In the Borders

On one of our most magical days in Scotland, full of delightful surprises off the beaten path, we visited the ancestral home of Clan Maitland. Located in the region south of Edinburgh known as the Borders, Thirlestane Castle sits just outside the village of Lauder.

My maiden name is Lauderdale. The surname originates from this area, as the long line of Maitlands, earls and one duke, used the name as part of their title. The current Maitland Clan chieftain, Ian, who resides in London, is the 18th Earl of Lauderdale. Edward Maitland-Carew and his family are the current owners, and occupants, of Thirlestane Castle. During the summer months, the castle is open to visitors.

I am so glad that it is. This was my second visit to Thirlestane, and my niece’s second as well, while my sisters and mom saw it for the first time. Photographs were not allowed the first time I toured this 16th century castle. However, to my amazement, the signs now say no flash photography permitted. After asking permission, to be sure, my family and I started over in the first room open to the public, and happily snapped pics with our phones.

Welcome to Thirlestane Castle.

A parlor, with dark wood paneling.

An old wheelchair

Old photographs and awards from an early amateur photographer.

The recessed window alcoves show how thick the walls are. Castles are more than residences, they are fortresses, places of protection.

The billiard room.

The small library

The Duke of Lauderdale’s bedroom

The Duke of Lauderdale, a powerful man in Scotland and England.

A guest bedroom that was specifically reserved for Bonnie Prince Charles of England.

Formal sitting rooms, with ornate plaster ceilings.

The grand dining room.

The nurseries, with an impressive collection of vintage toys.

One of many staircases in the castle.

We so enjoyed our visit to Thirlestane Castle. There are 150 rooms in the castle, and although only a fraction of those are open to the public, it is easy to gain an appreciation for this gorgeous historic home and soak up the atmosphere. The energy within these thick walls is interesting to me, as I can imagine being accompanied by a host of past inhabitants as I wander room to room.

Are they as curious about me, as I am about them? Do they feel the connection of kinship that I feel?

The Borders is an apt name for this region in Scotland, as it lies between Edinburgh and Glasgow and England. A borderland is defined as an overlapping area between two things.

It is an apt description for me as well. I live my life in the borders, embracing reality and imagination, the natural world and the spirit world, and my Scottish/Irish/English heritage while also being American.

My borders are not sharply defined, the edges blurring together, shifting and enlarging, as I grow and flow through life and landscapes and regions. No wonder I feel like I belong in Scotland.

My heart has found its way home.

Day 226: Exploring Lauder and Melrose


After a very exciting and emotional day yesterday, seeing Thirlestane Castle for the first time, we opted for a relaxed day today, walking around Lauder, taking pictures. In the afternoon, we visited the nearby town of Melrose, home to the Melrose Abbey.

As every day has begun in Scotland, we had a great breakfast. Our “homebase” in Lauder has been the Lauderdale Hotel, which is so fitting. In the US, my maiden name of Lauderdale is uncommon. If I run into another Lauderdale, I know we are kin! It’s wonderful to see the names Lauder and Lauderdale everywhere in this burgh.

The Lauderdale Hotel is a small, comfortable hotel, with a cozy pub and top quality restaurant attached, that has the feel of an inn. Actually, it has the feel of home. Owner Wilson McKay works long hours to make sure of that! The staff is friendly and helpful, the rooms are exceptionally clean and well set up for a short or long stay. And there’s a pretty sitting room to gather in, gardens out back, and a dining room for guests to enjoy a complimentary breakfast. We enjoyed chatting with Wilson last night after dinner. When he heard I wanted to try haggis, he suggested a small one for breakfast. Wilson not only cares for his guests and oversees the smooth running of the hotel…he also bar tends and is the breakfast chef! As promised, I had a wee haggis for breakfast this morning, along with a fried egg and two pieces of Scotland’s wonderful bacon. The haggis was delicious!

After our breakfast, we wandered about Lauder, snapping pictures and stopping in a few stores. Lauder is a ancient and beautiful little burgh, snug in the rolling hills of the Borders. I love the stone buildings and cobbled walkways and streets. It’s not hard to imagine life here hundreds of years ago.

There are records dating back to 1124 that mention Lauder as a kirk-town, kirk being the Scottish word for church. What began as a fort near the town was given to the Lauder family and they in turn sold the structure to the Maitlands in 1587. This fort transitioned into Thirlestane Castle as it was added on to over the centuries. The history and antiquity in this town, in this area and indeed, in all of Scotland, amazes me. It makes me gawk a lot as I walk around!

Our charming host, Wilson, told Mindy about a fabric shop in the nearby town of Melrose. In the afternoon we took a taxi to the home of the Melrose Abbey and had a look around. Melrose is another beautiful small town. Tall rock walls surround the Abbey on one side and part of the town. Mindy was able to buy 100% wool by the meter at the shop Wilson suggested. We enjoyed a walk along the main street in Melrose and had a delightful early afternoon tea at Russell’s. The dark clouds that had been gathering unburdened themselves as we sipped our tea.

We experienced our first heavy rain since we’ve been in Scotland. Although we pulled our hoods up and sloshed through the rain to visit several more shops, alas we had to cancel our visit to the Abbey. That experience will have to wait for a return trip.

For return I shall. I love this country and this little town of Lauder in the Scottish Borders. Last night I dreamed I returned here to live, working to connect American Lauderdales and Maitlands with their homeland, marketing for Thirlestane Castle and the burgh of Lauder itself! What a dream!

Walking today, I realized that several things that are true about me have deep roots in Scotland. My love of land and working the earth, of water, of growing trees and plants and flowers, are traits, gifts, carried genetically to me from this wild country. Everywhere I looked today, in Lauder, in Melrose, there were flowers blooming in vivid, riotous colors! Flower boxes, hanging baskets, tiny front gardens, seemingly random patches of earth, all filled with luscious flowers. No wonder I am transforming my own backyard back home into a garden. I am responding to an ancient desire that has been imbedded in my DNA.

There are other truths I’ve discovered about myself during my stay here that I will take home with me and ponder for a while. I’ve had beautiful “aha” moments and great clarity and my love and appreciation for Scotland and her people has deepened. It’s almost time to fly home. There has been such joy in this journey. I won’t say “goodbye”. I’ll say “until next time”.