The Notebook

Some time ago, after my January 2011 entry, I was given a treasure I did not know existed. A journal kept by maternal grandmother, Susan Robson Bryden, when she returned to Scotland (via England) to visit between June 17, 1947 and August 13, 1947.

She had been away for more than 20 years. World War II had come and gone, but some of the places she saw still showed the signs of German bombing, and Scotland was still rationing food and clothing. According to page 176 of Scottish Customs: from the Cradle to the Grave, rationing was strictly enforced into the 1950s.

Grandma Bryden left Scotland a young woman. When she returned to visit she had 7children including my mother, the youngest. Mom turned 6 years old 3 days into my Gran’s visit; Grandma Bryden even wrote “Happy Birthday Honey” in the journal.

As I pored over the journal, trying to read her writing which is now more than 60 years old, some of the ink faded, I marvelled at the number of places she visited, or mentioned, that I have seen. I felt a sense of sadness at the places she visited that I had wanted to visit during my visits but for various reasons were never reached. Perhaps/definately next time.

It took me some time to read all of the journal, because some sentences needed re-reading, and more than once I “googled” for information about some of the places she visited. I even used what little of the Gaelic I possess in order to find a place she mentioned but she wrote its name in a sort of English.

Over the weeks I read the journal I sent my thoughts, via email, to relatives and friends who I thought might want to follow along. I have been encouraged to copy/paste my emails to this blog so that others can also read what I had to say. Therefore, the next few entries will be devoted to The Notebook. Then I’ll share another treasure, that I did know existed, I received from Scotland.

Until then, may the best you’ve ever seen be the worst you’ll ever know.

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Ceart ma tha (right then) … Loon Mt NH, USA Highland Games 2010

Once again I find myself apologizing for a long delay in blogging. I have no valid reason, only excuse(s), but have been keeping a list of subjects about which to blog. So, let me resume with the New Hampshire Highland Games, held at Loon Mt, Sept 2010.

Jacqueline was unable to attend the games this year, but rather than stay home alone, actually with The Ghillie, I decided to drive north for a couple of hours on Saturday the 18th of September. It was a bright day, not warm, cold, damp or windy. Ideal as a matter of fact. Or, in The Gaelic Tha i breagha an-diugh (it’s a lovely day today).

Being a descendant of Highland, and Lowland, Scots I was keen to see what Border Reiver families (or clan if that word is preferable) would be represented, and to pay a visit to the Clan MacKay tent where Jacqueline had some tablet samples, courtesy Douglas MacKay, available for … sampling. Sadly I have yet to meet a representative of Clan MacLea/Livingstone at the games I have attended. My cousin Kyle is very much involved in their activity out west, and we (Jacqueline and I) would very much like to do the same here in New England.

Regardless, the border families (clans) were represented with tents and representatives from Bell, Graham, Turnbull, and Johnstone. The Bell’s had a rather interesting shirt available; sorry the picture is somewhat skewed; when I resized the image I used absolute width/height rather than percentage; so a portrait orientation was forced into landscape. Sadly, again, I’ve not ever seen a representative from the infamous Robson family; but I do enjoy sharing what knowledge I have of the Robsons, especially when I meet a Graham.

I spent several minutes chatting with Norman Turnbull, Clan Turnbull’s “High Seanachie”. Sadly I have no picture of him (I was too busy talking to him) but he gave to me a picture of the statue of Rob Roy MacGregor located at Culter Burn, Peterculter, Aberdeen, Scotland. Here’s a link to information about the statue. The picture is now hanging in our home office, which is more like a “Scotland room” at this point in time.

Finally, all the way from the Netherlands was a group of Malt Whisky drinkers, visiting a friend in the USA, who posed for a picture.

Next time we will be returning to Ile (Islay). Until then may the best you’ve ever seen be the worst you’ll ever see.

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Maine (USA) Highland Games

Jacqueline and I drove a wee bit north this past Saturday to attend the Maine Highland Games..

We met Douglas MacKay from Clan MacKay and had a very pleasant visit with him, during which he inquired about tablet made by Jacqueline. There were Johnston(e) and Maxwell border reivers in attendance as well as several other clans, and families, but (sadly) no MacLea/Livingstones.

One of the interesting facts I discovered while perusing the Maine Highland Games website, and following associated links is: “U.S. Census Data (2000) confirms that Maine has, per capita, the highest percentage of Scots descendants in the entire USA, and ranks third in the country for Scots-Irish descendants.” For more information on the Maine Ulster Scots visit their website.

Finally, we saw some women “working” tweed, while singing waulking songs. I was able to take a photo of their song book, and yes, they knew the traditional fixing element for the tweed !!!

Until next time …. Slainte !!!

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Oor Alba Blog “header” with background picture

This post has nothing to do with Scotland per se (except that the picture was taken on the road between Ardbeg, and the Kildalton Cross) but if anyone is reading this blog, does the new banner, with the picture as background for text, “work”? As much as I like the picture I believe the text is too difficult to read. Comments appreciated.

ETA: reader response was that the “blue bells” banner was attractive but difficult to read. It has been replaced with the above picture of Loch Fynne, taken in Inverary.

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Susan Robson Bryden (Lane)

This entry is dedicated to a woman I do not remember: my Grandmother. It’s also dedicated to my mother, my Aunt “Doodle Mama” Edie, and mo bhean (my wife) Jacqueline for their support and encouragement.

My maternal grandmother, Susan Robson Bryden, born 1906 in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland, left Scotland at the age of 18, bound for Canada; to be (so I’ve been told) a domestic (indentured?) servant. From Canada she eventually moved to the United States where she met and married my grandfather, John C. Lane. Sadly, for me, she died when I was still a wee lad. But, as the embedded picture shows, she knew me.

During my Hogmanay 2009 trip to Alba I was blessed to be able to walk the street(s) that she would have walked in Coatbridge, and I was even guided to Buchanan Street, which is where she lived. Based on street number, I believe and residents of the area confirmed, the section of Buchanan Street where she lived is now the site of The Time Capsule, a public pool. It was suggested I take a bus to Airdrie and visit the library where I would find photographs of Coatbridge as it looked during my Grandmother’s child hood. I took several pictures, for my own sense of history and connection, and have posted one of them, Buchanan Street circa 1967; I hope I am not stepping on copy-rights.

During our 2010 Feis Ile trip, I had hoped to visit Gourock,and Greenock.I could not explain why I wanted to visit those towns but for some reason they were calling. Regretably we did not visit either of those locations because it was suggested that we visit Stirling that day. I later learned why those towns were calling; it’s probable Susan Robson Bryden left Scotland on a boat that left from either Gourock, or Greenock. I still hear them calling and hope to be able to access, on-line, any information that will tell me what ship she took and when she sailed. Then I will make it a goal to visit where she last stood, or at least be in the general area.

Over the years my mother, and her sister Edie (aka “Doodle Mama”) have given to me, and my wife, various items that belonged to my Grandmother. Most of the items have been books, but recently were were given a wee butter dish that has a tiny thistle in its clear handle. Granted, none of these items is (probably) worth much money, but to me, they are piceless. I hope someday to meet my Grandmother; God willing, I will.

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As promised .. the last few days of Feis Ile 2010 trip

Mike writing: many apologies for the delay in this entry. As we mentioned in the last entry, dated 31-May, we had a bit of an adventure during the return to the USofA. Since then we’ve been busy and I was completely remiss in my obligations to readers of Oor Alba Blog; on the plus side I have been making a list of blog subjects that will keep me busy, and you reading, until our next only-God-knows-when trip home.

We left Islay on Saturday the 29th at approximately 2PM, via the ferry from Port Askaig. We wanted to leave from that port as the ferry passes by Dunlossit House and McArthur’s Head Lighthouse. But between waking, packing, loading the car and boarding the ferry we had some time.

The first place we (re)visited was The Spar, in Bridgeend where we bought a wee book about Gaelic to add to our growing collection, and hopefully assist us in our goal of learning the language. Then we were off to Finlaggan, specifically to ask for information regarding Mulreesh, a now abandoned settlement that was in the Finlaggan area. We were provided some assistance and off we drove. Eventually though we encountered a gate, and rather than open it, drive through, close it and continue, I executed a 40 point turn in the one-track road and we headed back to the main road.

Back at the main road we decided to visit Caol Ila distillery but it was closed; I had completely forgotten the day was Saturday. So, we sat there for a while, chatting, writing, eating some snacks, and taking more pictures of The Paps of Jura. Soon enough though it was time to get into line for the ferry so we headed to Port Askaig.

After boarding the ferry, J sought shelter from the rather raw/windy weather in the lounge. I stayed outside taking pics (including even more of The Paps), chatting with other passengers, and waiting to see the lighthouse. Eventually we were back at the Kennecraig terminal and headed to our overnight destination, just a few miles down the road … a (we believe) God ordained stay at Bluebell Cottage !!! BBC is very modern and our hosts, Iris and Graham Terry, were friendly, and helpful; we highly recommend BBC.

After settling in we asked about a place to eat and the West Loch Hotel was suggested. Graham called ahead and was told that if we “come right over we’ll seat them in the back bar.” Well we headed right over, were seated, and had a lovely meal, and conversation with 3 locals who were sitting at a table next to us. If they are reading this we thank you for making our evening so enjoyable and memorable.

The next day, after a great breakfast, we packed up and headed back toward Glasgow (where we would be staying with our friends Gordon and Margaret Campbell in Duntocher), stopping for petrol in Tarbert. As an FYI for our state-side readers, we paid almost 1pnd 30pence for a liter of petrol. There are 4 liters per gallon. Assuming a pound is worth about $1.50, you do the math. Yes, more than $6.00 per gallon !!! True to my form I spent several minutes chatting with folks I met in the station. I cannot express how much I love being in Scotland and talking to anyone who will talk to me. Then ,,, we were off.

It was about noonish that we arrived in Inverary and I wanted to visit the Loch Fyne Whiskies store, but we had to wait until 12:30. See the picture of the sign; I love it. Inside the shop I found a wee bottle of Inverleven that I purchased. Despite my love for Islay whisky I am also a fan of Lowland (go figure, eh?) and I keep a list of lowland in my wallet so I know what I am looking for whenever I have a chance to shop. With only a few minutes to spare on the parking meter we departed Inverary.

Arriving safely at Gordon and Margaret’s in Duntocher, we visited for a while and then Gordon and I returned the car hire to the airport. Then we (Jacqueline and I) were treated to a dinner-out at a Chinese Restaurant, followed by a a few drams and conversation at the Campbell’s home, until it was time to sleep. The next day we rose early, ate breakfast, packed and were conveyed to GLA. And you know what happened there.

God only knows when, or if, I or we, will ever make it back to Scotland. We pray that it will be so. We pray for an opportunity to live there, at least for a short time. One of the greatest blessings of our trip(s) is the friends we have made. We hope someday to be able to return the favor of hospitality if any of them visit the USofA.

God’s blessings and peace to all we have met and who provided places to stay, advice, and more.

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Left Alba, arrived USA, thanks to …

For the past few days we have been without internet access as we made our way back from Islay to the USA. It’s almost 9:30PM on May 31, 2010 and we have been back at oor wee cottage for about 2 hours.

The flight back was an adventure that began when we learned, at GLA, that our 10:40AM flight to Heathrow was cancelled !!! However, we were soon booked onto a 10:00AM flight into London’s Gatwick airport and from there we took a bus to Heathrow and caught our connection as it was boarding.

My (Mike) next post will be about the last few days of our trip. Subsequent posts will be further thoughts regarding some of what we saw and did, or hope to see and do in the future. After that ??? So … come back soon.

Thanks to our families and friends (on both sides of the Atlantic) that encouraged, hosted, and supported us.

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Friday night 8:45PM entry

This will probably be the final entry during the trip. We leave Islay tomorrow and between then and Monday night, when we are back in the states, we do not anticipate any ability to be “on line”. However, we will post more entries following our arrival back in the USA. We have been very busy up until very late at night, and as explained earlier we must access the wifi at a local pub. So, that’s why our blog postings have not been as frequent as we would have preferred.

Briefly, these are the events of the past few days:

We drove to Kilnave/Loch Gruinart, the site of the Kilnave Cross and the battle of Traigh Ghruineard in 1598. Traigh Ghruineard was the last major clan battle on Islay. There is much more to it (and I will post more in the future) but here is a summary: One side killed the clan chief of the other, then sought refuge in a chapel. The now-chiefless clan burned the chapel. The site is also known for its cross which is beautiful in its own right but perhaps not as well known as the Kildalton cross. Later that day we attended a Gaelic Concert in Bowmore. The performers sang, danced and play various instruments such as accordion, pipes, and clarsach (Gaelic harp).


We started our day by doing laundry. Later that day we visited our friends Maggie and Robin Woodman at Samhchair, then drove down to the “Singing Sands” beach at Kilnaugton Bay. Maggie and Robin were instrumental in making our first visit to Islay a positive experience and we have kept in contact with them over the past year.

A special thrill that day was visiting Neil and Ruth McEachern of Keills, Port Askaig, Islay. We met them when we attended church at Kilmeny, and I had asked if anyone spoke The Gaelic. We were introduced to Neil and his wife. Neil grew up speaking The Gaelic, and was raised in a now abandoned village near Finlaggan, and we received an invitation to visit them in their home. So we did and what a pleasure it was to sit and hear about their lives on Islay and its history. We hope to be able to visit them again, soon, and perhaps speak more Gaelic than simply ciamar a tha sibh?


We drove down to Bunnahabhain distillery for their open day and to hear Skerryvore. We collected a free bottle of Black Bottle whisky, took some snaps and had fun. From there we drove to Port Nahaven where we ran into Alan Jenkins, my chess opponent from last year !!! He was kind enough to take a picture of us with Port Wemyss (weems) in the background. Then we stopped at An Gleann which served as the inspiration for Jacqueline’s tablet business and followed that up with a long walk to Grimsay, an abandoned village some distance from Port Charlotte.

Well, that’s it for now. The ‘puter, running on batteries is low and I must be away. Please stay “tuned” as we continue to blog and provide more detail and information about our trip. I have not even been able to keep up with my journal: I am trusting the hundreds of photographs will jog my memory. Some of the better pics that are not blogged will be posted to my website, Flickr or Facebook.

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Wed (26th) and Thu (27th)

This is an early entry for May 26 and 27. We are planning on attending some night time events tomorrow (Wed) and Thursday; a Gaelic concert Wednesday in Bogh Mor … Bowmore, and Clootie Dumpling Ceilidh in Port nah Abhainne … Port Nahaven on Thursday so we might not have another blog entry until Friday night. Friday is our last full day on Islay before we return to Tarbert on the mainland, then to Glasgow and back to the USofA.

Meanwhile the weather has been very good most of the time. Breezy but sunny and cool.

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Eilean Dhiura

Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 17:30 hours

Today we took the ferry Eilean Dhiura (Island of Jura) to … the Isle of Jura !!! From Port Askaig it’s only about a 15 minute ride. After you drive off the ferry your options are limited as there is only one primary road. There are some “off shoots” but for all intents and purposes your drive will be along a twisting-turning, upsee-downsee, most-of-the-time-one-track, and occasionally very rough road. We passed many folk riding bicycles, and a fair number of walkers, but I think you need to have much time and be in phenomenal physical condition to last more than a wee while.

The road is more than 30 miles long and runs along the coast through, or past settlements and wee villages, ruins many years old and some not so old. It’s difficult to describe the landscape and a picture taken without a proper wide-angle lens cannot accurately depict what it’s like to drive down a road that seems to be “in the middle of nowhere” and when you least expect it there is a house (new or old) or even a small group of houses, or a working farm, Many of these are situated
quite close to the water. Many more ruins, iron age and other, are accessible only by walking some distance.

I chatted with one native (he says he “belongs to Jura”) that was training for a foot race that runs up/down several hills including The Paps and is about 17 miles. He says it takes him about 5 hours to do the course. He is a fisherman (I think he said the only one) and told me about a diver who gathers scallops. Others work for one of the several estates that own most of the land, or they work for the hotel. The population numbers only about 200 folk so you can see that much of the land is unoccupied.

We had lunch at a very nice bistro called “The Antlers”. Jacqueline had a seafood bisque because there was no more Cullen Skink, and I had a venison burger. Dessert was Tablet Ice Cream and it was very good !!! We hope to get back to the Ardbeg distillery Old Kiln Cafe later this week for some Cullen Skink (Gordon rates theirs a “10″) and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

I think that Jura, much like Islay, would require several trips in order to see most of the sites there are to see. I know that I am becoming more and more interested in walking out to many of the more remote, but historic, sites on both islands. This surprises me because I thought this trip would probably be my last to Islay. We shall see.

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