For Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year, friends! Wow, I can’t believe 2018 is almost here. Another year. A new beginning. A fresh start. A blank page to write upon.

What will you write on your page this year?

A decorated latte sitting on a table next to a journal and pen.

Every year when the clock strikes midnight, people around the globe jubilantly ring in the new year by singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I wonder, though, how many of us actually know what we are singing about or where the song originated. I’m reminded of the humorous exchange between Billy Crystal’s and Meg Ryan’s character at the end of one of my favorite movies – “When Harry Met Sally.”

Harry: [about Auld Lang Syne] What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?

Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.

-from “When Harry Met Sally”, 1989

Roughly translated ‘for old times’ sake’ or ‘days gone by,’ “Auld Lang Syne” is about preserving old friendships, raising a glass, and looking back with nostalgia over the events of the year. It’s a celebration of the moment and gives us hope for the future. Joy, kinship, and camaraderie – even melancholy and regret – are just some of the feelings I think this song has the power to invoke. Such is the power of music.

Auld Lang Syne sheet music resting on the keys of a piano.
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A Christmas Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson

To old friends, new friends, and friends I have yet to meet,

I want to sincerely thank you all for welcoming me into your blogging community this year. It has been great fun to write for you these last few months, and you have been so encouraging. I have enjoyed our interactions, and I look forward to getting to know you even better through your posts over this next year.

A lantern hanging on a wood paneled wall.

A few weeks ago, I came across this Christmas prayer. It is widely attributed to one of Scotland’s literary sons, Robert Louis Stevenson, although I am unable to find the source. Regardless, it is beautiful, and it is my personal prayer for you this blessed season.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

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Mary King’s Close-What Lies Beneath Part 2

Many thanks to The Real Mary King’s Close, who were so kind as to permit me to use their awesome photos. All photos in this post are credited to them.

In my previous blog post, I gave you a bit of history of how Edinburgh, Scotland began; how it expanded eastward from Edinburgh Castle and how Mary King’s Close and other nearby alleys came to be frozen in time underneath the Royal Exchange. In light of that, today I would like to take you to see The Real Mary King’s Close, one of Edinburgh’s most compelling visitor attractions.

A cutaway of the area called Mary King's Close.
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Edinburgh, Scotland-What Lies Beneath Part 1

Beneath a portion of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile lies a hidden labyrinth of narrow alleyways and abandoned dwellings. This “secret” underground world is a fascinating peek into 17th-century life. To understand why it exists, however, we first need to take a look at how the city of Edinburgh grew.

Edinburgh originated with a community of people that lived and worked outside the walls of Edinburgh Castle. As its population increased, the city spread east along the sloped stretch of road called the Royal Mile. Overcrowding eventually became a serious issue, but because a protective wall enclosed Edinburgh, residents were unable to expand the city outward. They had no other alternative than to build up. What resulted was a web of narrow alleyways called ‘closes’ that led off of the Royal Mile, and buildings that sometimes grew multiple stories high.

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Deacon Brodie-The Real Jekyll and Hyde?

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to do a few blogs this month that highlight some of the weird, dark, and spooky stories of Edinburgh’s past. Edinburgh’s history is full of accounts of unsavory characters and macabre tales, each with the ability to intrigue and fascinate even the most dubious among us. It’s going to be a lot of fun to research and write about them for you.

To kick things off, I would like to introduce you to a man who inspired author Robert Louis Stevenson to write him famed 1886 novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” That man was William Brodie. Or, as he is better known, Deacon Brodie.

Deacon Brodie.
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Half-Hangit Maggie: The Strange Tale of Maggie Dickson

Hello there! Pull up a chair. Today I am going to tell you a strange tale about a woman named Maggie Dickson who lived in Scotland in the 18th century. History remembers her better as Half-Hangit Maggie.

The story of Maggie Dickson began when her husband abandoned her. Forced to find work, she took a job at an inn in Kelso in the Scottish Borders, where she became involved with the innkeeper’s son. You can probably guess what happened next. Yes, Maggie became pregnant.

Because she did not want to jeopardize her job, she concealed her pregnancy. Unfortunately, the baby was born prematurely and died. In an attempt to further hide her ordeal, Maggie decided to place the lifeless little body in the nearby River Tweed. She was unable to go through with it, however, and instead left the wee one on the river bank. The baby was discovered, and Maggie’s secret was out.

Maggie Dickson was arrested and taken to Edinburgh, where she was tried and convicted for her crime. On September 2, 1724, Maggie hanged in Grassmarket. After being pronounced dead, she was placed in a coffin for transferral back to her home in Musselburgh.

Then something extraordinary happened. On the trip to Musselburgh, the travelers heard a banging coming from the inside of the wooden box. Just imagine their fright! Upon inspection, they discovered that Maggie was not dead, but was, in fact, very much ALIVE! The law ultimately deemed that it was God’s will that she survived the gallows, and Maggie Dickson went on to live another 40 years.

The legend of Maggie, ie. Half-Hangit Maggie continues to this day. I told you it was a strange one! If you fancy it, there is a pub named in her honor in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket where it all went down nearly three-hundred years ago. If you visit the pub, lift a pint to her spirit and cheers the woman who somehow, quite miraculously, managed to survive her own execution.

Maggie Dickson's Whisky and Ale House in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Cheers, Maggie!  And to you too.

Hailes Castle-A Beautiful Ruin on the River Tyne

One of my favorite things to do in Scotland is to find the hidden treasures. That is not to say that the most popular and well-publicized sites aren’t great. They are! There is just something fun and unique about seeking out the hidden gems.

In our travels, Mr. C and I have made some pretty fantastic finds, and I plan to share them with you over time. But if I had to pick just one to tell you about today, it would be the beautiful ruins of Hailes Castle.

A small stream running in front of Hailes Castle ruin.

Hailes Castle sits roughly forty minutes east of Edinburgh, nestled snuggly along the River Tyne. The castle’s original stonework dates to the 1200s, which makes it one of the oldest surviving stone castles in Scotland.

Hailes Castle ruin and grass covered hills.

Hugo de Gourlay first began the construction of Hailes. He had to forfeit his property to the government, however, after authorities discovered that he supported the English during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Later, the Hepburn family acquired the castle, and it remained in their care throughout its most tumultuous years.

Hailes Castle had its share of attacks. The worst seems to have taken place in 1446 when the pro-English Archibald Dunbar is said to have killed everyone he found in the castle. Hm, that could certainly give some credence to those who believe ghosties haunt the ruins!

Ruined interior castle walls.

In my opinion, one of the most intriguing aspects of the castle’s history is its connection to Mary Queen of Scots. (If you are not familiar with Mary, she was a cousin and rival of Queen Elizabeth I of England.) In 1567, James Hepburn (of Hailes) was involved in the murder of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley. It was a scandalous affair, and there are two different tales of how it played out. After receiving an acquittal for the murder, some believe that he kidnapped Mary as she was traveling to Edinburgh and that he forced her to marry him at Dunbar Castle. Others say the kidnapping was a pre-planned agreement between the two. Either way, history shows that the pair lodged at Hailes Castle for a few days before going on to Dunbar where they wed.

After Hepburn’s downfall, Hailes Castle passed through the families of the Stewarts and then the Setons. Finally, in 1650, the castle fell under the attack of Oliver Cromwell, effectively ending its days as a noble residence.

A castle ruin on the banks of the River Tyne.

No longer a target for attack, Hailes Castle resides peacefully by the Tyne, charming visitors with its soft-spoken dignity and quiet demeanor. If you visit, take a picnic, turn off your phone, and let your imagination run wild.

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