Marbles

I have not lost my marbles
They ran off on their own
They rolled right off the table
And headed out the door

One went up to Alaska
To see the polar bears
It made friends among the reindeer
And loves the winters there

I found one in Iona
On Scotland’s western shore
It swam over with some dolphins
And lives with puffins there

My marbles will keep on rolling
Traveling around the world
Until they rise up to the heavens
To make a new home there

If I ever get to space travel
And make it to the Moon
I’ll find a huge jar of my marbles
Waiting for me there

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Shelly’s place, Estes Park

We just returned from a fabulous week in Colorado, staying in Shelly’s AirBnb, located on Hwy 7 between Estes Park and Allenspark near the Wild Basin entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re headed that way, we highly recommend it; click the link above to view the listing. Reviews at AirBnB are limited to 1000 characters, but here is the review we would have wished to post there (I had to post a severely pared-down version):


Sometimes our travels take us on a busy itinerary where we’re constantly moving from place to place. This time we wanted to stay in one place and soak in the experience. We planned this trip as a mini family reunion of six people: my wife and I, our three adult daughters and a son-in-law. This house, “nearly perfect” as my son-in-law put it, became itself part of the memories our family will cherish from this time together. We definitely expect to return!

The surroundings offer an inexhaustible source of natural beauty which we continually enjoyed, especially from the decks: chipmunks playing on the rocks, hummingbirds buzzing us to remind us we are but guests, ravens and nutcrackers, the fragrance of pines and the captivating patterns of the rocks. One evening we grilled burgers on the front deck. Each morning we woke up with coffee on the west deck watching the morning clouds playing upon the slopes of Mount Meeker.

Inside, the house layout was splendid for us, accommodating our varied schedules and activities. The bedrooms seemed customized for each of us: A secluded moose room by a game room; a Cozy Cabin Loft room; a Bear room and a master bedroom just a few steps from the living room. Some stayed up late hours in the game room while others went to bed early to depart in the wee hours for early morning hikes. Our pregnant daughter had space available to sit up if needed at any hour of night. The lovely main living room offers a relaxing gathering space, with two recliners one daughter claims are the most comfortable she has ever sat in.

The location on the east side of the park was ideal for us. We walked along the nearby Wild Basin Trail with its splendid waterfalls and cascades (my favorite trail in the Park). The stunning scenery on the short drive to Estes Park via Hwy 7 never gets old; we took advantage of Lily Pond, the coffeeshop at the Chapel on the Rocks, the Enos Mills historical marker, and horse-riding at Elkhorn Stables. We had easy access to Estes Park with all its attractions including the riverwalk, and a shortcut to the main entrance of RMNP via Mary Lake Road for the days we spent absorbing the splendors of Trail Ridge Road, and Moraine Park and the Bear Lake corridor. We experienced no let-down each evening returning to this east-side home in such a beautiful natural setting.

My wife comments that it was “just about as perfect as it could get. House designed well for us. Beautiful location. All amenities provided. Beds comfortable. Great kitchen.” We appreciated the host’s use of unscented laundry detergent. Several of us have pronounced sensory sensitivities and allergies, but the house gave us no problems. The host, Shelly, was very responsive from before our arrival up through the very last day, including extremely helpful last-minute assistance. In the words one daughter wrote in the guest book: “All the amenities [even flashlights, bug spray] were so helpful and really made it feel like a home. We enjoyed… cuddling up in all the blankets, the decor (love the themes!), the porches, the views, the books & reading materials, and the location! We can’t wait to return. Thank you for making this trip so wonderful!”

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Torrance updates, 2023-2024

In this post I’ll post updates of my Torrance-related activities for 2023 and 2024. Cf. Torrance updates for 2022 and 2021.


July 6, 2023

Marty Folsom’s Torrance Reading Group, discussion of Thomas F. Torrance, “The Sovereign Creator,” in The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 203-234; #1996-595i. Download Handout (pdf).


January 25, 2024

Marty Folsom’s Torrance Reading Group, Thomas F. Torrance, “The Transformation of Natural Theology,” in The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville, Virginia: The University of Virginia Press; Belfast: Christian Journals, 1980), 75-109; #1980-369e. Download Handout (pdf).


The Thomas F. Torrance History of Science Collection
History of Science Collections
University of Oklahoma Libraries
Norman, Oklahoma, USA

The T. F. Torrance History of Science Collection (#2022-ou-1) is growing…

Short-term travel fellowships are available.

In October and November 2023, I was able to meet with a number of supporters of the Torrance Collection in Paris, England, and Scotland. I presented at the Firbush Torrance Retreat, meeting additional Torrance-interested persons there. Numerous additions to the Collection were made. Of particular note was a substantial donation from Bob and Jamie Walker of more than 50 books and some papers (the oldest book is Antonius Walaeus, Opera omnia (Lugduni Batavorum, 1643), 2 vols, which belonged to T. F. Torrance). See the list of materials received.


During my sabbatical (January-June 2024), I am working on a number of Torrance-related projects, including the oral histories, several articles (e.g., see handouts above), and a Love and the Cosmos book project (Preface PDF).


A video review of Bruce Ritchie on James Clerk Maxwell (and Torrance); cf. Bruce Ritchie, James Clerk Maxwell: Faith, Church and Physics (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 2024); #2024-BR-1.

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Oxford Inklings tour

In November 2021, we found ourselves with a day free in the Bath area due to an unexpected relaxation of Covid protocols for travelers seeking to return to the US. Thus at the end of a three week stay in the UK, we went up to Oxford for a day to walk in the footsteps of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings. This PDF, prepared in advance of our trip “just in case,” was our guide for the day.

Special thanks to Kim Gilnett, who wrote the bulk of the tour with assistance from Stan Mattson and Michael Ward: “C.S. Lewis Walking Tour of Oxford Centre.” Additional information is culled from from the walking tours in the appendices of Harry Lee Poe, The Inklings of Oxford (Zondervan, 2009), an ideal travel companion to read beforehand or even take with you.


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Galileo and the Church


Watch at Vimeo | Download slides/script PDF

This coming Wednesday, May 3, 2023, I’m looking forward to speaking at McFarlin Methodist Church here in Norman on Galileo and the Roman Church. This post is a landing page for resources related to that talk. The video above is a draft version that will be slightly abridged for the occasion.

To grapple with the Galileo Affair and what it means for us today requires a journey of open inquiry and a readiness to question anew what we have received, especially from contemporary society, including popular culture. The journey must necessarily be personal and authentic. A semester course for graduate credit would not exhaust the inquiry.


The Galileo Myth

I recommend beginning with Bertold Brecht, The Life of Galileo. Read the English translation by Charles Laughton, or attend a production of the play if at all possible. Brecht’s play has likely shaped popular beliefs about Galileo more than any other source. By “Galileo Myth” I mean the “meaning” of the Galileo story for us today, irrespective of the details and their historical accuracy.

Brecht’s account does justice to the poignancy and tragedy of Galileo’s trial, concluding with his coerced recantation and abjuration. This presents the core question and meaning of the Galileo Affair.

We are fortunate at OU that a brilliant production of Brecht’s play was just put on by the Helmerich School of Drama with a talented group of undergraduate actors, directed by Emma Woodward, with dramaturgical support by James McCabe.

OU Galileo theater production

I think it’s the most effective production of Brecht I’ve seen, paradoxically because of the intimate setting in the studio theater. This play comes off better when it’s performed by a group of very talented undergraduate actors in a university setting, not overproduced, but with creative props, costumes, and staging. It came off personal and authentic, and was a delight to attend.


The Galileo of History

But eventually questions arise about historical truth and popular misconceptions of Galileo. To enter into that phase of the journey, remember that Brecht’s play is less about the Galileo of history than about the Galileo myth. Brecht’s intention was not that of a historian, to reconstruct a factual and true account of Galileo, that is, to seek understanding of Galileo in the context of his own times. Rather, Brecht sought to use the Galileo myth to critique his contemporary society, particularly the rise of fascism and the Nazi party, from the standpoint of his own Marxism. So after reading Brecht, continue your journey for historical truth by critiquing Brecht’s play itself with the following resources…

Historical scholarship:

  • Stillman Drake, Galileo: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1983); Amazon. Read this excellent brief overview in Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series. I’ve prepared a Drake discussion guide (PDF) to support an 8-week reading group.
  • Ronald Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Harvard University Press, 2009); Amazon. Short chapters on Galileo and other episodes of science and religion by leading historians of science.
  • Maurice Finocchiaro, ed., The Trial of Galileo: Essential Documents (Hackett Publishing Company, 2014), Amazon. Finocchiaro conveniently brings together translations of the documents of the case.
  • Annabole Fantoli, Galileo: For Copernicanism and for the Church (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 3rd ed.; Amazon. The most comprehensive, insightful, and judicious analysis of the Galileo Affair in my opinion. Because of the plethora of newly available documents in the wake of the Vatican’s greater transparency after John Paul II, each edition of Fantoli includes substantive revisions; thus, make sure you get the third edition.
  • Maurice Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo: 1633–1992 (University of California Press, 2005); Amazon. An intriguing study of how the story of the Galileo Affair has been retold in every generation from 1633 through 1992, which includes a helpful chapter on Brecht.

My own resources:

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Deb Haarsma on doxological astronomy

Deb Haarsma: Christ in All Things, Galaxies Included

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Starstruck Tonight


Starstruck Tonight, draft version (1 hr, 5 mins)

Thursday night, April 27, at 6pm, Candace and I presented a virtual program for the Pioneer Library network. Here’s the event page. My thanks to Pioneer Library and Librarian Catherine Wahpeconiah for inviting us and for all the effort in hosting the event as part of spring series on astronomy.

The official title I turned in, back when it was arranged, was “Constellations: Merging Art and Science.” While creating it, I added “Starstruck Tonight” to the title, because I drew upon some scripts I used for two planetarium shows back in the 1990’s. The presentation feels to me like a fusion between a planetarium show and a tour of the History of Science Collections.

On the Vimeo page for the draft video, the caption has links to jump to any section.

  1. Intro, 0:00:00 (3:35 mins)
  2. 6 Constellations: 3:35 (9:08 mins)
  3. Circumpolar stars: 12:43 (7:15 mins)
  4. Winter Hexagon: 19:58 (7:42 mins)
  5. Summer Triangle: 27:40 (5:08 mins)
  6. Zodiac: 32:48 (6:40 mins)
  7. Star Atlases: 39:28 (18:44 mins)
  8. Two Stories: 58:12 (5:22 mins)
  9. Afterword: 1:03:34 (2:10 mins)

I’ll post a link here when the improved version as given is posted on the Pioneer Library website. It’s also significantly shorter!

I’m making the presentation available under a Creative Commons license, with attribution (CC-by). All images from books are courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.


Some of the links mentioned in the presentation are:

Recommended books to get started with the constellations

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Seismic Reflection open house

It was a delight to host participants in the Seismic Reflection conference in OKC for an open house at the History of Science Collections on April 12, 2023. Here are some of the books, labels, and photos from that event: PDF (give it time to load).

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Deep peace of the shining stars

On a wall of 20 Hills Cottage, that most hospitable of places, Hannah displays a prayer from Iona:

Deep Peace Iona blessing

The deep peace of the water, air, earth, and heavens are gathered up in the Son of Peace, the source from whom arises all peace anywhere peace is found.


The Iona prayer reminds me of a poem by Wendell Berry:


“The Peace of Wild Things” (text of poem)
Written and narrated by Wendell Berry

“And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. for a time…”

Whether waiting for another season,* or for the night to come, the stars are waiting with their light.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

[* As an aside, “day-blind” is an ambiguous phrase which, taken by itself, could mean stars invisible by day for either of two reasons: (1) they are in the daytime sky and outshone by the Sun; or (2) they are in the night sky and therefore not seen by day. We are informed by the poem that it takes place at night, so “day-blind stars” must then refer not to stars invisible because they are in the daytime sky (#1), but to stars that are visible at night (#2), waiting for us to appreciate their light, perhaps on those sleepless nights when anxieties weigh us down. If it were not so (if it were #1), I would prefer to read the two lines near the end without the period, as if the stars in the daylight sky were patient, waiting for a time — waiting until the season, which they know will come, albeit months from now, when they will move into the night-time sky and shine on the earth again. But in terms of #2, the waiting of the night-time stars is for us to stay up after sunset to finally notice them, and to be consoled in some measure by the light they provide in the darkness.]


The Iona prayer and Wendell Berry poem seem to relate naturally to a song by Alana Levandoski, inspired by the Christ hymn of Colossians 1:15-20:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20 NIV11)

Alana asked four poets each to write a poem in response to a particular line:

  1. in him all things hold together…“: Malcolm Guite, “Everything holds together” (read by Malcolm, published in Parable and Paradox)
  2. He is the firstborn from the dead…“: Scott Cairns, “Recreation” (read by Jamie Howison)
  3. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…“: Joel McKerrow, “And this is he who takes all that he is and bestows it freely” (read by Joel McKerrow)
  4. For in him all things were created… through him to reconcile to himself all things“: Luci Shaw, “Anticipating long stretches of nothingness we plunge south into California on I-5…” (read by ?) Cf. “Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany,” discussed in Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word, for January 5.

Note: This post will be revised if I discover where/when these poems are published. I am guessing which lines Alana assigned to Joel and Luci.

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Scotland in a blur

Craigneich farm in 2018
Craigneich farm in 2018

More and more of our family are making trips to Scotland, particularly to visit Magruder-related sites. First it was cousin Jennifer living in Edinburgh for a while; then Mother, Julie, and Laura visiting together; followed by four work trips for me so far including ones with Candace in 2018 and 2022; as well as trips by Rachel and Stephen, and Matthew and Anna. For family preparing future trips, here are a few notes and a sample itinerary. To create your own plan, it may help to have a specific and concrete proposal before you as a starting point.

This whiz-by tour envisions a trip of 2 weeks, in 4 legs or phases: (1) Edinburgh; (2) Family sites; (3) Iona; (4) Isle of Skye; with a possible side-trip to Ireland at the end. This is a hypothetical scenario offered to help jump-start your thinking for your own trip. Notes below suggest a few ways to compress or expand it as you may wish. You will no doubt come up with your own ideas as your planning progresses; no two families’ trips will be the same. Whatever you end up doing, I know you will enjoy your first trip to Scotland!


(1) Edinburgh

Arthur's Seat from our 2018 AirBnB
Arthur’s Seat from our 2018 AirBnB

2 nights. Book a BnB near the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh is the gathering place, and offers a couple days to shake off jet lag before driving. There’s far too much to see and do in Edinburgh itself, but since the metropolitan areas of Edinburgh and Glasgow are easily accessible for future trips, devote most of your time this first visit to Scotland’s more remote areas.

Itinerary:

  • Day 0, catch overnight flight from US to Edinburgh.
  • Day 1, Arrive in Edinburgh in the early morning, so you have a “free” day to walk off jet lag and get your first introduction to the city. Upon arrival at the Edinburgh airport, take the train to Waverley Station. Find your BnB and drop off your bags early, if possible. Use the superb metro bus system as needed, although most sights will be within easy walking distance. Choose from Highlights below. Accommodation: Near Royal Mile, with early bag dropoff before check-in.
  • Day 2: Edinburgh — choose from Highlights below. Accommodation: Near Royal Mile.
  • Day 3: Return to the Edinburgh airport by train first thing, and pick up your rental car to drive west…

Highlights:

Resources:


(2) Family sites

Mother and Dad with Craigneich farm photos
Mother and Dad with Craigneich farm photos

3 nights. Find a BnB in or near Dunblane, Crieff, or Comrie.

About Alexander Magruder II (Alexander the immigrant, our 17th-century American ancestor), Rachel writes:

“Born in 1610 in Belliclone, Inchaffray, Perthshire, Alexander was 41 by the time of the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651, where he was taken prisoner of war by Cromwell’s army. Soon after he was sent to America as an indentured servant on the English warship the Guinea, presumably stopping over at Barbados on the way. They arrived in Virginia in January 1652 and then sailed the short distance to Maryland. Although indentured servants were normally required to serve for six to eight years, Alexander seems to have been able to buy his freedom and acquire land in America that same year…. Alexander enjoyed great success in America, establishing a wealthy plantation in Calvert County, Maryland (now in Prince George’s County, MD) and owning as many as 3,750 acres of land. He did not forget his homeland. It is interesting to note the names Alexander gave to his land — “Alexandria,” “Anchovie Hills,” “Craigneich,” and “Dunblane”. While “Alexandria” seems to have been named after himself or his father, the other places all refer to places in Scotland that would have held special memories for him. The “Anchovie” in “Anchovie Hills” is likely derived from “Inchaffray,” where Alexander was born. “Craigneich” is clearly named after Craigneich in Glen Artney, which had long been his family’s home and is likely the place where he grew up. Finally, Alexander may have gone to school in the town of Dunblane, and his last home in Scotland may have been on the estates of the same name.”

Itinerary:

  1. Day 3, continued, travel day: Pick up rental car from near Edinburgh airport. Drive to BnB near Dunblane. Might have time for Stirling Castle on the way. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
  2. Day 4. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
    • Dunblane cathedral and Dunblane museum, with the Leighton Library if you have time. Magruders were associated with Dunblane Cathedral, and some are buried on its grounds. At our family reunions each year we use the liturgy of the Dunblane Cathedral for our Sunday morning worship.
    • Glen Artney, Craigneich farm. The home of the family was in Glen Artney, Perthshire, a glen south of the village of Comrie. Craigneich farm was home to several generations of Magruders. Craigneich farm is where Alexander Magruder the immigrant likely grew up. He later named one of his estates in Maryland “Craigneich.” Mother, Julie and Laura, and us on our first trip, personally encountered Tom Paterson, who farmed Craigneich until recently. We have all taken photos next to the Craigneich sign on the property. West of Craigneich in Glen Artney is Meiggar, south of Comrie. Alexander’s uncle, John, became Chamberlain to Sir Patrick, 3rd Lord Drummond, and in 1620 he became the proprietor of the land of Meiggar, which he and his descendants farmed for almost two hundred years. The oldest indisputable record of the Magruder name is found in Comrie, a lovely town on the River Earn.
  3. Day 5. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
    • Drummond castle and gardens. There is a long history of ties between the Magruders and the Drummonds (which is why we are considered a part of Clan Drummond), and it is likely some of the Magruders in our line came to Drummond Castle or served there. For example, Alexander the immigrant’s brother, James, became Chamberlain to the 4th Lord Drummond and Earl of Perth who resided at Drummond Castle. It is possible Alexander may have stayed there with his brother from time to time.
    • Belliclone farm (alternately, “Nether Bellyclone”) is the birthplace of Alexander the immigrant.
    • Madderty church (cf. post Old Churchyard).
    • Inchaffray Abbey. Alexander later named one of his estates Anchovie Hills after Inchaffray. Alexander’s father, Alexander I, was Chamberlain to Sir James Drummond, Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey and later 1st Lord Maddertie.
    • Innerpeffray chapel (cf. Rachel singing the doxology).

Resources:


(3) Iona

Cross shadow falling on Columba's chapel, Iona Abbey 2018
Shadow of the Celtic Cross falling on the entrance
to Columba’s chapel, Iona Abbey, 2018

5 nights: 1 in Oban, 3 in Iona, 1 in Oban.

The story of Iona is the spiritual heart of Scottish history (and its connection with Ireland).

Book rooms at the Argyll Hotel on Iona (3 nights). Do this as early as possible in your planning process, and plan your entire trip around those dates. Book a BnB in Oban for the night preceding and following the Argyll Hotel (total of 2 nights). On the way to Oban from Dunblane, put on your blinders and save Glasgow and Loch Lomond for another trip, as stopping to enjoy them would require inserting additional days and you can see both of them together next time you return.

Itinerary:

  1. Day 6, travel day: Drive from Dunblane to Oban.
    • Follow the highway up along the west shore of Loch Lomond, through Luss, then head west via Arrochar and the Rest and Be Thankful pass.
    • Make time to tour Inveraray Castle on the way. The village of Inveraray is on Loch Fyne. Inveraray Castle is the seat of Clan Campbell, the highland home of our Campbell ancestors. Alexander Magruder the immigrant’s parents were Alexander MacGruther I and Margaret Campbell. Margaret Campbell was a descendant of the Earls of Argyll, the chiefs of Clan Campbell. She was also descended from Robert the Bruce. Margaret’s grandfather Donald and probably her father Nicholas were born in the old Inveraray Castle. The present castle was built between 1745-1790 and remains the seat of the current Earl of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell.
    • Arrive in Oban and prepare for the ferry departure early the next morning. Make arrangements to leave your rental car in Oban. Tip: in the boot of your car, stash any luggage you won’t need on Iona. Accommodation: in Oban.
  2. Day 7, travel day: catch the early ferry from Oban to Mull, ride the bus across Mull, take another ferry to Iona. See Rick Steves Scotland for logistics. May arrive in time for evening service at the Abbey. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  3. Day 8, Staffa: ride the boat to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave and take the short hike to see and sit among the puffins. Book online beforehand with Staffa Tours; cf. Rick Steves Scotland for logistics. May return in time for the evening service at the Abbey. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  4. Day 9, explore Iona: tour the Nunnery and other ruins, explore the Abbey and Abbey museum, walk to the north beach, climb Dun I (pronounced Dun Eee). Make time for quiet contemplation and soak in the spirit of the place where St. Columba (521-597) founded his Abbey, and where the Book of Kells was made. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  5. Day 10, travel day back to Oban. Pick up your car. Evening at a pub or hootenanny. Accommodation: in Oban.

Resources:

  • Kerry and Candace scrapbook
  • Some of Stephen’s photos from Iona and Staffa are in his 2022 UK album on Flickr.
  • Watch Rick Steves, “The Scottish Islands and Highlands” (Season 1, Episode 5). PBS, Amazon Prime, Apple TV.
  • Watch Great Scotland Estates: stream the superb episode on Inveraray Castle. A low res version used to be on youTube; a high res version is available from streaming platforms including Apple TV and Paramount.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands, episode on Mull (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” Season 2, Episode 2). Amazon Prime.
  • Watch a documentary on Columba and the Book of Kells. I wish I could recommend a good one. Possible candidates are “Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna, or Columba: The Bold Saint,” BBC. Review. (Is this available?) Another example is an older 20-minute documentary by Wolf Éirinn at youTube (Part 1, Part 2). Let me know if you find a really good documentary to recommend here!

(4) Isle of Skye


Rachel and Stephen in 2022, driving to the Isle of Skye

2 nights. Book a BnB in Portree, Staffin, or Uig.

Itinerary:

  1. Day 11, travel day: Drive from Oban to the Isle of Skye. Driving to and around the Isle of Skye will afford you the most amazing scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Accommodation: Portree.
  2. Day 12, tour Skye: Day hike. Plan the day in Skye around the hike of your choice: perhaps the Old Man of Storr; the Quiraing; or the Neist Point Lighthouse. Accommodation: Portree.

Resources:

  • Some of Stephen’s photos from Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, and the Isle of Skye are in his 2022 UK album on Flickr.
  • Laura’s blog (2016 trip): Onich to Inverlochy.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands episodes devoted to Skye (Season 1, Episode 6) and Northern Skye (Season 4, Episode 4).

(5) Return home

Flying home 2018
Flying home 2018

1 night, 2 days.

Itinerary:

  1. Day 13, travel day: Drive back to Edinburgh (perhaps via a route going east from Glen Coe and the Three Sisters, through the Rannoch Moor, then Clifton, and Callender). Book a hotel near the Edinburgh airport. Turn in rental car.
  2. Day 14: Take shuttle from airport hotel to airport. Fly home — or to Ireland for a couple-day side-trip.

Different timeframe? Not 2 weeks?

Shorter:

What if you must shave time off of the above itinerary to accommodate a shorter trip? The longer the trip the better, but as Rick Steves says, “expect to return!”

Here is what I would recommend saving for another time, in order:

  1. Omit Day 2 in Edinburgh. With only one day, prioritize Arthur’s Seat and the Royal Mile.
  2. Omit Day 5. Compress family sites visit, omitting Innerpeffray Chapel, Madderty Church, Belliclone farm, and Stirling Castle. Must see: Craigneich farm (get a photo next to the Craigneich sign😊), Dunblane Cathedral, Drummond Castle gardens.
  3. Omit Day 9. Compress activities on Iona.
  4. Omit Days 11-12, Isle of Skye. The suggested itinerary on Skye is already compressed, so just omit it entirely if you have to and save it for another trip. Drive back to Edinburgh from Oban instead, taking a scenic route (perhaps through Glen Coe, Clifton, and Callender) without retracing your route west.

Omitting all of these shaves off 5 days. Ouch!

Longer:

If you have time to spare, add an additional day at Skye and then another day in Edinburgh. If you have a third day to add, stay overnight at Loch Lomond (e.g., Balmaha or Drymen) and walk the Highland Boundary Fault trail along the eastern shore (4 km, 2-3 hours).

Or add a side-trip to Ireland. With a few days in Ireland you might see the Book of Kells in the library of Trinity College (Dublin); the Giant’s Causeway in northern Ireland (continuous geologically and associated mythologically with Fingal’s cave on Staffa); sites related to James Joyce (Dublin) or C. S. Lewis (Belfast); and, time-permitting, venture further west to drive the Ring of Kerry. The Book of Kells connects Ireland to Scotland via Iona more profoundly than the Giant’s Causeway connects under the sea to Fingal’s cave.

Three weeks would be ideal. Expect to return!


Getting around Scotland

Scotland and Wyoming comparison, Mapfight
MapFight

Getting around Scotland is not like driving the vast expanses of the American west. Two Scotlands fit roughly side-by-side inside the state of Wyoming. I think of Scotland as reminiscent of the varied and glacial-carved landscapes of Wyoming, only Scotland is strikingly verdant and abundantly rainy. And instead of being land-locked like Wyoming, Scotland is on an island where the sea seems ever-present. Fish n’chips, and Cullen skink soup… yum! And instead of having more cows than people, like Wyoming, Scotland has about 5.5 million people, while the population of Wyoming is about 5.5 hundred thousand. But other than that, they’re similar. 😂 Well, ok. BTW, the entire UK occupies about the same area in square miles as Wyoming.

Renting a car is expensive, and you may feel uncomfortable with what you’ve heard about driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Do you really need one? And is it worth the investment?

Scotland is well-served by an excellent network of buses and trains, and it is possible to build an itinerary around them. Highly recommended, in fact, if you stay mostly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with only a quick sidetrip to Inverness or London. You could do something like this itinerary with trains to Dunblane and Oban. It would be more complex to work out timetables for reaching Skye, involving a combination of trains and buses to Portree. Relying upon buses and trains to go out to Oban or Portree would likely add a day or two here and there to the itinerary. Renting a car makes it simpler to visit rural family sites like Glen Artney, the Craigneich farm, Madderty Church, and Belliclone farm, but you might explore working out arrangements to hire a driver from Dunblane.

Road signs
Road signs

As for driving on the left side of the road, you’ll get used to it with just a little practice and a nascent sense of humor. Plan your route ahead of time. Tip: Bake in a few practice turns in the streets and parking lots around the Edinburgh airport, before heading out on the motorway to Dunblane. There is no need to fear driving these routes. The roadways required by this itinerary are superb by UK standards. The only ones that will be narrow, with lay-bys, are on Mull (bus recommended there), and near Craigneich Farm, Madderty, and Innerpeffray Chapel. There’s no need to drive in Edinburgh; pick up your car when leaving town. This itinerary is planned with the aim of keeping it drivable by ordinary mortals — that is, by Americans accustomed to wide lanes with shoulders. Even roundabouts are not as common on these roads as in many places in the UK. Rick Steves’ guidebook will introduce you to the unusual road signs.

Road signs
“Stop on Red” translated into Scottish:
“When Stop Sign Shows Wait Here”

Manual transmissions are common in the UK, including for rental cars. I recommend paying extra for an automatic transmission if you can afford it. Not having to switch gears with your left hand on the gearshift is one less distraction to worry about (not the right hand as with American manual transmissions). An automatic will give you a greater comfort level with driving so you can focus on the other things, like navigating intersections. Another factor that will increase your comfort level is to have a navigator in the passenger seat following along on a printed map, since intersections are not always clearly marked (for example, they may be labeled according to the next small towns on the route, or there may be multiple exits off a roundabout).

AA Road Map Britain 9: Scotland AA Large Scale Britain Road Atlas Ordnance Survey map 47
Maps: showing more detail, left to right

What about maps? Count on GPS, but know that sometimes your signal will fail, so a paper map is essential. Even with GPS, it’s more helpful than you might expect. A folding roadmap (left) is particularly useful for planning your routes when you want to see a connected, overall, bird’s-eye view. I recommend AA Road Map Britain 9: Scotland. Get a large format travel atlas like the AA Large Scale Britain Road Atlas (middle; purchase when you get there if it’s not available in the US). It is more detailed and less hassle in the car than a folding roadmap (except when you’re traversing the margins of pages). Finally, Ordnance Survey maps (OS maps) show the fine detail of an area, including rural roads, walking paths, even down to ancient ruins and standing stones (purchase OS map 47 from the Book Depository). Download a digital version of any purchased OS map to your iPad or tablet. That large iPad screen is also handy for GPS.

Speaking of cell phones and tablets, they really come in handy on a trip, and not just for navigation. If you’re thinking of upgrading your phone, do it before the trip to take advantage of the always-improving camera features, complete with GPS tagging. Check with your cellular company in advance about international plans; some, like T-Mobile, give you coverage in the UK for no extra charge. But also check the coverage maps, and don’t expect any cellular coverage at all in remote places like Iona.


Travel tips

Clothespins and hangers
Clothespins and hangers

Packing and luggage:

  • Pack everything in a single medium-size suitcase, no more than you want to carry yourself for the equivalent of several city blocks. If using trains or buses, space for carry-on luggage will be limited. The “boots” of UK cars are typically smaller than the trunks of American cars. Unless you want to spend your travel hours staring at your suitcase in your lap instead of watching the amazing scenery roll past, if more than two people are riding in a single car, get measurements of the rental car’s boot before you arrive to make sure all the luggage will fit. Consider renting a “People Carrier” class vehicle, such as a Ford Tourneo (book in advance to ensure availability).
  • Leave room in your luggage for shopping items you’ll bring back, or ship them directly home from the stores where they are purchased.
  • Tip: Take a light-weight collapsible day-pack in your suitcase to keep with you for walking about. Best if you can find one that’s waterproof, with sealed seams and covered zippers. Might double as a carry-on.
  • Here’s our packing list (PDF).

Dress for the weather: Weather is part of the visit! Embrace the rain and wind and enjoy it (even when the rain is falling sideways). The most important travel shopping is done before you go: You’ll need a waterproof rain jacket (with waterproof hat or hood), and waterproof hiking boots (even in Edinburgh when it is raining). This trip is what Gore-Tex and other waterproof gear is made for. Dress in layers — e.g., layer a puff jacket underneath the rain jacket. Thermal underwear comes in handy, too.

Laundry: Consider washing clothes in the shower or bathtub every 3-4 days so you can take fewer changes and avoid having to do large loads on a designated laundry day. Bring clothespins, and hangers or clothesline, to hang washed clothes up to dry in your BnB overnight — even if you build-in laundry days, these will be convenient to have on hand after any rainy day. For the above itinerary, consider washing clothes at the BnB in Oban (Days 6 and 10). When choosing the Oban BnB, look for one that has a washing machine, that would allow you to park your car in between stays, and that has easy access to the ferry loading dock.

Consider joining the National Trust of Scotland and/or Historic Scotland. Membership provides free admission to various sites like Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle (HS) and supports the upkeep of these places, including Iona and Staffa (NTS). The more places you visit, the more you will save on admission fees and time waiting in line for tickets.


Other resources

  • Laura’s blog: chronicles Laura’s 2016 trip with Julie, Mom, and Jennifer. Great stories, much helpful info, and many good links.
  • Kerry and Candace 2018 scrapbook (PDF); includes the family pages linked to above as well as the rest of that trip. Contains photos, maps, captions, and more for our first trip.
  • Rachel and Stephen’s 2022 itinerary (PDF). Some of Stephen’s photos from their 2022 trip are in his UK album on Flickr. See also Rachel’s family history essay.
  • Magruder’s Landing: Tons of information about Alexander Magruder the immigrant and others, with abundant links, maps, directions, and a bibliography of sources.
  • I’m a huge fan of Rick Steves. See the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook and website. Rick Steves’ “Travel Europe” episodes stream from Amazon Prime, PBS, Apple TV, etc. Watch “Edinburgh” (Season 4, Episode 3); “Islands and Highlands” (Season 1, Episode 5); and the three “Travel Skills” episodes from Season 7.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs, and Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands. These two superb travel shows are available on Amazon Prime. Watch the “Islands” episodes devoted to Skye (Season 1, Episode 6), Northern Skye (Season 4, Episode 4), and Mull (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” Season 2, Episode 2), among others. If you like, watch the “Lochs” episode devoted to Loch Etive and the Falls of Lora (Season 1, Episode 1), among others.

Compare the itinerary outlined above in this post with the itineraries in Laura’s blog, with what Rachel and Stephen did, and with our 2018 first trip, and you’ll have four different scenarios to stimulate your thinking. There’s no one right way to see Scotland! Expect to return.


Magruder coat of arms, drawn by Rachel, patch by James
Magruder coat of arms, drawn by Rachel, patch by James

Dear family: Imagine you’re having a conversation with some cousins who are planning their first trip to Scotland. If you’ve been there already, what advice would you offer? What was your experience like? What are your travel tips? If you were to do it again for the first time, given what you’ve learned, how would you tweak the above itinerary — or would you adopt a different approach altogether? Respond in the comments.

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