Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Cowal Highland Gathering



Day 13
This morning was a sleep in day, which meant we didn’t have to rush. Waking up without an alarm was blissful. The rain was coming down this morning, so an even better reason to stay inside. 

Most importantly, it’s Dad’s 70th Birthday! Huzzah! Celebrating a milestone birthday in a new place is the best birthday present! How wonderful to be here celebrating it with him. As we had our morning cup of tea and coffee, dad asked when we’d last spent a Birthday morning together. It’s been awhile that’s for sure, making this one extra special. 

Todd and I made a quick run to the mini mart for supplies and also picked up breakfast from the cafe. The rain took a break, which was much appreciated! 

We met up with the group at 12ish to head into Dunoon for Thor’s official presentation on Clan Ewing at the Dunoon Burgh Hall. The hall had drams of whisky (Grouse) followed by an amazing array of snacks (haggis balls, sandwiches wedges, and more) and desserts (huge merengues, profiteroles), as well as tea and coffee. They also did up some crackers with olive tapenade and vegan cheese for me, as well as vegan sweets. I didn’t expect it, and it was much appreciated. 

I wore the tartan necklace from last year’s Nashville EFA gathering and the tartan scarf Dad bought me. Quite a few men wore their kilts and some women had skirts or scarves. Thor, our commander, wore his kilt and tie, decked out for his presentation. Again, it was a great Ewing family gathering but less mud and trudge today! 

Thor Ewing talked about the history of the clan, the loss of the barony and land, and the various documents that he’d researched to piece things together. He also did a very thorough (and at times confusing) explanation about how easy it is to be confused by the Ewing and MacEwen connections. Am I a Ewing or a MacEwen, people have wondered? We thought we’d been part of the MacEwens for awhile, and I’ve still got a few items I bought in Edinburgh in 2003 to prove it. 



Thor explained that MacEwen is both a name and a patrilineal, ie “mac” also means “son of “, so MacEwen can be used to say “I’m Thor MacEwen” which would mean “I’m Thor, son of Ewen.” It also appears that many different clans began using MacEwen in their documents, so it’s hard to delineate who’s who and what their motivation was for telling their history a certain way. 

The talk ended with Thor being approved, by the Scottish clan council powers that be, as our Clan Commander for another five years. He was disappointed because he’d hoped we’d finally be able to have a Chief and then a crest. Alas, five more years. But we have a tartan! 

I announced to the crowd that it was my Dad’s 70th Birthday, and we all sang happy birthday. All those in tartan gathered for a group photo, which was great!


After the talk, errands were done at the little mini mart, pharmacy, and bank in town. We then came back to the cabin for some quiet, chill time. I’d found a few restaurant menus for dinner with the help of reception, so Dad picked one for his birthday dinner. We called a cab and meandered into Dunoon. The menu was different than online because they had narrowed their menu for the games. That was disappointing but not much you can do about it. The food was good, and that’s what I wanted for dad’s birthday dinner. 

We came out of the restaurant to discover piping and dancers right there in the square. Several other Ewings were out, too, so we bumped into them. A band that didn’t have enough drummers to be in the competition played atop a bar. We walked up the high street a bit and then called the cab for a ride home. 

Day 14
This was to be our first day at the Cowal Highland Games. The shuttles were leaving at 9:30, and they wanted me to navigate the first one so they would pick us up at 9am. (I’ve apparently gotten the reputation as THE navigator to trust, oh dear.)

The problem was the gusting wind and persistent rain. Todd wanted no part of it, so he stayed back. Dad, Margaret, and I geared up with rain jackets, ponchos, and umbrellas. 

Navigating proved to be a double edged sword. They wanted me but then said Dad and Margaret couldn’t come in the first run because there were these other people to be picked up. I quickly responded that I wasn’t going without my family, so other people had to get out. I hadn’t come on this trip to be the person navigating shuttle runs back and forth; it’s not my responsibility to fix an event planning issue (as an event planner myself, I was struggling not to dive in). So I helped get us there once, then abandoned ship (sorry, Denise!). 

We got into the games and figured out the what and where. A cute crowd of preschool kids were walking together, all covered in their bright yellow rain outfits. The bagpipes played continuously for all the Highland dancers as they competed, the same songs again and again! The merchandise tent was empty, so we got our swag. There is even an official tartan for the competition, which we didn’t get. 




We then meandered in the rain to the Clan Ewing tent. Thor had books and tartan gear for sale, so more tartan was bought by these Ewings. Dad had thankfully been eager and bought tickets to the covered stands, so we went up and watched a bit of the dancing competitions. I’m a fan of the Scottish dancing outfits vs the Irish ones. The Scottish are simpler, with standard color kilts, socks, and vests. Even the hair is simple, put up in buns with single tight curls wrapped around it. 

After an hour or so at the games with the chill getting to us, we decided we’d be better off back at the place. I felt empathy for the parents of all the kids competing in dancing and piping today because they were in it for the long haul. There were camping tents set up around the grounds with girls, boys, and parents huddled in together. Spirits seemed to be high. 

Todd had the heaters on and a full pot of tea brewing for us when we returned, which was much appreciated. We were stocked up on PB, beans, toast, and eggs, so we could make do without going back out in the rain. The seagulls are the only ones happy out there. As I type this at 2pm, the rain is still coming down, Dad’s reading, and Margaret and Todd are napping. As I said to Dad, there are worse things than bad weather forcing you to slow down and relax. I always struggle to just chill while on vacation. 

We are saving ourselves for tonight’s “Gig at the Gathering,” which we assume will be a bunch of music, dancing, etc. We will see what the weather looks like later. Perhaps we will just be taking a taxi for dinner. 

Indeed, we stayed huddled in the cabin all day, except dad and I walked to pick up food and laundry. We decided to go in town for dinner to the Argyll Hotel, which we heard from others had great food. So we took a taxi there, and the rain had appeared to quiet down. 

At dinner, we met two other Ewings (all of us identifiable by our Ewing tartan), sisters from Virginia. The dinner was good, burgers, veggie burger, and steak pie for dad, and we had the little dining room all to ourselves. 

By the time we were outside, the rain had picked up again. We had a 15 min walk up the street, which was a bit too much for Todd and Margaret, who were already not happy with the rain, and then we had to walk all the way around the grounds to get in for the gathering. The rain was still chucking it down. 

The Gig was what you’d expect: smoky, loud, beer, music. We arrived at the end of a set, so we didn’t hear any music. We met up with a few Ewings, said hello, talked brief genealogy with a few new people. We didn’t stay too long, as it wasn’t fully anyone’s scene. Dad was in the mood to socialize and wasn’t ready to leave, but he took one for team husband. Luckily, taxis were dropping people off, so we hopped right in one. 

Day 15
Yep, it’s still raining. Last day of vacation for Todd and I. Last and supposedly biggest day of the Cowal Highland Gathering. I swear I’ve experienced more rain in Scotland than in India (though Indians would surely disagree). 

Not sure what today will look like. It’s 8am and I’m the only one up, drinking tea, eating my PB&J sandwich, watching the rain fall. There’s packing to do, of course, as Todd and I are hoping to be on the 8am ferry tomorrow. Yet, it’s also the last day with Dad and Margaret. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being with them. We all don’t get to travel together much, and we’ve been able to do our own things and hang out together. This rain is giving us time to play games, chat, and just be together. 

Todd and I ended up taking the bus into town when it stopped raining. The day turned out to be so pretty! Blue skies and only 10 minutes of rain! We walked up Argyll street and did a little window shopping. Stopped by a local bookstore and bought a few things, including Greta Thunberg’s book.




We ate lunch at a cute pub called The Lorne. It was full of men and women in kilts from the competing pipe and drum bands, as well as families with dancers and kids. It was excellent food, and I thoroughly enjoyed my jacket potato with vegan haggis. 

We then ventured up to the games, where we met up with Dad and Margaret and the rest of the Ewings. The land footprint is pretty small, but they pack a lot in it (Todd couldn’t help comparing it to the Sandwich Fair, which is 3x as big). The games today were a markedly different atmosphere to yesterday’s soggy mess. Today, everyone came out (though much less than usual, we heard) and music filled the air. 

Pipers played for the dancing finals. Pipe and drum bands competed in the arena. Men and women threw shotput, hammers, weights, and cabers (big ass logs). There was a wrestling arena for men and women (men vs men, women vs women). The kids rides kept little ones occupied, as did the dirt bike track. People tried the art of axe throwing. The music tent hummed with song. You could learn about preparing salmon or try ceilidh dancing. A few stalls sold items, like jewelry, wool purses, or dancing gear. 



With pretty weather, I enjoyed being there. We sat in the stands and watched the pipe and drum bands. We drank tea. We people watched. I took photos. We chatted with Ewings as we passed them with their tartan. 

Todd bowed out a bit early, but we stayed to watch the final salute of bands. We watched the men throwing the weights and the women throwing the cabers. We didn’t make it to the end for the bands because the clouds had rolled in and a chill filled the air. We beat the rush and grabbed one of the taxis that was queued up and went back to Hunter’s Quay for dinner. 

Our final meal proved delicious like the other meals; they offer excellent vegan options, which tonight was vegan sausages and mashed potatoes. I had a half pint of Strongbow and ended with a vegan ice cream bar. It was our last meal together, and an early birthday dinner for Margaret. We sat near other Ewings and said a few farewells as they finished dinner. 

Back at the cabin, we smashed our luggage together, trying to make our carry-ons as light as possible. I don’t really care if bags are late tomorrow! We’re off early in the morning, 7:15am to catch the 8am ferry. Thor is driving us and another Ewing to the Glasgow airport, which we are very thankful for! 

Thank you, Scotland, for a wonderful bucket list vacation! I’ll be back for the islands and the northern highlands someday. Dunoon gave us a pretty rainbow as we crossed on the ferry.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Dunoon and the Ewing Clan



Day 11
We were up an hour earlier than our alarm, so we had plenty of time to get ourselves together for departure. Our plan was to take our bags to the big lockers in the National Gallery and then enjoy the museum for a few hours before the train to Glasgow. 

We were there as the doors opened, and the lockers fit all our bags perfectly. The Gallery was a great manageable museum, so we had plenty of time. There are pieces by all the greats: Titian, Tintoretto, Raphael, Botticelli, El Greco, Degas, Monet, Sargent, Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and so many others. Of course, we saw the “Monarch of the Glen” Scottish Classic by Landseer. I bought a few postcards of my favorite pieces to take home, which is my tradition.  We then enjoyed some espresso and dessert in the cafe, which had a lovely vegan chocolate cupcake. Edinburgh has been wonderful for my vegan self!

We met up with Dad and Margaret for the train to Glasgow. We all stocked up on sandwiches for the quick ride through the countryside. A quick cab to the airport, and we met up with the Ewing Family Association (EFA) gathering at the airport hotel. 

There was a hiccup with one of the vans, so we waited and got to know people. The genealogy talk and introductions were underway almost immediately. Which Ewing are you related to (which translates into which century did your Ewing come over to the US in this case)?

It frustrated us to be sitting there for two hours at the airport hotel. Dunoon and our cottage were so close but so far away. A 3:30pm departure soon became 4:30, then became 5pm. We appeared to be short on drivers, so some people were commandeered into driving. Luckily, I don’t have an international drivers license on me. 

Our driver, Denise. needed a navigator, so I hopped in the front seat with my GPS. We moved in a caravan of six cars/vans, and we mostly stayed successfully together. There were a few missed turns (no printed maps and spotty GPS) and separations, but since this was a “we must all stay together” scenario, we had to wait for everyone. The closer we got to the ferry, the slower we went. There was an accident stalling traffic, so we ended up missing the last ferry at 6:30pm. Luckily, there was a second ferry location not too far away, so we drove there and waited for the next ferry (every 20-30 min). (I can take credit for this because I had printed up a ferry schedule; I was definitely proud of myself, not humble at all!)


It was a beautiful day, and we all took pictures across the bay as we waited for the ferry to return. Sailboats dotted the skyline and the horizon was grey/blue of the hills and mountains. There was a crisp breeze as we loaded onto the ferry, and once we could get out of the car, we all beelined to the toilets. I then stood on the balcony and took photos. 

We finally made it across and to Hunter’s Quay holiday resort. We had to check in, but it was 8:30 and the restaurant kitchen would be closing soon. Todd let the restaurant know that 25 of us were about to descend. An hour later and we were fading fast. Unfortunately, that meant we had to pile into our cars and find our cottages in the dark. Not the most fun prospect. We did it with the help of flashlights! We are prepared!

At 10:30pm, we finally were in our cottage and unpacking/settling in to our rooms. We have a two room cottage with two bathrooms, which is very helpful. It’s cute and just the right size for us. If there’s one thing we’d like, it’s screens on the windows. Why are there no screens on windows in the UK? It’s a question I haven’t asked much. It didn’t stop us from opening them though. 

Tomorrow is a full day trip to Ewing ruins, hopefully with somebody else navigating!

Day 12
This morning was an early start. We had pre-ordered our breakfast because it was a 9:30am sharp departure. Alas, the hurry up and wait scenario still prevailed. We didn’t leave until 10/10:30am. More people from the EFA had joined us, so we were a bigger caravan. We piled into cars and made the hour drive to Otter’s Ferry and Kilfinan (I hopped in the back to not navigate again).

Today’s focus centered around touring the  locations where the Ewing clan once lived centuries ago before we lost our land. For most of us who had done the research, Otter’s Ferry was our Ewing promised land. Most of us Americans are descended from Ewings who came to Virginia in the 1700s to a place they named Peaks of Otter. 

Our drive took about an hour through the Argyll peninsula. The scenery was beautiful despite the rain. There were a few missed turns, and the last bit was on a small narrow one way road up into the hills. 




Our first stop was the Kilfinan Inn for lunch. It’s the kind of Inn where you just want to sit in the old pub and read for hours. There were 43 of us, and they had soup (their leek soup smelled delicious) and sandwiches all prepped, with a vegan curry for me (pomegranate seeds in the curry were a revelation!). While everyone socialized, Todd and I went up to the little church. Such a great old graveyard, and the Kilfinan stones, all of which I photographed with abandon. I love these old churchyards (during the day, way too spooky at night). 

We had been told to bring our comfortable shoes to take a walk to the site of the old MacEwen castle. It wasn’t so much a walk as a long trudge through cow-pattied meadows, up and over little streams, down onto the beach, up a muddy cow path, across a boggy hill, and then up a final hill to the market. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get there, with it raining for the first hour, then the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day. I had to keep my camera tucked under the poncho for most of the walk there, but I did get some iPhone shots. I loved the walk on the beach, the sound of the waves, the shells and rocks, the jellyfish washed up on shore (though very sad for the jellyfish). 



Once at the marker, one of the Ewings took out his drone and filmed the surroundings. Thor told us some history while we were up there, helping us to understand the geography. The midges cane out. The sun started to beat down, but soon enough, the wind came again and the air cooled. It’s true that we got a few seasons in one day! 

We all took some photos and admired the view of Loch Fyne. Thor suggested we all take a moment of silence, then Dad took out his Victories experience and asked everyone to circle up and hold hands. Thor said a few words about how this is probably the largest group of Ewings to be up there in centuries. One of the Ewings, Nick, pulled out a bottle of whisky and passed it around. 

Now all we had to do was safely make our way down. We were all taking it very carefully because the terrain required lots of attention. If you stopped focusing, you’d twist your ankle or take a tumble. Like always, the return trip was easier and faster, and the weather was glorious. My poncho was long gone and the camera came out. 



We made it back to Kilfinan and met up with everyone who had decided not to take the “short” walk. We’d been gone for almost four hours. There was one more sight to visit, which was a short drive away. Some stayed in the cars and waited for us to get back. 

Thor said it was a half mile walk to the site of the old barony. It took us about an hour and a half to get there and back. Not as rough terrain by a long shot, and a beautiful view along the loch. We made it to the motte and Thor told us about what it would have looked like hundreds of years ago: a few houses and a palisade, perhaps a tower looking to the loch. 

I had a great talk along the road back with Rachel Ewing, a screenwriter from LA. It made the pretty walk even better with creative talk. We all then piled into cars and started the drive back. It was now 7:30pm, and the restaurant back at the place closed at 9. It was a race against the sunset and the road was a windy, roller coaster road with one lane and passing places in case you ran into somebody coming the other direction. There was a sign about sheep in the road, and soon after we came along a group of sheep graising alongside the narrow road. Denise did a beautiful job driving less than idea conditions. It was a stressful drive for most of us. Our day that was supposed to end at 5pm, finally ended at 9! 

We crashed out achy and tired but proud of ourselves for making it without injury! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Last Day in Edinburgh


Day 10
It’s our last full day in Edinburgh. We can’t decide what do do: castle or palace... Palace!

We started off the morning at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. A house like this is perfect on a warm, blue sky summer day, as it shows off all its best properties: the simple courtyard, the abbey ruins, the view to Arthur’s Seat, the pretty gardens. I couldn’t stop taking photos, it was all so pretty (no photos allowed inside, so I made the most of the outside). 

You start off in front of the building, admiring the pretty facade. An audio guide is included with admission, and it gives you so much great detail. It’s an interactive guide, showing you photos on the screen in different rooms, and even having you rub on the screen to show how a room would have changed over time. 

You enter the courtyard, a simple block of grass flanked by the palace on all four sides. You then make your way into the beautiful rooms. The carpets are rolled back where we walk, reminding us that this is a working palace, used for family and state functions. We are only visitors. 



These rooms have been used by Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Victoria, and many others. It’s not an audacious building like some other palaces can be. It’s more subtle in its stateliness. There are artifacts, tapestries, paintings, and dishware. There are old beds, including Mary’s and Darnley’s; Darnley’s was huge and behind temperature controlled glass. 

The thing I love about film and tv is that they help bring history alive, even if they aren’t the most accurate at times. So having seen “Reign” and “Mary, Queen of Scots,” I knew a bit more of her history than I would have otherwise. Standing in Mary’s rooms, knowing this was her space, feeling the simplicity of it, seeing her embroidery work-it all added to a sense of awe. This part of the palace is the oldest, built in 1528.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding suit and gown were on display, which was a wonderful surprise! I hadn’t known until last night, or I would have been demanding that we go! Having been up at 4/5am to watch the wedding, I feel emotionally connected! Meghan’s veil is as astounding as it looked, with all that beautiful flower embroidery for over 5 meters. 

We then exited into the ruins of the abbey, the first of which was built on this site in 1128. It’s lofted ceiling long gone, you can stare up at the sky through the empty window frames. On a beautiful day like today, the blue sky and white fluffy clouds only add more awe and majesty. I love photographing textures, so I took my time roaming around the space. Todd also directing me to take a few shots!

We then exited into the gardens, which takes you around the back of the palace for a view of Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. The garden was designed so that it seems like they roll into the hills beyond. It’s a gorgeous spot, and you can almost feel the energy of what a big tea party would bring. 

Palace done and time for lunch. Todd found a place up near the National Museum, Mums, so we took an Uber up there. I had a good vegan pie (without the pastry which was sad). We wanted to be near the National Museum to go up to the 7th floor rooftop to see the Andy Goldsworthy work. Todd loves his work, and he’s written a great poetry collection based on it. 



The view from up there is spectacular. You can see all the way to Leith, the full castle and tattoo setup, and all directions of the Edinburgh skyline. The sun felt too warm, which was a welcome and unexpected feeling! Dad and Margaret joined us up there to say hi and touch base before our gallivant to Dunoon tomorrow. A round of photos, and then we parted ways.

Todd wanted to do some shopping (he did!), so we headed to the Royal Mile and the crowds. We meandered up to the castle, found Todd a hat and some ice cream, then we meandered to St Giles cathedral. Since it was he last day of the festival, everyone was out! Bagpipers and other musicians in the street, people queuing up for one last performance, and a little art fair near the cathedral (jewelry souvenir!).

We ducked into the cathedral and sat down for a few minutes. The funky chandeliers stood out to me, as did the gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones window. The cathedral dates from the 14th and 15th century inside, and the columns are even older, 12th century Norman. 


After a few minutes, it was time to make our way home to repack, chill, and have some dinner. We chose not to brave the crowds for the fireworks show. Besides, we saw fireworks at the Tattoo, though I’m sure they weren’t the same. 

Tomorrow we check out, go to the National Gallery, then head to Glasgow with Dad and Margaret to meet the Ewing Family Association group for the Cowal Highland Games!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Edinburgh: McKellen and Mapplethorpe



Day 9
The best thing about having an apartment is getting to make your own breakfast and relax. One more load of laundry and then we headed into town. In our Uber we passed by the Belford hostel, where I stayed 24 years ago in 1995; it’s a church that’s been converted into a hostel. I still remember staring up at the ceiling rafters as I fell to sleep, creepy and cool. 

Today centered on Ian McKellen, who is on an 80th birthday tour. I originally couldn’t get tickets, but about a month ago a new batch of tickets were released and I scooped them up. Todd and I had seen he and Patrick Stewart in a London play back in 2016, so seeing McKellen twice in such a short time feels like a great gift!


We made it to the Assembly Hall early. The queue had started, and we were towards the front. Since it was general admission, it would be first come first serve, and we didn’t know how big the hall would be. Finally, 15 minutes to curtain, we were ushered in to the wonderfully intimate hall. We had great seats, and the hall was humming with excitement. On stage was a collage of Persian carpets and a box with stickers, like an old steamer trunk but bigger. 


The lights went out and the theme song from “Fellowship of the Ring” began to play and McKellen began to read the scene when Gandalf is at the Bridge of Khazad Dum. The lights came on, and there he was reading the scene, book in hand as a prop, as he read the scene from memory. Todd and I had watched the films before we left, so watching him, listening to him, gave me such a thrill. After he read the scene, he talked quite a bit about his experiences of the film, telling funny stories about how he hadn’t read the books but kept meeting people who’d say, “I read the books every year!” 

For an hour and a half, he told stories about his life, his family, and his personal history within the theater. In addition to Gandalf at the bridge, he also did recitations from these roles/experiences: 

The Piano by DH Lawrence 
Pantomime: playing the dame
Coriolanus 
Gus from Cats
Richard II
Sir Thomas More

Throughout the show, he would take things out of his box: Glamdring (Gandalf’s sword), plays/books he’d acted in, his actor’s chair with his name misspelled, his costume for the pantomime. Having never seen a pantomime, it was hilarious watching him put on a babushka, pull out pieces of fruit from his bag, making jokes about the phallic fruits, throwing candy to the audience. It was just a damn fun show. 

We bought it was over when he did a speech from Richard II, but he carried on and ended with a reading of Shakespeare’s speech written as Sir Thomas More, a resounding human rights speech about immigration still sadly urgent 400 years on. It’s been 50 years since McKellen first performed on this stage at the Festival, and his tour is raising money for acting companies, drama schools, and fellowships across the country. It took forever to exit the theater, and I soon discovered why as he was personally standing with the collection bucket in the crowd. What a wonderful second festival experience. 


By now, Todd and I were quite hungry, so we went to a nearby restaurant, Makar’s Gourmet Mash. It’s basically mashed potatoes topped with sausages and gravy. Vegan for me, meaty for Todd. So delicious. 

One of the “must sees” on the list was a photography exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, so we meandered our way there through the last day of the festival crowds. The exhibit covered three photographers: Francesca Woodman, Diane Arbus, and Robert Mapplethorpe. It was a small exhibit, but that didn’t matter. It was a wonderful collection of all three photographers, though for me the highlight was Mapplethorpe. It’s the 30th anniversary of his death, and his photographs were being shown for the first time in a gallery funded by his foundation to ensure that there’s always a space for photography. 

We then meandered up to see some of the Mary Queen of Scots paintings, but then we decided that we didn’t need to see the rest. I bought a few Mapplethorpe postcards before we left, but I was disappointed that there weren’t Woodman or Arbus for me to buy. My reflection-filled iPhone shots would have to do. 

Todd found a cute vegan cafe (Holy Cow) nearby, so we went over for some chai and dessert. Wow. We had bannoffee pie, which had a coconut cream topping, chocolate chips, peanut butter and dates, and a cookie crust. So rich and so good. 

We were near the bus station, so we came home to chill in our apartment. We ordered takeout from a nearby Chinese/Japanese place down the street and ate a feast! It’s hard for me to slow down on vacation most of the time, and as much as I wanted to be out and about, I also enjoyed taking it easy. 

Tomorrow: our last full day in Edinburgh!