On Our Way

“Ceud Mile Failte” - A Hundred Thousand Welcomes is a greeting which met us as we entered many of the towns along our latest journey to the mysterious and beautiful land of Caledonia, known today as Scotland. The history of the magnificent corner of the world is filled with faith and courage, loyalty and betrayal, love and war. This travelogue may be slightly different than those in the past, since we’ve packed 5000 years of history into ten days. I will try to include as much history as I can without being too boring. I glean my information from our visits to the places, conversations with locals, many guidebooks we purchase and whatever resources we have here at home. In the ancient history of places like Scotland, there are often fine lines to draw between legend and fact. I hope I am able to distinguish the difference in this writing.

We expected the trip from Lakenheath to Rhu to be around 500 miles, 8 hours driving time. Rather than force a trip that would have sent us all to the funny farm, we decided to take two days. At a rest area along the way, we bought a few orders of fries at the Burger King and giggled with the poor guy who was alone at the counter. He heard our American accent and asked, “Do Americans really prefer Burger King to McDonald’s?”
    We said, “Absolutely!”
    “So, where are you headed?” he asked.
    “Scotland,” we answered.
    “Wonderful! In my opinion, Scotland is the prettiest part of England!”
    I suppose he saw the look of shock on my face because he laughed and said, “Its OK, I’m from South Africa!”. Scotland is not part of England, but rather part of the United Kingdom (and there are many that would like to change that by making Scotland a totally independent country), so that comment would have been enough to begin a war if heard by a Scotsman.

We spent our first night of travel in a town called Burnley. After a quick stop at RAF Menwith Hill for some gas, we settled into a Travel Inn. Then we had dinner with some friends who live in this industrial town, Will and Norma. Peggy met them on the Internet, and it was an opportunity to fellowship together, enjoy the delicious buffet prepared by Norma, and share the visions of the ministries to which God is calling each of us. We sang praise songs and read scripture. It was a lovely time together. The kids enjoyed running around the yard with Crystal, Norma’s very friendly dog.

After a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast, we began the next leg of our trip. The drive north was uneventful; we just wanted to get to our room as quickly as possible. We stayed at Smugglers Way, a temporary housing area for the men and women stationed at H.M. Naval Base Clyde in a tiny village called Rhu. These homes are open for use by foreign military members if there is space available. So, we had the opportunity to live in a lovely flat for an inexpensive fee.

The western coast of Scotland is a maze of islands and bodies of water. Glasgow is set inland, just off the River Clyde. As you follow the river toward the sea, there are a number of lochs and rivers. They empty into the Firth of Clyde, which eventually reaches the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. These bodies of water are influenced by the tides of the Atlantic. Rhu sits north of Glasgow. The word rhu means point, and the village of Rhu is on a point that juts into Gare Loch. This particular loch is filled with navy vessels and pleasure boats. In the evening and on weekends the water is spotted with sailboats. Our flat at the ‘home-tel’ as Zack called it all week, was the penthouse (we called it that to justify climbing all those stairs), the fourth floor of a building, which sits on top of a hill. We could see for several miles. Since Scotland is far north on the globe, our days were long, and we enjoyed watching sunset on the loch late into the evening.

Since this is a popular place for American service members to use while visiting Scotland, we found that we knew many of the other residents of the facility. I jokingly said to one friend, “We drove 500 miles to get away from you people, and here you are!”

We drove into Helensburgh (pronounced helens-boro), a town just three miles south of Rhu. We spent time in the Tourist Information Centre and wandering the streets in search of ideas and food. Tesco provided the supplies necessary to feed the family for at least a few days, though I didn’t intend on spending much time in the kitchen.

Helensburgh was founded in 1752, when Sir James Colquhoun, the 8th Baronet of Colquhoun and Luss purchased the land. It was developed some years later, christened in the name of Lady Helen, Sir James’s wife. It did not become the thriving town intended by Sir James but was a resort town when Gare Loch was popular to visit. John Logie Baird, who in 1926 became the first to make the concept of television work, was a resident of Helensburgh. The other feature of note is Hill House, the masterpiece of Glasgow architecture designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. We were unable to visit this lovely building, which was commissioned in 1902 by William Blackie. The outside of the house is rather crisp, stern - somewhat like the Scottish castles we’ll discover later. Inside, however, it is a masterpiece of contemporary living, designed effectively to suit the needs of the Blackie family. The walls are covered by stenciled paper and the furniture is uncomplicated. There is a cohesive integration of geometric shapes and soft patterns which must have been quite comfortable to live in while being a work of art.

We wandered the streets of Helensburgh searching for a place to worship on Sunday, knowing we would want to spend time with our Lord and the people who would be our neighbors for a week. We found three churches from the Church of Scotland and one Evangelical church. The Church of Scotland is a Protestant denomination, similar to that of the Presbyterian Church in America. We’ll hear of John Knox later in the travelogue, the great reformer of the Scottish Church. We finally found St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.

We attended a service on Sunday, which began at 10:15, and was very similar to the worship we enjoy at our local parish church. The church began in 1841 as a small congregation, which met in an apartment. The church building was consecrated in 1843, with bits added in the years following, including a day school and rectory. The current building was built beginning in 1866, consecrated in 1868, because the congregation outgrew their former building. It is in the French Gothic style of the 12th and 13th centuries. The bell tower was planned in 1866 but not completed until 1930. It holds the only complete eight-bell peal in town. There are lovely stained glass windows throughout the church, however the windows were not decorated until sometime after the completion of the building. The original intent of the windows was for natural light, the stained glass was added to glorify God. Among the subjects in the windows are Saints Luke, Paul, Michael, and John the Evangelist. There are several scenes of Mary Magdalene with Jesus, as well as scenes from the Life of Christ. Several pictures tell Bible stories, such as the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, the Good Samaritan and Dorcas clothing the naked.

It was a pleasure to worship and commune with the congregation who made us feel so welcome that day. The children were invited to join the other children in making scones during the sermon, and we were all warmly received at the Lord’s table. Several people gave us lots of ideas of places to go to visit. The other folk in Helensburgh who made us feel so welcome are the ladies and gentleman at the Consort Service Station where we purchased gas throughout the week. We were always received with a wide grin and questions about our travels.

Chapter One

Chapter Two - Chapter Three - Chapter Four - Chapter Five
Chapter Six - Chapter Seven - Chapter Eight - Chapter Nine

More Pictures from Scotland

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