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Melrose Abbey: Must-See Historic Ruins near Edinburgh, Scotland

Melrose Abbey: Must-See Historic Ruins near Edinburgh, Scotland | CosmosMariners.com

A major draw for many people visiting Scotland are the beautiful historic spots scattered around the country. Some of them, like Eileen Donan Castle or Holyroodhouse, can get quite crowded during peak times, so I'm always on the lookout for lesser known places that allow me to immerse myself in the history without fighting hundreds of other people. 

While we were in Scotland, we wanted to visit some historic ruins near Edinburgh, and I found some beautiful ones in Melrose, Scotland. Visiting Melrose Abbey was a highlight of our adventures in the Scottish borderlands!

The Holy Grail, Scottish Trekking and Sir Walter Scott, or Our Visit to Roslin



On our second day sightseeing during the UK Extravaganza, we picked up our rental car and headed south from Edinburgh to the Scottish Borderlands.

Ye old Hyundai hatchback. Good on gas, not so great on style.

I don't know how many of you have ever driven in the UK, but it takes some getting used to. There's something completely creepy about driving on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car. You shift on the left side, and all of the signals are on the opposite side. At least the pedals are still in the same position on the floorboard!



We first headed to the town of Roslin where Rosslyn Chapel is located. It's probably most famous for its appearance in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" for the hiding place of the Holy Grail, but it is actually so much cooler than just that. The interior of the Chapel has the most incredible carvings that I've ever seen. Check out the elaborately carved Apprentice Pillar:

Then, in the very front of the chapel, there are these odd boxes carved into the ceiling; according to a medieval music scholar, the carvings on these boxes represent music notes. You can learn more about this theory by watching this YouTube video on the "Rosslyn Motet":
Other fun facts about Rosslyn Chapel:

  • It is privately owned by the St. Clair family, who has been in possession of the property since the 1400s. 
  • There is a vault underneath the Chapel, but it has been sealed for hundreds of years, and there is no plan to open it. No one knows what's there (which is where Dan Brown got the theory that it was the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail down there), but there was an ultrasound done of the chapel last year which found 12 tombs containing men in complete armor. 
  • The Chapel is only partially finished from what the original builder planned. What you see today was only supposed to be the choir area, but after William St. Clair died, his son either ran out of money or lost interest in the property. 
Landon in front of Rosslyn Chapel

While we were in the area, we decided to take a quick hike to nearby Rosslyn Castle, which is (you guessed it!) the residence for the Earl of Rosslyn, who also owns the Chapel. 



The area was really popular with the Romantic poets and artists, including Sir Walter Scott (who wrote a poem about Rosslyn Castle--see below), Robert Burns (another Scottish poet) and Andrew Nasmyth (a Scottish painter). There's a myth that, when a Rosslyn baron dies, the building will appear to be on fire. Supposedly, there are also a few ghosts roaming around the woods, including a braying dog, a grey lady, and a knight in black armor. Luckily, we didn't run into any of the above on our trek.


Rosslyn Castle



And, to nerd up the post a little, I leave you with a poem that Sir Walter Scott wrote about the chapel, the St. Clair line, and the castle:

The Lay of the Last Minstrel

by Sir Walter Scott

Seem'd all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffin'd lie,
Each Baron, for a sable shroud,
Sheath'd in his iron panoply.
Seem'd all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar s pale;
Shone every pillar foliage bound,
And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.
Blaz'd battlement and pinnet high,
Blaz'd every rose-carved buttress fair—
So still they blaze when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair.
There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle;
Each one the holy vault doth hold—
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!
And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell;
But the sea-caves rung, and the wild winds sung
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle.

Check out our other adventures on this trip!

Have you ever been to Scotland? Do you like exploring old churches or ruins?

Edinburgh: the Adventure Begins!

After traveling for almost 24 hours (we left Charleston around 3:30 PM, and finally got to Scotland 8:30 local time), we FINALLY got to our hotel in Old Town Edinburgh on our second day in the UK (we spent the first day traveling).

The traveling wouldn't have been so bad if our flight hadn't been delayed from Atlanta to London, which shrunk the time we had to get from Heathrow Airport to Euston Station in London. (I also couldn't get to sleep on the transatlantic flight, so I was HURTING by the time we finally went to sleep on Saturday.) And to make the airport to train station transition even worse, the Tube station in Heathrow was closed, so we were re-routed via bus to a Tube station about 15 stops from Euston. Eek! We made it with about 30 minutes to spare--just enough time to grab some lunch in the train station and get onto the train. 

Our train from London to Edinburgh took another 4 hours; luckily, our hotel in Edinburgh was about 500 feet from the train station. I have never been so happy to see a bed in my life!

the view from our hotel. That's Arthur's Seat in the left hand corner of the photo.

We spent all day Sunday sightseeing in Old Town Edinburgh. The Old Town was first grew up around 1200. The New Town was created in the 1700s after the gentry decided they needed a cleaner place to live. I think it's really funny that the New Town is older than 99% of the buildings/ settlements in the U.S.!
Just outside of the hotel. The buildings in the background are part of the New Town. The bridge is right over the train station.

We had breakfast at the Elephant Cafe, which was an adorable cafe on George IV Bridge. J.K. Rowling finished writing the first Harry Potter book here!

Landon at Holyroodhouse, the Queen's residence in Edinburgh (during the summer months). 

Holyroodhouse: the interior courtyard

Holyroodhouse Abbey. It is the oldest part of the palace, and was built by David I after he saw a stag with a cross (or "rood") between its antlers while he was out hunting. 

Holyroodhouse Abbey

Landon on the Royal Mile, which is actually over a mile, and is filled with cafes and shops. It's touristy, but fun.

Edinburgh Castle, at the other end of the Royal Mile

The view from Edinburgh Castle towards the New Town and the Firth of Forth

What we learned in Edinburgh: Kilts are alive and well in Scotland! We saw several men walking, driving or riding their bikes with their kilts on. Here's to hoping they they do wear something under them. I didn't volunteer to check!

Stay tuned for our Scotland driving adventures!

7/7 Bombings

Hands down, the scariest moment I've had abroad was being in London on a bus the moment that another bus and a subway train was bombed on July 7, 2005.

I actually should have been on the Picadilly line--the one that got bombed--but I had a field trip that day, and so, took the bus that morning. I knew something was wrong when people kept pouring onto the bus--it seemed so much busier than normal morning rush hour. I was almost to my destination, Trafalgar Square, when a woman comes running down from the second story of the double-decker bus yelling, "There's a bomb on a bus!" She was so scared that she wrenched open the doors to the bus while the bus was still moving. Luckily, it was approaching our stop, so she didn't get hurt.

Everyone quickly got off of the bus. As soon as I stood on the pavement, I head sirens. So many sirens. I haven't ever heard that many sirens in my life--and I hope I never do again. They seemed like they went on and on and on for hours that day. That's one of the most vivid things I remember.

I met my teacher at the foot of the National Gallery--there were only 6 of the 8 students in my class, and she didn't have any cell phone service. We were all scared because no one knew what had happened yet. The National Gallery closed, so we headed just across the street to the Crypt Cafe at St.-Martin's-in-the-Fields Church. My teacher bought us hot cocoa to calm us down while she tried to get anyone from the school on the phone.

Finally, she got through to another teacher, who took my class over from Julie, my teacher. She had to walk for miles and miles to get home to her family because all of the public transportation had been shut down. My teacher led us from central London, past Buckingham Palace, through Belgravia to our resident hall in Chelsea. It seemed like we walked for days, but it really wasn't more than two hours or so. The other teacher tried to keep us moving, and didn't want us to get distracted by tv or radio, so we still were unsure about exactly what had happened. Everyone we walked past was panicking, running all over, so we knew, whatever it was, was very, very bad.

By the time I got back to the residence hall, it was 2:30 in the afternoon--I'd left for school around 8 AM. My roommate had called my parents when the bombings happened (around 9 AM UK time, 4 AM US time), so they were completely panicked by the time I was able to call them. Turns out, the American Embassy had called them to let them know I was missing for those 7 hours. I cannot even imagine getting that call as a parent.

Luckily, everyone in my school was safe and sound; some of them had gotten stuck on the subway, and others had been asked to stay in the school building until the buildings around the bus bombings had been searched.

Not everyone was lucky. Over 50 Londoners lost their lives that day--many on a double decker bus near Russel Square and others on a Picadilly line subway. Over 700 others were injured in the bombings.



I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.

Tailgating in Tiger Town

Landon and I are both Clemson University alums, and we were SO excited for the opportunity to head back up to Clemson for Homecoming this weekend. We left right after work so we could have dinner with Landon's parents who live not too far from the Clemson campus. Since we hadn't been up to see his parents in TEN MONTHS (!!), it was nice to be able to spend time with them this weekend, too.

Saturday dawned bright and early...and pretty chilly. I love fall, but the weather around here is so weird in October. What do I wear when it is 49 in the morning, 80 mid-day and 55 after the game? Ugh. I settled on my skinny jeans, a white t-shirt and an orange and white striped 3/4-length shirt.
We had the BEST time at our tailgate--Landon's parents were there, along with several of our friends from undergrad: Tim and Kelly Anne, Tori and Furphy, and Shawn and his girlfriend Whitney. It's so weird to me that we've all been gone from Clemson for three-to-five years!

Landon!

Sam and Nann are deep in conversation at the tailgate.

Yummy, yummy food

Tim and Kelly Anne celebrating a particularly good throw in Cornhole.

Landon says, "Go Tigers!"

Tori does her best to score!

Aww, how cute! The newlyweds walk to the stadium

The view from our tailgating spot

Just before the start of the game

Half-time show

Clemson won, we ate so much delicious food and we got to see Landon's parents. Definitely a successful weekend!

Weekend at Fort McKinley, Georgia

My family is (and always has been) big on family outings. As kids, my sister and I were packed up each summer for our family vacation. Sometimes, we'd go to Disney World; other times, it was Canada, Pennsylvania or California. My parents included us on the planning, so we learned about the history of the places we'd see and thus, were a little more prepared to appreciate the things we were to see soon.

We still keep up the tradition of the family vacation even though we're much older and we've expanded (hello, son-in-law Landon!). Since college, we've gone to Louisiana, Disney World (as much as things change, they stay the same!) and the North Carolina mountains. I can count myself among the lucky few who enjoy spending time with their families, and have the means and time to do so.

This weekend, we headed off in true family-vacation style to Richmond Hill, Georgia, where we rented a cabin for a few days. We stayed at Fort McKinley State Park on the outskirts of Richmond Hill, and it was so pretty! It was so much fun to have some time to relax before school starts back next week.

We stopped at the Old Sheldon Church in Yemassee, SC, which was burned during the Civil War.


Later on Saturday, we went to Wormsloe Plantation in Skidway Island, GA, just outside of Savannah.
Give me a screened-in porch, a wooden rocker, a glass of tea and a book, and I'm a happy gal.

What I Think: Review of Jeffrey Deaver's The Twelfth Card

I've been a big fan of Jeffrey Deaver for some time now, but I've never done a review of his work...until now!



My mom recently let me borrow a new paperback of Deaver's The Twelfth Card, which features Deaver's most famous characters, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. You may have seen the movie adaptation of Deaver's first Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Bone Collector, that starred Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as Rhyme's protege and girlfriend, Amelia Sachs.

In The Twelfth Card, these characters are the same that I've come to know and love. Rhyme and Sachs, along with their usual crew of NYPD officers, specialists and technicians, tackle the attempted murder case of 16-year-old Geneva Settle. They begin to believe that Geneva's brush with death may be tied to an article she was reading about the arrest and trial of her ancestor, Charles--who lived one hundred and forty years before. So, what in the world does a Harlem teenager have to do with a century old trial? Lincoln and Sachs quickly discover that the past isn't always past. Their desire to set the story straight, while catching the killer, is compounded by the fact that Rhyme is a paraplegic who is confined to his cherry red wheelchair. Sachs often has to be his eyes, ears, hands and feet at the crime scenes they investigate.

And in true Jeffrey Deaver fashion, the story twists and turns. And then twists some more. Just when you think they've figured everything out--BAM!--another plot twist.

While these murder mysteries/ thrillers might not be high literature, they sure are fun. The Twelfth Card reads like it's an action movie, and the suspense doesn't let up until the very end.

On the flipside, if you're easily offended by coarse language, you might want to seek entertainment elsewhere--there are many unsavory (and some savory) characters that need some help expanding their vocabulary. This is fairly true of all the Deaver books (as well as all of the James Patterson thrillers).

If you're searching for something to discuss in your Ph.D. level English class, you'll want to pass this one by. However, if you're looking for a fun and suspenseful escape from reality--and you like Criminal Minds or CSI:--then you should give The Twelfth Card, or any of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books, a try this summer.

Like this book? Check these out:

  • James Patterson's Alex Cross series
  • Patricia Cornwell's Blowfly (my favorite of the Kay Scarpetta series)
  • Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series (the Alphabet books)