November 23, 2007

Robert Burns, Brigadoon, the Electric Brae, and Culzean Castle

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , at 10:36 pm by Lauren

Three weeks later, I must get our Scotland trip down in the blog. Not only am I forgetting more by the day, but other bloggable experiences are being deblogified and blogblocked! (Hey, nobody said this was supposed to be good writing. And what’s good writing anyway without a few made-up words?) 

So, our story starts long, long ago, on a hazy Halloween, in Scotland…Wednesday, October 31 is the last day any countryside attractions are open in Scotland! Because of that, Mary and Iain took us to Culzean (“cull-een”) Castle. Not only was the castle beautiful, but the road there held a few notable surprises as well (and my car sickness was not one of them!). 

Our first stop on the way to Culzean was Robert Burns’ house. Robert Burns was Scotland’s most famous poet. (In fact, we all know his work: Auld Lang Syne.) One poem in particular that Mary and Iain recounted for us was the story of Tam O’Shanter, a poor man who stayed out too late at the pub and stumbled upon the devil and his cohort in the local church on the way home. The demons and witches were dancing, and one witch in a short skirt did an especially fine job of cavorting. Tam called out, “Well done, Cully Sark!” (“Cully sark” refers to that skirt of hers.) The devil, demons, and witches turned on him and chased him. Poor Tam and his old horse ran for their lives, knowing that if they could only cross water they would be safe. At the last possible moment, they crossed the Brig o’ Doon – the bridge over the Doon River – and the witch with the cully sark caught and pulled off the horse’s tail. The real fascination about this tale to Allen and me was walking down the road Tam would have taken (because Rabbie Burns knew it well), seeing the old church where Burns’ father was buried and where Tam caught the eye of the evil things, and crossing the Brig o’ Doon ourselves. Mary pointed out that we Americans might know the Brig o’ Doon otherwise, “The Americans made a movie out of it.” Did they ever! I am not going to claim that Brigadoon is cinematic genius, but if you asked me to name the biggest movie star crush I’ve ever had, no other leading man would hold a candle to Gene Kelly. Even those who have not had the pleasure of seeing Brigadoon or Gene Kelly in a kilt (or is that sight just a dream?) may recognize one of its songs, “It’s Almost Like Being in Love.” I’ll end my adolescent swooning about Gene Kelly (Gene Kelly!) by saying that when I watched Brigadoon as a young girl, I never imagined I’d actually stand on the Brig o’ Doon in Scotland. Oh the places you will go.  

Our second stop on the way to Culzean was the Electric Brae. When I say stop, I mean that Iain, from his right-side driver’s seat, literally stopped the car in the middle of the road, put it in neutral, and let it roll. We were looking down the hill, but we started to roll back up it! Despite considering ourselves to be reasonably clever people at least one day in a week, Allen and I were unable to conclude the most logical reason for this phenomenon: we were actually rolling downhill. It turns out that the Electric Brae (or “electric hill”) was misnamed by those who misunderstood the properties of electricity and were similarly fooled by the optical illusion that makes it seem as if the car is pointing downhill and rolling upwards.

Finally, we arrived at Culzean Castle, and I’d had the lack of sense to be motion sick and pale as a ghost by that point. (Had my father been there he may have pointed out that this was a rather mild case of motion sickness compared to the look I had on my face once that was so uncomfortable it made him throw up. True story.) Mary noticed and whisked me into the cafe for a cup of tea. I was honestly a little fearful of eating anything as I’d never treated my motion sickness with food before, or drink for that matter! I had the tea though, and the rest of the group enjoyed scones. Restored, we headed up to the castle. 

The castle tour was very impressive, starting with a massive collection of pistols and blades collected by the Scots for use in the case that Napoleon should have ever invaded them. Among many other interesting things, it boasted a beautiful central staircase, a painting whose eyes and feet always point towards the beholder, and a chandelier under which a person’s voice booms but only to their own ears.  The final rooms of the castle that the tour passes through were devoted to Dwight Eisenhower, who was gifted an apartment in Culzean Castle after World War II. Outside the castle, we walked through the Walled Garden, which was beautiful despite being the end of the growing season. We followed a path past the Aviary to the Pagoda (which housed monkeys and tigers – the excess!) and past the lake which housed swans and other waterfowl. We then trekked through the woods to cliffs that lined the shore and followed their jagged path back to the castle. I hardly need to say how much Allen and I enjoyed our day, and we all returned home just in time for darkness to fall, and Halloween to begin.

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