Whiskey, the massacre and Nessie

Youch , it was an early wakeup for the small people.  Even my attempted Scottish accent was going to be feeling it.  It is a hike from North Berwick to the Highlands.

We ran around trying to get the family up and dressed and pointed toward the door.  Lisa had bought sausage rolls from Gregg’s (it’s their grab and go McDonald’s of snackeries) the day before for our breakfast on the fly.  But we hightailed it down High Street to jump on the 6:07 AM train out of our hamlet of North Berwick.

We arrived into Edinburgh Waverly train station on time where we got to see the bleary early morning people from their rocking night before.  One guy was sprawled out on a bench still wearing skeleton makeup.  We had our own tired crew but the peeps were rallying. 

To me as a tourist, Edinburgh is the Castle, Princes Street and the Royal Mile.  We got to see parts of them as we dashed about for last minute coffees and water.  We found our tour bus rendezvous point of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and our fellow tour takers standing around outside glued to their coffees.  A sign on the wall informed us that Robert Louis Stevenson had used this Deacon Brodie as the inspiration for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.  Deacon Brodie was an 18th century Edinburgh city councilor by day and a burglar by night.  This was a few years before Edinburgh body snatchers made good money by providing specimens for anatomy study to the medical schools.  The school did not ask enough questions and soon the snatchers went for greater efficiency and began to bring in freshly dead folks that had never seen a burial. 

The tour bus swung by to pick us up and we were northbound for our tour of the Highlands, a Whiskey distillery and Loch Ness.  I know what you’re thinking and I agree, whiskey distilleries are perfect for children.

Actually, it was going to be a Trip Advisor highly-rated, inexpensive tour of the Highlands.  We’d booked with a company called The Hairy Coo, because well, why wouldn’t you? 

Hairy Coos are highland cattle.  Our guide points out the field along the road where Hamish, the Brad Pitt of Hairy Coos, draws in the tourists.


Duone castle.  From Monty Pythons’ Holy Grail.  This is where John Cleese taunted the French soldiers from the highest parapet.  “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”




Plenty of Braveheart movie discussions.  You’ve gotta talk William Wallace and Mel Gibson when you’re in Scotland.  Several times people brought up this movie, and in England too. 


Hollywood took some real artistic license with that movie.  The Picts originally wore the “wode”—blue paint—when fighting the Romans.  So when Mel is shown fighting with it, the producers are about 1000 years off.  His love interest—the French princess—was actually about four years old at the time, so not so much on the romance in real life.  The real battle was for Stirling Bridge which was the key to controlling Scotland at the time.  But there’s no bridge in the movie.  I could go on and on.

Our guide also noticed Lisa knitting the scarf and told us, at a break, how his mom had knitted him the very sweater he was wearing.  And a cable-knit beauty it was too. 

Next, the tour included a visit to the Deanston whiskey distillery.  They held our family late, intending us for a second tour group but after a miscommunication ended up giving us a short, private tour. The distillery was featured in a movie “The Angel’s Share” and used to be a cotton mill. 



[they age the whiskey in barrels from other distilleries, many of them, like this one, are from Jim Beam in the USA]

Kids started school in the mill school at age 5 and were working in the cotton mill by age 9.  The child labor laws were that a child could work no more than 8 hours a day and that studies should make up at least 3 of those.  Women and children were especially valued cotton mill workers for their small, dextrous hands.  The cask room used to be where 500 people sat and weaved the cotton.  The workers’ body heat was good for the cotton.  Today, the cavernous room has strange things happen and our guide tells us they have ghosts in that room.  Scotland feels like the kind of place where there is room for the mythical and the legendary. 


The colors on the ceiling are called the “angels share” as it’s the spirits that have evaporated out of the barrels and gathered on the ceiling.  The distillery “gives” them to the angels. 

The tour got even better for our family when they refunded us the tour cost because we were so rushed.  And Lisa and I still got to try a “wee dram” of tasty whiskey.

Of course, you know your kids have been to Scotland when they start building a whiskey distillery in Minecraft.  Early submission for worst dad of the year award…?

Glencoe, oh Glencoe.  Our guide says it with a tone of awe and dread and you can almost see his skin crawling. 


The Jacobites had fought for the return of the Stuart line to the throne but their forces were soundly defeated at the 1690 Battle of Boyne in Ireland.  Once this Jacobite uprising was put down, the Highlanders suffered at the hands of the English for being on the losing side.  Late to make his newly required oath of fealty, the king made an example of the MacDonald patriarch.  The clan was likely chosen because they did not have a fortress, their clan was divided between three towns and the king could leverage the ongoing feud between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. Approximately 120 redcoats were sent and shown hospitality by the MacDonald clan as Highland culture demanded.  Even a few of their sworn enemies—the Campbells—were dressed as redcoats.  The MacDonalds—across their three villages— put up all of these people for two weeks.  Drinking, partying, playing cards and just plain hospitality were the order of the day.  The redcoats were partly there to collect a tax on behalf of the king.


Then another captain from the king’s regiment brought the king’s orders from a Maj Duncanson. Copy of order to Capt. Campbell by Maj. Duncanson:

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape.  men finally read the orders sent form the king which told them to put men, women and children to the sword…”


Thus, in the brutal cold of a February 1692 evening the soldiers attacked and killed about 38 men, women and children in their homes or as they fled.  They set fire to their homes and another forty men, women and children fled into the inhospitable Highland mountains and died overnight from exposure.  A few Campbells and lieutenants warned their MacDonald hosts or broke their own swords rather than have to execute such a heinous act.  Every year they still lay memorial wreaths and hold a ceremony to mark the treacherous Massacre at Glencoe. 

A local hotel will still not allow anyone named Campbell to stay there.  The story goes that a few years back an American country singer, Glen Campbell, of “Rhinestone Cowboy” fame was trying to stay there. The hotel owner had to come out to speak to him about the situation and the result even for that night—no Campbells allowed! 



We were on the same Skyfall road that 007 drove.  The tour bus was not quite as agile as his Aston Martin.  But my Lisa puts all those Bond girls to shame!

Scotland and their recent vote against independence was on the drivers’ mind.  Everyone had an opinion about how the older folks did not want to endanger their pensions and how certain political parties had worked to lower the voting age knowing that younger, more idealistic voters would vote for independence.  It’s worth putting it up here…Bx33YWyIQAEI3EG

Scotland had cut down most of their native trees from the first World War.  Their native trees take 200 years to fully develop into ‘master’ forests.  A committee was formed in 1919 to begin work on this problem.  They selected trees like the Norwegian Spruce and a Japanese tree since they mature about 50 years quicker.  Now they are going back and cutting down the non-native trees. 

Of course, on those windy roads beside those gorgeous rivers, lochs and mountains you just hope that little tummies can hang in there.  Sure enough, one person loses his cookies but is such a pro by now that no one knows.  “Hey kids, how about some Dramamine!?”

We even dropped in to visit the impressive memorial to UK special forces troops.  They train up here in the Highlands.  The remembrance garden held notes and monuments to 90 year olds and even 23 year olds who had recently given the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan.


There are over 31,000 lochs in Scotland and about four lakes.  A loch is a Scottish or Irish Gaelic word for a lake.  Loch Ness has, by far, the highest volume of any loch in Scotland.  Loch Ness holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.  It is shaped like a gigantic bathtub, with steep sides and even a flat bottom that slopes down one end (to a depth of 754 feet) as if towards a drain.   


[A lock on the loch…]

We come to the spooky Loch Ness boat tour.  We debated getting on the boat as it was cold and the rain was starting.  The girls went to check on a petting zoo (that ended up being closed) and the boys and I joined the boat tour. 


There is an abbey on the loch that used to be a fortress built to put down the Jacobites.  The Jacobites attacked and had a lucky break when the first cannonball hit a powder magazine exploding part of the defenses of the castle.  


The boat pulls out onto the dark water and everyone is snapping pictures and smiling. 

After a while a crewman points out the monitors and people start to listen close.  Quite a few there believe in Nessie.  One monitor shows the sonar display from the boat’s signal


while the other displays the boat’s position over a GPS model of the bottom of the loch. 


The sonar return on the screen is the temperature and current contrast where a river flows into the enormous loch but, aye, it looks like the terrible monster.  The water is dark like oil from the peat that is suspended in the loch.  It is said that light does not penetrate far into the murky waters. 

Therefore, the water beneath the ‘thermocline’ does not warm much.  Even a warm summer can only heat the upper ten meters up to a maximum about 59 degrees.  It is said that people have discovered empty rowboats and their occupants never seen again.  He explained how a friend sometimes scuba dives and will descend in Loch Ness by running his fingers down the side of the steep rock walls.  If he lets go, he can’t see a thing.  Makes you want to give it a try….






We kept our eyes peeled for Nessie the whole time, except for when we were staring at the snacks they were selling onboard.  And when we were watching all the cool colors on the monitors or that one time when we were wrestling.  But beside that, we were on the case.  We don’t think we saw her, but when I checked my camera later, look what turned up. 


Lisa, what’s that number for the National Enquirer again?   Can I use your phone?  They’ve still got my cell number blocked since last time…


North Berwick and Florida Blue

In a comment, Becky asked a great question about how did we find North Berwick.  Apparently, the townspeople should have installed better tourist deterrents. 


[quick shot of Lisa grabbing a run in North Berwick]

For this one, we wanted to stay in arm’s reach of Edinburgh but we find the kids, and the parents, prefer the slower pace and more open spaces of the smaller towns.  We get on the apartment websites such as HomeAway, FlipKey, AirBnB, Wimdu, etc and put in our criteria.  Price matters more than a little, and we are also looking for wifi, a washer (a dryer is usually too much to hope for and most of the Europeans seem to dry their clothes on a stand to avoid the high electricity fees) and a table that holds six Mesquits.  Time at the table matters for us.



Oh yeah, six beds helps too.  Usually, it’s a two-bedroom place with a sofa bed in the living room.  We like decent access to public transit and a grocery store since we mainly cook ourselves (well, that’s the royal “we”).  Thank you, Lisa!  So we apply all this criteria, see what comes up and email the owners of our top three or four.  In this case, we ended up loving North Berwick so much that we didn’t go into Edinburgh nearly as much as we thought we would.


Check out this amazing spot to blog.  A coffee place right across the street from the ruins of a church and its graveyard.



Paul and Stacy even invite us out with their friends to a bonfire on the beach for Guy Fawkes night fireworks.  If you recall, this is the night where the Brits gather to send up fireworks and celebrate the breakup of the gunpowder assassination plot of the king at Parliament by Guy Fawkes and others in 1605. 


A friend of Paul and Stacy’s is sharing his flask full of warming whiskey.  Another friend is opening up one of the first frisbee golf courses in Scotland and we talk about that for a while.  He is overcoming a lot of golf ‘gravity’ here to get people to try an upstart sport. 


Paul and Stacy make us feel at home here even though all we could find to bring from the Guy-Fawkes-night-picked-over grocery store are a bunch of Oreos to share. 




The s’mores-fueled kids gulp down the Oreos too and dash back across the sand slashing swaths of day into the beach night with their sparklers.

With the sometimes drizzle and overcast skies this time of year, North Berwick is the place to start knitting with your mom. 


Lisa has been working on knitting a scarf for one of the boys and Ana joins in on the fun. 

It is also the place to throw in some soap making from the arts and crafts place downstairs.



[sometimes you need basil in your soap]

Lisa and the girls use the local bus on an expedition to reach a better grocery store and find themselves among the school class in their uniforms. 


Across the street from our place, sits a great clothing store—Great Escape Surf, Skate and Snowboard.  Wandering in, we meet Gordon, a tallish, lean surfer with the speech mannerisms and easy smile to match.  His smile and gift of gab draw you in and he is genuinely friendly.  He shows us a picture of his young son in the surf.  I thought I was back on the West Coast.  After a while a tallish, lean greyhound wanders out from the back to examine the American shoppers.  The dog’s name is Florida Blue, a known baguette thief, and Gordon tells us ‘Blue’ will scoot down the street and snack at the pet store down the street till the owner calls Gordon and tells him how much he already owes him for the doggie buffet!


[The Great Escape store]

Blue is a retired racing greyhound and Gordon got him as a rescue dog.  The race dog owners of these dogs shock them to train them to leap out of the starting shack for races and mistreat them in other ways.  When the dogs age out of their prime they are unceremoniously killed.  Shelters rescue these dogs and get them out to families.  Blue is lazy as all get out and doesn’t want much in the way of walks.  When Gordon got him, Blue only knew how to run fast and turn left.  One day, Gordon watched him chasing another dog on the beach as the ex-racer struggled to figure out a right turn.

Gordon describes that the guy he adopted Blue from as the “classic Scottish geezer” and threw in a stronger Scottish accent to make the point.  Wonderful to hear a Scotsman preforming the Scottish accent of the Highlanders.  Here in North Berwick, they don’t generally roll their rrrrrr’s nearly as much as we’d expected, but it’s all goodness.  They use the word “wee” quite liberally and we love it.  He also demo’d an Irish accent in the course of the conversation. 

Now, this classic Scottish geezer required a check to be written to cover the overhead and medical costs when people picked up a dog.  The shelter owner asked for a number with a couple zeroes behind it to be on the check and proof that the dog would have a decent backyard to frolic in.  Then the shelter owner told him how another greyhound had been adopted by a lady who’d come in to his place.  He’d asked her for the same things and she’d provided a picture of a backyard complete with a high security fence and what looked like a security guard.  The shelter owner told her, the high wall seemed like a bit much.  Then, she produced a check with a few more zeroes than he’d been anticipating.  When he started at the sight, she asked if it wasn’t enough!  Really, he’d just been shocked.  Then, he began to realize she was that “lady who writes those Harry Potter books”.  So, somewhere out there J.K. Rowling must also have a beautiful greyhound. 

Gordon had a couple of men come in the store a year ago and they recognized the ex-racer.  They were racetrack bettors and had won thousands on Blue in his prime.  They told Gordon how much a champion Blue had been and Gordon was even able to find a few YouTube videos of him.  I went back to get a shot of them but missed them.  We could look in the store from our place and see if his Apple laptop was there or not so we could jump over and say hello. 

Gordon needs to be named one of the Ambassadors for North Berwick.  Welcoming and willing to chat with the travelers, we were so glad to be across the street from him.  And, of course, a bag from his store found its way into our traveling circus. 

Another day, we are out on the beach and Christine comes running out to say hello.  She’s the wife of Stewart from the ceilidh and had been so kind to us that night.  She had seen us out the cafe window while having tea with a friend and ran out to say hello. 


Such a wonderful, gracious lady. 

We start to read Kidnapped each night by Robert Louis Stevenson.  We finished up Mr Pipes and loved to see Europe through the eyes of the characters.  The Scottish colloquialisms are starting to make more sense. 


[The boys and I run to a bluff overlooking the beach and the town one evening.  Go Raider Nation–just win one!]

I am consistently amazed when I look back in our calendar and emails to see the faithfulness and grace of God.  We’ve been through a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent four chemo rounds, two stem cell transplants and a clinical trial achieving a complete remission.  Then a medical board for the Air Force that recommended a temporary retirement.  And what on earth truly is a temporary retirement? 

We prayed about what we should fight for with that strange decision.  Then we received a permanent retirement after asking for it.  Next, after waiting for months for both I received on the same day notification of my promotion to the next rank and my retirement approval.

We’ve been blessed by ‘angels’ of friends with loaning us a car for 90 days, and free lodging for our clan for about six weeks via great friends and new friends that we housesat for.  The kids are seeing so much and learning—we are all learning so much.  God is so good.  When I look back at that calendar and see some of the decisions we were making in a short time—military retirement or not, moving or put everything into storage, travel or not, saying goodbye to friends, looking for a new career right now or focusing on this trip—I am astounded at how we’ve been carried through it all.  And when I look at the words we’ve written, especially when I was still in the hospital, I am touched and inspired.  It is strange the power of the written word.  I hope I can live my life with the boldness and hope and in an awareness of the limits of time that I feel now and was immersed in then.

“North Bear-rick” warmth

We kept running into people who ask us, “how did you discover this place?”  It seems as if we hit the jackpot in this little Scottish town.  I choose to take this as an expression of surprise that we non-locals are in such a cool place and not that they’re horrified that we tourists stumbled upon such goodness and how can they get us to leave sooner.  I’m sure that’s how they mean it…  We did hear the same thing in that small town in Bavaria. 

Exploring the side streets, we stumble across a series of murals in a pedestrian cut-through of Robert Louis Stevenson and his grandfather, Robert Stevenson.  What?  The elder Stevenson gained fame and respect through the many lighthouses he constructed along the Scottish coast.  His grandson did so through his excellent, enduring novels.  But what is the connection to North Berwick?  As we stood there considering the mural and wondering aloud if he was from here, a man walking by overheard us, “Yes, he spent summers here and the island over there was the inspiration for Treasure Island.  Google it.”  The helpful local managed all this without even slowing his gait.  We played the part of the slack-jawed, amazed tourists. 


This is gold to us because in our frequent nightly readings to the small people, Treasure Island has been a memorable favorite. 

Sure enough, Google reveals Stevenson spent family holidays here.  He later traumatized his father by choosing writing over the family business of lighthouse design.  His father asked him to study law as a backup plan.  He would write that seeing the lighthouses along the coast made him think of his family and the work his grandfather and father had done.   Stevenson had a strong connection to the town and was inspired by it to write Kidnapped and Catriona.  He climbed the prominent hill—the Law—with his cousins and played smugglers and pirates in a small cave at a point near the sea.  Years later he described the town as, “A fishing village with drying nets, scolding wives, the smell of fish and seaweed and the blowing sands.”


[please look past the funny-looking guy in the foreground to the beautiful Law in the background]

The train scrolls through delightful town names on the way to North Berwick from Edinburgh; Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Drem, North Berwick.  Music to my ears and almost makes you long for a wee dram and a mighty“Scotland the Brave” on the pipes. 

Can you tell one of my favorite comedies is “So I Married An Axe Murderer”?

It’s hard to forget, “We have a piper down” and “Charlie tells me you’re a bewcha…Do you link your own sausage?” 

Our flat above the store works well for school, and as Will’s platform for launching paratroopers (and unlucky Star Wars figures) onto the street. 


[look closely for Will holding the parachute out the window.  I hope this is not covered in the apartment’s covenant’s and restrictions.]


[Looks like a tiny hostage crisis]


[parachute down and Will is running down the stairs to get his parachute before someone steals that valuable toy.  He was very concerned.]







The kids’ recesses consist of runs on the nearby beach and scrambling onto rocks at low tide to watch the water swirl up to their feet. 





[Bass Rock in the distance]

North Berwick is positioned on a point of the Firth with beaches stretching both directions from “downtown.”  The award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre holds the point and provides remote camera views of the sea lions and marine life lolling about on the rock islands off the coast.   The Centre was opened by the English royal family with many plaques to prove it.  


[the girls using the remote camera to watch the baby sea lion]

This Celtic cross shares the point with the Seabird Centre.  The Centre is off to the right.  The cross’ inscription reads, “Erected by public subscription in memory of Catherine Watson of Glasgow aged 19 who was drowned in the east bay 27th July 1889 while rescuing a drowning boy.  The child was saved, the brave girl was taken.”



Fidra, on the town’s west, is said to be the inspiration for Treasure Island.  Bass Rock stands boxy and tall on the near horizon.  Between the two are Craigleith and The Lamb. The islands are home to sea lions, rabbits, or seabirds such as puffins.  A thin cloud of seabirds wheels permanently above Bass Rock. 


[Craigleith seemingly close enough to swim out to]

Finding a church can often be a real challenge, especially an English-speaking one.  No problem here, and it’s across the street. 



St Andrew Blackadder Parish Church of Scotland not only has a great name but is chock full of friendly people welcoming us to God’s house.  We are so blessed to meet welcoming people there, such as Paul & Stacy who are an American and British family.  After spending time in Connecticut, they’ve found a house in North Berwick and invite us over for lunch before “Messy church”.  Kids get a Bible lesson, crafts, exercises, and it all ends with a snack, of course. 


[Lisa getting it done after Messy Church]


[here’s the church and it’s also the tower in Will’s parachute picture above]

Amongst many topics, Paul and I chat at lunch of American sports, his growing up in British boarding schools, US gun control and of the inspiring ministry of the Scot Alistair Begg in America.  Paul has a brand new Weber grill and we joke that he needed a Yank family to come over and help him properly christen it.  When we tell them how we hope to get the kids to golf a bit while here, they offer to let us borrow their children’s clubs.  Paul and Stacy make us want to settle down in North Berwick. 

We are simply brought close here by the people of North Berwick.  It is amazing to behold.  God blessed us here through these wonderful people. 

This is obviously a town, and a country, known for the obscure game of golf.  I know that no one has heard of it around the world… I am not much of a golfer but appreciate the beauty of the game and aspire to be a wee notch above pathetic on the course someday.  The North Berwick West Links golf course claims to be the third oldest in the world and the thirteenth oldest golf club.  It’s website states, “Golf has been played over the historic West Links course since the 17th century with the Club being formed in 1832. We continue to play over the same piece of land as they did back then.  With breathtaking views of the Firth of Forth and islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra, as well as the town of North Berwick itself, there are few places better in the world to play golf!  A true championship links course, having hosted Final Qualifying for The Open Championship and both Gentlemen and Ladies Amateur Championships.  An excellent test of golf awaits you.”

The West Links course is frequently listed within the top 100 golf courses in the world. 

We stroll through town and note blue plaques on many of the houses in town.  A closer inspection reveals that each one describes this golf course instructor to a famous club in Edinburgh or this man who designed a golf course in Detroit.  This is a town that loves its golf. 

The kids and I even come across this statue of Ben Sayers down by the West Links course. 



So, my rolling duffel does not contain my sweet golf clubs from the 1980s but perhaps they’d take pity on a traveller.  I sheepishly visit the pro shop with the pro’s name emblazoned over the doorway.  They send me to the starter’s “shack” to ask about how and when to get a tee time.  I inquire of the man behind the “shack” desk, (it’s actually a nice building about 20 yards away from the shop) and he tells me that I can sign up for a tee time and that mornings are usually easier.  A round of golf is not too cheap but reasonable for such an acclaimed course.  When I tell him I don’t have any golf shoes and ask if I can somehow rent a pair he pulls out a pair from a cabinet and tells me I can wear them if I’d like.  He makes it all so easy and there’s none of the rarefied stuffiness you might expect at a top-notch course.  I get ready to leave and wish him a great day.  And in a line that I share with the family later and we still use on one another, he responds with a smile and a hearty Scottish brogue, “Oh, I always have a guh-RRATE deh!”

I can’t help but leave with a smile for the friendliness shown an unknown tourist. 



[couldn’t resist a few more gratuitous cake stand shots]

Welcome to Scotland–now dance!

We’re not going to make it. we’re not going to make it, we’re not going to make that train…

The train from London to Edinburgh was supposed to leave us a 19 minute chance at Edinburgh to catch our North Berwick-bound train.  Instead, the trail pulled in 11 minutes late leaving us only eight minutes to transfer.  We jumped off the train and hustled past many coaches to collect our checked bags from the front of the loooong train.  Platform 4 was just across the way and we raced as fast as we could with six rolling duffels, six backpacks, a bag full of snacks and a camera bag towards the awaiting train.   We crossed the station’s street running towards the train and as we gathered everyone just outside the train door—it closed before us.  There was a kind of collective gasp.  Then we noticed the “door open” button and pushed it to see if we still had a chance.  Amazingly, the doors flew open, and we threw ourselves and our bags onto the train.  The doors closed behind us and the train left shortly thereafter—we’d made it by about 90 seconds. 

Arriving into North Berwick 30 miles from Edinburgh, we walked down the platform towards town.  The cry of seagulls greeted us and the fresh air of the sea filled our lungs.  We expected to get the keys from a couple who lived in the apartments near the station.  I could see a lady watching the  spectacle of us leaving the platform.  She came out of the apartment office door and caught us in the parking lot, “You look like who I’m expecting.”  She smiled.  Our name was on the envelope but she didn’t ask for our name or ID.  In this town, you just know.  North Berwick is about 6,000 people strong. 

We drag the bags down the sidewalk of North Berwick’s High Street.  It is nearly dinnertime and we are on the lookout for food. We don’t pass any grocery stores but do see a kebab shop.  The wheels of our duffels announce, “We’re here!” 

Our flat is in the heart of this small beach town above an art supplies shop called the Rock & Bird.  We look right down High Street and its dozens of shops and cafes. 


Our door is about 100 yards from the beach of the Firth of Forth, also known as the large bay of the North Sea that Edinburgh is nestled alongside further west. 



We drag the bags up the exterior stairs and fly around the place exploring our home for the next two weeks. 



There is, incredibly, an espresso maker and several kids’ movies.  Everyone has a bed and we’ll be sharing a bathroom.  The shower is the afterthought kind added above a bathtub with the glass half door that lets you shower the bathroom floor a bit as you shower yourself.  But it is all good, everything is warm, bright and as advertised.   Even, “Dad, there’s a Wii!” 

It had been an interesting travel day, earlier in the day we’d had a 45 minute tube ride from Wimbledon Station to Kings Cross station to meet our train to Edinburgh.  We transferred fine and wrestled our bags around Londoners.  All of us grateful it was not rush hour.  But two stops away from Kings Cross the train was stopped due to a signal failure at Kings Cross.  With all of our bags, we decided to give it a few minutes to see if they’d get it working again rather than take two extra tube transfers in London’s Underground with our party of fun.  But a few announcements later, the tube driver “strongly encouraged” passengers to try another line and we were outta there like a trick or treater after grabbing his candy. 

We made the two tube transfers amongst more crowded trains and arrived into Kings Cross station.  Kings Cross is one of the older stations and a massive thoroughfare and as the name implies, a public transit intersection for underground, trains, buses, overground trams, elephants, who knows what goes on at this monstrosity. 

The place was packed.  Then it struck us that this was the first day of “half-term.”  The Brits do six weeks of school, a week off, then six more to complete the term.  Three of these make up their school year.  They stick to this schedule from age 5 to when they graduate their high school years.  The week in-between is the “half-term.”  Advertisements everywhere remind  parents to escape with their families to Mallorca or fill-in-the-blank sunny destination.  Huge lines at the ticket counters flowed over into the self-service machines.  We had our train tickets in hand but I’d need to brave one of these lines to get our pounds back from our Oyster card (the ‘pay as you go’ travel pass). 

We stood and craned our necks to see when our train platform would be assigned.  The family was situated watching the screens—kids lounging amongst the nest of bags—and I ran back downstairs to get in the long line to get our deposit back from the transport cards.  The line was not any shorter but it appeared to be moving.  The wait paid off and I ran back to the family.  The boys and I shouldered our way to the bathrooms and past the queue waiting to snap their photo with the Harry Potter luggage cart at platform 9 3/4.  Platform finally assigned and we dashed through the waiting crowd of people for our train. Incidentally, it sadly flashes through your mind on a busy half-term travel day that you’d rather not spend a lot of time here when terrorists have already struck the London and Madrid transit systems not too long ago.

But, whew, we’d made that train at Kings Cross and are thrilled to now be dropping off the bags at our flat in North Berwick, Scotland.  We’ve learned that when you’re traveling light, better get into town early enough to catch a grocery store open so you’re not picking through granola bar crumbs and bruised apples for dinner and breakfast.  So down to the street we go, in search of a grocery store of some kind.  The waves on the shore are loud enough to be heard on the street.  The grocery store down the block is pretty small and we duck out to check other options. 

On a board, above the sidewalk we spot a paper sign—“CÈILIDH”.  Across the bottom is written, “music, light supper and BYOB—fun for the whole family”.  It will raise money for the local cancer hospital and is being held at the local Scouts Hall tonight from 6 to 9.  Must be a scouts event too.  The price is only about 16 pounds for the clan.  Food & music?  Sounds pretty great right about now.  I don’t know what a cèilidh is but I seem to remember an old 1980s Black 47 song about a “Funky Cèili” or something like that.  It must have to do with a Gaelic music performance or something.  Lisa is up for it and the kids look dubious. 

We ask a couple walking by where the Scout Hall is and they tell us “it is not close.  And quite a walk.”  When we ask for more detail, they tell us it up the hill, and past the graveyard.  Once we clarify, they tell us it is about a 5 minute walk.  We walk off, cracking up that in this town that 5 minutes constitutes “not close”. 

We find the Scout Hall by the anemic, colored balloons tied up through the door into a building of no more than 25 feet across and 40 feet deep.  A man in his 80s, is seated at a table just in front of us with a cash box and raffle tickets.  In the back of the warm room, there are about five large tables with chairs, paper tablecloths and about five couples who look to be in their late 70s or 80s.  The kids nearly cling to our legs and seem perched for us to lead the way right on out of here.  Another man is fiddling with a stereo system in the corner. 

We pay our entrance fee and find a table.  There are a few vegetables out on a side table along with pitchers of water and a stack of cheeses donated by a local cheese shop.  We notice two younger women bustling about preparing the food and drinks.  We idle over to an open table and throw our coats across the backs of the chairs feeling silly since it doesn’t seem like it’ll be much of a challenge to find a seat. 

As we are picking out a few carrots and celery to munch on, a man walks by in red, plaid pants.       An older man in a sweater walks over and introduces himself.  He says he is Stewart, with that great but gentle Scottish accent.  He is in his late 70s or so.  He is curious if we live in North Berwick.  Surprised we are not, he asks how we found out about the cèilidh (“Kay-lee”).  He is also curious where we are from in the States and if we know how to Scottish dance.      

Uh, what? 

“Oh, we’ll all be Scottish dancing,” he confides with a slight smile.

I hesitate to ask, “Will everyone here know how to Scottish dance?” 

“Oh yes, of course they will.”

I pause, “How do people here learn how to do the Scottish dances?”

“We learn it in school,” he smiles, gently.  “They always start with ‘a gay gerdens’ then it gets harder from there.”

A bunch of assumptions suddenly start flying apart in my mind. 

So this is why there are only a few tables and a wide open floor.   And I thought it was for the funky Scottish band that was about to show up. 

Now, Lisa knows that though she loves to dance, I try to love it along with her.  She is laughing at me already.   The kids don’t hear everything but hear enough to be looking a cross between perplexed and a little horrified.  I have flashbacks to fun but awkward sessions in Texas two-steppin’ places. 

But this is travel time, our Grand Adventure—time to buck up!

We are going to get our Scottish dance shoes on and rock this place. I guess. Right now, they look like Asics running shoes straight from the train station, but whatever. 

The place begins to fill up as the young families start to show up.  Kids are all over the place now.  The older folks are safely ensconced in the back of the room.  Families and older folks alike have their bottles of wine and boxes of Tennent’s Special Ale or John Smith’s Ale. 

A balding, paunchy man sidles out from the stereo system corner with a microphone.  You can hear some of it above the din and he welcomes everyone to the dance floor.  Stewart kindly urges us out with his wife.  The kids watch us from the safety of the table’s folding chairs.  The man with the microphone, the caller, is apparently speaking English but it’s hard to tell.  There are about six couples out there and a whole lot more watching.  The caller—among a lot of Scottish words?—says something about ‘spinning here’ then ‘walk this way’ and then something about ‘if you know how to do the polka-barrel polka you just do that’ as he’s demonstrating with his wife.  He makes a lot of eye contact with us though, as if he knows something.  And we’re off!  We all dance in a circle and I remember spinning Lisa around to walk her backwards. 

Then Stewart and everyone else changes directions and I nearly take him and his wife out like a linebacker. 

Whew!  Narrowly avoided a massive collision and I start wondering how spry Stewart would fare in a full-on crash onto the dance floor.  I try to keep a little distance between us but then the next couple is right on my 6 o’clock.  Then, it’s over and we escape back to the table. 

Ana said, “Good job Mom and Dad!”  Luke said, “Wow, you really didn’t know how to do that dance!” 

But before you can say, ‘where’s the nearest beer shop?’, the caller is doing what he does and demonstrating another dance with his wife. I tell the kids “Shhh” as I lean around the guys drinking beer to see what the caller is trying to say.  I tell Lisa I’ll give her $5 if she asks if the caller’s instruction comes with subtitles. 

Then we’re back out there, hardly any of the couples our age join us, we do another dance that involves spinning your partner and then you turn and face each other, clap you and your partner’s right hands together three times, then your left hands, then both, then onto your own thighs then spin her around again.  And now we’re into going onto the next partner.  Sweet. 

It’s over again and we escape back to the table.  The kids are watching us carefully from their perches at the table.  Lisa has a great idea, “For every dance you do, we’ll give you a pound.” 

Now they’re motivated—God bless capitalism, and parental desperation.  We get the kids out there and I dance with Ana next.  Will and Camille are paired up and I hope this all works out. 


[getting set up for another dance…if you look closely, you can see a guy in a kilt holding a beer by the food table]

Everyone is all smiles.  And we’re off into another new dance.  And no one ends up crashing onto the floor! 

The next dance involves grabbing the ladies’ right arm and going past her to meet the next lady and so on till you meet the eighty-year-old lady.  Then you spin your partner and do some kind of walking around the circle before sending her back in to the middle with the rest of the ladies to clap then return to the circle.  Then the guys walk in, and clap, then back out to the circle.  Sometimes I dance with Lisa or Ana or Camille and sometimes not.  One time I end up spinning a 6-year-old boy.  Everyone is laughing.  I never hear the names of any of the dances we are doing.


We get back to the table and grab a drink of water and the kids’ eyes are wide and smiling.  They all want to talk at once.  Then he calls out just the kids to the dance floor.  Our peeps nearly have to be pried off the table but they get back in there, aided by the cash incentive.  There are about 25 kids out there.  And the caller directs them into the chicken dance!  No problem with that one.  After this, the dance floor devolves into a melee of children playing and wrestling.  This gives us time to notice that two guys and a boy are wearing kilts.  Lisa asks me what the ‘purse’ thing is in front of their kilt and I tell her to keep her eyes off other men’s purses…     The girls each walk up to us and say, “The men really do wear skirts here!” 


A little boy has snuck a balloon into the men’s restroom and is trying to return to the dance floor after filing it with water.  His sharp-eyed momma quickly breaks up the little revolutionary plot.


The ladies have the food table ready and it’s a choice between mac and cheese or “stokies”.  I am sure none of these names are correct, it is loud in here.  We hear the “stokies” are mashed potatoes, meat and fat.  It’s delicious. 

And now it’s raffle time.  The caller yells out the numbers and they’re really high as we’d purchased them early in the evening.  The raffle prize pile grows smaller as people keep picking the wine, chocolate and beers we were eying.  Near the end of the remaining prizes, he calls one of our numbers and I go up, suddenly realizing I’m accompanied by all four kids.  I don’t think they wanted to miss a thing.  They’re down to a few items left and a lady hands me just what everyone needs when trying to pack light for a trip around the world—a floral cake stand! 

I guess everyone else picking their prizes must not have seen this beauty—suckers!


Then back onto the dance floor, as Lisa wants to do another one before we leave.  This time, they ask you to come out with two partners.  Turns out, six is a great family size for Scottish dancing.  We are divisible by two or three!  In this dance, a group of six hold hands and dance in a circle, then back the other direction.  Then they break up into two groups of three. The person in the middle is supposed to dance with their two and suddenly I’m lost.  Stewart is trying to tell me how to do it and then our girls are also telling me (I suppose since they are little ballerinas).   We get me all taught up and we are off to the races.  Each group of six breaks up into groups of three then you hold hands in a line across, stamp towards the other three and duck under their upraised hands to join the next group of three into a new circle of six. 


[fish sticks taste better when elevated a few inches above the table]

We finally leave the dance floor.  There are lots of smiles and no broken limbs.  A few dads, are chasing a few boys back into the Scout Hall. 


Yeah, welcome to Scotland. We are going to get all the use we can out of this cake plate then sell it for big bucks and help finance our trip!


Science, beautiful botany and determination


The Victoria & Albert museum welcomed us with its neck-craning burst of Dale Chihuly color hanging in the entry.  We could not miss a notebook of Da Vinci’s written in his mirror-image cursive.


This eye-catching bust of Donatello’s physician shows what happens when you treat a gifted master sculptor.




[enjoying a picnic in the sunny courtyard]

At London’s extensive botanical garden—Kew Gardens—we were treated to an unexpected show of aircraft on final for Heathrow. 


[great picnic by the largest greenhouse I’ve ever seen]


I even got a later view of the enormous Airbus A380.

We walked along the platform in the treetops


and raced each other through a low log trail. 



Almost immediately, once we saw this log trail someone had broken out the stopwatch and we started dashing one at a time.  I was in the lead till Luke decided to try it one more time.  He came rushing in about two seconds ahead of me.  The little man was elated.

We decided not to try and unlock the marijuana plant in the cage. 


The garden carefully displayed “risky” plants such as cannabis, poppies, and peyote.  The kids kept a wary eye on the meat eating plants.  The kiddos disappeared under plant canopies and attacked the playground with gusto. 



[the boys covering the path in case any scary plants tried to sneak up on us]


[a Giant Sequoia living up to its name]





[treasuring, treasuring, treasuring this time]




We devoured the science museum and—surprise—I somehow ended up making the airplanes the main dish.  We stumbled upon great displays on the Wright bothers, a WWII Spitfire and a German V-1 buzz bomb.  An air traffic control display chirped out controller radio communications.  Next thing the poor kids knew their Dad had launched into discussions on innovation in aviation and the courage of those WWII aviators. 




At St Paul’s cathedral, we relished the masterpiece of Christopher Wren.  He obsessed over each detail for 35 years, finally finishing the project in 1710.  A technological marvel, its dome towered as the tallest building in London for over 250 years. 




We caught our whispers across the room in the Whispering gallery and claimed the summit of the church for its views.  Christopher Wren actually designed a lower dome ceiling within the tall exterior dome so you climb up part of the time between the two domes.  






The iconic picture of St Paul’s cathedral shrouded in smoke but standing defiantly through the blitz has always inspired me. 


Civilian defense brigades—the cathedral’s was St Paul’s Watch— worked through the attacks to quickly extinguish the fires that erupted after the bombs fell.   At one point an unexploded bomb was removed at great risk from the roof of the cathedral.  Even Churchill directed that the cathedral be a priority in firefighting as a means to keep up the people’s morale under German attacks on the city. 

Here’s the St Paul’s Watch–Hogwarts chapter…  Don’t even try to get past those wands.


The Wimbledon Library right near our flat as we were rolling our mobile homes out of England.  This was the place where they generously gave us a library card and we were checking out English books left and right.  Love you London, and on to Scotland!


Casting a spell on us

London fills our minds with wonder as we marvel at where our own history began. Remnants of imperialism abound in the historical buildings and in the population. The Middle Ages, Absolute Monarchy, Industrial Revolution, Age of Information/Globalization — all are adequately represented on the streets and in the museums. Famous preachers like Wesley and Spurgeon leave their traces about town. However, besides the history centers, we pause as we pass the places of literary imagination. The (recreated) Globe theatre where Shakespeare performed his plays stands active and lively. We imagine the children at the train station in The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m on the constant lookout for Mr. Darcy (he did take trips to London, right?). We think of Oliver, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Eliza from My Fair Lady. We even notice where Lightning McQueen was in Cars 2. Everything looks familiar, even though of the Mesquits, only Brent had visited before. One special literary work dominated all our thoughts: Harry Potter.

As parents, we had the first clue, when trying to show the kids the renowned Thames river and the London Bridge. The kids only had eyes for The Millennium Bridge, the one destroyed by the Death Eaters in the 6th movie.  The Harry Potter wands accompanied us on most of our outings, just in case we passed an important site. We visited Piccadilly Square with Harry Potter in mind (movie 7). And of course, King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 and the adjoining St Pancras Station that is the actual location of Harry Potter’s “dream” conversation with Dumbledore in the 8th movie. We re-watched most of the movies at the end of our tiring days of touring. Fun.

Our biggest Harry Potter adventure was a pilgrimage to The Making of Harry Potter at Harry Potter studios. Wow. Here is Camille’s version of us arriving at the studio:

“…I just couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw a large double decker bus pulling up to the tube station lot. It was incredible! The bus was tall and you would have never missed what it was because there were pictures of scenes from the movie and a large ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ spread across the top. We were at the front of a small crowd. I hoped we would fit. Then, a friendly driver ushered us inside and everyone crowded in. Grandma stayed on the bottom [level] but I went on up to the next level.


‘Wow,’ the whole bus seemed to say as we pulled up to a large yellow building. … There were more people here than the Churchill war rooms.”

I agree. The entire crowd appeared awed to arrive at the studios, and our kids were among the youngest there.

Once inside, larger than life pictures of the characters gaze down on you from high on the walls. I’m struck with the affection I feel for many of them, like I’m perusing a baby album or a yearbook! A cafe is on your left and a gift shop is on your right.






Our tour began with a walk by the cupboard under the stairs and then into a movie theatre. Luke describes this part of the tour in his journal:



“We moved into the Harry Potter movie theater where we watched a short clip. Afterwards,the movie screen lifted up and the tour guide was there. Then, behind the screen the huge brass doors to the Great Hall appeared.”

The tour guide asked who had a birthday. The lucky birthday “boy” and “girl” shared the task of opening the doors to the Great Hall. They opened up to the full set, complete with costumes from teachers and each school within Hogwarts. The children disagree on the grandeur of the Great Hall. Luke says it was huge and I concur. But, I will share Will’s opinions on the Great Hall from his journal:

“The hall looked different from the movies in many ways:

  1. It had no roof. 
  2. It was extremely smaller. 
  3. There was no fire. 
  4. It wasn’t real marble. 
  5. It had a lot of mannequins wearing the costumes. 
  6. It had a gap in the wall. 
  7. It was decorated with Halloween. “









Walking through the Great Hall we entered the self guided part of the tour. A person could spend between 15 minutes and 2 days exploring the rest of the studios. The 15 minute estimate was for someone walking through briskly without looking at anything. Some displays discussed parts of the filming, such as the various directors or how they used animals in the filming. A large portion of the space was filled with sets and props. Do you want to see the time turner? It’s there. How about the Goblet of Fire? Check. The Potions room,


Dumbledore’s office,


Gryffindor common room,


Hagrid’s Hut,


the Burrow,


The Ministry of Magic,


the Night Bus,


Malfoy’s family table (scene of muggle murder),


the bridge, the Chess Set, 4 Privet Drive,


Harry’s parent’s home, and the infamous flying car.


Some sets appear small, some large. The beds in the Gryffindor room look terribly small and we learn that by the 6th movie, the actors had to hang their feet off the ends because they’d grown so much!


A giant green screen hung on two walls and showed how they created the flying scenes, fight scenes, and many of the landscape scenes. We enjoyed seeing Mad Eye Moody’s flying broom chair and the goblin cart.

An amazing part of the tour explained how they created magical creatures and Hagrid. Will found this to be among the most interesting parts of the tour. 

“They put a real flame thrower inside of the dragon! The goblins were drenched in make-up. The spiders were remote controlled,” he explained.



Camille agreed, “[I find it fascinating] that Hagrid’s head was animatronic. It seemed so real when he blinked, moved his head, and talked. It was really cool!”

She added, “Buckbeak the Hippogryph stared at us through animatronic eyes. Apparently they had to put every little feather in the right place.”

The section was followed by a walk through Diagon Alley. Ana loved walking on the “real” street, by the “real buildings”

“They had all the real buildings. They were real and all right there. They weren’t fake. They were a real street and real buildings.”




At the end of the Alley was the beginning of the planning section. Hundreds of drawings hung on the walls. These were the artists sketches in planning the scenes. Some were followed, some weren’t. They were beautiful to behold and led up to the grand model of the Hogwarts castle. I’m sorry to spoil it for you, but the castle is not real. Hogwarts is pretend. So, all the scenes of the grounds and the exterior of the castle were completed from this impressive model. 




Luke was especially inspired by the model. He said it encouraged him to build a model, which he later did.

Finally, the gift shop. Will bought a journal that he uses for planning. Camille said, since things were a little expensive, she bought candy. Ana bought a chocolate wand. We left with sugar quills, fudge flies, and chocolate frogs. Yum. We avoided the butter beer, since we knew of our distaste from our earlier visit to Universal Studios. If JK Rowling can’t turn that invention into money, something must be wrong with it!  





Overall, we soaked in the magic. 


Camille said, “I bet it would stay in my mind forever. It was great, just great.” 

Inspired, Ana said, “That one person could create such big influence. JK Rowling had all this stuff just because she wrote a book.”

Yes, thank you JK Rowling and authors everywhere for writing good books. 


“Dad, I don’t get modern art.”

So that’s Luke’s view of the Tate Modern museum.  And, haven’t we all experienced some semblance of that emotion?  We took in modern art masterpieces but the best part for us was likely the hot chocolate in the museum cafe, the wonderful Midwest couple we met there and the view of the Millennium Bridge.  “Mom, that’s the bridge from Harry Potter!”



[Diego Rivera picture and sculpture] 

A few times I had the chance to feel a bit like Clark Griswold from European Vacation. 

Kids-“Dad, why are they not wearing any clothes in that picture?”

Me-“And…how about we walk this way children, to this other room.  Look, a baby wolf!”

OK, I know that was mixing ’80s movie references, probably even worse than mixing metaphors.

Actually, the kids are getting quite used to the classic nude sculptures.  Not sure if that’s the sign of a kind of cultural immersion occurring or part of my contest entry for most traumatizing Dad of the year…




The Tate Modern displays its treasures inside a former power plant right on the Thames River.  The cavernous interior doubles as a great place to hassle your brother. 


We enjoyed a wonderful walk along the waterfront and past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. 



[Shakepeares’ circular Globe theater]


[Will is likely thinking, “If only we could reach the ground so we could ride these rental bikes.”]

“Minoans and Myceneans”—this especially goes out to our Classical Conversations brethren. Classical Conversations is a cooperative educational group that meets weekly.  Tutors teach the kids in subjects then the rest of the week the families homeschool the kids in the curriculum.  This methodology is classical in nature and encompasses a Christian worldview.  The students must master impressive amount of memory work and study math, Latin, science, music, grammar, history, and geography.

The young scholars learn a wonderful context for history as they memorize a “timeline” song of historical events.  The song takes about 12 minutes just to recite.   I think the context they are getting for history through Classical Conversations will serve them well. 

Thus, the kids pounced on several items in the British Museum—“that’s from a timeline card.”  You see, the various historical timeline events are often represented by pictures of ancient art or archaeological finds on their study cards.  Our little students have spent so long staring at these pictures that it is a thrill to see the items in the flesh here in London.

The timeline song nearly starts out with “Minoans and Myceneans”, and as we begin to tour here is a piece of history from a timeline card. 


I would have walked right past it but the kids yell out as if we’ve seen some kind of celebrity.  This tiny bronze sculpture of a bull and acrobat from Crete weighs in at about 3500 years old. 

Huge, bearded, winged lion creatures from Assyria.  Useful for impressing your houseguests.  Hittite objects.  Egyptian sun gods.  Everywhere you turn it’s biblical and Near East archeology resurrecting ancient days to life before your eyes. 






Want to see actual mummies and learn how they were made?  This is the place. 




The Elgin Marbles that graced the Parthenon in Athens.  So many works of beauty that make you scratch your head— “Now, why is this treasure here in London?”  But it was a different time and in defense of the British it is hard to imagine many of these priceless watermarks of civilization surviving the past as well in their native environments. 







The British Museum just overwhelms the visitor.  It’s the kind of place you can return to again and again.  And no doubt, we must have sleuthed our way around on four different visits. We would grab the family ‘scavenger hunt’ cards from the desk and go exploring through a narrow slice of the museum to keep it manageable. 

A courtyard of yesterday now sports a bright ceiling done for the Queen’s Jubilee; transforming an outdoor space into what must be the world’s biggest skylit chamber. 



[A Chinese tour group surrounds a huge artifact]

We’ve wrestled with the various languages we’ve encountered and yet English is nearly always the accepted second language here in Europe.  If you can’t enjoy the guided tour in German for example then there may be English guided tours twice a day.  But not so much for other languages.  Large Chinese and Japanese tour groups unfold out of gigantic tour buses.  They must have to be sure to reserve a tour spot to ensure they can get the information in their native language.  We feel fortunate to speak English.  

The Rosetta Stone still blows me away.  I remember it in the same spot as when I first visited here 16 years ago.  Incredible to witness the ‘answer key’ that first allowed scholars to decipher hieroglyphics.  The decree issued in 196 BC and written in three languages-ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek – gave scholars the ability to unlock the meanings of the symbols.  Kinda like discovering your sister’s decoding key to her and her friends’ secret code. 



Below, just a couple of fun ones…




Please forgive the blogging gap.  We were blessed to get a few days in with our wonderful family we house sat for as they returned to France then we had several quick moves across France.  Travel days always challenge us with long hours and logistics.  Then the wildness of arriving into a Paris on edge during the most significant attack on French soil in 50 years.