Finding our family roots in Scotland (July/August 2009)

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My husband has long been accused of “marrying out”. By this, his friends mean that he, a proud Scot, married a girl from London, with an English accent which seems stronger (and posher) each time I visit Scotland. An English wife was bad enough, but now my husband has two English children as well.

Or at least he did have. Now he has two children who see themselves as half Scottish. And all thanks to a jokey conversation and a holiday. Let me explain…

It all began with a discussion about the fine England results since Fabio Capello became manager.
“I think we should get Robbie [our four year old son] an England football kit,” I said mischievously.
My husband went white. I’d obviously hit a nerve.
“Er?then we have to get him a Scotland kit as well,” he retorted.
I decided to call his bluff. “That’s fine,” I said. “He can have both.”
The face grew even paler.
“He just can’t have an England strip” responded my husband firmly.

I pointed out then that the children had little idea of their Scottish roots, so perhaps it was time to find out more. A few months later we were flying on easyJet from Luton to Edinburgh.

And our first stop couldn’t have been more apt. We arrived just in time for The Gathering, a huge meeting of Scottish clans from all over the world, held at Holyrood Park.

It was a grand introduction to a world of all things Scottish. For one thing, most of the men were wearing kilts, the air was filled with the sound of bagpipes and drums, and we even settled down to watch some world class Highland Games. After all, what could be more traditionally Scottish than men in skirts (sorry, kilts) tossing the caber?

The children weren’t very taken with the 120 clan tents, as there was none marking my husband’s surname. But they did enjoy the atmosphere, waving their Scottish flags, and particularly the vast amount of Scottish shortbread they were allowed to try (they must have had more sugar in just over a week in Scotland than they have in months down south).

There was also the chance for our son to meet his namesake, Robert the Bruce; who’d have thought we’d have named him so aptly?

But although the children had fun, we just couldn’t persuade our Robbie to try on a kilt. The usual bribes didn’t work, and when the tears began to fall, we gave in and let him pose for a photo holding, rather than wearing, the kilt. The Scottish magic hadn’t yet taken full effect.

We left Edinburgh after two nights and drove to St Andrews. We didn’t feel we had any choice. After all, it was Andrew who became the Scottish saint, and whose cross is on the flag. St Andrews is also the spiritual home of golf and it was the one place that got my husband misty-eyed.

St Andrews was an unexpected hit with the children. They both liked visiting the (now ruined) abbey, and enjoyed dipping their toes into the sea and running back laughing. And of course, they absolutely adored their visit to B Jannettas, the award-winning ice cream parlour.

Do you notice a food theme yet? If not, let me tell you that by the end of the holiday, the children had fallen in love with macaroon and tablet (both designed to destroy your teeth) but had begun asking for “no more chips” and if they could please have some fruit and vegetables!

We then drove from St Andrews to Dundee, and our – mutually agreed – favourite hotel. The Apex was brilliantly located, both by the river Tay and very near to the city centre. It also had free DVDs for the kids and a swimming pool. My daughter, who’s 7, proclaimed it her favourite hotel ever – although this may have had something to do with watching Finding Nemo on the DVD while eating her room service supper.

Dundee was a brilliant city to stay in with kids and it was a shame we were only there for a day. We particularly enjoyed our visit to the RSS Discovery, the ship on which Captain Scott made his way to the Antarctic. Visitors are welcome to explore the ship and the award winning museum, we did both and were very impressed. It really is an excellent attraction, with lots of interactive exhibits.

Enjoying the four poster bed at Ethie Castle

From Dundee we drove to Ethie Castle, near Arbroath, where the children were thrilled to see a four poster bed in our room. The castle itself dates from the 14th century, although it’s now an upmarket B&B. It was a very special place to stay, particularly when our hostess, Kirstin, showed us her amazing gardens and the children picked their own carrots and took eggs from the hen house. They – poor town children – talked about this for days.

We were soon back in the car. Ethie is not far from Kirremuir, the birthplace of JM Barrie. We visited the plain little whitewashed cottage at 9 Brechin Rd which has its upper floors furnished as they may have been when Barrie lived there. There is also a special Peter Pan room, which the children loved.

With a statue of Peter Pan in the rain while visiting Kirremuir

From Kirremuir, we drove right across the country to Oban. It poured with rain for the whole four-hour journey, not an unusual occurrence. Robbie pointed this out, saying “it rains every day in Scotland”.

It was during this drive that I realised we were probably cramming in too much, although I’m not sure what we should have left out. However, for anyone planning a similar Scottish roadtrip with young children, I’d suggest waiting until they are a little older, or driving slightly less.

We arrived in Oban (still in the pouring rain) in the evening, but were cheered by the lovely B&B we were staying in, called the Glenburnie House. We didn’t even have to share a room with the children, who slept next door to us. Bliss!

Oban is beautiful, but we didn’t have much time to stop and sightsee as we took the early ferry to Mull. The 45-minute crossing was very smooth and on arrival at Craignure we drove straight to Tobermory for the highlight of the holiday (not least because we actually stayed two nights in one place).

Tobermory is famous – at least in our house – for “really” being Balamory, home of the popular TV series. Its coloured buildings have achieved worldwide fame (not all to the liking of locals), even though the show stopped being made in 2004. We even stayed in Josie Jump’s house (actually called the Park Lodge Guest House) which was excellently located, and even more fantastically for those with families, offered two rooms behind a blocked off corridor. We loved not sharing with our snoring son and early-riser daughter.

We found Tobermory – and Mull – utterly charming and wish we could have stayed longer. The island is simply beautiful, with gorgeous scenery, lots to do and a relaxing, laid back atmosphere. Tobermory itself has a great ambience, lovely shops to visit (including Tobermory Chocolate, which may be better known to Balamory fans as Edie McCreadie’s garage) and more than enough restaurants.

We also visited Tobermory Farm, where my daughter fed the sheep and rabbits, and Calgary beach, about an hour’s drive away, which was just glorious and so unspoilt.

On the way back we missed our ferry (it’s a long story!) so had to improvise our route to the mainland. We are so glad we did, as it included some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. First we took a different ferry, sailing for all of ten minutes, and then drove through the Highlands to catch ferry number two (a five minute journey this time) and arrive near Fort William. It was a magnificent detour.

Our last day was spent in Glasgow. But last was definitely not least. After all, the trip was inspired by football and we ended it with a visit to Scotland’s national football stadium, Hampden.

The tour was excellent, taking in the history of Scottish football, visits to home and away changing rooms, the chance to take a shot at goal and, of course, a walk down the famous tunnel.

Now, of course, was the perfect moment to ask the children how Scottish they felt, and what they had learnt. They had, they assured us, loved the holiday. We had one more question to ask: would Robbie, who wouldn’t try on a kilt, agree to put on a Scotland kit? He would, and without even a bribe.
“I have three football teams now,” he said, as he pulled on the navy shorts. “I have Tottenham, Scotland and England.” I didn’t dare ask the order of preference.

For more information about planning your perfect break to Scotland, see We were their guests for this holiday break.

We’ve teamed up with the Time Traveller linky from Mari’s World. It’s great fun – and shares posts from the past…..



This article first appeared in The Times online.


4 Responses

  1. Emma

    I am ashamed to say I have yet to make it to Scotland, would absolutely love to go though! Loved this post. The football strip comment made me laugh. Tell your husband, if it makes him feel any better, my lifelong Southampton supporting husband now has a fully kitted out FC Bayern fan as a son! 😀

  2. Mari

    I went to Scotland on a school trip to the Isle of Arran years ago and loved it. I have often dreamed of going back and visiting the country ‘properly’ and hopefully one day I will. You did see a lot on your trip though, I am sure the twins would love to visit ‘Balamory’ it’s an old favourite of theirs.
    Thank you so much for linking up to #TimeTraveller I have thoroughly enjoyed your trip to Scotland.

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