Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24 - Scotland (written by Andy)

Sleeping in downtown Aberdeen is a risky proposition. The good news is that you can assure easy access to plenty of nightlife. The bad news: pretty much the same thing. We stayed at the Carmelite, a three story inn wedged among a couple of loud bars and karaoke joints (the "Hen Hoose" looked like an especially jumping joint). Fun, right? Only, closing time brought streams of lurching drunks cheering as if they'd stumbled into a football game. Various romantic entanglements and tough-guy staring contests rustled up enough shrieking, screaming, and crying jags to keep us up past 3 a.m. And when the inebriants finally slouched off, the seagulls picked up the slack, piercing the silence with shrill calls throughout the night. Aberdeen is, after all, a shore town. As a result, we slept in until one in the afternoon.

When we finally stumbled out of bed (well, technically Jenny woke earlier, but she succumbed to jet lag after writing out some postcards, figuring I'd certainly wake up soon) we confronted a dreary sky and sour moods. We couldn't find the car park, we couldn't find the proper way out of town, and we weren't sure if we had enough time to see Castle Fraser this late in the day. Nonetheless we plowed ahead, getting lost every three turns as bad luck seemed only to get worse. While, yesterday, cheery blue skies lit up the fields dotted with sheep and cast long shadows along the stone walls that march toward the hills, this afternoon seemed to bring only sullen prairies marred by lame suburban housing projects.

Jenny and I decided, though, that we'd best cheer up anyway, no matter what we'd find. And not too long afterward we made the final turn to the castle I'd so longed to see. As I've written elsewhere, I trace my lineage back through the Frazier line on my mother's side. Thus I was naturally keen on visiting a place associated with the family from which my people are an offshoot. Originally we hail from France, coming over with the Norman invasion in 1066. Later, my line traveled to Northern Ireland and then across the Atlantic, becoming Fraziers along the way. While I hardly expected a (distant) family discount upon visiting Castle Fraser, I was delighted that docents took a special interest in me, offering a personalized tour of some of the rooms and pointing out some of the castle's secret peepholes and escape hatches.

On the walls are hung portraits of famous Frasers, including Andrew Fraser, 1st Lord of the Castle. Again, though I have no direct lineage to this family - my line is most likely cast from a "cadet" branch - I still felt some pride and the sense that this place is, in a small way, part of me. Of course, the real experience of my Frazier-ness was to follow. Jenny and I enjoyed our tour (especially due to the endlessly engaging patter of one docent who was determined to interpret the meaning of every nook and cranny) learning to read a bit of my family's story from the icons carved into the stone walls. After the tour we had no other specific plans. At last we were freed from the pressure of having to get somewhere "on time," and we agreed that it'd be fun to drive north a bit, to cruise along the coast.

My mom once explained that any effort to understand myself as a Frazier must start by seeing the rocky shores of northern Scotland, a place swept by rains and marked by such isolation that one must learn independence early. And as the weather was suitably grim, with a hint of rain in the air, it seemed like a good time to follow mom's advice. Better yet, Jenny pointed out the fact that we were merely an hour or so away from a dot at the top edge of Aberdeenshire: Fraserburgh (with a suffix I'd learned at last to pronounce "bur-ah"). We were both up for some adventure, so we hit the road…

…And almost immediately pulled over to the Cock and Bull in Balmedie. Given our rush out the door this afternoon, neither of us had eaten. Fortunately this country inn was serving a swell three course meal with plentiful family style sides and tasty deserts (sticky toffee pudding for Jenny; fresh fruit and mango sorbet for me). Best of all, the proprietor offered me a snifter of Laphroaig, a single malt from the Isle of Islay. This is an especially "peaty" scotch, tasting of earth and firewood while being remarkably smooth. I ordered a dram and committed to finding a bottle or two for my return Stateside. Thereafter we found our way to Fraserburgh, and I stared out at crashing waves punishing the shore.

Fraserborough is quiet, gritty, windy, and cold. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the place seemed just right. We cruised the streets, stopping now and again, once to take a snapshot of a statue commemorating crews lost in lifeboat disasters. We also took a moment to study the names of family members who died in World War II. Watching the seagulls beat their wings against the wind of that rocky beach, I thought about my mother's assurance that coming to Scotland would explain something about me. I'm so glad I came.

Day 1 | Day 3

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