Friday, June 28, 2013

stirling castle and the search for cecil

Following our day at Edinburgh Castle, we met my in-laws for dinner at The Bristo Bar and Kitchen, a pub/restaurant next to the University of Edinburgh. We had ended up there because of the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. The reviews were right on. Our dinners were quite good (steak for me). I even got Keri and her parents to order a cider -- one for each of them. The highlight of the meal was dessert, though in particular our introduction to banoffle, a disturbingly good combination of banana toffee (served with vanilla ice cream). Lauren declared it the second best dessert of the trip -- so far. She will get no argument here.

The next morning, Keri and I set out separately for our morning runs/breaks from our children. I took a route down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal family's residence in Edinburgh. I turned right at the palace and headed into Holyrood Park, an ominous looking park for any runner, given the volcanic cliffs, steep pathways and interminable winds. I ran the perimeter of the park (which has a fair amount of grade to it but nothing compared to the large hills in the middle) and some of the slope going up one of the two large hills. I pretty much slowed to a walk toward the end of the incline, but I made it, barely, to a nice viewpoint, looking out toward the south and west. I headed back down and, through some bit of luck and reason, found my way back to the flat. It was more of a challenge than I had been looking for, but that is all part of the thrill of running in a strange city. (Keri, who has much more sense than me, took a route in the other direction.)

Later in the morning, I headed over to the City of Edinburgh Registrar's office to look up some birth records on my maternal grandfather, Cecil Newmark, who was born here. After a few probing questions and suspicious looks from the clerk (she seemed particularly troubled when I told her I was fron the United States and not Canada), she pulled up a screen shot of the birth registration page from March 26, 1906 for the District of St. Giles, Edinburgh. The second entry on that page was for my grandfather, who was listed as Cecil Burnett Davidson, son of Isaac Naymark Davidson (cabinetmaker) and Fanny Davidson nee Harrison (who were married in Edinburgh on January 22, 1903). My great-grandfather's surname was Naymark, but he started using the Davidson name at some point during his time here because he thought it would help him get work. Davidson, I believe was the most Jewish of the names of the traditional Scottish clans, or so he thought.

My grandfather was born March 3, 1906 at the family's residence, which was at 13 East Adam Street. (I ran by East Adam Street this morning and was disappointed to see a three-story building dating back to the 1990's. Probably not much point in showing that to the kids.) My grandfather did not live in Edinburgh too long, moving to Canada when he was seven (I think), but he was always proud of his Scottish heritage. His mother, Fanny, was born in Edinburgh too, and he had fond memories of playing as a boy in this city with his older sister, Etta, and younger brother, Phil. It is odd to think that Owen is now the same age my grandfather was when he left Edinburgh and that, 110 years after my great grandparents were married in this city, I am here with their great, great grandchildren. Lord knows where my great grandchildren will be and what they will be doing 110 years from now.

The Eckstein family rallied before noon yesterday, headed down to Edinburgh Waverly (which brought up some bad "rememories," according to Owen from two days prior), grabbed some Burger King (we do love our Owen) and boarded the train for Stirling, which is west and a little to the north of Edinburgh. A short 50-minute ride later, we arrived, walk though this small town, up the hill and to the Stirling Castle. (Note: Both children complained mightily as we walked up what was a moderate, but not difficult hill. Switzerland should be interesting.)

Stirling Castle, like the one in Edinburgh, sits atop a large hill that was critical to the castle's defense from attack. (The site is further important because Stirling is the furthest downstream crossing of the River Forth.) The first buildings on Castle Hill in Stirling were put up in the 12th Century. The castle bounced back and forth between the Scots and the English over the Scottish Wars of Independence in the first half of the 14th Century. Most of the the present buildings, which have a renaissance design, were put up by James IV and James V. They are more attractive and have more of a residential feel than those in the Edinburgh Castle. Perhaps that is why many of the Scottish kings and queens, most notably Mary Queen of Scots, used it as the primary residence.

Years later, during the mid-18th Century, the castle served as a key fortress in the Jacobite risings. From 1800 through 1964, the British military used the site as a barracks a recruiting depot for two all-Scottish brigades. Since 2002, the castle has been the subject of a major restoration project, and it shows, with many of the interiors and some exteriors appearing as they would have several hundred years ago.

The highlight of the tour was our interaction with two of the castle guides positioned in the Queen's Bedchamber and an adjoining dining hall. The guides saw two receptive listeners in our children and engaged them for a good 25 minutes on various aspects of the castle history and related topics. Among other things, our kids (and their parents) learned that the world's oldest soccer ball (football) was found in the castle -- probably dating back to the time of Queen Anne, that King James V and his wife, Mary of Guise, had a marriage of love (a rarity among royals of the time) and the unicorn, which is portrayed all over the castle, was meant to symbolize Jesus (much of this discussion was meant by totally blank stares from Lauren and Owen).

We spent the the whole afternoon there, and the kids were engaged the whole time. If you are in Edinburgh, I highly recommend it.

Back in Edinburgh, we ate at a local Italian restaurant, which was surprisingly good -- pasta all around. We are priming our palettes for next week.

Another good night's sleep and another couple runs this morning, Keri and I joined the kids and Randy and Lois for their final meal in Scotland. We enjoyed spending time with them and wish them a safe return to a miserably hot Phoenix.

After lunch, Keri and Owen did some shopping while Lauren and I went to The Real Mary King's Close, a fascinating tour of portions of a close (a narrow street that once was bordered by twelve-story buildings, and one of hundreds of closes that served as the primary residences for the residents of Edinburgh). This close has been covered up and sits under some municipal buildings put up in the 19th Century. Our tour took us through several rooms in three different homes -- covering periods between the 1400's and the late 1800's. Some of the rooms were incredibly small, as you would imagine, and the description of life for the people who lived there was grim.

The first room we saw was probably twelve by fifteen feet with an arched ceiling that was about eight feet high. That room slept twelve people -- all on the floor. The only furniture was a small table. In the corner was a bucket that served as the communal toilet. The bucket was emptied -- by the youngest member of the family -- two times a day by being dumped into the street, which then ran into the small river that ran where the train station now sits. That river also served as a water supply for the people of Edinburgh. Lovely. Between that, the depiction of the Black Death and the cattle room, let's just say Lauren and I emerged pretty happy to be living in the 21st Century.

We head up to the Highlands tomorrow and I am not sure what kind of internet access we will get, so my posting may be irregular and short (that's what she said). I promise to take notes on the interesting and strange things we see -- and do -- and weave them together when we return to Edinburgh late Monday night.


  1. Where are you, Diane? Can't believe I am Comment #1. Love your exploits, Ecksteins. Am anxiously awaiting my trip to Italy and, of course, my 4 large bags are already packed. Love to you all. Baba

  2. Have fun in the Highlands my 4 Ecksteins!! Tim, your touching description of the history of your grandfather Cecil brought tears to my eyes. It is really something that Lauren and Owen are here at the spot that their great grandfather began his journey.