The following account of the Cowies' trip to Scotland is a copy of a letter written to friends after their return. Guess what it was that most excited and interested our correspondent as he toured Scotland.
Dear Jim and MaryKay,
After leaving Stockholm and coffee so full of authority that it rated a salute and a respectful "sir" before raising the cup, we departed for Scotland.
We arrived at Glasgow airport in late afternoon, split up and checked rental desks to find the car we wanted at the price we were willing to pay. Found the car, but paid the price they were willing to charge. I then spent a half-hour or so driving in the parking lot, trying to become accustomed to having the controls on the right (wrong?) side of the car before joining the rush hour traffic. That half-hour helped. Some. That is, I became a bit more comfortable, but wife Karen remained absolutely apprehensive and unnaturally alert, it seemed to me.
Note the sign on a high wall of the Mortlach Distillery. Also note the 1823 date-- that was very soon after British law allowed the Scots to make Scotch whiskey. Legally, that is. Before that, Scots were the equivialent of our moonshiners. (Photos from George Cowie)
We eased out of the traffic, Karen white-knuckling the map we had been given at the rental counter, and promptly decided on a hotel located a less than a half-mile from the airport. Fortunately, it was on the left side of the road and easily accessible.
Odd thing: On the way down the hall to our hotel room, we passed doors on either end of the corridor, each bearing a sign which read "This Door Alarmed." I'll bet you've never seen a frightened door before. I hadn't either, so I took a picture.
Headed East toward Edinburgh next morning on a multi-laned highway and Karen began murmuring -- well, OK, sometimes considerably louder than a murmur -- what became her eight-day mantra that always began as the ignition key turned: "Stayontheleft, stayontheleft, stayontheleft..." Soon saw a road sign announcing a turn-off to Sterling. I remembered once having read about Sterling Castle, so took the off ramp and veered north.
Say, did you know that nearly all highways in Scotland have very narrow lanes and not many of those? Two, at most, and sometimes just one for traffic going both directions to share? And over on the side where a shoulder should begin, there's a curb about six inches high?
Karen Cowie mailed a postcard from the village Cowie.
Talk about a need for skinny cars. However, soon as I scraped off that left front wheel cover we had plenty of room over there. But next time I rent a car to explore the Highlands I want one that can take a deep breath, hike up its fenders and become about 14 inches narrower when the need arises. Maybe it was Karen's mantra that kept us out of serious trouble. It was in my left ear much of the time.
Sterling and the castle were tremendously interesting -- nearby, Robert the Bruce and the lads whopped the whole British army at the Battle of Bannockburn in the year 1314. That's about one and three-quarters centuries before Columbus got to America. There is a sense of time -- or timelessness -- that is almost overwhelming amid those old castles and battlefields. We spent the entire day roaming the castle, walking up and down worn stone steps where others had walked centuries ago.
The village at the foot of the hill was just great, too. Found a bookshop, wouldn't you know. I had been aware that one of my ancestor Cowies had been a distiller of Scotch, and I had ever since nursed a desire to get on their Christmas card list (at least). However, I didn't know where the distillery was or whether it even still existed. But the bookshop was well stocked so Karen and I each got a pile of books about Scotch Whiskey and began searching indexes. One of the first Karen picked up mentioned the Mortlach Scotch and "old George Cowie, who owned and operated the distillery." Also mentioned that it was up in the Highland country, near Dufftown. Hah! Now we had a specific goal.
While chatting with a clerk, found that the village Cowie was only about seven miles northwest of Sterling. So the next morning we meandered up there. I was, as you can guess, becoming pretty easy abut driving, even on country lanes.
Found the village, took pictures of the Cowie Post Office, the Cowie Primary School, the Cowie Tavern, etc. I'm enclosing a picture of Karen mailing you two a card. Ironically, there was only one Cowie still living in the village, and he was off in Spain visiting.
Did you know that Scotland country highways seldom have stoplights or stop signs? Rather, they have traffic circles with four or more entrances, known as "roondaboots." (You must trill that "r," just slightly.) Getting into a "roondaboot" is something like entering a two-lane freeway with traffic -- except that you immediately begin going round about, making a turn to the left, and then quickly finding yourself in the right hand lane as entering traffic seems to assume the right-of-way.
As far as I could figure it, the other purpose of that right hand lane, the one closest to the core of the circle, is to get up to warp speed and then dodge to the outside lane before hurling your vehicle onto an exit. Sort of like a space vehicle escaping earth's gravity. Not only centrifugal force to deal with, but the signs advising what road fits with which exit are only vaguely marked, as far as my navigator could make out. On the positive side, we did see much of Scotland we hadn't intended to. Some of it two or three times.
This letter is becoming unforgivably long, so from here on I'll only mention that the castles (especially Glamis where Shakespeare located much of "Macbeth"), the lighthouses and the lochs (lakes) were just grand, and the light was enough to make Ansel Adams cry "uncle." The people were without exception friendly and the bed and breakfasts memorable.
Oh, the breakfasts: first, juice, dry toast and porridge, marmalade and jam. Then eggs, bacon, sausage, two halves of a broiled tomato and a pot of excellent coffee or tea. No wonder lunch is seldom eaten before mid-afternoon. Once we even added kippers, black pudding and haggis to our breakfast. Kippers are salted fish and you don't even want to know what the other two consist of. But now I don't have to eat any more kippers, black pudding and haggis. Been there, done that.
A woolen mill just south of Inverness was Karen's delight, especially when she found some Anderson Tartan plaid. The Andersons weren't only Swedish, you know. A Scottish Clan exists. I imagine they had a pickled herring and a piece of lutefisk on their crest. Karen also enjoyed walking the beach at Moray Firth, beside the North Sea, and we both had a fun evening in Dufftown watching a large group dancing traditional Scottish dances -- not for tourists, but for their own enjoyment.
For me, nothing -- absolutely nothing can compare with the Mortlach distillery, where I looked up high on the wall of the building and saw the sign, "Established in 1823. George Cowie & Son, Licensed Distillers." And now I'm the owner of a bottle of Mortlach single malt Scotch, whose label proclaims "George Cowie and Sons, Proprietors." Ah, to be in Scotland when the bloom is on the heather. Can't wait for another trip.
Geo. & Karen
P.S. We never did get to Edinburgh.
(The author is a member of the Senior Class Advisory Board.)
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