Sometimes I have the feeling when traveling in the South that I’ve been there before, but it’s just a feeling. Those places happen to be so mid-southern that they resemble Arkansas. However, there have been occasions when I think my ancient heritage has flashed, and there’s a little bell in my brain that says “Been there” when you have never even been close to a state or country. That has only occurred a few times, although it happened several times a few years back when we took a family driving vacation through Scotland. Arkansas has a connection to Scotland in Lyon College at Batesville, whose athletic teams are the Scots. The Scots also have a great bagpipe band. I had them down for MusicFest, and as they marched through the crowd playing the “pipes” they were the hit of the festival. “The ‘pipes, the pipes are calling’ and the pipes have a ring of our mountains. It’s no wonder so many of us identify with Scotland. Our Scottish heritage is woven throughout the state.
Our kids, Lara and Ashley, were 14 and 16 when Vertis and I picked a driving trip through Scotland as the family vacation. After our flight over, we headed for Edinburg, took a shuttle train into the center of town, picked up our rental car, loaded up, and I drove straight out into a maze of traffic — driving on the wrong side of the street — at least to an American — and immediately, after I entered heavy traffic, I roared into a roundabout, and trying to stay in the left traffic lane while whizzing around at +50 miles-per-hour as we zipped past our exit, as the entire family screamed, “You just passed our exit street!” was almost more than I could handle, but after maybe six circles, I managed to ease across the four lanes of honking traffic, and finally did exit my first roundabout. Actually, after observing a bit, I realized that you yield going in, and then you have the right-of-way exiting. It is a very efficient way of moving traffic and Arkansas is finally getting around to installing them. But, that’s when I got Deja vu that I’d “Been there.” After a few hours driving on the wrong side of the road, I started feeling as if it was the right side of the road. My Scottish heritage may have been coming through, or maybe it was because I’m a lefty. I started feeling right at home, and as we continued our driving into northern Scotland, sometimes on one lane roads, I also felt right at home having to stop in a pull-over to let another car coming my way pass. Heck, Arkansas is full of one lane roads.
When we reached Inverness, in northern Scotland, I spotted a Baptist Church, and we decided, since the next day was a Sunday, to attend. It was a rather small church, and when we walked in every eye turned to look at their visitors. Well, we were treated royally, and after virtually everyone came by to welcome us, the service began. That is when I had another “Been there” moment. As soon as the pianist hit the first chord, I started to have that feeling. I smiled, checked the hymnal, and sure enough we were going to sing Amazing Grace. However, their version had 13 verses. Then as the congregation prepared to sing, the choir suddenly appeared. The front two rows were ladies, and they stood and turned around toward the seated congregation. I’ll always remember being not only being surprised that the choir was the front two rows and they were all women, but the way they were dressed. Every woman was dressed differently, but they all we’re wearing hats. It looked as if they had stepped out of the 1940s. Then, as we joined our fellow Baptists singing every one of those 13 verses, that “Been there” feeling swept over me again. Yes, Vertis and I sing in our church choir, and we have fairly strong voices, but even our kids knew Amazing Grace, and after about 10 verses our row really went after that old hymn. After the service was over, it was as if we were old friends who had returned. Yes, somewhere in my ancient past, something in me said. “Been there.”
Then, after a couple of days in northern Scotland, we headed to where one lane roads were just ordinary, and we ended up on the bare Atlantic coast in an old inn. It was one of the most scenic spots we had visited, but easily the most remote. The old inn was pleasant enough and the food was fine, but… with two teenagers and no TV or even radio… things were a little tense. It was “What are we going to do today?” repeated every thirty minutes, until just to get out of the inn, Ashley and I took a long hike through the heather. Heather is a lot like a dwarf sumac shrub, and it covers entire hillsides. The hike took hours, and it seemed most of it was uphill. We passed ancient fortified hilltops, miles of stone fences, and saw dozens of Highlander cattle, which are a long haired breed of cows native to Scotland. As we were passing a corner of a stone stacked fence there was a man repairing it, and after I nodded hello, he spoke.
“Americans?’ he questioned.
Yes, with workout clothes, shoes and baseball caps, we sure didn’t look local.
”Yes, we’re here on vacation,” I answered.
”Don’t see many Americans ‘round heah.”
It was a rather heavy Scottish accent, and I had to translate for Ashley. He was roughly dressed, and as he worked on the stone fence, he reminded me of Arkansas farmers setting posts and barbwire.
”Got a brother in a place called Tennessee. Know it?”
I nodded and thought of his brother, and if he had said Mountain Home, it wouldn’t have been any different. We spent another few minutes talking about the weather. Another “Been there” moment.
On the final leg of our Scottish vacation, we stopped at numerous historical castles. One of the best preserved featured various oil portraits of early Scottish kings. We were almost ready to leave the last one before we drove on to Edinburg when Ashley came back from where he had been nosing around in a back gallery, and said, “Y’all come see this picture.” Well, why would a fourteen-year-old boy want his family to see some oil portrait?
Lara mumbled, “Probably somebody getting their head chopped off.” Yes, knowing my son’s likes and dislikes, that is what I figured. Ashley went on ahead, and turned into the gallery room where he was taking us, and when we walked in he was standing by a full length portrait of King Cuilin, who reigned in the 900s as King of Scotland. Ashley pointed to the portrait and said “Look”.
He didn’t need to say another word. There stood my son with his bright red hair pointing to an ancient Scottish King… with bright red hair. Yes, it was a tug at our senses, which gave me another “Been there” moment.
Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]