It was a clear, no-cloud-in-the-sky day in Edinburgh, with an expectant chill in the air like a late fall football Saturday in North Carolina.
“Unusual for a day in Scotland,” said our waitress .
After a long night’s sleep, my cousin, Kim and I sat down to a breakfast of scrambled cheese eggs, haggis, Scottish sausage (looked like coral-colored square of our liver pudding), fresh fruit, and a croissant. We were ready to take off on our first full day of exploring. We had a tour scheduled at 1:00 in the Old Town portion of the city that included the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.
Walking from our hotel in the section of the city called Surgeons Quarter, we were greeted by a man in Scottish tartan.
“Ladies, would you like to have your picture taken with a man in a kilt?” he called out, a grin across his face.
“Sure, that would be great,” I said and stood next to him.
After Kim took our picture, he asked me, “Do you think your younger sister would like her picture taken, too?”
We laughed and Kim took her place beside the man in the kilt.
“I’m the Town Cryer of the village of Lonach–home of William Wallace, the one known as Brave Heart.” He went on to ring the brass bell he carried and delivered us a blessing to take back to North Carolina–with an invitation to visit. He told us his tartan represented the Thompson clan and that he was stationed there to welcome visitors to a nearby festival.
As we approached the Royal Mile, we were reminded of the solemn state of things in the United Kingdom with the passing of the Queen. The famous street was barricaded off so that no cars were allowed and the sidewalks were overcrowded with a narrow passageway on either side of the street for tourists. Scaffolding crews were erecting structures for the media crews and others that will be covering the arrival of the Queen’s body and procession up the Royal Mile from the area of Holyrood to St Giles Cathedral.
Everyone we talked with about the Queen’s death was deeply respectful of her and spoke about how she would be missed. To hear them talk about the “Queen Mother”, to hear her son, Charles, the new king, talk about how he would miss is “Ma Ma” was poignant for Kim. She had brought her dear mother’s ashes to the UK to be scattered at the Isle of Skye–her mother’s final request. How ironic that we were in the airport preparing to fly to Scotland when we learned of the Queen’s death in Balmoral. Honoring her would first take place in Scotland.
We arrived at our walking tour meeting point and learned the tour had been cancelled and the Edinburgh Castle had closed. Things had changed quickly to honor the ten days of mourning. After waiting three years to come on this ‘mission trip’ to bring Yvonne’s ashes, we had arrived at a very historic time. With no guide, we made our way down the Royal Mile, stopping in shops and sitting down for a snack of a berry scone and trying the Irn Bro, Scottish soda recommended by our driver from the airport. Both the scone with Irish butter and jam, and the drink were great; better than haggis!
In the late afternoon, we came to Cannongate Kirk. Queen Elizabeth worshipped in that church as well as St. Giles Cathedral. The Kirk was beautiful–in a very simple way. A quiet reverence hung over the sanctuary as visitors moved about to see where the Queen had nourished what seems to have been a profound Christian faith. She and Prince Phillip sat in the pew of that church, their spot marked by a small crown, and on one special day attended their granddaughter’s wedding.
In the front of the church, a memorial had been placed to honor the Queen Mother.
I thought about how the country would be in an official period of mourning for ten days. It was fitting for a Queen who’d reigned so many years, and was so well-respected, to be honored in that way. But I was also reminded of how in our own griefs, as regular people, “Commoners” we don’t allow ourselves, nor does our society, allow us to take time for our mourning–whether it’s immediately after the death–or for a season of grief that follows. We rush to move on, to ‘get back to normal’ and we don’t give ourselves, or others, the time that’s needed–whatever that is.
The quiet of the Cannongate Kirk was a respite from the crowded sidewalks of Old Town. We’d had a full day—even without the guided tour and time exploring Edinburgh Castle. We made a final stop at the National Museum–to see the Lewis Chessmen and view the city from the seventh floor rooftop deck.
I was not disappointed by our Saturday in Edinburgh. I felt like we were witnessing a time in the history of the United Kingdom, as well as a time in our own history, that would be marked indelibly in my memory. The fun of a picture with a man in a kilt was in juxtaposition with the reverence for a woman who was a world leader and beloved mother. That is life on a full day.