This is only one part of the ultimate backpacking experience for Lt.Col John Braddy, USA, (Ret.); Master Chief Ken Brigham, USN, (Ret.); Chief Master Sergeant Ronald Tate, USAF, (Ret.); and Senior Chief Robin Wallace, USN, (Ret.)—AKA: “The Old Salts.” The first stop on this trek was Ireland followed by Scotland, England, France and back through Germany for our return to the USA.
On Saturday 5 April 2014 we boarded another RyanAir 737 in Dublin, Ireland for Edinburgh, Scotland. When we arrived at the airport we discovered a Double Decker bus there for the sole purpose to take people to the train station where our hostel, Edinburgh Backpacker’s Hostel, was located. This cozy and convenient hostel was in walking distance of the train station and the “Royal Mile,” a city street known for its rich Scottish history. The young people managing the hostel turned out, not to be Scottish, but they were mostly from New Zealand and Australia; there were thousands of reasons as to why they settled in Edinburgh. We had several opportunities to converse with these interesting and adventurous generation “X” world travelers.
Sunday morning 6 April, we took another Sandman’s Free Tour Edinburgh directed by Mr. Billy Fisher who was very personable and knowledgeable. He must have been an aspiring theatrical student as he was very animated and he had a very strong Scottish brogue. We all agreed that he looked and sounded just like the actor Mel Gibson.
Walking between the national monuments I had a chance to have some conversation with Billy Fisher and he gave me more insight into the Scottish relationship with England. He told me that there will be a vote on Thursday 18 September 2014 to make Scotland a separate country from England. This will be the long overdue vote for independence. He said in 1994, Queen Elizabeth II tried to appease the Scots by putting the Lion Rampart on one side of the one pound sterling coin. He said those are still in circulation but very rare. That night in the hostel we all looked at our change and low and behold one of my companions had one of these coins. Since I was the one with the Scottish heritage; they gave me the coin.
That night we attended church services at the historic St. Giles Cathedral (this is the Mother Church of the Presbyterian faith.) The church was dedicated to St. Giles “The Patron Saint of Edinburgh” and was originally constructed as a Catholic church in 1385 before the Protestant Reformation by their minister John Knox in the 16th was the church where he made his declarations. There is a statue of John Knox in front of the church. The pastor delivering the message the night we attended was “surprise” a minister from New Jersey, USA.
The National Wallace Monument
Monday 4/7 we took a very fast train the 37 miles west of Edinburgh to the town of Stirling, Scotland where the Monument to the Scottish Hero, Sir William Wallace, is located. Sir William Wallace was a common Scotsman, a landowner, during the wars of Scottish Independence. He led his countrymen to defeat the English army at the Stirling Bridge and after several minor skirmish victories, he became a major thorn in the side of King Edward I “Longshanks.” Wallace was eventually captured, taken to London and executed and his head was posted upon a spike on London Bridge as a sign to others to not challenge the authority of England. He was renowned as a Patriot, Martyr and the Guardian of Scotland. He was never knighted in the traditional sense, but he was known as a military follower of a superior, a soldier in someone’s service (a Knight). He served under Andrew Moray when he defeated the English at Stirling Bridge. The monument is located in a rural area about eight miles from the heart of the town.
At the train station there was bus transportation directly to the monument and as we approached the monument grounds we passed the Wallace High School. As usual it was sprinkling a very cold rain which added to the ambience. The bus dropped us off about 300 yards from the entrance to the Welcome Center where you can take another bus up the mountain at least 400 feet above the Welcome Center. Walking from the city bus stop we passed a large pasture with two draft horse ponies and there was a stock pond with five or six wild ducks enjoying the weather.
The monument is really a 220-foot tower with 8 to 10 floors or platform stops, each with museum pieces, a video and historical placards covering the Scottish struggles for independence during the 12th Victorian Gothic structure was constructed in 1869. You can take the infamous 246 steps to the top and from there; you can see the Stirling Castle about 3 miles away and the general area where the Battle of Stirling Bridge occurred.
In the Monument museum area there is a glass case containing a sword which was believed to have belonged to Wallace but some parts of this historically correct sword were manufactured hundreds of years after Wallace’s death. This type of sword, a two handed monster, is 60-inches long and, weighing 8 1/2 pounds, is known as a Claymore, the name means “Great Sword” and the sword displayed here was held for many years in the Dumbarton Castle before it was moved to the Wallace Monument.
At the base of the monument was a large gift shop and “Legends Coffee House” where we had a light lunch of Scottish tart tomato soup with large bits of tomato served with some hard bread. In this cold wet climate the soup hit Later that same day we traveled to Bannockburn battle field where Robert the Bruce defeated the English (Edward I ) in 1314.
On Tuesday 8 April we boarded the Forth Bridges bus and boat tour of the “Firth of Forth” and the famous “Forth Bridge” that at a time was the world’s longest cantilever bridge built in 1890. The bridge is 9 miles from Edinburgh and it serves rail traffic between Edinburgh and Fife at North Queensferry, Scotland. The firth is actually an estuary or firth that flows into the North Sea. Our tour boat first traveled east toward the wide opening of the North Sea. Before turning back to the west we traveled around an island containing ancient fortifications and abundant sea life and not so few seals in the water and on the flat rocks. This was the coldest day of our trip at a high of 42 degrees F. and a stiff wind.
For our last night in Edinburgh we wanted to splurge on a really nice authentic Scottish supper. We found a unique themed restaurant: Nicholson’s “The Conan Doyle”. The restaurant was named for the famous author that is located very near his birthplace. The place with fine china and white linen tablecloths was as expensive as it sounds. Again Master Chief Ken Brigham led the way in ordering anything the rest of us were afraid to try. By the time he got his plate; we had all gained some bravery so we had to taste his meal. The restaurant was decorated with artifact replicas of items associated with the Sherlock Holmes novels.
On Wednesday 9th of April we boarded another fast train to London, England.
SCPO Robin Wallace USN, (Ret.)
Reprint from Jul–Aug 2014 • Volume 44, No. 4