Editor's note: This is the first article in a series by Phyllis Britt, former editor of The North Augusta Star. She recently traveled through Europe and is sharing stories about its sights and sounds.
Travel to the British Isles is a study in world history that begins with Roman control prior to AD 122. Starting in Scotland, Edinburgh is a reminder of the interconnection of countries and peoples throughout the world.
On a stroll through town, a visitor might happen upon the Old Calton Burial Ground. Opened in 1718, this cemetery is the resting place of well-known Scots like David Hume and Dr. Robert Candlish. It boasts a number of ornate statues dedicated to the memories of a variety of people, including the Political Martyrs’ Monument, in honor of a group of men who were charged with “unconscious sedition” for fighting for voting rights for all men - not just landowners.
And nearby is a huge statue of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, the 16th president of the United States is depicted on an American Civil War Memorial, erected in honor of a group of Scots who fought and died in defense of the Union. (The Scots have long opposed slavery.) In 1795, the town council of Edinburgh set aside a small area of the burial ground for the family of a man named Herman Lyon, who was a Jewish dentist from Germany who wanted to be sure he could be buried in a non-Christian site, not readily available in Scotland at the time.
Nearby is Edinburgh Castle, a royal residence from the 12th through the 16th century, when it was destroyed by artillery. Only St. Margaret’s Castle remains as an original structure there. The buildings on Castle Rock were eventually rebuilt, and served as the royal palace, residence for the Stewarts during their reign. A vaulted room is now the official locale for the Crown Jewels of Scotland in the castle.
Among interesting spots to eat is the old Edinburgh Press Club, where “The Scotsman” newspaper was once published. Or check out most any Edinburgh pub for the traditional Scottish delicacy of haggis. Most Americans likely would prefer haggis without knowing what’s in it or how it’s prepared. Haggis is made from sheep or calf’s offal (various internal organs, including everything from liver to heart to lungs) mixed with suet, oatmeal, seasonings, and traditionally boiled in the stomach of the animal. It’s often served with a whiskey sauce, making it much more palatable than its description would suggest.
Scotland is divided from England by Hadrian’s Wall, which extends from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, and is still a clear enough rocky path that visitors could walk the distance, about 73 miles. The story goes that Hadrian’s original plan in AD 122 was to conquer Scotland, along with England; however, that proved to be such a daunting task – perhaps due to the terrain, the weather (the seas at either end make for often windy, cold conditions) and possibly even the tenacity of the Scots – that the Romans decided the better plan would be to build a wall, cutting the Scots off from the land to the South. Thus, Hadrian’s Wall was erected and stands today, almost 1800 years later.
Near Hadrian’s Wall, on the English side, is the town of Hexham, where visitors can choose to stay at a genuine medieval castle. Langley Castle was built in 1350, but burned substantially in 1405. Much of the structure remained, however, and was finally restored to its former glory in 1882 by Cadwallader Bates. The most recent owner, a retired MIT professor who purchased the castle in 1986, has converted the site into an inn. Though the inn provides all the desired amenities (even WiFi), the surrounding area is unblemished by “progress,” with views of lush forests, rolling hills, even a view of Hadrian’s Wall in the distance, and a few resident peacocks wandering the grounds.
In the village of Hexham is Hexham Abbey, built in AD 674 originally as a monastery. It is now the parish church of the town. A tour of the abbey reveals a basement built with stones from Hadrian’s Wall, on which Latin phrases are still visible.
From Hexham it’s an easy train ride into London, where the Roman influence is still visible, interspersed with a much more modern, bustling city.