Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Last stop in Scotland

It wasn't until after I'd left Paris that I realized that I should have cut that visit short by a few weeks and added them to Scotland. I should have guessed, but it didn't really dawn on me. Everyone I've heard of who visited has loved it.

B&B in Dumfries

Dumfries wasn't exactly my first choice, but I ended up picking it because I could make it to the Manchester Airport in one morning to meet all the poets who were coming in for our workshop in Wales. It was three local buses and a ferry to get to Dumfries - about seven hours and the distance wasn't all that great. In this part of Scotland, the bus passengers all say "Thank you, driver" when they get off - even if they know him - and not just "Thank you." I couldn't decide if it sounded friendlier or more impersonal.

One of the least inspiring views I had -
the train station, but it was very convenient

I really wanted to stay in Ayr, which is where my great-great-grandmother, Rachel Hutchinson Campbell, was born, but the train/bus connections just weren't right. All I got to do was change buses in Ayr. The bus connections didn't even work for me to stop for a few hours. Incentive (as though I need one) for another trip.

B&B front door

I really liked the owners of this place. He is from Canada, she's Scottish, and they lived in L.A. We had some good political discussions and she's the one who so enjoyed the book about Highland women. He really wants to know why Americans are letting all this crap happen!

Che Burns - Robert Burns face under Che's hat

This print was in my room - done by the owner, Robertson. You could even buy a t-shirt (I didn't). He was also a great fan of single malt whiskies and they put a wee bit of whiskey in every room.

Not to mention a painting of a dram
of whiskey over the bed

He and I had a good discussion about whiskey and the second night he put a different whiskey in my room so that I could taste more. Other whiskies tasted: Glen Moray, Arran, Old Punteney, Oban, Lagavullin, plus a few I forgot to write down.

Robert Burns and friend

Dumfries was my only Lowland stop and it's where Robert Burns spent the last years of his life and where his wife stayed long after he died. It's a rather grimy city. They built everything in dark red sandstone and it got covered in coal soot and the whole place looks as though it needs a thorough power-washing.

The River Nith and one of the oldest bridges in Scotland

It has a very nice river with lots of birds, though they have turned one side of the downtown section into a parking lot and bus terminal. Best move they could make would be to move that!

Another bridge

Wandering around I stumbled on a genealogy center, but they weren't any help and so apologetic. One bit of writing I have by a great-aunt says that my great-great-grandfather was also born in Ayr. Another bit of writing by my great-grandfather says that he was born in Ireland. So I'm looking for something definitive. I picked up some handbooks on research and I'll be picking my cousin Peter's brain - he's done more research than I have.

Robert Burns' church - sooty!

There's lots of focus here on Robert Burns, which led me to this church and a cemetery - okay by me. The volunteers at the church were so enthusiastic and led me around and were so proud of Burns that you'd think they had known him. It was quite sweet.

Sitting in Robert Burns' pew

Cemetery where Burns is buried

Burns was originally buried in a regular grave in a back corner of the cemetery - despite his fame - but eventually they moved him to a big white thing. It looks totally out of place.

Robert Burns' grave - not sooty

My ex-mother-in-law (100% Scottish) used to recite Burns. I'm not exactly a fan, but later in the trip I found a used pocket Burns' poetry collection and bought it.

Burns' house

J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, lived for a time as a kid in Dumfries and is said to have started dreaming up the character as he played on the banks of the river.

Barrie played along this section of the River Nith

As in Paris, I continued to keep my eyes up and found lots of wonderful carvings on the buildings, but very different from Paris.

Scottish windows

Also lots of birds. I love this gathering spot!

Avian ornamentation

Near my B&B was a cemetery and I went in early one evening to take my usual grave photos.

Dumfries cemetery and church

But there was a gull that didn't want me there. It started screaming and dive bombing (I could feel the movement of its wings) and pooping on me. I had to run under a low branched tree and still it kept trying to get me. 

The one on the left is the culprit

Finally, I had to come out and leave while waving my hands over my head. It gave me less trouble when it saw I was leaving.

Pub where I cleaned off

There was a pub about a block down, so I went in to get the gull poop off and ran into the B&B owner and another copy of his Che Burns on the wall. And, of course, he recommended another whiskey. Back about 8-10 years ago, Miles Mendenhall, Eileen Rose, and I used to gather for drinks and fish and chips at the pub on 4th St. in Santa Rosa that has since been replaced by the Russian River Brewing Company. We called our usual booth the Conspiracy Booth or the Revolution Booth - or something like that - and I think this spot might be a good place to regroup.


I was photographing the store front of a veterans group that was helping vets grow food in community gardens when this guy walked by. He said, "If you want a photo of a vet, take a photo of me." So, I did. He said, "My name is Tom, but the lord calls me Thomas and I'm the cheekiest one in my church." I think he said he was eighty-three.

Butterfly Bush everywhere

At the post office I ended up in a good conversation with a postal worker. He was lamenting the cuts in service in Britain. I told him that it was much worse in the U.S. When I told him that I thought Britain was doing it because they'd watched the U.S. get away with it, he totally agreed. We separated quite discouraged about where it might end.

Fun pet store raising money for shelters

I was really sure that the Scottish were harder to understand than even Southern Americans, but then I overheard a conversation by a loud guy from Tennessee. Good to have that reminder of just how unintelligible Americans can be.

Gulls everywhere

I have never heard more gulls or a greater variety of gull screams than in Dumfries. It is almost constant. There was one variety that sounded like an old woman being attacked and every time it happened it would bring me up short and I'd look around to see who was being hurt.

Stone lions everywhere

One thing I noticed about sitting in the B&B dining rooms for breakfast is that the British don't seem to talk to each other during breakfast unless there is a child present (which there usually isn't). Just the clinking of silverware on china.

Rapids on the Nith

This portion of the river had tons of birds. One night I ate at a restaurant looking out on the river and I got a really wonderful display. First there was a merganser that just sat and posed for me in a beam of sunlight - gorgeous. 

Moss - please help me on this one!

There were gulls, ducks, herons, many other birds, leaping fish - even ducklings making a very tentative, but successful run down some of the rapids. It was quite delightful. Much better than some of the dinner conversations around me. 

Heron in the Nith

Overhearing many of the conversations I heard on this trip made me happy that I was dining alone with a good book - also that I know more interesting people!

Area in the old river walls where people used to 
walk down to the barges

And the Scots didn't seem to be interested in the new royal baby, George. Didn't hear it being discussed and saw so little about it tat I wouldn't even have noticed if cousin Peter hadn't mentioned it on Facebook.

Lots of carved heads

More books read:

I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine Hong-Kingston
A Little More About Me by Pam Houston
The Known World by Edward P. Jones (I highly recommend this)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (I always like her)
The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux (poetry chapbook)
As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories by Alistair MacLeod (came upon this in a used book store in Paris - good stories about the Scottish immigrants to Canada)

The British love really bright flowers

I will make it back to Scotland!

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