A scary encounter turned to a blissful although slightly chilly day in Den Haag. See mind minding artwork, what to visit in the off season and just how special getting lost in this city can really be.
Go to Den Haag they said, it would be fun they said. It was an entirely different experience for me, and not just in visiting the city but the entire process of going, being there and wandering around the area. I was visiting the Netherlands for my Birthday, it was the offseason, and it was very cold! Before I get ahead of myself though, let me take you on the whole journey of experiencing the difference of Den Haag.
Getting to Den Haag:
I had my Eurail Pass in hand, palms sweaty, my first time traveling on European trains was a complete nightmare. I was determined to make this trip better and figure this out. My European friends still snicker at how unlucky I was for my first train ride, with the train catching fire, getting on the wrong train etc…. But this isn’t about that horrible train ride, this is about experiencing something again even though I’m afraid to do it.
Right…..onto the train I go…. I had the right car, the right ticket, the right direction and even found the second class seating like I was supposed to. Ok now that I’m in my seat, I should check the GPS when the train starts going just to make sure I’m going in the right direction towards Den Haag. I should just act natural, not speak because otherwise, these Netherlanders are going to look at me like a stupid American that freaks out on trains……oh if they only knew the horrors I have endured…. Stop being dramatic, and focus on the positive Janiel. Right, ok train is now moving – the moment of truth……YES!!!!!! God be PRAISED I’m going in the right direction! Now I can just sit back and relax and be proud of myself for not flummoxing this one up like I did Prague. See, I can really do hard things!
A Scary Encounter:
It wasn’t long after I had sat down and congratulated myself when a suspicious looking character walked down the aisle of the train. My internal dialogue when something along the lines of, ‘Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact…..oh God, please don’t let him talk to me’. I made the mistake of looking up because I could just feel him standing there looking at me, ‘Shit’, I thought. He smiled a toothy grin and sat down right across from me. Just for the record, I always try to be nice and be kind to whoever I meet…..but I got some bad vibes from this man. He was tall, lanky, had big baggy torn clothes on, and oh how he smelled of the streets.
I had previously worked in a homeless clinic in Las Vegas, and he smelled all too similar to that. I gave him a half smile, and in my panicked brain, I tried to figure out how I could get away and still be polite. He started to speak to me in French, and I had no clue what he was saying. He realized I spoke English, and tried to speak English to me. He asked where I was going, who I was traveling with. I hate lying, so I told the truth and reiterated that I was going to Den Haag and had a very busy schedule.
He wanted to get coffee and as he asked me slyly grabbed onto my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine. I told him politely that I didn’t have time and that I did not want to hold his hand. I looked across the aisle at the couple sitting there and tried to beg with my eyes for them to help me. They were politely ignoring the situation and the male sitting across from me didn’t want me to pay attention to anything else but him.
Evasion and Protection:
I tried to distract him with other areas in the Netherlands, but he decided he was going to come with me to Den Haag. I didn’t want him to, I started to sweat a little and reverted into a fight or flight mental mode. I started planning with the GPS on my phone, the path I would take to the museum, the alleys I would take, using the public roads as much as possible. He got up and sat right next to me, blocking the aisle and the escape. I moved over to the other chair right in front of him. It was like I was playing chess with him, and I was bound and determined not to lose. Maybe I was paranoid, maybe not, but I knew I didn’t like feeling cornered and smothered…..blame it on my prior bad experiences with men. They conductor announced Den Haag, and I got up quickly, told him I had to go because I had a very busy day. I was able to collect my things and get up quickly enough to put a few people between him and I. Step one of evasion and protection complete, not to maintain the distance just out of arms reach.
As soon as the doors opened I was off, not looking back, I didn’t care about being nice at this point. Alas, he caught up to me with his long legs, I cursed my short legs and looked at my GPS. Ok, the museum was not that far away. I maintained a rapid pace, running across a street here or there to throw him off. It was early in the morning so not many people were out. He knew we were getting close and grabbed my arm to get me to slow down, pleading with me to come over to have coffee at his place. I had taken enough self-defense classes to known how to break his grip….a quick powerful smooth movement towards the thumb, with an immediate turn up the road and I was free.
My GPS took me into an alleyway that I knew was not the best place to be alone with this person, but taking another route would have meant more time with him. I quickened my pace, and he ran and got in front of me. I told him very strongly I was not going anywhere with him, and I traveled too far to miss this artwork I have been wanting to see since I was a child. I crossed the street again and a car drove by, blocking him temporarily. I took a photo of him just in case something were to happen, for evidence. “Ugh, I really need to stop watching horror movies” I chided myself for being too dramatic and that he was likely just trying to flirt…..but knew the instant I thought this, it was likely more than just flirtation bordering on something slightly sinister.
He ran to catch up just as I turned the corner and saw the gated museum, luckily there was a cop out front. He grabbed the backpack I had on, and pulled me back around the corner, I twisted out of his grip and he said he cannot go in there with me. I told him that was ok with me, and that he should continue on his way to wherever he had been planning on going. I kept moving, walking, twisting to look at different things and watched as he slinked away back into the alley with a very angry expression on his face. I descended down into the museum and went straight into the ladies room.
This was the first time traveling as a solo female that I had been afraid, truly nervous for my safety. I did exactly what I knew I should do, walk with purpose, keep moving, hold my heavy camera in one hand just in case I had to use it as a weapon, and found the nearest tourist attraction that had police there. It took me a little while to calm myself down from this ordeal before I was able to go and purchase my ticket and finally see a Vermeer painting in person.
The Mauritshuis Museum is built in an old Palace of one of the Dutch Royal families main residences. Complete with a boat loading dock right on the canal, surrounded by gates. I bought my ticket, hands still slightly shaking, chanting ‘your safe now, you’re safe now’.
I went into the first room and went to the windows, lifted the blinds slightly and was faced with the alleyway where I had left my shadow. He wasn’t there, ok, maybe he had gone, ‘calm down Janiel – you came too far to not enjoy yourself here’ I whispered to myself under my breath. The museum attendant looked at me in her navy blue sweater and gave me a warm smile. This seemed to help me refocus on the experience. I wandered the room, getting lost in the artwork here and there.
Then I saw her, the girl with the pearl earring. She was smaller than I imagined but stared into my soul – a beautiful woman trapped in a painting that would be shown to many throughout history. The slight bend in the neck, the wrapped hair, the slight coloring of her lips contrasting against the dark background. Seeing her was like seeing a woman of strength, yet relaxed.
If I were to meet her on a street, I could imagine her inviting me in for tea – getting to the root of my anxiety and then sending the many suitors vying for her attention after my sinister shadow outside. The strength of her stair chased the rest of the jitters within me away, and I became misty-eyed with relief and awe at how moving and realistic Vermeer’s works truly are.
Mauritshuis in Den Haag: open 10am to 6pm – Gold Age paintings like Vermeer – Plein 29, 2511 CS Den HaagNoordeinde Palace, one of the Dutch royal family’s main residences
The Noordeinde Palace Disappointment:
I left the Mauritshuis cautiously, and couldn’t see my sinister shadow anywhere and was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I was still a little jumpy, so I decided to go to the Noordeinde Palace. This is one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royalty, typically used for official state business.
I wandered through the streets towards the palace, peering out the windows, admiring the Dutch style. One thing I noticed more than anything else, was how clean all of the windows were. I mean, every single window was clean – several people were out cleaning windows even though was supposed to rain. How odd, yet, how intriguing this cultural idiosyncrasy was to having clean windows as a way of a status symbol in a way .
My phone vibrated in my hand as I was lost in this thought indicating that I had arrived at the Palace. I felt a bit of relief to be able to get out of the cool breeze, but as I looked around….realized there were no entrances. DRAT! It must have been because I was there in the offseason that I wasn’t able to enter. I was severely disappointed, I had been so excited to compare the how the Dutch Royalty decorated their official palace compared to that of the Holyrood Palace in Scotland. So I did what I typically do when disappointed by unforeseen circumstances, I Googled what the inside of the Noordeinde Palace looked like. I took the obligatory photo through the fence, and of the statue of the man on the horse out front. Sighed heavily, and punched in my next destination, the Escher Gallery.
I was wandering the city on my way to Escher in the palace and found this enchanting little courtyard in near the Ridderzal. This is the EXACT reason I have one day planned out for every trip I go on, where I allow myself to get lost in a city. I was able to sit on a bench, not feel rushed to see this or that & interact with some lovely tourists who were there on holiday celebrating their family. It was a beautiful thing to witness and one of the things I really hold in my heart and taught me in a small way to appreciate my own family. It was hard to leave this place because of this moment, but as with all good things — it did have to come to an end.
Imagining the Abstract with Escher:
Wandering down the streets, through perfectly aligned trees I noticed how fancy all the homes were. It would make sense being that in the early 19th century this is where the Royal family lived, and so all of the surrounding buildings would have been part of court or those in power. Escher in the Palace Museum is not a typical cement box type museum, but a repurposed palace full of history. There is a small sign out in front, and you almost feel as if you are intruding into a home when you enter because of the doors. This is an oddly intriguing museum for all who love both Art and History. Combining two very opposite exhibitions for visitors. This house was the former home to Queen Emma, who was part of the Dutch Royal Family in the early 19th Century. You will be able to see where she lived, what her life was like, where she gave speeches and the rumors that surrounded her. To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with this part of the museum, but it may be worthwhile to visit for those who love Dutch History.
Different sections of this former palace are also reserved for the intricately abstract, and mind-bending photos of Escher. I have always loved his art and remember seeing one of his first graphic designs, The Drawing Hands, and how it entrapped my mind circling around their infinity like symbolism.
One thing I was entirely surprised by was that Mr. Escher was a dreamer and a world traveler. While some may look at his life of art entwined with mathematics and think of him to be odd or eccentric, I found his works and his life to be absolutely brilliant. My creativity skyrocketed after visiting this place and truly made my trip to Den Haag worth it.
I’m very good at getting lost, I know this about myself and this is why I do not travel without some sort of GPS capability. So when I reached the 2nd to last stop on my way to Escher in the Palace and ended up at Scheveningen Boulevard Beach I decided to make it an experience instead of panic about it. I jumped off, saw people heading up a hill with coats, towels and some kites. I decided to follow them and see where the locals went to play.
Cresting the top of the hill I was greeted by the longest running white sand beach I have ever seen. There were also fun metal art pieces, that made me grin and giggle away the stressful morning completely. There is nothing more relaxing to me that watching the ocean waves crash into the beach and smelling that sea breeze. It was a bit chillier than I was planning on, and the torrents of wind pounding the beach front was making my eyes water from the cold. It was exhilarating and made my adrenaline start pumping from the chill that was seeping into my bones.
I wandered along the Boulevard, taking photos of the interactive statues that were available. I think it was the perfect random addition to complete my trip to Den Haag (The Hague). I love getting lost in the city and seeing how locals do things. I was able to witness something I typically would not have searched out and was pleasantly surprised to find something that would bring peace back in my trip despite the cold. I couldn’t feel my face, and my teeth started to hurt from the cold winds hitting me because of my perma-grin. I squealed and ran in place a little bit, which didn’t help thaw anything out, and likely made me look a bit mad really, so I decided to head back to the city trams.
Traveler Tip: The EURail pass doesn’t work on the Trams, so make sure you buy a ticket for them. Otherwise, you can get a ticket, I didn’t know this and was given a one-time free pass because I had my EURail pass. Make sure you buy the right pass for the right city and the right time of day. A ticket in Amsterdam will be different than the one for public transport in Den Haag. Day tickets are less expensive than Night-time tickets. So go to IAmsterdam and buy your public transport tickets there.
address: Bezuidenhoutseweg, The Hague, The Netherlands
Rounding out my day:
I spent more than half the day in Den Haag and feel it was not quite enough time to properly explore it. I was only in the Netherlands for 10 days and wanted to get small taste of multiple cities.
If I were to go back, I would plan to go in the summer so I could explore more of the beaches here, see the palace, and then ride a bike through the forested areas like a local. Despite bad or scary things happening on a trip, you don’t always have to let them destroy your experience. Just focus on the good things, and realize it was a moment in time and does not mean you will have the rest of your day ruined. Just be smart, have a plan, believe in your own power and carry-on.
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It had to be here! I knew I was looking for a random white hotel at on the right side. I was concentrating so hard, trying to remember the name that was just out of reach. The rental car sailed over a hill, and around the corner and BAM there it was! Sligachan Hotel, no wonder I didn’t remember the name (I’m terrible with names). We waited for a spot, as many tourists wanted to partake in the photo op atop the picturesque bridge. If you’re parking at the hotel I would obviously advise you not to be too cheeky and at least have a coffee as you’re using their parking facilities. You would be surprised how much a Scottish Highlander knows about the local area, and where to find those hidden gems.
THE MYTH OF WATERS
Now let me tell you the tale of the enchanted waters that runs below Sligachan Bridge. Long ago, in a town not so far away, lived a great warrior woman of Scotland. Her name was Scáthach. She was a beast of a woman, one that you wouldn’t want to rival in any Scottish Highland games – but would want in front of you in battle.
Tales of her bravery and strength spread across the Northern Isles and lands. The Irish warrior, Cúchulainn, was known in his country as the strongest, smartest, fastest warrior and knew in order to maintain the coveted reputation he had to put an end to these rumors of Scáthach being able to beat him. He set sail immediately, arriving on Skye he ran into a trainee of Scáthach and demanded that her mistress should come and face him.
The crowds gathered as she emerged, the fire of pride shown in both of their eyes. Everyone held their breath as these two warriors charged each other and when they struck their first blows, the earth shook the petals off of all the flowers in the surrounding valley. The children reached for their mothers, the horses bucked and neighed in fright. Animals ran for cover, and the men took an uneasy step back as the ferociousness increased. They were too evenly matched, neither one of them was willing to give in — it was to be a fight to the death.
Scáthachs daughter ran, crying with worry and not wanting anyone to see that her weakness was the love for her mother. She fled to the river, she couldn’t bear to see her mother die and pled to the angels and fairies to save her. What she didn’t know, is that water is a gateway between the faerie world and ours. Her sorrow was so intense, combined with the battle not far away reached the ears of the faeries.
They came to Scáthachs daughter, gently collecting her tears and poured them into the water as an offering to the Faerie Queen. Her tears, being full of love, moved the faeries and granted her wish. They asked her to wash her face in the river, and the faerie’s knowledge rushed into her of how she could stop the battle and save her Mother. Gathering the most fragrant herbs and nuts, the loving daughter threw her bounty into the fire. The delectable scents rose with the white smoke, caught by the wind, the scents wafted into the noses of the warriors.
The ferociousness of the battle began to dwindle, as the stomach pangs of both the warriors won over their determination. At a brief pause in weapons clashing, a break in the battle was agreed upon and both warriors laid down their weapons to head to where the delicious meal surely awaited them both. Scáthachs daughter had craftily prepared a meal worthy of these legendary warriors. As Cúchulainn ate, awareness dawned on both of the warriors they were in fact under the roof of Scáthachs.
As was the custom in all the northern lands, when you dine under a roof – you are the guest and are compelled to do not harm to the guest, the host or anyone within. It is said that because of the beauty of Scáthachs daughter, and her tears of love being poured into the river. Any who are brave enough to dip their face into the waters beneath Sligachan Bridge, you will be granted eternal beauty.
How to Approach the Gateway to the Faeries:
To do this the right way, you must give yourself over wholly to the process. You must believe that there is magic in Scotland and approach the river full of love for yourself and those who you travel with. The way to the water requires a bit of skill, as you must climb over rocks and crags being careful not to slip and taint the waters with blood and pain. Once you reach the waters, it isn’t just a matter of ‘washing your face’, you cannot use your hands. You must get on your hands and knees, just as Scáthachs daughter did when she begged for her mother to be saved. Think of someone other than yourself and pour love into your heart for them.
Make sure that your heart is full of love, as you dip your face into the waters beneath Sligachan Bridge and hold it there for seven seconds. Every gift has a sacrifice, and the faeries need to know that you are committed in love and earnestness. After the seven seconds, remove your face with your eyes closed. Do not wipe away the water, but let it dry naturally. Say a quick thanks to the faeries for their kindness and reminding you of what is truly important in life. If your heart is sincere, you may just be granted eternal beauty. Now the question remains, what is eternal beauty to you?
The Hiding Place, I was shocked I had never heard of Corrie Ten Boom and her heroic efforts to save hundreds of Jewish victims from the Holocaust. Once I bought my ticket to Amsterdam, I knew I needed to visit The Hiding Place Museum in Haarlem.
Tickets for The Hiding Place Museum:
The Corrie Ten Boom home is still connected to a jewelry shop and has limited space within the home — you must book your tickets online.The tickets need to be booked five days in advance of when you are planning on visiting the museum. Reserve your tickets for The Hiding Place Museum, and learn of the courageous efforts of the Ten Boom family.
Getting to Haarlem:
Address: Corrie Ten boom House 19 Barteljorisstraat | North Holland, 2002 CE Haarlem, The Netherlands Getting to the Corrie Ten Boom home is fairly easy from Amsterdam. I would suggest taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station towards Haarlem. Once you exit the train station it is about a 15-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride to The Hiding Place Museum. Here is a Map to The Hiding Place Museum, from Rome2Rio.
Once you reserve your ticket, you will arrive at the home and go into the side door of the home behind the jewelry shop. The door will be locked and closed with times of when each tour starts. Once your tour is about to start, the door will open and you will be greeted by a volunteer from the church that Corrie Ten Boom had been associated with.
Who was Corrie Ten Boom:
It was 1837 when William Ten Boom, Corrie’s Grandfather set up his clock shop and opened his home to all dedicated Christian’s who wished to worship. The family lived by the Biblical verse Psalm 122:6
Pray for peace for Jerusalem: “May those who love you be at peace!”
Their family held weekly prayer service, open to all who wished to participate for over 100 years. This dedicated family welcomed anyone into their home who wished to pray, no matter what their religion was. This likely set them up in the community as the natural source of leadership, which was vital in saving hundreds of innocent lives in the coming years. Casper Ten Boom, Corrie’s father, began to have prayer meetings that included Jewish members in increasing numbers. The persecution of the Jewish people had started in Holland, and the need for a safe place became increasingly vital.
Their home was turned into a place of refuge, a Hiding Place, for as many as seven to ten Jewish people and the Dutch Underground members who were being hunted. Led by several generations of good examples, Corrie Ten Boom took the baton of the family with her faith in God and became the leader for the Dutch Underground in Haarlem.
Why was it called the Hiding Place:
When you enter the Museum, there doesn’t appear to be many places to hide ten adults from the Gestapo. The guide leads you up into a large room and several chairs set up in a circle, just as it would have been in Corrie’s time. There were pictures on the wall of family members, and Corrie Ten Boom herself.
After I acclimatized to all of the visual stimuli in the room, from the book Corrie Ten Boom write, and I so cherished as a child — I noticed a sheet of music on the piano titled, “You are My Hiding Place”. This touched me in a way that I didn’t expect. Not only was the home itself a Hiding Place, but the songs that must have been sung here preached that God is our hiding place. Now for those of you who may not believe in God, I hope you can appreciate that their belief in a higher deity is what helped bring them through one of the darkest times in European history. After a short history lesson from our guide on who the family was, how prayer meetings were held and eventually morphed into a full-scale rescue operation.
We were taken upstairs and told of how there was a bell in the kitchen downstairs that would be pressed, and only the people there for hiding could hear it. Once the bell rung, they would rush into a room at the back that had a false back on the bottom half of the bookshelf. A brick wall had been built providing just enough room for ten refugees to stand upright in this small space, for as long as it took to let the danger pass. Nothing was allowed in this small space so as not to attract rodents, and give away the Hiding Place. The area was not insulated from the bitter cold winters, so being trapped in this place was not ideal.
As you read the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom writes of the training she received to be able to be woken in the middle of the night and evade the questioning of the Gestapo who would comb the Haarlem neighborhoods looking for Jews and traitors. There were several close calls with the Gestapo, and eventually, they were betrayed by a community member who knew of their operation; but not before they were able to save nearly 800 Jewish lives.
Those who were taking refuge in the home were able to escape, and three of the four Jewish members in the home at that time survived the war. One even came back to the Hiding Place, unknown to the Museum staff, to face the harrowing two days of being trapped in The Hiding Place while the Gestapo combed through the Ten Boom home. The museum staff told the moving story of being able to meet a man who had benefited from the Ten Boom’s efforts during the war.
They may have been caught, but as you read the book of Corrie being separated from her beloved father, placed with her sister in the brutal Ravensbruck. You realize just how deeply courageous she was, and the dedication to her faith could inspire anyone. Everyone Corrie met both inside and outside the concentration camp was both inspired and infused with hope, due to her ability to resist fear and despair in the face of evil. Several camp prisoners in the Ten Boom bunker were converted to Christianity due to their faith while being imprisoned.
Who was the involved in the Resistance?
Corrie was the ringleader for the Haarlem underground. Her “Beje group” strategically search for families willing, able, and courageous enough to harbor refugees and members of the Dutch Underground movement. Much of Corrie’s time was spent finding ways to feed the refugees, continue to give them hope and so forth despite rations being severely limited throughout Holland.
The sign in the window of the shop was used to let members of the Underground know that the area was safe when it was in the window. The night that Corrie and her family were taken, they were unable to remove this from the window — and 20 other members of the Underground movement were caught and brutally treated in order to obtain names of other members. Fortunately, they held on as long as they could, so that those members and subsequent refugees would have time to escape and relocate to other safe havens within the city.
Lessons from the Past:
At the time of the capture of the Ten Boom home, two Jewish men, two Jewish women, and two members of the Dutch underground were hidden behind the brick wall of the Hiding Place. They were forced to stand for two days, in the middle of the harsh winter in that small space without food, water, or bathroom — remaining deadly quiet to save their own lives. The house remained under guard to catch any other members of the Underground movement in the area. One of the survivors remembers there were two guards that played cards in a nearby room, while his heart pounded from the fear of being caught. Two days after the initial seige, the refugees were able to climb out a window onto the roof and make their way to another safe house.
Why were the Ten Boom’s taken, if the refugees were not caught or found in their home? The Gestapo scoured the house and found extra ration cards and some of the Underground operation materials within their home. Corrie’s father, Casper, was 84 years old at the time and was taken to Scheveningen Prison, where he died 10 days after arriving. When he was asked why he would risk his life for the Jewish people, when he was Christian, he responded eloquently by saying, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people”.
Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie spent time in three different concentration camps over the next 10 months. The last camp, was Ravensbruck Concentration camp, right near Berlin.
I don’t know that I will ever understand why they were betrayed, or that God didn’t warn the family that was so dedicated to him and to doing good. One thing I will take away from this story is that Corrie Ten Boom was true to what she believed was right; she was the change she wished to see in the world and saved hundreds of lives from never giving up hope that things could change.
The brutality that human beings inflict upon one another is unlike anything else in the animal kingdom, this is a fact. It is the warped sense of feeling ‘our way’ is the ‘right way’, that leads to derision and war. Seeking first to understand another’s mindset, religion, culture is the first step to making the world what we want it to be.
While I truly believe this is the first step, we must fortify ourselves against the inevitable reality that there will always be humans who for whatever reason….refuse to understand or take this first step. Do not give up hope in your efforts, take the message of the Ten Boom family’s efforts to heart and realize that with dedication, heart, faith, and effort — lives are impacted and may one day be saved from the despair that seems to be ever present in this aging world.
The Ending of the Story and A Message For All:
We all have our own internal demons, people who may have harmed us that it is difficult to forgive. I have my own past that is fraught with traumatic events from people I feel never got justice for stealing my self-worth, trust in humanity, and the ability to have a relationship. I don’t know how long it will take to forgive the people that caused these unsavory characteristics. I don’t know if I will be able to have a family of my own, or if my efforts in this platform will be of use to anyone. What I do know, is that in those moments I lose hope….I feel I let my past win.
So I keep the messages from the book, The Hiding Place, close to my mind and heart. I am trying to use the example of Corrie Ten Boom and many others – to forgive, forget, and let God into my life again. As Corrie Ten Boom said once,
“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies”.
God bless all those who gave their lives and put themselves at risk to save the Jewish people in Europe. May those who did not survive rest in peace, and be remembered for their courage and fortitude. I hope that the world and those who fight for good, may remember the past and stand in the face of ridicule and danger, to help these things not be repeated. Make a Donation to the Corrie Ten Boom – The Hiding Place Museum, and help them continue to operate this house and spread the message of forgiveness and love to all who enter.
As Always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Address: Baluachraig PA31 8QG, UK The Kilmartin standing Stones are about a 45-minute drive outside of Oban. The drive takes you along a very picturesque coastline, winding through farms and into an expansive field with 6-8 foot standing stones. Within the immediate six-mile radius, you can find 350 ancient monuments. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns.
When you approach these massive standing stones, you will immediately notice the geometric pattern, linear in nature, and despite the distance, it is perfectly aligned. Keep this in mind as we explore some of the other ancient structures.
This Cairn was one of my favorite Cairn’s to visit in Scotland. You park about a mile away with an elevation gain of 50-100 feet. The walk is on private property, the trail is boggy and at one point you will need to walk across a wooden walkway to continue on the trail due to the amount of water.
As you make your way along the trail, you will come upon a barbed wire fence. The owners have lovingly placed a set of wooden steps on either side for people to climb over. Please do not agitate the livestock as you approach the cairn, don’t ruin it for everyone else.
The Cairn is at the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. A perfect place for the sun to hit the Cairn. It is a round chambered structure with two forecourts that face North and South. Once you enter the Cairn, it is about 10 feet long (3.3m). The cairn itself is about 7 feet in height (2.25m). The cairn was discovered and excavated in 1866, where seven sets of remains were found in the forecourt and more cremated remains were found in the main chamber.
Nearest town: Inverness Latitude: 57° 28′ 25.21″ N Longitude: -4° 04′ 27.66″ W These well preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring cairns, kerb cairns and standing stones in a beautiful setting. Clava Cairns or the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava is a group of three Bronze Age cairns located near Inverness. A hugely significant and exceptionally well preserved prehistoric site, Clava Cairns is a fantastic example of the distant history of Highland Scotland, dating back about 4,000 years.
The cemetery was used in two periods. At around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can still be seen today. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused and new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’. Traces of a smaller cemetery can also be seen at Milton of Clava, a short distance up the valley to the west. The cairns at Balnuaran of Clava extended along a gravel terrace raised above the River Nairn.
Excavations have found evidence for farming on the site before any of these monuments were built. The settlement was directly replaced by the cairns and it even seems possible that some of the material used to build them had been taken from demolished houses. If you look closely you may even find the ring-and-cup marks symbolizing and unknown tripartite god or the Triple-Goddess of the Maiden-Matron-Crone.
This Goddess is a number of the Celtic myths and legends – in the Wiccan and Neopaganism she is thought of as the ‘Great Goddess’. Three signifies balance and stability. The first stage is maiden, the second stage is matron or mother, and the last stage is known as the crone. These different stages are often portrayed by the moon and the different phases of the moon as well as colors.
What is the meaning of the Cairns for that time period?
We are born into maidenhood, and when our innocence is lost, this is when we have gained our sexuality transforming us into the matron. Pomegranates (from the tales of Persephone being raped by Hades, losing her innocence and then fed Pomegranates to be trapped in the underworld with him) are symbolized by color.
First, the seeds are white, then age to red, then when dried are black. These are the colors of the three goddesses’ of the world: Maiden, Matron, and Crone. Demeter is the Mother Goddess and Matron. Persephone is the Spring Goddess and is offered gifts. Hectate is the crone, she is the one that carried the torch for the maiden as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the Dead, and also the Queen of life’s rebirth in the spring. Hectate is considered to be the guide to the souls through maidenhood to womanhood. Hectate stands at the doorways quietly awaiting the soulful cries of the innocent, to help light their way.
A winding tunnel where one had to crawl, sometimes on their stomach to reach the burial chambers represents the further journey through life and these phases. Flecks of cremated bone were found on some of the surfaces inside the tombs and was the final resting place for only a select few. The outside of the cairns showed there was evidence of quartz, a white stone that when the body was cremated would have glowed, combined with the suns reflection.
When the winter sun sets, the entrances align with the position of the setting sun. Think of the symbolism of that – white snow surrounding a charred interior of black, with the sunlight guiding the way of the deceased to the underworld. I’m sure there was some sort of red involved in the ritual to complete the maiden-matron-crone, but I didn’t find anything conclusive that would have suggested this.
I like to speculate that maybe they were buried with some sort of red fruit, or there was an animal sacrificed – but this is just Scottish History according to Janiel, which could have me skewered by the locals for even speculating such history. Scotland is full of magic, and otherworldly creatures were often believed in, so I don’t think it is too far-fetched to speculate such things. I would like to think that the symbolism means, but the significance of this is still highly debated among scholars.
Should you find yourself on the NC500 Coastline, be sure to make a few stops along the way starting in Inverness and seeing Clava Cairns, Wick and Cairn O’Get. This is an important part of the ancient history of Scotland. Take a walk around the standing stones, the Cairns and imagine and speculate what the religious meanings must have been for these ancient people.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See you on the Flip Side.
Hidden in the Red Light District is the religious relic the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic. It is something you have to search out, but is well worth the visit due to the religious history it represents for not just the Netherlands but Europe as well.
Why was a Church built in the Attic?
Jan Hartman was a dedicated German and Catholic that was stripped of his rights to public worship in 1663. Calvinists prohibited the ‘non-reformed Catholics’ from worshipping in public spaces. Catholic churches were converted and could not be recognizable to anyone on the street per the local laws of that time. Let us rewind this story and figure out why a particularly popular religion throughout Europe during that time would need to hide in an attic in order to worship.
The Dutch Golden Age and the Reformation:
Catholicism ruled most of the Dutch region until the 16th century when Calvinism was introduced and spread like wildfire. This led to the Dutch Revolt, a revolt against the Roman Catholic King Phillip II of Spain who was suppressing the Hapsburg crown. This revolt produced the Dutch Republic, whose leader was the famed William of Orange (a supporter of King Phillip of Spain). Skirmishes along the French borders, imposing countries vying for lands led to a revolt resurgence in 1572, which forced William back to Delft (his ancestral home) until he was assassinated in 1584. Spain was at its limit, waging war on multiple fronts. Their wars included those against the Ottoman Empire, France, England, and its colonies in the Atlantic. New taxes were introduced into the Netherlands to help fund these wars. The militant Calvinist groups grew restless and agitated, hoping to suppress and oust the Catholic Phillip II of Spain. William of Orange was so hard pressed, he eventually converted to Calvinism himself in 1573. Northern Holland was over-run by the Calvinists and all churches were converted to Calvinism, and the members either fled or were forced to convert to Calvinism. While Holland prided itself on religious freedom and was accepting Protestants and Jewish refugees into its borders, the subversive persecution of the Catholic religion continued. As the number of Catholic priests became rare, so did the ability of the members of the Roman Catholic faith ability to worship.
Hiding their Faith
This wealthy merchant bought the 2 houses on either side of him and built a church where Catholics could worship. When you first enter the home it is a museum in and of itself. Here you will walk back in time to a home as it would have appeared 350 years ago. Complete with corridors, steep stairs, tiled kitchen, and the ornately adorned gathering room. The steps are warped, narrow and steep — this is very typical for the architecture of that time period, but may not be safe for those who have difficulty getting up and down stairs. As you make your way up the different levels, you see the bedrooms, how they kept themselves warm, and then come upon the entrance to the attic.
The entrance is hidden, and in the side wall, there is a rotating aspersorium where worshipers could bless themselves with holy water as a reminder of their baptism. Doing this helped the worshipers transition from the secular world into the world of the divine.
Preparing them to receive the sermons and teachings of their religious leader or priest. Once you enter, you must ascend a set of stairs that leads behind the organ and into the back of the chapel. On the left-hand side of the altar (if facing the altar) there is a pullout pulpit that is built into the wall. The two floors allowed for many attendants to be present for mass.
The Organ is masterfully built, with a dampener to help conceal the sound of worship. If you look out the side window, you will see the steeple of (what was then) their prior cathedral and place of worship. They devout Catholics were likely ousted, and the former cathedral converted for Calvinism uses. How difficult would it be to remain faithful to your beliefs and not give in to despair when you could see your former place of worship outside the window, while you were forced to worship in secret, at the peril of your own life.
Important Information for Tourists:
How to get there
Address: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38. 1012 GD Amsterdam Get on the Metro tube, and stop at Central Station. From there it is a 10-minute walk to the Red Light District. Don’t try and drive here, there is virtually no parking in Amsterdam except for bikes. Map to Museum of Our Lord in the Attic
Tickets and Hours
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Ticket Prices: Adults are around 10 Euros, Kids between 5-18 years old are 5 Euros, and kids less than 5 years old are free. Purchase your tickets here.
Despite the beautiful facades, cobblestone streets that line the canals of Amsterdam, it still has a religiously troubled past that led to the prominent atheism and agnostic population today. Be sure to visit Museum of Our Lord in the Attic, and be witness to a turbulent part of the history of the Netherlands.
Just outside of Oban is a remote Island called Staffa Island. This is a protected area due to the nearby basking sharks, and the puffin sanctuary on Staffa Island. There is something else on this enchanting island….Fingals Cave. With not just folklore legends being inspired from the massive structure, but poetic and music legends as well.
The Formation of the Cave:
Rising out of the Ocean this gargantuan Oceanic cave rises 72 feet (22m) out of the water, and the depth of the cave is approximately 269 feet (82m). Geologists estimate the cave itself is 50 million years old. Staffa island itself is mad in layers, like an onion (Shrek reference :), The first layer is the tuff layer (the part underwater), the second layer is crystalline structures that make up the top of the island, and connecting the two are the black columns of black fine-grained tertiary basalt. This type of layering bodes well for the folklore surrounding the island, and what mythological characters may have built it.
Folklore Surrounding Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
There is an Irish legend sung in Celtic, ‘Uamh-Binn’ meaning the Cave of Melody. This melodious legend sings of an Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail who longed to go to Scotland so needed to beat his rival Benandonner. As a little backstory to this legend, there is a geological formation in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway. The legend continues its verses of the Giant creating a bridge from Ireland to Scotland and Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave are the two ends of the giants bridge.
With the storms, quick currents and fairyland like areas throughout both Ireland and Scotland — even the most non-creative souls leave feeling that this legend could be true. Still skeptical of this legend? What if I told you that this legend could be real based of science? The island of Staffa is made entirely of volcanic rock with very unique geological formations of basalt columns. These columns were made from slow cooling of Volcanic rock, creating their characteristic hexagonal shapes. The same type of volcanic rock and basalt columns are also found 82.8 miles (133 Km) South of Staffa Island.
Another myth dating back to 250 AD regarding an Irish general Fin MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal. A traditional Irish poet, and father of many of the stories that migrated from Ireland. The Scots wanted to preserve the memory of this fabled character and named the cave after him. In the 17th century, the cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks. He inspired others to visit in steamboats, paddleboats etc… Poets were so inspired by the cave, a poem called “Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” by James Macpherson was written – basically, it was the translation of the poem from the Gaelic Irish Legend to English.
Beyond the legends and poems Pink Floyd, Queen Elizabeth, and many other notable artists have visited the cave specifically for the magnificent acoustics of it. Sadly due to erosion from visitors over the years, you can no longer enter the cave by foot.
The Puffin Sanctuary on Staffa
What they didn’t tell us before booking the tour, is that the rocks to Fingal’s Cave are VERY slick and precarious, so be sure to hang on to the ropes tightly. Make sure your footing is sound before turning quickly or putting your full weight on each step. The other situation I should warn you of is the VERY steep (think more like a ladder) metal grated staircase up to the top of Staffa island. At the top of the staircase, you want to turn right, follow the 15-20 minute trail to the edge of the island (on the opposite side of the island from where the cave is). Here you will find nests of Puffins. The tiny little Toucan and Penguin cross bred looking birds that chirp like new baby birds.
Their tiny little heads pop up from the long grass and look at you quizzically. They don’t seem to be afraid of humans, but it is best not to ruin this natural wonder and their nesting grounds. If you visit, please do not try to pick them up, trample to the side of the cliffs attempting to get photos with them. There are hundreds there, and we want to preserve the area for future generations of both humans and puffins to appreciate. The thing about these birds that surprised me the most, that left me both stunned and giggling was when they took flight.
I nearly missed the boat to the next destination because I was so entranced by these magnificently strong yet so delicate birds. I did not anticipate that these birds that so resembled penguins could fly so deftly against the Scottish Sea Winds. They would plunge off the edge of the cliff, gliding along the wind, streamlined against the gusts. They would play along the cliff face, skim the water searching for fish stirred up by the waves. So if you take a tour, make sure you allot yourself enough time to see these magnificent animals. When we had to go back to the boat, I felt a little piece of my heart was left with these adorable creatures. This place was so remote and special…..I don’t think I will ever forget how it felt to watch these birds fly, and so up close.
Tours to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa:
There are several options in order to visit this geological mysterious masterpiece.
Option 1: Commercial Boats, quick tour of the Inner Hebrides via Staffa Tours Due to time constraints, we took a tour via Staffa Tours. It is a big company, with big ships. If you are prone to sea sickness then this is the way to go. There was a storm the day that we went, the swells were so big that my roommate, Bree, go very ill on the way back. They were timely, allotted us just enough time to make it to the island, see the cave, the puffins and then we were off to Iona Abbey. Due to erosion, going inside the cave to hear the acoustics is closed. You can still walk up to the entrance, but cannot go inside.
Option 2: Spend a multi-day trip exploring the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland on a SUP, Kayak, Diving, or Snorkeling with Basking Shark Scotland Tours. Even on a calm day, the swells in the cave can be quite large, there is only a small weather window in which you can safely enter the cave. There are so many unexplored islands around the area, but due to the currents being so fast – what should be a 30-minute boat ride can take up to three hours. So go and explore the islands of the Hebrides, see just how beautiful the beaches are, the untamed wilderness of Scotland is. The beaches of Scotland are cold, but nothing a full wetsuit couldn’t handle in the summertime. Next time I go to Scotland, I will be spending the majority of my time in the Hebrides and hope to do some diving and maybe even swim inside Fingal’s Cave.
Should you find yourself in nearby Oban Scotland, be sure you leave an entire day to be inspired by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island. Be careful when walking along the Basalt columns as they can get hazardously slick when the waves douse them in seawater. Get caught up in the folklore surrounding this Giant’s Bridge and let yourself believe in the unordinary and extraordinary. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the Puffin Sanctuary on the other side of the island. Watch the clock and set a timer to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat. Lastly, enjoy the magic that is and always will be Scotland.
It was 563 AD, Irish settlers were migrating into Scotland bringing Christianity with them. St Columba arrived on Iona, looked out over the sea and deemed the spot that Iona Abbey now sits on the sacred ground. St Columba is the revered Saint of Iona Abbey (for more on his life, see the books below).
As time passed, 795 AD brought in the first wave of Viking raiders. The first raid was brutal, much of the Abbey was looted of its precious relics. Subsequent raids in 802, 806, and 825 resulted in burning of the original wooden Columban monastery, and a replacement stone abbey being built to help protect the monks. The remaining Abbey relics were hastily spirited away to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and back to the Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.
Inside of Iona Abbey
In 1200 Reginald MacDonald turned Iona Abbey into a true Christian Pilgrimage. The Benedictine Monastery and an Augustinian Nunnery were built on the island. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey by boat, making their way to the Monastery pausing at each cross that lined the road giving an offering of supplication.
The 8th Duke of Argyll swept in and commissioned the restoration in 1899, then turned it over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration of the Abbey continues today slowly returning to its former glory.
The Experience that is Iona:
What I expected from Iona Abbey was not what I experienced….. What I expected to see was a cold, dank, dark stone house with a few crosses and lots of gold embellishments. What I expected to feel, well….frankly I expected to feel bored by yet another abandoned religious establishment with some historical facts.
After the hustle and bustle of getting off the boat, I started the trek to the Abbey (a 20-minute walk up a slight incline). The tiny stone houses that dotted the road were quaint and full of local crafts and artisanal products. Giving the feeling you were in a small, yet tightly knit town. Another few minutes of walking, and you come upon the farms filled with plants sprouting produce & color on the gray and blustery day.
What I experienced was turning the corner nearly missing the 13 foot Celtic Cross. I wondered why this cross was so far away from the Abbey. There was a sign at the bottom that told of how pilgrims to the Abbey would stop at each cross and make an offering. This was to prepare the soul for worship, and I felt that in a way it helped introduce the story of this Abbey & all it has been through.
When first seeing the Abbey, it indeed was a stone church but set against the backdrop of the mainland, I couldn’t help but feel inspired that it was a refuge from the threatening storm moving into the area that day.
I paid for my ticket, inquired about the small graveyard. The graveyard itself is home to several Scottish Kings due to the belief that Iona Abbey was the closest place you could get to heaven on earth. There is said to be 48 Dalriadan (Scottish) Kings, 8 Norwegian kings, and 4 Irish Kings.
Walking through the ancient nunnery, made me feel that there was once determination, hardiness, love, and order that contributed to this being a spiritual place for many. It is always a beautiful thing to see human beings working together in harmony for the same peaceful purpose, it is not something often seen in the world today. When experiencing other cultures religions, I try to keep not only an open mind but an open heart. Doing this leads to greater understanding and insight for me personally.
Making my way to Iona Abbey I was regaled with tales of resistance against the invading Vikings. The plundering’s of the relics, the persistence of the priests, the miracles said to have been performed here. The thing that struck me to the core though, was with the images of Vikings, being brutal warriors and conquerors. Many Vikings ended up converting to Christianity and became protectors of a faith that they once attacked. It just shows how love, patience, kindness and long-suffering won them over.
How many wars have been fought both in the name of religion and in the name of power? So often we try and force our beliefs upon another, or take their beliefs away because we feel we are ‘right’. Ultimately when approached this way, everyone loses. Yet, when approached with love, longsuffering, kindness, open-mindedness, and suppressing our own internal boundaries….it creates change that is far greater than the change that would have occurred if it was forced.
The conversion of the Vikings’ to Christianity, knowing this Abbey was the key that allowed Christianity to come into Scotland gave me a sense of spirituality as well as inspiration to be a better example and human being. I am Christian, learning of the Abbey in the face of such dangers, I hope inspires all of us to be better at being an example and being that change we wish to see in the world.
Should you find yourself near Fort William, Glasgow, the NC500 or just want a holiday. Head to the west coast of Scotland, stay in Oban for a few days, then head to the Isle of Mull and Iona Abbey. You are sure to come away from this place feeling inspired by the enduring spirit of the early Christians in this area that helped to create change for the good.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side…
Oban seems like a small, out of the way sleepy town – but for those looking for a peaceful and slightly spiritual retreat, I highly suggest Oban. Here you will find avenues to the Isle of Mull, Iona Abbey and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island.
History of Oban:
Oban sits on the Firth of Lorn overlooking the Isle of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore. Oban in Gaelic is An t-Oban, which means ‘Little Bay’. I was corrected several times on how to say the name of the town, it is not O-bahn, it is Obin. Gaelic is the language of the Scottish Highlands and since the 17th Century Battle for Culloden, was systematically banned and nearly lost. Now it is being taught in schools throughout the Highlands to help preserve both the culture and the language. Should you visit the Scottish Highlands, you will see many signs both in Gaelic and English. As of 2006 9.4% of the population in Oban still speaks fluent Gaelic.
Oban itself dates back to the Mesolithic times, where early evidence of cave dwellers was found in the centre of Oban (right where Oban Distillery sits). Bones found within this cave has since been dated to be around 4500BC. Oban is a unique bay compared to others in the Highlands, as it has two sides of the land masses protecting its bay during the brutal winter storms. This makes it a perfect place for fish and other oceanic animals to take refuge, and also was the perfect place for cave dwellers to find food.
Kilmartin House and Standing Stones
If you head up to Kilmartin House Museum, you will see one of the earliest forts made, dating to approximately 500 AD! This structure is under the care of Historic Scotland, so be sure to plan your visit and opening hours accordingly. Surrounding this area you will also find 350 ancient monuments including burial Cairn Stones.
I was able to see some of the Kilmartin Standing Stones, and the small cup and ring marks within the stones indicating these were placed here thousands of years ago. I could feel that sacred ceremonies were conducted in this area for nearly 5,000 years. Perfectly aligned with the symmetry being obviously visible to anyone who cares to look. At first I didn’t want to see these stones, I was so exhausted, but pushing through my own fatigue I was able to see some of the most beautiful coastline and be witness to history that was thousands of years older than I. It is about a 30-minute drive, easily navigated to via Google Maps.
Traveler Tip: Before going to Scotland be sure to download Google Maps onto your phone and the Outlander Audio Book. These are great ways to both stay entertained (as the radio is not easily tapped into in the Highlands), and to not get lost should you run out of Wifi.
You will see a gravel parking lot on the left, pull into any spot and walk across the street to the gate opening. You will cross over a bridge to the sign explaining how old the Kilmartin stones are and where the other stones in the area are located as well. Walking in a space this old only adds to my own data bank of belief that Scotland is full of magic and mystery, and that I had just become part of this lands history as well.
The Sixth through the Ninth Century:
By the early 6th Century AD under the Kingdom of Dalriata, with the Scotii tribe the Kingdom of Scotland would grow. Legend has it that three sons Fergus Mor, Aonghas and Loarn mac Eric were not given this kingdom and it was passed to their uncle. They then took their followers and migrated to the west of Scotland to establish their own Kingdoms — brining with them the ‘Stone of Destiny’ (an important Scottish Royalty tradition that is still used to this day).
The 9th Century brought Viking crossings into Scotland which also brought 400 years of war and struggle. This will play an important role in the history of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Mull just off the shores of Oban.
The Eleventh Century Onwards:
By the 11th century Oban was in Viking hands, the MacDougall family, who were Viking descendants established themselves as one of the most powerful families in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually the family relocated and their castle fell into ruin in Oban. Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish author published his book Lord of the Isles in Oban. This brought many visitors to Oban, and houses began to pop up in the area.
During the 19th century, the steam ships were using Oban as a stopping point and refuge from storms on their way from Glasgow to Inverness. A local banker, obsessed with Roman and Greek art decided it was a good idea to build an amphitheater at the top of the hill. John S McCaig wasn’t the smartest banker and the unfinished tower tops one of Scotland’s most striking shores to this day.
Where to Stay in Oban:
We stayed at a quaint little Oban Airbnb Home with our lovely host. She grew up on the Isle of Mull and speaks fluent Gaelic. She has loads of stories and just wants you to sit down and have a cuppa tea before you do anything else. She gives great directions, provides you with the BEST breakfast and has the best Blood Pudding of anyone in the Scottish Highlands.
Traveler Tip: It gets cold at night, even in the summers (especially if you are from a dry climate like me), so bring a sweater.
Our room was comfy, warm and was so cozy….we nearly got stuck to it the next morning trying to get up for our early 730am tour. There are places to park with a quiet neighborhood, nearby grocery store and petrol station. The shower is warm and is a short 10-minute drive from the center of town. Should you choose to walk, be sure to check the weather. As we were going to be dropping the car at the Edinburgh Airport right after our tour the next morning, we chose to drive.
Culture Trekking Coupon: Want $40 off your first stay with Airbnb? Sign up with the Culture Trekking Coupon here.
Isle of Kerrera : This is the island directly visible from Oban, but due to no ferries servicing the area, can take several hours to get to. Currently the population there is only 35, but if you have the time stop by and see Gylen Castle. This castle was built in 1587 by Duncan McDougall of Dunollie. If you get a look inside, there is a passage underneath it that reportedly still has visible head carvings with an inscription reading “trust in God and sin no more”. Here is a Map of Kerrera and accommodations are available on the island with Airbnb style homes.
McCaig’s Tower – see Oban history above for more information on this quirky Roman tower in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. Dunstaffnage Castle: Flora MacDonald was held at Dunstaffnage in 1746 before being sent to the Tower of London after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Battle of Culloden. The castle is also host to a 13th Century Chapel and imagine what it must have been to live in a place so isolated.
Castle Stalker: This picturesque castle is located just north of Oban and beautifully surrounded by water. Only open between April and October, tours must be arranged in advance. There is intrigue, murder, wars and revenge that surround this castle. Take a deeper look into this small Stalker Castle’s BIG history. Iona Abbey:A must visit for any Christian who wants to see how Christianity was passed to the Vikings. I will be posting more on this lovely and very spiritual place next week. Staffa Island’s Fingal’s Cave with Puffin Sanctuary: This will also be included in the post for this next week on tours there, how to get there, opening times, best time to go and so much more. Inveraray Castle is not to be missed as this is the Clan seat for the Duke of Argyll, which Oban is
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You wouldn’t think that such a small spot on the map in Scotland would hold so much history! It doesn’t appear, at first, to hold much in the way of tourism….but oh how wrong I was. So should you find your way home from Inverness or Fort William to Edinburgh or Glasgow….be sure to spend a few days in Oban. Take the ferry to the islands, see the castles, check out the Kilmartin Standing stones and especially the Oban Distillery. Plan your visit around the many festivals, and make Oban your central hub for visiting so many wonderful places in the Scottish Highlands.
Any local knows that Princes Street Gardens used to be the site of the Nor Loch and we’ve heard the tales of Greyfriars Bobby and the Mackenzie poltergeist many times before. Not only are these famous creepy tales of Edinburgh originating from here, but stories of Scrooge and none other than Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series were inspired characters of this city. So for all those story hunters, doing a self-guided ghost tour of Edinburgh will give you loads of stories to draw from.
Keep in mind that there is only one area that will require you to pay for access and that is to the underground vaults beneath the city.
Now the lush, and peaceful gardens in the center of Edinburgh these gardens were once witness to horrific events that took place on Princes street ages ago. A large body of water once graced this valley north of the Castle Rock, claiming the land as far back as 15,000 yrs ago as a byproduct of the ice age. The lake eventually dried up and Edinburgh was quickly thriving and growing. With many residents living in the 15 story housing within the cities fortifications, all the human waste had to go somewhere convenient. Enter the story of the Nor’ Loch. The stench from this ancient sewer plant must have been overpowering if the wind blew the wrong way, thus giving Edinburgh the nickname ‘old reeky’. Not only did the Nor’ Loch hold the human waste of the overpopulated city, but brutal punishments, murders, executions and public ‘dookings’ were very common at the edges.
Mr Sinclair was one of these tales, where him and his two sisters were sentenced to die for the crime of incest in 1628. Mr Sinclair and his two sisters were packed into a box with holes drilled into it and dumped into the Nor’ Loch with a padlock firmly in place. When renovations were made to Princes Street Garden, and the swamp drained, a box with 3 human remains were found in the mud. Upwards of 300 men and women were burned alive here for the crimes of witchcraft and wizardry. They were tied up, dragged down the slopes & dumped into the filth. If they sank to the bottom, well they were declared free of evil spirits. If they floated, well then a swift burn at the stake was in store with the human waste being a terrible fuel for those fires. It was some 200 years later that the city began to call for the draining of the cesspool. The New Town was beginning to be developed and by 1764 Nor’ Loch was drained. Princes Street Gardens was then built from East to West and finished around 1876.
Grey Friars Bobby:
John Gray arrived in the city in 1850, looking for work and attempting to avoid the dreaded workhouses, he joined the Night Watch with the Edinburgh Police Force. The nights in Scotland can be long and lonely and sometimes haunted. John Gray adopted a Skye Terrier named Bobby. These two were truly the best of friends. After years of roaming the streets and keeping the good people of Edinburgh safe, John came down with Tuberculosis. He eventually succumbed to the disease on February 15, 1858 and was buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Continuing his watch unfailingly, Bobby, his loyal dog and companion continued to stay at his masters grave – even in the worst conditions and weather.
The gardener tried to oust the poor thing several times but the dog was steadfast. The gardener’s heart eventually softened and a bed was made for bobby, complete with padding… allowing him to stay by his master’s side. People would come from miles around to see Bobby take his afternoon meal, following a cabinet maker to the Coffee House where he and John Grey would often go together. This routine took place for over 14 years, Bobby keeping constant watch of his masters grave until his own death in 1872. A Baroness, moved by this story of loyalty, erected the granite monument and statue commemorating this loyalty, who is now the most famous dog in Scotland. The Scottish people’s love of Dogs is still apparent today throughout the city. If you visit the statue, you will notice that it’s nose is quite worn. It is believed that rubbing Bobby’s nose will bring the visitor good luck and safety while touring the Kirkyard. The Grave of the beloved Bobby will also have several sticks placed by tourists, to help Bobby’s ghost be able to play fetch with his master again.
Not long after the ‘National Covenant’ was signed into practice, a document to keep Scotland Presbyterian, King Charles II took the throne and disavowed all those who covenanted and forcibly demanded those throughout England and Scotland to accept the state religion. It was June of 1679 that the military forces swept the country in the most bloody battle for religion known as Bothwell Brig. Several thousand Presbyterian Covenanter rebels were bound and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Parish – this became known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’.
These covenanters endured inhumane torture, starvation, exposure, beheadings and so much more. This was all done at the hands of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who we now know as ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. His double life found him as both a loving father and business savvy gentleman, as well as the sadistic side of torturing these souls in the name of the King. Bloody Mackenzie was responsible for 18,000 deaths of these Covenanters, until his death in 1691. He is now buried in a tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This Black Mausoleum Tomb is now the source of the most well-known paranormal activity in the entire world. In 1998 a homeless man broke into the sealed tomb, ransacked the tomb breaking many of the things inside. While trying to open the casket that held Bloody Mackenzie’s body, a hole reportedly opened up in the floor and the man fell into another chamber. The homeless man had fallen into a Plague tomb, where many bodies had been previously dumped and buried during the great Plague in Scotland.
This released the vengeful spirit of Bloody Mackenzie, who has since been named the Mackenzie Poltergeist due to the 500 ghostly attacks that have been reported and photographed near this tomb. These attacks include burns, skin gouges (around the neck and abdomen); unexplained bruises; broken fingers; feeling as if one’s hair is being pulled. Some visitors have said they were punched or kicked by an invisible attacker.
In 2000, Colin Grant, an exorcist, and minister of a spiritualist church performed an exorcism ceremony on the graveyard. Standing in the cemetery, it’s said he was overcome by the sensation of being surrounded by hundreds of tormented souls and evil spirits trying to break through to the mortal realm. Fearing for his own life, he left quickly, saying the evil was too powerful for him to overcome. A few weeks later, Colin Grant was found dead of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
With the belief of magic, faeries and superstitions always comes the belief that witches are indeed real. Witch trials have a long history in Scotland and will be discussed in another article, as there are far too many things that are needing to be mentioned. To see just how far back these tales go, check out the full list of Witch trials and how the individuals died & stay tuned to culturetrekking.com for more on Witch Trials in Scotland.
The Source of Scrooge:
Charles Dickens invented the famous character of Scrooge when he misread the tombstone of successful Edinburgh merchant Ebenezer Scroggie in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the apparently hard-hearted inscription ‘Meanman’ – but the tombstone actually read ‘Mealman’ in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader. Thus, a legend was mistakenly born.
The Last Public Execution in Edinburgh History:
This grizzly tale of George Bryce’s execution for the murder of Jane Seton by cutting the 23-year old’s throat after breaking the relationship with him. It was 1863 and the townsfolk were enraged that this man would cut such a young girl’s throat with a razor-blade. He was sentenced to public execution on the corner of Lawnmarket and High Street.
He was to hang, with the more civilized method of the trap door mechanism ensuring a quick death by the neck quickly breaking. Thousands gathered to watch his execution, stories of the murder had been circulated and embellished to ensure the crowd was thirsty for revenge. As George Bryce was strung up, the priest giving him his last rights, a drunken Thomas Askern stepped up as the interim hangman for this occasion. What the awaiting crowd didn’t know, was that Mr. Thomas Askern had lied about his qualifications. He had miscalculated the amount of rope needed for George Bryce to fall to his death. When the trap door opened, the length of rope needed to drop Bryce quickly to his death only let him fall 2 feet and he began to strangle in full view of the crowd. The crowd began to change their tune of hatred towards the accused, to hatred towards the authorities for having to witness the slow death of Bryce.
There are various stories of the man falling to the bottom and breaking his legs, then trying to be hung again and still being alive when he was cut too quick. After which the crowd took the limp but alive body of Bryce and paraded up and down the street complaining about the authorities. Askern was nearly beaten to death by the crowd for the atrocity of his failure. Then the man was hung again and finally pronounced dead. The stories, like all stories in Scotland, were a bit embellished, and records show the public execution lasting anywhere from 12-minutes to 40-minutes. If you walk by Lawnmarket street at night, you may still see the ghost of Bryce walking the streets, confused and angry for the way his execution happened.
The moral of the story? Don’t kill your girlfriend for dumping you, you may end up with a fate far worse than death…..a very very slow and painful death. Interestingly enough, hanging’s continued in Scotland (in a more private way) up until 1963 when a man was hung for killing a husband of his lover in a jealous rage.
The Watcher in the Underbelly of Scotland:
These caverns were built in the 18th Century beneath the South Bridge of Edinburgh. Previously used as housing for the base of Scottish Society, body snatchers and prostitution….it is now full of hauntings and paranormal activity.
Taking a tour with Mercat Tours is the only way to visit these ghostly haunts, but well worth the cost. You need to have a strong sense of the paranormal, and an open mind to the unseen. As you take back alleys and passageways to the entrance to these vaults you get the feeling you are descending into a certain level of Hell.
You twist and turn through alleyways as your guide tells you of experiences the other staff members have had with the electricity. Now candles are placed along all the tunnels as a backup, should the electricity fail while a group is underneath Edinburgh again.
One particular room is called the ‘Watcher’s Room’, with the ghost said to be the most aggressive of any within the Vaults. Apparitions of a man standing within a doorway in the largest of the vaults, following guests and flipping hair, bruising staff, or saying ‘get out’ repeatedly in someone’s ear have been experienced. Paranormal crews have attempted to interact or stay the nights within the vaults, but have been unable to complete missions due to the aggressive nature of this ghost.
Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, take this tour, you will find yourself grateful that the hotels and hostels have several floors. The highest room in your accommodation is likely where you will want to sleep after this tour, as far from the presence of the Watcher as possible.
Never have I been a believer in ghosts until after visiting Edinburgh & feeling the cold grip of something on my leg while in the vaults of Edinburgh. The brutality that was exhibited, encountered here along with the plague, fires, and religious wars have made this area by far the best most haunted I have been to. Not wishing to tempt fate, I never ventured outside while it was dark, there are plenty of tours that will take you to the vaults, graveyards and even the McKenzie Poltergeist grave. If you venture out during the day, be sure to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and realize just how many people must have been buried there or died in the city. The flowers may give a small comfort, as the cold chill of the Ghostly tales drifts down your spine. If you enjoyed this Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour, be sure to share the love 🙂 Pin it, Tweet it, save it!
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the Flip Side.