Liz Maltman and Rick Risch traveled to Scotland in search of Liz’s ancestry, but they weren’t disappointed when they didn’t find many clues. The lack of information in the 200-year-old ledgers containing birth and death records in the Glasgow City Library was a bit disappointing, but the country’s architecture, history, natural beauty, and hospitality of the Scottish people were enough to satisfy the Door County artists.
“When we were in the library, we got a private tour by the security guard who led us through some dark passages to rooms filled with ancient tomes, not on display for the public,” Liz said. “The people were super friendly and helpful.”
Visiting this past September, Liz and Rick had a two-week agenda that included the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the quaint villages of North Berwick, Perth, and Crail.
Of the two cities, the couple preferred Glasgow - the area of where Liz’s ancestors resided — over Edinburgh. “Glasgow has a reputation for being an industrial town and we didn’t expect to like it, but it has extensive botanical gardens, great museums, including the Renny MacIntosh House, which includes a huge art nouveau collection,” Liz said. “The oldest cemetery in Glasgow is fascinating and beautiful, with stunning views of the city below. We could walk to most of the museums and great restaurants in the neighborhood.”
They stayed at the Alamo Guest House, which as the name implies, has some American influence in its history. The pair recommend the Alamo for its close proximity to Glasgow points of interests. Rick noted that the congenial Scottish host is more than willing to offer guests a taste or two from his extensive Scotch collection.
On the way to Edinburgh, they stopped in Dunkeld to walk in a forest containing the Birnam Oak, a 500-year-old tree. Local lore suggests that Shakespeare celebrated the tree in his play “Macbeth.” Seizing the opportunity, Liz rested in the trunk of the tree for a photo.
North Berwick is a charming, upscale seaside village that is 18 minutes by train from bustling Edinburgh. Known for being the site of the first major witchcraft persecution in Scotland in 1590, the small village offers a wealth of historic sites dating from the Middle Ages. Among them is St. Andrew's Auld Kirk where the witchcraft accusations took place, cemetery ruins, and castles. More Modern Day attractions include museums, a whiskey distillery, and numerous golf courses including Gullane, and North Berwick. Bass Rock, an important nesting site for seabirds can be visited by boat from the harbor, and the internationally renowned Scottish Sea Bird Center is nearby.
While researching their trip, the couple found a book about B&B’s in the UK with hand-drawn images that introduced them to their eventual accommodations in North Berwick - the Glebe House.
This luxury B&B has been featured in many interior magazines. The 1780s mansion is surrounded by acres of lawns and trees, with gardens that stretch back to 1850. Breakfasts include porridge, granola, tea, coffee, sausage, and potato scones served around an elegant dining room table. According to Liz and Rick, Gwen Scott and her husband, Jake, have lived at the Glebe House for 35 years and are happy to offer advice on what to do in North Berwick.
The most challenging part of the trip was when they rented a car in Perth to drive to the Black Isle, a peninsula in the Highlands located north of Inverness. “Driving in Scotland is a two-person job,” Rick said. “The intersections are particularly tricky because you’re driving on the other side of the road in the roundabouts.”
The Black Isle boasts two Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserves. Fairy Glen, a wooded glen with tumbling waterfalls, is home to woodland songbirds and delicate wildflowers. Udale Bay provides a habitat for migratory pink-footed geese. The Black Isle offers trails for both mountain bikers and leisure cyclists.
The visit to Dunrobin Castle was another highlight of the Black Isle for the travelers. The castle resembles a French chateau and it’s manicured gardens and great lawn — inspired by those of the Palace of Versailles in Paris - present a vast, regal backdrop for the up-close experience with birds of prey, including an Eagle Owl that will perch on a bench next to any visitor who requests it, but only after it has eaten a chicken so it can’t fly. The gardens were laid out in 1850 by the architect Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament.
Located 10 miles southeast of St Andrews, Liz and Rick voted the village of Crail as their favorite destination. “We want to come back and paint Crail and other small villages,” Liz said. “It’s intimate and has the environment of an ancient walled city.”
Many apparently agree with her as it’s touted as one of the most scenic locations in Scotland, with a charming working harbor. From the harbor, you can view a panorama of the town with its buildings of reddish stone with gray slate and red-tiled roofs. Rows of buildings cascade down a hill that ends at the stone-lined harbor, complete with a few small fishing boats and piles of lobster pots.
Settled by the 800s, Crail has a strong Dutch influence. Marketgate is the medieval heart of Crail, once the largest marketplace in Europe. Now, much smaller in scale, trees line a road that runs through it. On the south side of Marketgate, the houses are small and quaint, while the north side features historic, grand mansions built by wealthy merchants. The most notable is No 9 Friary Court, now known as the Old House, which was built in 1686 and said to be Crail's oldest surviving house.
Liz and Rick’s pick for their most memorable Scottish establishment is the Crail Harbour Gallery & Tea Room, perched on the edge of a high bluff overlooking the North Sea and the Firth of Forth. The tearoom was created in the cellars of St Adrian's, a classic pan-tiled seventeenth-century building. Formerly used as storage space, careful restoration showcases a flagstone floor, exposed stone walls, hand-hewn wooden beams, and a small window facing the water. The tearoom walls feature the landscape paintings and drawings of local artist DS Mackie. “It feels like you’re in a cave, even though you can look out on the water,” Liz said.
The couple says to always have an umbrella handy when visiting Scotland as a misty rain frequently trades off with bursts of sunshine throughout any given day.