“Any fool can know. The point is to understand” — Albert Einstein

Finally. Here I am. Gatwick airport on the way home. It really doesn’t feel like it’s been a year. Over a year, actually. But that is not the point of this post. Although I could probably write several hundred words of rant about some of the lovely people in the airport. This one, the one in Edinburgh….just great, great airport employees.

But instead, I will share some of the things I learned from my week here in Scotland. Most of it is about history or random stuff that the tour guides told me. But I find it all really fascinating.

So of course, if we’ve talked recently, you know that the second I set foot in the highlands, I’ve been enamored with them. Maybe you didn’t know that…now you do. And it’s the whole thing; the rocky hills, the lochs and glens. The highland cows, hairy coos, the thousands (millions?) of sheep. Everything. It’s gorgeous, and I’m sure when it’s actually green, or purple actually, it’s even more beautiful. The castles! Although there are a ton of castles all over Scotland. Like seriously, a ton.

Anywho, I spent three days in the highlands. The first day I went to see Loch Ness, the second Loch Lomond, and the last day back over towards Loch Lomond again, but also to Loch Fyne and Invarary.

The lowlands, where Edinburgh and Glasgow etc. are is pretty too. Stirling castle and William Wallace, which the tours guides all made very clear, is not the same person as Braveheart, nor did he wear a kilt, nor was he a highlander. Oh! The Kelpies! There is a fabulous statue near Stirling…I think, of these two huge kelpie heads. It is one of my favorite things I saw. (Kelpies are white horse, beautiful, that are sometimes mermaids that drown people and then eat them. So that’s fun.)

But here some of the things I learned, besides the history of William Wallace and how he was not Braveheart: Robert the Bruce, whose heart was Braveheart, Rob Roy, Mary Queen of Scots, James the Ist…who then became James the IVth? And some more general stories of the various clans and history of the people of Scotland. Oh! And Mac is son of but Mc is second son of….

Also, and I’m not sure if I really believe these, I heard the origin stories of the terms blackmail and armed to the teeth. Or I should say black meil and armed to the teith. Right, so blackmail. This is a part of the much longer story of Rob Roy, who was basically a cattle thief. But at some point he realized that stealing cattle was not making him enough money. So he went around to the landowners and told them that for a small fee, protection money, he would protect their highland cows from thieves, ie he would stop stealing them. Also, if someone else stole them, he would go out with his expert cattle thief-gang and get them back. So here’s the blackmail part. The highland cows were originally all black. It was only after a crossing with some less shaggy breed of cow that they all became gingers. AND meil is apparently the old Gaelic (pronounced more like gal-lick) word for money. Then there’s Armed to the teith. There is a village somewhere near the border of the highlands and the lowlands, where the lowlanders and the clans people used to meet to trade and sell and buy supplies. They would arrive in the morning, buy what they needed to buy, the go with whatever money they had left, or whatever money they had made that day, and proceed to drink a whole bunch of whisky. According to the tour guide, they would then get in a lot of great, messy, bloody fights. Then rinse and repeat. The village, unsurprisingly, didn’t like this very much. So they set up a check point just outside the village, where you would have to turn in all your armaments, swords, guns, knives, etc., before you could go into the town. Hence you were armed (up until you got) to the teith. And teith sounds a lot, identical even, to teeth. So there you go. Again, I’m not sure if I believe that. I mean why not, it seems to make sense. I certainly don’t know any other reason for these saying to exist. I guess I choose to believe it, until something forces me to actually look it up and check it out.

And I almost forgot! You know “You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low…”, right? I mean telling someone to ‘take the high road’ comes from that doesn’t it? I’m not sure. I’ll possibly look that up. But, what I think I knew, but probably had never heard was the song it comes from. Which I think is called On the Banks of Bonnie Loch Lomond. But really, I am not sure about that. I also did not know that the song was originally a letter from a Jacobite imprisoned by the English…yes. And for sure, the song is super dark and deeply depressing when you know the back story. So it’s a letter right, from one Jacobite to his family back up in the highlands, I think. But he gives to his friend, also a Jacobite, I think, who has somehow been released from jail, because the first guy has been sentenced to hang or be executed however they did back then. I guess beheading was still big? Mary Queen of Scots got it real bad with the beheading.

Back to the song. Here are the lyrics as I understand them, not to be taken as fact, but as I listened to the song and then remembered it. Words may have been changed or left out, but the general ideas are still there.

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low, and I’ll get to Scotland afore ye.

But me and my true love, shall never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

So some break down: high road – land of the living, low road – land of the dead as in underworld low, I’ll  get to Scotland afore ye – time is apparently immaterial to the dead, the rest of the song – he’s dead, so of course he’s not gonna meet her…not unless she dies too. So not a cheerful song. But the versions of it I’ve heard are beautiful. There’s more, this is just the chorus, but I did not catch the lyrics to the rest of it. I think it’s just more stuff about Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond. Very catchy though.

That’s the majority of the fun facts that I learned. Of course there was a lot more history. Particularly the history of the fight for independence. Lots of William Wallace and Rob Roy and Robert the Bruce (although Rob Roy doesn’t really fit that category). Some more stuff about various clans whenever we went through a particularly interesting/important/relevant glen. But I am not sure about which clan did what, so I don’t want to get it wrong. And a little about James the first/fourth and his mother Mary Queen of Scots. And some stuff about Whisky/Scotch.

It was really interesting. Not having studied any of it in school in America, particularly when you’re focused on the other side of the world (cough cough Japan) it’s pretty cool. I really, really liked it. And I can’t wait to go back, but I know that most of my time will be spent studying in the city.

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