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Sabbatical - St. Andrews and Edinburgh

St. Andrews, from its beginning has been a place of ecclesiastical lore, conflict, intrigue, revolution and reformation. Tradition has it that St. Regulus (Rule) fled the Roman Empire with the bones of the Apostle Andrew and deposited them in Scotland where the city of St. Andrews is now.   In addition, it is the "home of golf", the game having been played there since the 1500's (I wonder if John Knox ever played a round).  A "university town", St. Andrews is the location of Scotland's oldest, and one of the world's most prestigious universities.  It is an understatement to say that tradition, ritual and "religion" abound in many forms, and "holy" places are everywhere.  

Stand on the iconic Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway of The Old Course and you can literally see history all around you.  This is the description on the course website of how to play the 18th hole:   Drive straight for the Martyrs’ Monument. The road across the fairway is not a hazard, but an integral part of the course, and the ball must be played from the road if it finishes there. The Valley of Sin is the final hazard on the course. With a mass of subtle borrows, this is perhaps the most often three putted green in golf.

While standing at the Martyrs Monument I couldn't help but wonder what St. Columba would have thought about the eventual mayhem and bloodshed wrought in the name of the Christianity he brought to Scotland when he landed at Columba Bay in the 6th century.  The Memorial honors Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart and other Scottish Protestants who were killed by Catholics during the Reformation.  This is not to say the Protestants didn't kill their share of Catholics.  Also, not far from the memorial is the place where people, mostly women, were accused of being witches, tried and executed, by the "Church".   Their thumbs were tied to their toes and they were thrown alive into the sea.  If they sank they were guilty and if they floated they were innocent.  Either way they died.  It is always good, and sobering, to be reminded that one's religious heritage is never pristine and sometimes even sinister.  Reminders abound in St. Andrews.  However, there are also plenty of reminders of commitment and courage, intellectual excellence and achievement, and athletic skill and determination.  

One of my favorite stories is that after John Knox preached an inflammatory sermon at his first parish Holy Trinity church people responded by stripping (ie looting and pillaging) the St. Andrews Cathedral of all it's ecclesiastical trappings. (Ah! Those were the days before Presbyterians were frozen.) This was the beginning of the end for the cathedral which was literally and gradually dismantled stone by stone over the ensuing years and used as building material for local structures many of which are part of the university today.  Who knows maybe even parts of the Swilcan Bridge and Martyrs Monument were also once in the walls of the magnificent cathedral?

After less than 24 hours in St. Andrews we were off to Edinburgh and instead of taking the train, enjoyed riding, at the advice of our new friend Jim Keddie, the #60 bus from St. Andrews to Edinburgh.  It is a delightful route that hugs the coast and winds through all the charming coastal towns.  Thanks, Jim and Myra!

Peg and I both were immediately enamored with Edinburgh.   It has the statues and monuments of DC, the art and entertainment energy of New York and London, and the street life of New Orleans before "the storm."  Along with Iona it is definitely one of the places to which we hope to return.  We were told that August is the time to do it because of it's massive Fringe Festival (the original one) when the streets literally close down for the celebrations.  But we had a pretty good time with only two days in July!

Our only full day there was one of synchronistic serendipity.  Just the opposite of Murphy's Law - if things could go inexplicably right, they did.   It started as we were walking toward the "Royal Mile" to visit the Edinburgh Castle.  We happened upon, it was hard not to, a piece of public art that was a very large photo portrait cut into strips and pasted to the risers of a long and wide concrete stairway.  You can see all of this in the slide show below.  When we climbed the stairs and looked back it of course began to disappear giving a striking example of how see something as real as a staircase all depends on our perspective.  We also noticed a sign that said the city would take it down if it rained to prevent the glue from making the stairs slippery.

One of the things, in addition to the castle, we wanted to do was find a whiskey shop or pub (we didn't know which) that a friend of Pegs had recommended as a place that offered samples of different kinds of single malt scotch. But since it was only 10:30 am we decided to do that later, if we could find it.  So, we had a wonderful self-paced audio and printed guide tour of the castle that took 2-3 hours.  

As we were leaving the castle Peg said, "Andy, isn't that Jerry Sroufe?", pointing into a crowd of people.  And sure enough it was.  We walked over to him and I eased up beside him, touched his shoulder and offered a handshake.  He reached for my hand and was about to introduce himself when he did a double take, turned to the other direction and shouted, "Mary Ann, look who's here!"  For my non CHPC friends, Jerry and Mary Ann are long time members of Capitol Hill Presbyterian and live just a couple of blocks near us.  They were with a group tour in Scotland.  We both knew of each other's trips but had no idea we would be in Edinburgh on the same day, much less meet.   They also reminded us that another CHPC friend, Mary Bird, was supposed to be in Edinburgh, but we're sure when. We took a quick photo together (in the slide show) and were off on our separate ways.

We began our walk down the Royal Mile to see Holyrood Palace and the Parliament building.  On the way we stopped in a whiskey shop to ask about the unknown place to sample scotches.  Peg explained to the young man in the shop that a friend had done this and he immediately said, "Come outside and I'll show you where to go."  He pointed out two pubs and recommended one and as we passed them we made note of their location so we could stop in on our way back.

We were just in time to get into the Parliament building before it closed and after spending 45 minutes or so looking around decided to head back toward our pub.  As we crossed the lobby I looked across the room and couldn't believe who I saw: Mary Bird, sitting on a bench with another woman.  I pointed her out to Peg and we went and sat on a bench right in front of them without saying anything.  Mary looked up and we she saw us was surprised, to say the least.  She and her friend were visiting Mary's sister who lives in suburban Edinburgh, and were to visit other parts of Scotland as well.  We chatted a few minutes, took a photo and said goodbye.

When we got to the pub it was at the corner of the Royal Mile and the street we would have come up had we not take the shortcut up the stairway with the photo.  Because of this Peg was certain this was the place her friend had told her about because she had said, "It's right at the top of the hill where a street intersects the Royal Mile."   So we had a "scotch tour" of four great whiskeys and some dinner - quite a find!   By the way, while we were having dinner it began to rain little.

When we left the pub we headed back to the hotel in a light rain by going down the street we would have come up had we not taken the stairway, and when we got to the stairway sure enough, just as the sign had said, city workers were pressure washing the photo off of the stairway.  There were several people standing around watching and one young man was taking photos.  We began talking with them and soon learned that the one taking photos was the photographer of the stairway portrait, another was the subject of the photo, and a third was another photographer who had work up in other parts of Edinburgh, all of which was part of a project called the "Inside Out A Global Art Project." .  The subjects parents were also there and discovering we are from DC shared that they were doctors and had lived in DC while working at the NIH several years ago.

When the stairs were clean, they went to have a wake for the photo and we headed back to our hotel totally amazed at the magical day we had just experienced.  We also had a good laugh imagining how many CHPC members we simply failed to see on the streets of Edinburgh that day.


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