At Kincardine by Duone, Scotland my four times great grandparents John Junkine and Johanna Stewart Graham were married on the 16th Nov 1816. Whilst one of many great grandparents I have traced, this particular marriage took my attention. Why? Because of the place. Duone, Scotland.
8 months prior;
Duone Castle has a commanding presence. Sitting majestically atop a small rise it dominates the skyline. I arrived here late in the afternoon as part of a one-day Outlander tour. Yes, I am a bonafide Outlander tragic. For those fellow Outlander fans, Duone Castle was the filming location for Castle Leoch. If you aren’t an Outlander tragic, this castle was also the filming location for Game of Thrones Winterfell (in the pilot) and used in one of the Monty Python movies.
I digress. Having undertaken the audio tour within the Castle, I found myself standing outside now taking in the surrounds. The wind was chilly and what was left of the sun was setting, the day was coming to a close. My gaze wandered attempting to take it all in. To the right of the Castle, my eyes came upon an opening. The explorer in me wanted to follow the path. The little girl within me was frightened, fearful of being told off for going where she shouldn’t. There was no sign to indicate I could or couldn’t follow the track. I had time. Others were still inside the castle. Like the girls at Hanging Rock, something pulled me towards the opening. Even if I wanted to stay still I couldn’t. My legs had their agenda. They were at the whimsy of a force that I couldn’t see yet could feel. Hesitantly I took the first few steps and started up the small incline. Trees framed the castle to the right. The path went along the wall of the castle. I couldn’t see what was on the other side. It didn’t matter. I was being called by the land. I followed.
My heartbeat increased. My palms were sweaty. I felt excited and scared simultaneously.
My pace quickened. The closer I got to the top I could hear water. Yet I couldn’t see. As I reached the top and walked through the opening, I saw a river to the right. It was barely visible through the trees and was a far drop from where I stood. One false step and I would be tumbling down into the river. This river swept alongside the perimeter of this Castle on a hill. It was moving quickly. It had an energy of its own. In rhythm, the winds swept through the trees. The sounds enticing. The wind through the trees, the sound of the icy cold water currents making music. Music that my heart connected to.
Whilst the path continued further alongside the Castle, I didn’t move. I stood transfixed. Taking it all in. My heart rate increasing, my arms sweaty. I became aware of my emotions. Something was stirring within me, deep out of sight. Like a train coming through the tunnel, these emotions roared towards me. I closed my eyes in an attempt to block the noise and feelings. It was no use. I was at its mercy. A part of me yelled “Move, get out of here,” but I couldn’t. I was engulfed. Tears began trickling down my cheeks. Like waves crashing the shore, emotions of grief, of loss a rage and anger tossed me. Tears continued to fall. What the hell was happening? I had not been here before. Logically this made no sense whatsoever “get a grip” I told myself. It was pointless. I was at its mercy. Whatever drew me towards the small opening wanted me here, now. To feel this, to release. I surrendered to my experience and allowed the tears to flow without trying to work it all out.
As quickly as this began , it stopped. The wind ceased. The trees became still. The river became calmer. Their dance, their music had slowed. Calm surrounded me. My breath returned to its normal pace and air entered my lungs. I became aware of myself within the surroundings once more. I was completely alone. No one or nothing was in sight. My legs were heavy and planted firmly in place. How long had I been here? What just happened? I allowed the questions to move through my mind. Knowing answers would not come. It was pointless. I sat down and felt the coolness of the grass on my legs and buttocks. This took the heat out of my body. As much as I wanted to get up and run away. I knew something had occurred, a transformation, a release or recognition of what was. Something had happened at this place not to me as Libby, but along the time line. There was a recognising beyond the physicalness of self. I had made myself available, I placed myself here and the opening presented. Healing had begun, transformation occurring. What was locked up was now released.
As I carefully made my way back around to the front of the Castle I stood and looked back. Was this a portal? A path to another time? Logically it doesn’t make sense yet the experience was real and profound.
Duone, the place, the River was now firmly entrenched in me. I knew I had to research this place further. What had happened historically? What went on in this castle that could have left such an imprint of grief and loss? Were my ancestors connected to this land? I was curious and the exploration would continue.
Whilst part of the Outlander tour, I didn’t realise that my casual visit to the Castle would result in such a profound experience.
On my return to Australia, I tagged Duone as a place to explore further. One day casually reviewing ancestry tips I was going ‘down the rabbit hole’ with my fourth great grandparents. As you do, you open tips and see what they reveal. Most times they are insignificant. Yet this day, Duone was looking straight back at me through the search records. I squealed with delight when I saw they were married here. I had connected the place and my profound experience with my ancestors. It wasn’t just some random experience. Two of the dots connected.
In regards to the grief I felt, I discovered that the Castle was used as a Jacobite prison and a dower house for widowed Queens. One can only imagine the sense of grief that was imprinted on the land from its previous use.
Doune Castle (pronounced ‘doon’)
The castle is sited on a wooded bend where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith.
It lies 8 miles north-west of Stirling, where the Teith flows into the River Forth.
14th-century courtyard castle
Built for the Regent Albany
Substitutes for the fictional Castle Leoch in Outlander was used in the pilot series of Game of Thrones (Winterfell) and in Monty Python
Later was a royal residence, dower house for widowed queens and a Jacobite prison
Stirling Castle sits high atop Castle Esplanade in Stirling, Scotland overlooking surrounding lands as far as one can see. Its commanding presence indicative of its historical imprint in Scotland. From here you can see the National Wallace Monument on the edge of the Ochil Hills. Towards the north-east, you can view the mountain peaks of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park. Simply stunning. Rendering one feeling quite small in a land of grandeur and natural beauty.
I arrived here one cold windy blistering March day, part of a one day tour through Loch Lomond with our end destination Stirling Castle. Towards the end of our time at the Castle, quite late in the afternoon, I found myself resting at the back of my tour bus. Having spent a couple of hours exploring the Castle and soaking up its stories of Scotland’s Renaissance Kings and Queens, I was weary. My head full of Robert the Bruce, King Edward, William Wallace, Queen Mary of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The inclement weather taking its toll, the warmth of the bus was enticing. As I started to settle in and wait for my fellow travellers to return my tour guide turned to me and said. “Weren’t you the one who mentioned your ancestors came from Clackmannanshire?” Yes, I replied. Earlier that day I struck up a conversation with him. Explaining that part of my reason for being in Scotland was to explore my ancestral lands. I rattled off some towns, foreign to me, only as names appearing on ancestry.com. A friendly guy who paid attention to his guests. He remembered our brief chat. “Well come with me”. Putting my coat and beanie back on I stumbled out of the bus. The blustery winds shook out any weariness. He walked me over to the edge of the car park. “There” here said pointing towards the base of the mountains, “There, that is the land where your ancestors lived.” It was so far away I couldn’t see detail, yet I saw where. Where they lived and worked.
To some, it was a speck on the sprawling landscape to me though, a weary wanderer from Oz, a seeker of connection… it was gold. I hadn’t come ‘here’ on this tour with this expectation. I was merely spending a day exploring a loch and a castle. Never did I expect to be shown, to see and to feel the land of my ancestors. I stood transfixed and he continued to share with me about the type of life they would have had and experienced. I was given an insight into them. Who they were and why they would have left. It was deeply profound. Whilst the trip was loosely ancestral focussed I didn’t have the fortitude to arrange to hire a car and exploring small Scottish villages on my own. However, it wasn’t needed. I was here, I was seeing and I was learning.
It felt full circle.
In the late 1850s my great grandparents 3 times removed left Scotland. Embarking on a journey many Scots had taken to a land far, far away. A land so foreign nothing they were prepared for.
They left perhaps seeking a better life. One can only imagine how different my life would have been if they had travelled to the Americas instead. They left in an attempt to improve.
Their choices gave me the life I have now. It provided me with freedom. Freedom that resulted in me travelling here to Scotland. Their land, my land. They didn’t get to return. I have done that for them and with them. I felt this strongly standing on this hilltop at Stirling Castle. As the winds continued to howl and a slight drizzle of rain moved through, a tear trickled down my cheek. A tear of gratitude and belonging.
No longer was Scotland just another tourist destination. Something happened at that moment. It was my home too. Through the DNA pumping through this body, there was a recognition and remembrance of those that came before me.
My tour guide sensing this internal shift, left me to be. To be with them, to be with me.
This is the magic of ancestral travel.
I didn’t set out looking for this place. Yet the land found me. It drew me towards it. It wasn’t planned or expected. Yet it found me. Pulled etherically.
I stood as long as I could. Until the others had returned to the tour bus. Until I was called. It was time to leave the car park at Stirling Castle. I had arrived a tourist. I was becoming an explorer. I was connecting to place in a way previously unknown. My journey had only now begun.
Interested in finding out more? These sites are worth a visit:
Scotland may be small geographically yet it is rich in offering for your ancestral pilgrimage. Don’t be fooled into thinking a few hours driving and a couple of visits to small villages and your ancestral journey is done!
This land is ancient and seeped with historical offerings. Whilst our Scottish ancestors initially immigrated here in the 1800’s their stories go back hundreds of years. Many left through an ‘assisted passage’ scheme with dreams of establishing a new, abundant and healthy life.
Here are some sites you can start exploring BEFORE you leave Australia.
Ancestry.com provided me with a sense of belonging at a time in my life within which this was missing. Recently divorced, my adult kids transitioning into adulthood, my identity smashed; what I belonged to, my family, home and roles as a wife and mum were gone.
In a massive process of re-identification – who and what I identified as was required. Often painful and disorienting the need to belong became paramount. Through belonging I could begin to anchor my roots, connect, docking station – slowly begin to anchor to spread my roots in the newly turned soil.
Belonging is a basic human need. Only through its absence did I experience this. But what and who do we belong to? Ultimately we reach a point where the truest sense of belonging is to oneself. Deep within we belong to our core, our centre, our conduit as spirit. Until such time that sense of belonging to external may be necessary.
For me tracking back through my ancestral lineage provided a belonging not only to people but place.
This sense of place, belonging to, I soon realised was important for me. To be connected to land and place through time became a stepping stone for my true connection to self. To become aware of sensations of Googling place of continents far away over oceans to lands not seen, showed me the eternal aspect of self. Some places were so familiar I could smell the air and feel the earth under my feet from sitting at my desk. Names of places such as Dunkeld, Perth… suddenly I was transported to other times. The familiarity soothing, a reminder of previous life times. ‘I’ as spirit had traversed these lands. I belong ‘there’ and I do ‘here’, all co-existing simultaneously.
So gently through researching I came to know that I indeed belong to many places, through experiences and that the imprint of experience is carried within. I belong where I am.
Ancestral searching for me played a key role in re-identification, providing a sense of belonging to place and ultimately self.
One cold blistery early March evening I checked into this tiny little hotel ‘The Bosville’ in Portree, Isle of Skye. From the outside it was like every other building in the street. Only one thing differentiated it. There was a soothing light emanating from the tiny windows. It was a welcome sight after the long day journeying through from the Scottish lowlands into the highlands, weaving through Glencoe and finally ‘over the bridge to Skye’.
Whilst the sun had come with me most of the day, the clouds had rolled in later in the afternoon and the rain with them. I was weary, wet and hungry.
In anticipation of the later than usual arrival, I had rung earlier and booked a reservation for one in the restaurant ‘Dulse & Brose’. A wise choice as time was to reveal.
I have always been challenged dining out alone. At home its an easy one to avoid. I just didn’t do it. However, when you travel it is often necessary to do. Whilst the room service menu is convenient the options soon run out. There is only so many times you can have a BLT or burger!
At the beginning, dining out in the first hotel was confronting. I was often placed in the corner and it felt like the waiters weren’t quite sure what to do with me. I was very aware of how they were about me being there alone. Then there is the judgments and pity often projected from others. In fact, I feel this is the greatest challenge; managing and trying to not be impacted by others thoughts of me and perhaps the stories they were making up around me being alone. Combined with this were the stories I was playing in my own mind!
In amongst all of this how is one meant to enjoy one’s meal?
A new experience awaits…
Greeting me in the small intimate restaurant was such warmth. My body relaxed and my soul sighed. The warmth oozed from the staff, to the music playing, the soft candles, rustic yet comfy table and chairs and the dimmed lights. I was led to my table. It was not hidden in the corner, but beautifully placed at the window, looking out over the bay as the sun settled for the night. It was picturesque and prime restaurant position.
I felt welcomed and valued. Then to my delight the table was set for one person. Not two, but one. They had previously removed the second setting and in its place a small vase with flowers and a lit candle had been placed. I felt cared for. I had not experienced this before. Such a delicious experience.
I didn’t feel like I was taking up space or not wanted (which often is the case). The staff struck up a delightful conversation with me, which was so nice. My food was mouth watering and presented with care. It set me up for a relaxing and rejuvenating evening in my cosy room.
I had no hesitation when I booked ‘a table for one’ the following night. I knew I was in kind hands. What I took with me from that experience was to ask in future moments to have the second setting removed. It made so much difference as I continued my travels. Staff where happy to do it. “Ask and you shall receive”.
Along the way I also began to take a notebook and pen with me so I could write out my reflections of the day. I made my dining out experience about me 100%. Instead of worrying about what other was thinking, I used it to nourish my body and soul.
One small action of setting the table for one, by the staff in ‘The Bosville’ made such a huge impact on how I saw and related with myself.
It showed me that being alone does not mean second best. It does not mean I am less worthy of experiencing a beautiful dining moment.