Day 225: Thirlestane Castle

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A very long time ago, a wee lass with the last name of Lauderdale, heard about a far away place called Scotland. Listening to stories about this place and hearing that her family came from a little village called Lauder ignited a fire in her heart, even though to her limited understanding, her family consisted of a daddy and a mommy and younger sisters living with her. Stories of a castle that still existed sounded like a magical fairy tale, and that magic enchanted the wee lass and created a strong desire to see this place. Today, half a century later, with the fire still burning within her, the grown woman stood at last before the castle, which was magical indeed, and felt such gratitude that in writing about the experience, the feeling could not be contained and leaked out of her eyes.

Oh what a long journey this has been, from my first longing to see Scotland and be in Lauder, to the actual experiencing of it. All the time melted away today as Mindy, Harry and I arrived in Lauder. I have loved every moment of my journey through Scotland. And yet at the back of my mind, the mantra of I am going to Lauder has reminded me of the experience to come and the fulfillment of a dream.

Being in Lauder, feeling the ancient roots of my family’s heritage, walking the village street, seeing Thirlestane Castle and wandering through its rooms, knowing the portraits of long gone men and women are connected to me is not only the pinnacle of this trip, it is the pinnacle of a lifetime journey to get here.

The Lauderdales of America are connected to Clan Maitland of Scotland and the Border town of Lauder through a single ancestor who traveled to the United States long ago. For 700 years Thirlestane Castle has been home to the Maitlands. A long line of earls has arisen from this place, with the current 18th Earl of Lauderdale, Ian, residing in London. The 2nd earl, John Maitland, became the Duke of Lauderdale and was a powerful man in Scotland and England. The castle is currently resided in by Gerald Maitland-Carew and his family.

As a child, and later as an adult, hearing and reading about Scotland, the castle, earls and a duke, were fuel for my imagination and my desire. Going to Scotland to see it all for myself was a matter of when, not if. For years, a corner of each of my vision boards has been devoted to images of Scotland, a visual reminder of a childhood dream that grew as I grew. How amazing, during this year of firsts, that the opportunity arrived with an invitation from my cousin Mindy to travel to Scotland with her and her son, Harry. Mindy’s mother and my father were sister and brother, Lauderdales who passed on that Scottish blood to us, and have now both passed out of this lifetime. Mindy and Harry have dreamed of Scotland all their lives as well. I can’t imagine anyone better to live out this experience with than these two.

It was surreal today, standing at the castle, taking pictures outdoors with my camera. We slowly moved through the rooms that are open to the public. In the large paneled library, I saw an old black and white photo of a Maitland who looked like my dad. There is such history there, and a sense of time moving on, highlighting, briefly, this earl, that countess, this family. Time still moves on. The castle has faced decay and the threat of ruin and has needed extensive restoration, which continues today.

I felt small, to be in such an ancient place. In quieting my mind’s chatter I could hear the echoes of generations of people living, in joy and in sorrow, within the thick walls. I could feel the connection, their souls with mine. And I left a part of my spirit, my energy, simply by being there, to merge with the family memories that flow through that grand place.

I am a Scot. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, I have arrived at the place where I started, and have known it for the first time. I came home. And I will carry home back with me to Missouri, as an ember that continues to burn in my heart, until I return again.

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