Dobby is a free elf!

Yes indeed, Dobby is a free elf.


If Star Wars captured a generation’s imagination in the ’70s and ’80s, then Harry Potter must be the banner for this one.  Or it could be a shared love of Minecraft or Clash of Clans but I suppose we can leave that great debate to the pop culture talk shows of the future.  Our small people have embraced each of those three and they’re not afraid to send their wands through the x-ray detectors of international airport security.  Fortunately, no unforgivable spells have gone off at the wrong time. 

I might have said earlier that we weren’t in Europe just to track down Harry Potter sights.  And that’s mainly true…  But you’ve just gotta check out this other place we went.  Well, before we go there for all you Harry Potter fans, I’ll likely need to drag you through a dry, history lesson involving ancient peoples that no one’s heard of. 

OK, not really, welcome to the gorgeous grey stone of Edinbugh.  We love hearing of people’s different experiences and thoughts on the places we’re going.  I already knew Tina was cool but I don’t remember ever hearing that she was an exchange student to Edinburgh.  That must have been one incredible exchange!

The rain was falling, it wasn’t very warm and you can tell from Camille’s face here that she was really looking forward to getting into that castle…


I love the Edinbugh castle and its imposing statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.  The Latin phrase “Nemo me impune lacessit” over the gate translates to something along the lines of, “No one attacks me with impunity.” 



On this rainy day, we keep the show moving as I visited the castle years ago and the kids are definitely hoping for inside activities. 

Part of our trip—we’ve realized lately—is a kind of literary tourism because we’re book nerds at heart.   We are missing our books!  We are burning up our Amazon accounts and I’ve even learned how to borrow books from the lending library via the Kindle unlimited feature.  

So, when we spotted a Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile we had to duck in.  Scotland’s favorite literary sons are honored here—Sir Walter Scott,

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. 




The stately Lady Stairs House, built in 1622, is a narrow building with a curling, stone staircase that grabs at your jacket as you climb. 



We linger over Burns’ writing desk, Scott’s chessboard, rocking horse, dining table, and the printing press on which his Waverley novels were produced.  No pictures allowed inside so I grabbed a few from the internet.  


Robert Burns claims the title of Scotland’s national poet and as such, his birthday is nearly a second national holiday.  At the annual Burns suppers, Scots gather to cut the haggis and enjoy Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.” 


Burns wrote in the 1700s and in the Scots language and some say gave the words to Scottish pride. 

“My love is like a red, red rose 

That’s newly sprung in June:

My love is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

How fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in love am I;

And I will love thee still, my dear,

Till all the seas gang dry.

Till all the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt with the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands of life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love.

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my love,

Though it were ten thousand mile.”

― Robert Burns

The Museum displays Stevenson’s riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with the name ‘Tusitala’, meaning ‘teller of tales’.

I even jotted this one down in my notes…

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints”.   -Robert Louis Stevenson “Travels with a Donkey”


Check out these wonderful shots of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile’s Georgian architecture.  I don’t really know what that means without phoning a friend at Wikipedia but I love it anyway.   The new town is over 250 years old and has earned UNSECO heritage status for historical and architectural reasons. 






The innumerable alleys of the Royal Mile lead off to darker courtyards and streets between the tall stone blocks of homes.  Frequent English attacks led people to build near the castle, and each other for protection.  The “wynds” are narrow thoroughfares just about wide emugh for a horse and carriage.  A “close” is a pinched walkway that can be closed off with a door making it a private thoroughfare.  When you tie in this strange design with the seedy past of Edinburgh’s grave robbers you feel the “greyness” of this stone in the rain. 

A bit down the road and we chance upon Greyfriars Bobby.  This monument to the little dog has been loved on over the years and the tourists line up to snap a picture. 




They made a book and a Disney movie about the little terrier that kept a 14-year graveside vigil nearby over his lost master.  Scholars recently have found evidence that this was a hoax perpetrated by businessmen to keep the interest and money flowing.  They would feed the dog in the cemetery to keep them there for passersby to gawk at.  I think we all prefer the story of the loyal, affectionate friend. 

Within yards, the National Museum of Scotland offers a roof and an incredible, neck-aching display of animals and skeletons. 







We found more Lewis Chessmen here, adding to our enjoyment of them at the British Museum.  There are 11 here and 82 at the British museum.  The chessmen are considered Icelandic in origin and were discovered on the Outer Hebrides Islands.  So why so many at the British museum and so few in Scotland?

I don’t know the answer but we’re reminded of the words of our Highlands tour driver.  He told us how when tennis star Andy Murray loses a big match he’s Scottish but when he wins he’s British.  I would never have known that “British” author J.K. Rowling imagined and wrote all her books while living in Edinburgh.  She was one of the famous Scots who offered a visible voice to  one of the sides in the independence vote (she was for staying in the Union).  

Ah, that brings us to another great place to duck in for some warmth and a quick break—the Elephant House Cafe.  This is the place where Rowling would sit and write the Harry Potter novels.  Elephant posters and knickknacks abound and you have to wait for a table.  We get seated next to a lady writing determinedly at a choice table in the corner.  Another lady a few tables over is also concentrating on getting her thoughts down on paper.  Are they channeling Rowling or is this just a writers’ place?  The wooden floors creak pleasantly and the views of the backside of the Royal Mile buildings and the flag flying proudly over the castle are soothing, and beautiful. 



Rowling news clippings and her involvement with the Elephant House cafe are displayed on the wall but you have to look a bit to find them.  Then both girls return from the bathroom with huge eyes, “There’s Harry Potter writing all over the bathroom walls!” 




And they were not kidding—the mens’ walls were the same.  Fans’ pilgrimages here have burst out in love scrawled layer upon layer around the bathroom mirror, on the walls, and the ceiling.  “Weasley is our King”, “RIP” is written out to the lost characters, Deathly Hallows symbols all over the walls, and –more moving–are the poignant,  cathartic messages of people sharing what those books meant to them.  You feel like a voyeur into someone else’s life reading their innermost thoughts on the bathroom wall as you wash your hands at the sink.  You’re torn between reading more and fearing someone will walk in and find you studying the graffitied walls, in the men’s room—you weirdo. 

The trip planning rages on and we are tremendously blessed to have a roof over our heads, a pillow under them, and food in our bellies every day.  We have so much to be grateful for and know that God will never leave us or forsake us.  Going to Israel is on our trip planning radar now.   Anyone been to Israel and have any recommendations on taking in that amazing place as a family? 

The Law and the golf

Ah dear reader, some kind of flu had me by the tail for a while but you just have to get back on that horse and keep on telling the stories that make up your life, don’t you?

A surprising mountain overlooks this postcard of a town named North Berwick.  Road signs direct us to “North Berwick Law”, which I initially take to be some kind of law school in town.  But no, there’s a reason why those signs point to the high points of town.  The Law is the 613 foot tall hill—or maybe it’s a mountain—that you can see from town.  A pair of enormous, curved white pieces of wood grace the summit. 


The boys and I tackle this imposing volcanic plug of hard rock as dusk sets in.

IMG_8617  We nearly run up to the base of the Law from the Seabird Centre on the beach to begin the climb.  The trail meanders across the face of the backside and we follow whichever forks seem to be headed higher rather than across. 



[yes, that is a wooden axe that Will is holding.  You just never know…]


We gain the summit after only about thirty minutes and the views are extraordinary.  Yes, that’s a horse up there next to the ruins of an old house. 


Wikipedia says there’s an Iron Age hill fort up here and the remains of lookouts from the Napoleonic Wars and WWII. The offshore monolith rocks dot the coast



[Bass Rock above and below, Fidra]

…and the lit clock tower of the church in town are all clearly visible.  Those curved white pieces of wood are actually fiberglass, put there to replace the whale jawbones that marked the Law since 1709.   






The three of us linger a bit, taking in the view, as the dusk gives way to an evening sky.  We practically run down the Law as the temperature begins to sag.

Back in town, Luke and Will snap up the hot cocoa to warm up and I’m thrilled to see the smiles on their faces. 



Meanwhile back at the ranch, the tiny ladies have finagled their way into a Scottish ballet class up the hill.  The local girls are really sweet and Lisa was surprised to see the girls getting dressed right in the foyer area.  Camille and Ana are made to feel welcome and love the class.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for us as we are missing having kids in different practices.  (And it’s also part of what we are happy to trade for increased family time for a time).  We’ll frequently find the girls busting out into ballet moves around our place. 

We meet Mary at church as her husband Alistair is out on business.  Even though he’d just returned from a trip, they are so kind to have us over for dinner.  He is Australian, she Irish and their three beautiful daughters were born in China.  They even give us hand-me-down sweatshirts which the girls take to like ducks to water!  We always find it a joy to break bread with new friends on this travel.  


We’d met Torquil a few days past as he is managing our apartment. He is a man of many talents as we learn he is training to become a certified children’s golf instructor.  This accreditation is carefully managed in Scotland.  He invites us out and is incredibly generous and patient in teaching our kids. 



The West Links course has a children’s course where you can just walk out there and play on the five mini-holes or so.  After his lesson, we enjoy more time golfing as a family.  And I mean just a little more time because soon the golf clubs have become guns and the boys are taking shelter in the brush to defend themselves from the Star Wars separatists who are suddenly attacking.  

He even invites me out—a true duffer—and offers his son’s clubs and shoes.  Amazing. He picks me up and we have a blast of a day out golfing.  The morning weather looks dicey so our fourth decides not to make the drive over from Edinburgh.  This leaves me golfing with Torquil and his friend Neil who are both training in the same golf course.  It takes months to complete and several tests must be passed to achieve the certification.  I will get to golf as their guest for about 8 dollars at this third-oldest golf course in the world!  Torquil runs into several people he knows as we prepare to go out for our round.  A few of them are the parents of kids he grew up with in town.  On the course, Neil tells me about the Horrible Histories.  These books are history written for kids with all the gory parts left in.  They’ve published books for many of the historical events of our world. 



[this course really needs better security…look who got out there.  That’s Fidra, the Treasure Island island in the background.]

They are both very patient with my golfing and the course is unlike any I’d played.  There are many ‘hollows’ and places where you get down into the ‘course’ and lose sight of the flag completely.  On the way out along the shore, and back, you have to hit the ball over a low, stone wall. 


Torquil and Neil tell me how a man in town lost the sight in one eye when a ricocheting golf shot struck his eye.  Coming back to the clubhouse


[clubhouse on the right…]

on the last few holes, you golf back along the “strip” of North Berwick


[coming back along the water…]

West Links 1st Green & Nth Berwick Town

[the first green, on a sunnier day…]

and approach the building.  People pause at the sidewalk that crosses the fairway and watch the golfers tee off before crossing the danger zone.  I am thrilled that I don’t hit anyone nor break any of the windows of the cars parked along the side of this last hole. 

At the club house, members can clean up in the renovated locker room.  You climb the stairs past faded photos of the club members and past champions’ plaques into the bar.  My phone dies before I can get a good photo of our leather seats and the window that overlooks the 18th green. 

I order a Guinness and one of the two ladies behind the small bar brings out a can.  She pours the can into a pint glass, places it on a small ‘disk’ and pushes a button.  The Guinness ‘Surge’ shakes the can, the sheeting begins and a head forms on the beer.  This might be old news to the rest of you, but it hit the spot after being out golfing. 

Later, we find a Horrible Histories on the line of Stuart’s (The Slimy Stuarts) in a used bookstore and the kids devour it in turn!

Got a picture back of Florida Blue (the retired greyhound racer) on the sand in Scotland from his owner Gordon