I walked by, and he asked where I was from. Conversation ensued, and then, as I was a visitor, he told me about a book he had that showed what the town used to look like where his house is now. Would I like to see it? And he invited me into his back yard, where his wife was sitting outside reading in the sun. She and I chatted while he went to retrieve his book.

Here’s the old photo he was describing. The tower in the distance is an old hotel, now run by Hilton, apparently. On the left, not very visible in the photo is another church – there are several in Dunblane.
This is the spot where he figures the photo was taken. Things have clearly changed – the street is straight and paved, and the trees have grown. The hotel is still visible, but there’s no sign of the church anymore.

I asked if I could take his photo – I try to remember to do this with the people I have conversations with along my way – but he really didn’t want to have his photo taken, and I didn’t get his name, either. He suggested that I could take a photo of his cat, however.

Sure, why not?

So, here’s the cat, sleeping on a mattress in his storage shed in the backyard. The cat has no name, he’s the Cat. The man’s wife probably thought we were crazy, or maybe she’s used to him. She smiled, so she must have been amused. I don’t know, but they were very nice, and added more sunshine to my visit to Dunblane.

It was time for me to head back to the train, and he was telling me about the shortcut through his neighbor’s yard, and he said his neighbor’s name, but sadly, I’ve forgotten it – I was focused on the train. He talked about his neighbor’s garden and how wonderful it is (it is), and how his neighbor lets his friends cut through the yard…that was when he decided he should take me over to meet his friend if he was home – he likes to sit in the sun in his garden and read, you know – and off we went. His neighbor was just across the street and down a house, and he was, in fact, out sitting in his garden, reading. He was also very nice, but I would guess not as outgoing, and he said it was fine for me to take the shortcut. So I was pointed in the right direction, I thanked them both for all their help and information, and went down the garden path toward the town center and railway station.

The Garden Path. At the end of his yard, there were small steps that led down the slope to the sidewalk below the garden.
I walked downhill on the sidewalk, and crossed the bridge, approaching the center of town.
A view of town as I walked down the hill.
At the station.

Unfortunately, I got there in time to watch the train pulling away, picking up speed – no chance of running after it, but I didn’t really want to, anyway. I saw from the train schedule that another train would be along in about an hour. This gave me time to visit the local pub and have a bite to eat. The people there were very nice, too – I don’t think I’ve been in a friendlier town – but deeply engrossed in a football (soccer) game. I figured out who we were cheering for and we all had a good time and I got a sandwich. I had to leave before the game was over, but they said goodbye, and this time, I caught the train.

Adrian was relieved to see me as I was later than I had expected. He didn’t want to lose any guests that he had sent off on day trips. I thought I would visit more than one town, but I had enjoyed Dunblane so much, it was okay. The other towns would still be there another day.