“Who knows whether our Brodie roots are connected with the notorious Deacon Brodie,” I commented as Chris, Bill and I stood across the street from the Brodie Tavern in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was July, 2000.
We were still pinching ourselves about being in the UK and having a chance to explore areas connected to our Scottish and North-east English roots.
Our mother and Chris and I had long talked about taking a trip to England and Scotland so she could see Gateshead, England where she was born, and maybe learn about her Scottish Grahams – and perhaps find a relative or two. When she and our Dad had traveled to Scotland in 1966, the train had stopped briefly on a bridge over the River Tyne – near Gateshead. She knew that was where she was born, but since talking about her past seemed to be a taboo topic with our grandmother who was still living, she hadn’t pursued information before the trip. In addition, the 1960’s good wife didn’t make waves and she knew that our Dad was intent on reaching the Brodie Castle, so she never said a word.
Unfortunately, by time both Chris and I were free to travel, Mom’s health had deteriorated and the trip never happened. As Chris and I were talking with her on one of her last days, we promised that we would make the longed-for trip and that “she would be tucked away in our suitcase.”
She passed away peacefully on April 14, 1999. As promised, Chris, her husband Bill, and I were fulfilling the dream.
It seemed appropriate that we flew out of Albuquerque on July 1, 2000, my 58th birthday.
After a layover of several hours in Chicago, where we celebrated the trip and my birthday at a fancy restaurant in O’Hare airport, we flew all night to Glasgow, Scotland. My wide-eyed expression was deceiving as I had not slept on the plane.
I was grateful that Chris had thoroughly researched what we needed to do and set off to purchase our bus tickets to Queen’s Street Station in downtown Glasgow.
When we arrived at Queen’s Street Station, I knew my first task was to go to a cash machine and get British Pounds. It was also where I learned that I always needed to have 10 p available to use the public restroom!
“I’ll exchange the voucher we purchased before the trip for our Rail Pass,” Chris stated as she headed for the exchange booth.
In Edinburgh, we headed straight for our B & B on a tree-lined street where every house was lush with flowers. It reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. After a short nap we got on a bus into town and still didn’t have small change, so paid 2 GBP. I was amused when a man leaned across the aisle and said, “A real Scot would go up and down the aisle and try to make change.”
We were excited when Iola, our B & B hostess brought us our ‘full Scottish breakfast’ the next morning, complete with both bacon and sausage, as well as egg, broiled tomato and beans.
However, by the 3rd day, I didn’t think I could look another sausage in the face first thing in the morning.
On a morning tour of Old Town on a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour, one of the highlights was learning about Greyfriar’s Bobby.
We spent the afternoon at Edinburgh Castle.
I can’t believe I am actually here,” I exclaimed as we approached the massive structure perched on a hill. Visiting the castle had long been a dream. We arrived just in time for the one o’clock gun ceremony on the battlement.
As we walked through the vast expanse of medieval rooms, peered out through the battlements, and ogled at the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, we were amazed at all of the languages we heard from international visitors around us – in fact, the audio guide was in six languages (at one point, Chris’s audio guide switched and started giving information in German!).
The next day while Chris nursed traveler’s revenge, Bill and I toured the Scottish Museum, peeked inside St. Giles Cathedral, and amused ourselves watching men dressed in kilts and women in fancy dresses and hats walking along the Royal Mile on their way to and from the Queen’s Garden Party, since she was in residence at Holyrood at that time.
That evening we learned the UK idea of a ‘short walk,’ as Bill and I strolled down a nearby street to the restaurant that Iola had recommended – almost a mile. The term ‘short walk’ has been a family joke ever since.
On our last day in Edinburgh, we had lunch at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, walked past his nearby house,
learned how Scotch Whiskey was made, were delighted to see the sign for Brodie coffee (and later learned that the company also made tea, which we were able to purchase in the U.S).
While waiting for the bus back to our B & B, we laughed at Scottish humor on a sign,
and held the memory of a street-side piper.
Before heading to northern Scotland, we first needed to travel south to Northumberland where our mother’s family was from.
In 2000, train stations still had lockers where we could check our bags, and we gratefully stowed our luggage when we arrived at Newcastle Central Station – and then set out to find the bus to Beamish.
The buildings appeared to be the same vintage as Edinburgh, but we noticed right away that the city had a different feel. As we passed locals on the street on our ‘short walk’ to the bus stop, their Geordie accents sounded familiar.
“Who knows,” I commented, “some of these folks might be relatives.”
And, when we saw the sign on the Take Away building, we knew where ‘munchies,’ our family’s term for snacks came from!
Our bus to Beamish, the open air historical museum, wound through a myriad of picturesque villages where people got on an off as they went about their business. After alighting from the bus, we walked down the entrance road about half a mile. As Chris and I walked eagerly down the hill, leaving Bill in the dust, he called us “WOMs – Women on a Mission,’ another expression that has stuck.
Even though it was early July, I don’t remember many people. From their website today, it appears to be a bustling, active, and more commercialized, attraction with expanded facilities.
We wanted to visit as it depicted life in northeast England before World War I, including a colliery village’s free housing for the miners that would help us understand how our maternal grandparent’s family lived. We looked in the school room and learned that in addition to teaching children, there were evening classes where miners could learn to read and write after their day working underground. It would be several years before we would learn enough about our great-grandparents to know that such a school enabled our great-grandfather Jones to eventually leave mining.
Later we picked up our luggage and took a taxi to Chirton House Hotel, which turned out to be a large, rambling guest house located in a very international neighborhood. I had a shoe-box sized room on the second floor and Chris and Bill were in the attic. It is now described on the web as a ‘lively youth hostel’! We walked several blocks to find dinner and finally found a pub, tucked away between busier Middle Eastern and East Indian restaurants.
In order to maximize our experience, and hopefully learn more about our mother’s ancestors, we had hired a local genealogist, Geoff, to try and put the pieces together for us, and had asked him to take us to visit some of the places where our relatives had lived, identified from documents such as birth and marriage certificates.
The first day started in Northumberland where Geoff drove us to Tosson Terrace in Heaton, the street where our maternal grandmother lived at the time of her marriage. We inched down the street until we got to what Geoff said was #6. He thought this was the right place, but we later discovered he was wrong!
“Can you drive down the back alley?” Chris asked.
Bill snapped a picture out of the rainy front windshield. Geoff told us that in the early 1900’s each home would have had a small walled garden area and an out-house.
We drove by 23 Mafeking St. in the Sheriff Mount section of Gateshead to see the house where Mom was born – she would have been thrilled. We felt her presence with us as we gazed at the house. It seemed larger than what a young family would need, and we wondered who else had lived there.
Because Geoff hadn’t been able to learn as much as we had hoped, he played tour guide and drove us through the rolling green countryside to see some local historical sites, including portions of Hadrian’s Wall at Housesteads, where we had lunch in a pub and had our first taste of locally brewed Newcastle Brown Ale.
I had written in my journal that “he was interesting and knowledgeable, but talked incessantly and careened around on the winding country roads.” He drove a micro-mini Nissan and Chris and I were shoe-horned into the back seat. The door handle on my side didn’t work on the inside, so someone had to let me out each time we stopped. The day qualified for what our family and close friends laughingly refer to as a ‘Burk Adventure.’
On our last day in northeast England, we visited Segedunum, the newly-opened museum that explained roman life in north England 100 – 200 AD in Wallsend. We wouldn’t find out until our next visit that from the old fort we could have seen the street where our Uncle Colling was born!
Nearby was the Howdon slipway were our Stage ancestors worked as ships carpenters.
Geoff then drove us through County Durham, stopping at what he told us was Brancepeth Village near the now defunct Brancepeth Colliery where our grandmother was born.
Again, we later learned later that he had taken us to the wrong village!
And, then we went on to Durham so we could see Durham Cathedral.
We arrived just as the graduation ceremony at the adjacent Durham University was concluding.
“This is the oldest surviving building in Great Britain with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale – an architectural feat in the eleventh century,” Bill explained when we were inside the cathedral. Chris and Bill, had studied the European cathedrals in their architectural history class and have always been able to add depth to our travels with this type of information.
The Eventide choir was practicing. With such great acoustics, the sound seemed to float through the massive cathedral.
The following day we said good-bye to Newcastle and took the train north into Scotland. Our first destination was Stirling where we had picked our B & B since it was owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Brodie!
The decorative flower beds outside the Tourist Centre were laden with huge blossoms.
Inside we learned about the evening Ghost Tour and a Scottish Music program that would be held the following evening at the Holy Rude (rude=cross) Church, in addition to information about their bus tours. We then set out to explore the nearby pedestrian shopping street.
While we were checking out the shops, a window display in a charity shop caught our eye. We quickly realized that charity shops would be a good place to shop for souvenirs – and we checked them out in each town. In a shop in one of the towns we visited, I picked up a used paperback of one of Catherine Cookson’s novels about life in northeast England at the time our mother was born.
That evening we assembled outside the Old Town Stirling City Jail for our Ghost Walk – a mix of storytelling, comedy and, of course, chills. (In fact, it prompted a scary dream I had that night providing imagery to something in real life I was struggling with.)
The tour group moved to the nearby cemetery where the tour guide, the “hangman,” introduced us to the Black Lady.
Of course, someone had to ‘hang,’ and somehow I was picked to assist.
The next day we visited the castle, built high on a hill and overlooking an area where many historic battles were waged.
The clouds hung over the town, and then it started to rain as we entered the castle grounds.
We were grateful for inside exhibits like the massive ‘great hall’ and the dress worn by Mary Queen of Scots when she resided at the castle.
Across the valley was the Wallace Monument, a tower that was built to memorialize Scotland’s freedom fighter. The tram to take visitors to the top of the hill where the monument sits wasn’t operational that day, so Chris and I, glad that the rain had stopped, trudged up the hill, while Bill watched birds at the bottom.
We had wanted to walk up the 246 narrow, winding steps, but only made it to the second level.
Inside a realistic statue of William Wallace ‘narrated’ the historical facts through a hologram that appeared on and off on his face.
The next stop on the tour was historic Bannockburn where the Scottish Army turned back the English in 1314, but by time we arrived we were on overload from Wallace and Robert Bruce stories and opted not to the tour the museum. We had tea and scones in the restaurant instead.
We arrived at the music concert early that evening and had a chance to wander through the church and discovered it was the site of the coronation of James VI when he was still an infant and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate.
The next day we continued our journey. After changing trains in Perth, there were so many people on board that we had to stand from there to Pitlochry at the edge of the Highlands. We spent one night in the quaint Tigh Na Cloich Hotel. My single room was not ‘en suite’. To reach the toilet and shower, required going down three steps, across a landing, up five steps, and then down the hall. I read until midnight so I could take one last trek and make it until the morning.
We wandered through the shops. The weather was cooler than I had expected, so it was a good excuse to purchase a Scottish sweater.
Bill purchased a tam while the WOMs shopped and then we all set out for the dam and fish ladder – finally an activity just for Bill.
By mid-afternoon we were on our way to Inverness. While waiting for the train, an eighty-year old shepherd in a well-worn kilt struck up a conversation with Bill. His accent was so thick that we could hardly understand him, but he was certainly one of the memorable people we met.
The Westbourne Guest House in Inverness, a new building on the River Ness, was our lodging for the next three nights, where the Hamilton and Grant rooms had been reserved for us.
Most of the signs in the highlands were in both English and Gaelic and we kept encountering welcoming messages on menus, tourist sites, etc. – Ceud Mile Failte – A Hundred Thousand Welcomes.
When we visited Inverness Castle, we discovered it was newer than many others, having being re-built in mid-1700s. We participated in a living re-enactment at the castle garrison of army life in 1745 and we were all assigned parts to role play. Bill was a soldier and we were referred to as his ‘baggage,’ the origination of the terms ‘old bag’ and ‘bag and baggage’.
After dinner the first night we were treated to a piper outside of Balnain House – Home of Highland Music.
It was the first time I had been that far north (the latitude of Inverness is almost the same as Juneau, AK) and I was amazed that it was still light at midnight – in an eerie sort of way as the buildings reflecting light from the fading sun stood out against the dark sky.
The following day we took a bus tour to Culloden. The cold wind and overcast skies gave us a feeling for the battle on the moor as we walked out onto the area that was the battlefield.
When we peered into the thatched-roofed out-building that was used as the infirmary, we realized how primitive the conditions were.
“I wonder if the Brodies fought at Culloden,” Chris pondered. Our Brodie ancestors were still a mystery to us.
When we returned from our trip, a colleague at work loaned me the first three books in the Outlander series, which put the faces of real people on this tragic event.
On our last day in northern Scotland, we visited the Brodie Castle. Our excursion started by taking the train to Forres, where we caught a bus to the town of Brodie. We didn’t yet know that our great-grandfather had a jewelry shop in Forres, so we didn’t spend any time there.
It was exciting to see the town welcome sign as we approached Brodie.
“I’m going to walk back to take a picture,” I announced. It was only a ‘short walk’ of about half a mile – but definitely worth it.
We expected to find loads of Brodie-themed souvenirs at the picturesque Country-Faire and were disappointed that it was more like an outlet center, where the only Scottish goods were local jams and biscuits. We did eat lunch there, of course.
We followed the signs and mowed, grassy footpath through the trees that was the ‘short-cut’ to the Brodie Castle. When we emerged from the woods, we stopped to gaze in awe at the castle that we had heard about from our Dad as we were growing up. Even though he didn’t know his grandfather’s name or birthplace, he knew that his roots were from Scotland and he was very proud of that heritage.
The castle was more modern than I had expected. We had more surprises when we entered. Since the building is now managed by the National Trust of Scotland, the docents were not at all impressed that we were Brodies!
As we passed through the dining room, we learned that the official china was sent to China to be painted. We laughed when we looked closely at the set table. Because the Chinese artists didn’t know what they were painting, some of the plates said ‘untie’ rather than ‘unite,’ part of the Brodie crest.
We had tea and gingerbread at the castle tea room, and then perused the gift shop – that also did not carry much in the way of Brodie goods.
I had really wanted to see at least one Pictish stone while we were in the area and was beginning to feel that it was a pipe dream. Then, as we walked out the main entrance road, we encountered one, The Rodney Stone! It had a cross on the front,
and Pictish symbols on the back side. It was slightly taller than I was.
With only a few days left on the trip, we reluctantly started south the following day, riding several hours on a City Link bus from Inverness to Fort William. The ‘milk run’ whizzed along the winding road that followed the edge of the Loch, passing Loch Ness along the way – but no monster sightings.
In Fort William we took a train for the rest of the way to Glasgow. I don’t remember getting good looks at the city when we first arrived almost two weeks earlier. As our taxi inched its way along the busy city streets on our way to The Old Schoolhouse,
our B & B for the next two nights, I was able to see more.
Glasgow reminded me of a bustling city of the east coast of the U.S. There were many double-decker buses and London taxis.
Coincidentally, a short time before our trip, I had discovered that the Executive Director of the Scottish Autism Society was named Donald Liddell and had arranged to meet with him.
On our last day, Chris and Bill toured the Glasgow School of Art, famous for its Charles Rennie McIntosh collection,
and then took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city where Chris was thrilled to visit the Museum of Transport.
While they were busy exploring Glasgow, I had lunch with Donald Liddell and the president of the Autism Society to compare notes. While it had seemed like a good idea at the time I had set up the meeting, the bubble of our visit was breaking, and I keenly felt the reality of returning to work in a few days.
That night we had our last fish and chips dinner.
Before boarding the plane the following morning, we purchased small souvenirs in their amazing duty free shop. And, then it was time to board.
On the seven hour flight to Chicago, I devoured the Catherine Cookson paperback I had purchased, further intensifying my interest in life in northeast England at the time our mother was born.
“I will help search for our ancestors,” I told Chris during our layover in Chicago. Genealogy research was not something I relished, but I was driven to do what I could to help find living descendants. “I will join some surname listserves and see what I can turn up.”
The trip had unearthed a primal need to find out more about ancestors who lived in Scotland and Northeast England not that long ago. Chris and I vowed to return when we found a living relative.