Today we were greeted with fine Scottish weather, which was a blustery rainy day that had a good dose of autumn sweeping through it. After walking down North Bridge Street with the fine brownstone buildings and statues commemorating Scottish heroes of the mid-19th-century British battles fought around the globe, we turned right at the statue of Wellington and Waterloo place to meet our tour guide, Duncan, who was to take us to the borderlands.
There is a clear difference between Scotland and Ireland. The first being that the crazy patchwork of fields that one sees from the air in Ireland is replaced with large fenced-in pastures more closely resembling the farmland of central Wisconsin. The second being that the towns themselves have a more established air about them, a feeling of the strength of an empire that has long since passed.
Duncan took us through a beautiful valley to a crest where the great author Sir Walter Scott considered the finest view in all of Scotland. It indeed was a great broad view and we took pictures and surveyed the fine countryside. Duncan told us that upon his death, Sir Walter’s funeral procession, led by Sir Walter's favorite horse, came up this way. The horse, having been used to stopping at the view, proceeded just to do that, holding up the funeral while it stopped dutifully so that its master could take in the view one last time.
We were next off to see a statue made to honor William Wallace. This statue was erected by the somewhat eccentric David Steuart Erskine, known as the 11th Earl of Buchan. The sculptor was instructed to follow the Earl's preferences as to how he wanted it to look. Wallace is depicted wearing what is either a kilt or Roman toga, with a helmet that came out of some sort of fantasy and clutching a Claymore sword and shield that came from another period altogether. Of course, it was 1814 and people had romantic notions of what their heroes looked like. Then again, it could be argued that the statue was more accurate than the Mel Gibson version of William Wallace, who looked like he was dressed 500 years earlier as a Pict Warrior with blue paint on his face. Duncan wasn't too impressed with the statue. "William Wallace would not be caught dead in a kilt," he said.
The best part of this visit was reading the history that the National Trust had on its display. Obviously written by an Englishman, the display told of the history of the statue and ended with the less than stellar phrase, "The near–legendary William Wallace." Some irate Scotsman carefully scratched the heck out of the word "near." Duncan was amused at it and said to us, "Ah, you like the editing, now don't you?"
Trying to save his soul, he instructed that his heart be taken from his body when he died and brought on Crusade, as the belief was that if one did the Crusade, his soul would be saved. However this didn't even work out as the Scottish knights who took his heart, placed in a lead box, ended up making it only as far as Spain. There they fought with the Spanish against the Moors and proceeded to wipe out all, save one knight. He was sent back with the Bruce's heart and the heart was placed in Melrose Abbey where it remains to this day. However, little remains of the abbey since that friend of you and me, King Henry VIII, decided to wipe the abbey off the face of the earth when he took the English church for himself.
After having lunch in Melrose, I took a walk over to a small museum. They told the story of Trimontium, the Roman fort that was discovered just outside the town. A lovely lady by the name of Patricia gave me my own personal tour. She showed me a hoard of coins that an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector discovered in a field. They would have been a year’s pay for a centurion, all in the same denomination, and from the cluster in which they were found meant that he had either hidden them away for safekeeping in the field or probably lost them.
The first discovery of this Roman fort was the skeleton of a Roman officer clad in the finest armor clutching a spear to his chest. A replica of the helmet that was on his head was in the museum and it was the most spectacular moment that I have ever seen. His skeleton was saved and, in keeping with 21st-century techniques, six different scientists reconstructed what the soldier looked like. Also found was the harness for a horse, including a mask created from leather and metal. Looking at it, it seemed like it was created to shield the horse from biting flies, but it was much too ornate for everyday use, I figured. I tried a replica of a woman’s saddle by sitting on it. I was surprised at the comfort of the saddle and the support that it gave me, though I was also surprised that the Romans had never invented stirrups. Patricia pointed out that the Pictish warriors actually had saddles with the saddle blanket underneath, the edges of which were pinned up to support the riders feet as sort of an ad hoc stirrup. Thus the enemy of the Romans had a far superior fighting saddle than the Romans themselves.
I could have spent more time at the museum, but I reluctantly had to go and join the tour to continue to Rosslyn Chapel.
Duncan dropped us off in Edinburgh, and we were able to get a moment to rest back at the hotel before setting out for a wonderful meal at a place called simply, "Steak and Mussels.” And that is what I had for dinner that night, fine Scottish steak along with some fine Scottish mussels in a garlic cream sauce.
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