The road less traveled

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On the tracks of the Ancestors

On Monday they promptly packed the car and were out of Edinburgh with Uncle San in the back of the car doing his crossword puzzles. The first stop was the Family History Society in Aberdeen where Coen was expecting to get more facts about the McHardy side of his family.

Main road Aberdeen

Traffic was surprisingly easy upon the entrance of the city. The main road was lined by these wonderful feats of architecture on both sides – all in this grey stone. Intricate work, one more interesting to look at than the other but all in grey. The Family History Society was easy to find, so was parking. Soon they were to learn why this was all nice and easy: it was a bank holiday in Scotland that day.

All miffed, Coen decided to hit the forest of Ballochbuie and stay somewhere there for the night before coming back to Aberdeen before going into the heart of the Highlands. So, off they went. The forest was very green and scenic. They

Lochnagar Distillery

passed the various places mentioned in Coen’s research for his ancestors. In the various turnoffs they took they practically fell on their first distillery: Royal Loghnagar. It was tucked down in this small vale. It was nowhere on the map because it was actually quite recently set up. They decided to drop in for a visit. It was quite interesting, not too different to the wine tasting set up on the wine estates in the Cape. After that they moved on and ended up in Braemar. It was early afternoon and they decided to look for lodgings there, relax and visit the place on

Road through Ballochbuie


At the information centre where they were helped by a lady who was born in Durban, they found the Rucksack where they took a room and San chose to stay in the dorm. It was very comfortable and the heating was on too. That section of the place where they were, they had a kitchen and small dining area. They made tea and had a short nap before going off to the shop to get breakfast and take a few pictures.

Bridge in Braemar

They enquired about places to eat and were told that the Braemar Lodge is where one goes to get local food. It is a

Pile by the roadside

quaint little town that hosts the Highland games on a yearly basis and having Balmoral castle as neighbour. There are a few of those ‘piles’ by the road side in Ballochbuie, in Scotland and in the country as a whole. Few of them have signs to say what they are or who lives there.

Braemar Lodge

That evening, they got a table at the Lodge and made a glorious meal of haggis, angus beef and salmon.

Fine dining in Braemar

Waking up in 9C temperature, they made their breakfast, sat huddled next to the heating in the dining area and then

River Dee

walked up to meet Mr Duff, the local historian who confirmed some of the information Coen had regarding his ancestor. After this meeting, they drove out of Braemar, deeper into the forest for some more sightseeing. 


St Andrews and regions

Saturday morning, San proposed that they go to the deli market. She was all in for that outing – wanted to see what such a market would look like in Scotland and what produce they would have on offer. It was raining that morning but since she was well equipped, they hopped onto the first bus going in that direction. Soon, the rain was coming down in earnest and they took shelter in the doorway of a hall hoping it would come to a drizzle and they could proceed to the market which was a street away from the bus stop.

Well, it did not get any better. When they had exhausted catching up with news of the family, they walked quickly down to the market. There was practically no buyers at that time but most of stalls had been set up: bread stalls, quite a few with smoked salmon both cold and hot smoked and other fish, buffalo meat, cheese, haggis and a few others. San was mainly after some not smoked salmon and buffalo meat that day. They did look at the bread but it was nothing too special and the prices were verging on the unreasonable.

Under a drizzle they reached home to huddle next to the radiator in the kitchen, have tea and chat. Hakim was leaving for Liverpool that day. So, they visited a bit with him, chatted some more and then made lunch. She made them her classic fish with leeks using the hot smoked salmon and serving it with these excellent potatoes that they had been eating since they got to Scotland.

When Hakim had left, using the same bus ticket of the morning, she left with Pirjo for a good stroll around the town centre. Pirjo took her to the national gallery to see the famous ‘Skating Clergyman’ and then they walked past the old churches, monuments and statues that abound around there. They went to see Grey Friar’s Bobby too. On the way they stopped in numerous wool shops to see if she could find the cardigan she was looking for. She had a specific idea in mind and was confident that she would find it in Scotland.

There were numerous tourists in the city, all equipped for braving the weather. It drizzled and then stopped and then started again. But they had a good visit by the time they headed back. They did not get the cardigan but they had found other stuff that they were looking for or not looking for.

Across River Firth

The next day, with Pirjo, they drove off to St Andrews. San had a booking for some show and stayed behind. They crossed the river via the same bridge as before and then stood on the other bank looking at the city. From where they stopped, they had a great view of the mouth of the river Firth and all its small islands, the water traffic and life on the river in general.

Small town on the way

On the way to St Andrews they passed many small towns with their quaint houses, with flowers on window sills as well as cattle in the meadows and fields of rapeseed flowers. Speed was limited but there was no hurry, the target was St Andrews and back.

Scenery on the way

When they finally reached the town, they went around a bit to look for parking and were rudely cut at the spot where they found a place. Luckily another car was leaving, so after the rude driver had turned in behind their backing car, they parked and walked through the town. The first stop was at the old ruins of the first cathedral in Scotland. It was by the sea and must have been quite a piece of work. It was not well conceived, so the story goes, soon after it was finished its one wall caved in during a storm.

Ruins of Cathedral

Not far from the ruins there is a place marked on the road, of the exact

Ian Smuts

location where some priest was burnt at the stake for defying the church. From there they walked down to the University Museum where they met with Jan Smuts’ bust. He seemed to have been the rector of the place for 3 years. He had done so many things in his life that it made you wonder how and when he ended up there.

Leaving the museum they went in quest of a place to eat. They chose a pub that became popular because it is said that ‘William and Kate’ met there while


studying at St Andrews. The food was pub food, nice and copious too. The service was a bit ‘limite’ but when you are used to service in restaurants in SA, then out there it is minimal to nearly non existent.

Small streets

After lunch they walked a bit further. Coen had studied with St Andrews University – an online course which he

St Andrews centre

enjoyed greatly. He was looking at getting a memento of the place: a tie or something.

They were directed to the student

Door bell

council shop that was closed, but they found another shop that had jerseys and other apparel. There Coen chose a blue sweater and a dark blue woollen hat. They poked into the small streets and Pirjo found a book for her brother in law and they saw the peculiarities of the the houses of the place.

Driving back was  through the same small town for most part. They were home in good time for a nap. For dinner San had cooked them the buffalo. They did a bit of planning for the start of a three day journey into the Highlands of Scotland and then went to bed.


Trekking the Trossachs

By then, she had chosen to wear booties lent to her by her cousin. To us from South Africa they looked like Safari boots but out there they refer to them as booties. Whatever, they seem to have served their purpose for the walking and for protection, but for driving they were not really the thing. She participated in the driving up to Scotland.

As they crossed into Scotland, the weather turned. They saw only clouds and as they approached Edinburgh,

Edinburgh City Centre

where the uncle lived, it started to drizzle. With the help of cell phones and a friend of the uncle, they tackled the centre of Edinburgh to get to Viewforth where uncle San lives. As usual, they got lost in the right direction. Soon they were parked in front of the apartment block and were unloading their luggage.

They just dumped the luggage inside and all flocked to the kitchen for a hot cup of tea. It was a nice reunion. She had not seen Pirjo in years and Coen had never met her. Hakim, her cousin, was there too. That evening they had a simple but excellent dinner of cold-smoked salmon with hard boiled eggs and potatoes. As they talked, distributed gifts and enjoyed food and drink, they made plans on where to go and what to see.

Later, they sorted out who was sleeping where while further catching up on news and views.

The set plan for the next day was to go to Stirling and see the sights, then through the Trossachs, meander around there and see the Lochs, then on to Scone Castle and see where the old kings of Scotland used to be crowned.

And so, soon after breakfast, they set off. By then they had consulted San’s road map and found a good way of going out of the city because there are major road works in the centre and things get rather confused if you want to get into the city or out of it.

Robert the Bruce in Stirling town

First stop was Stirling, checked on a few monuments/statues to the memory of Robert the BruceThey also drove up to Stirling Castle through the narrow roads of the town. The place was busy, people were coming in by the bus loads. They did not go into the castle but looked over the ramparts at the lands beyond.

Back on the roads heading to the Trossachs national park there was stunning scenery with quaint villages and lochs. They

Through the Trossachs

meandered through, took pictures, stopped by loch Lomond and took in the fresh air. On the way in and out of the national park she saw the sign board to another Loch and was wondering about the name when San exclaimed “really, but the Chinese are everywhere”, it was because the loch’s name was Chon! They had a good laugh over it.

Loch Chon

As they opted not to drive all the way to the coast, they came back on their steps and stopped at a small town for lunch. They were so hungry that they just ate at the first stop where there was decent parking. It was self service but tasty. It was inside one of these ‘wool shops’ set up for tourists. These often sell woollen garments as well as any other articles that may interest tourists – in Scotland that would be shortbread biscuits, haggis, keychains with clan coats of arms etc.

It was still early when they headed for Scone palace. This is a castle that is still inhabited. It was also the place where the old kings of Scotland were crowned. It was well indicated and they were soon driving into the grounds. They parked the car and went up to see about visiting the grounds of the castle. The people were in a fizz since aunty Lizzie was just there having lunch, left 15 minutes before we arrived.

Scone Palace

It was quite amazing to them that there was not great hooo haas after such a visit because they are used to great show of security, presence of police and barred roads when African leaders appear anywhere. At Scone palace that day, the gate guy only apologised that it would take a further 15 minutes wait

Crowning stone

if they had wanted to go inside the castle. Since that was not their aim, they were free to stroll into the grounds and take pictures. They went by the small chapel where THE stone used to be. There is a replica in the place where she sat and was crowned.

From Perth, where the Scone Palace is, they were only a stonethrow from Edinburgh, it was a matter of crossing the Firth bridge. When they got back to Edinburgh, they were hard pressed to find a parking spot because it was very much ‘residents only’ or ‘permit holders only’ where San lives. Since it was after hours, they found a spot where they could park for free for the night and remember to put in some coins if they had not moved before 8 on weekdays.

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