Rosslyn Chapel & Thirlestane Castle

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On our third day together, exploring in the Borders, Clan Maitland toured two magnificent structures. Rosslyn Chapel and Thirlestane Castle are each impressive in their own right, and full of historical significance. One intrigues visitors, due to its many mysteries and connection to popular culture. And the other, well it is my family’s ancient home. I felt excited to see both!

Rosslyn Chapel & Thirlestane Castle title meme

History of Rosslyn Chapel

This beautiful place is another that I’ve had on my list of places to see in Scotland. Honestly, I didn’t know exactly where in the Borders Rosslyn Chapel was located. How exciting to receive our Clan Maitland Gathering itinerary and realize the chapel was a planned stop.

Founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair, the chapel, originally called the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, took forty years to build. The chapel today, located in the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland, is a portion of the intended structure. Building stopped and the larger church was never completed.

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the chapel closed to the public. It reopened in 1861. Since the 1980s speculative theories have connected Rosslyn Chapel to the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and Freemasonry. These speculations continue to circulate due the chapel’s feature in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code and the film adaptation by the same name.

Rosslyn Chapel remains privately owned by the St Clair family.

Rosslyn Chapel
Rosslyn Chapel exterior. Photography was not allowed inside.

Touring Rosslyn Chapel

The Maitland group arrived on our coach, just before the chapel opened. And shortly after we gained admittance, a wonderful guide shared some of Rosslyn Chapel’s mysteries and stories with us. She had a wonderful Scottish brogue and spoke with passion and humor about the chapel. I could have listened to her all day!

The chapel contains 14 pillars that form 12 arches around three sides of the nave. One of these pillars is called the Apprentice Pillar and has a good story associated with it.

Legend says that in the 18th century, a master mason, in charge of the stonework in the chapel, traveled to see an intricately carved column. He left his young apprentice behind while he sought inspiration. Upon his return, he discovered that the apprentice had created a gorgeous carved column on his own. Enraged and jealous, the master mason struck and killed his apprentice. As eternal punishment, the master mason’s face was carved into a corner opposite the pillar, to forever gaze upon his apprentice’s work.

Rosslyn Chapel Doorway
Such a beautiful 15th century structure.

Carvings in Rosslyn Chapel

One of the most intriguing features in the chapel is the collection of carvings throughout the building. There are nods to Celtic and Norse mythology. Hundreds of cubes protrude from the pillars and arches and carved stars adorn the ceiling. Stone angels, including one playing the bagpipes, share space with dragons, flowers and a figure known as the Green Man. In fact, there are 110 carvings of the green man, depicted as a human face with vines coming out of his mouth, in the chapel.

Over the years there have been many theories about the symbolism behind Rosslyn Chapel’s carvings. No one really knows. They do seem to tell a story, however what that tale is remains open to interpretation. I could spend days in Rosslyn Chapel, studying those fascinating carvings.

My sister and I concluded our explorations of the chapel by going down into the crypt. There are burial chambers beneath Rosslyn Chapel. The entrance to those was sealed off many, many years ago. However the crypt, or lower chapel, is open to the public. Debbie and I had our own mysterious experience while in the crypt. While looking around, we began to feel short of breath accompanied by a tightness in the chest and throat. Climbing the stairs back to the upper chapel, both of us suddenly felt very dizzy. A walk through the gift shop did not ease the dizziness. We headed back to the coach and only when we reached its interior did the strange feelings pass. What caused it? We don’t know! It’s our very own Rosslyn Chapel mystery.

Rosslyn Chapel Mystery
I love the moodiness of this photo.

Thirlestane Castle History

The majority of the day, for Clan Maitland, was spent at Thirlestane Castle.

Maitlands originally occupied a tower, built in the 1400s, near the present location of the castle. In 1586 John Maitland, Lord Thirlestane, bought land just outside the village of Lauder. The large house built in 1590, with its corner towers and turrets, now forms the core of the present castle.

The Duke of Lauderdale remodeled and expanded Thirlestane in the 1670s, adding on wings and creating a new front entrance. The ninth earl added more wings, to the south and north, and installed modern living accommodations.  However, by the 1840s the grand old castle showed signs of age and decay.

In 1972 the castle passed to the grandson of the 15th Earl, Capt. Gerald Maitland-Carew. He assumed the huge task of restoring the castle and preventing further deterioration. He also opened the castle to the public and created the on site café and tea room. Eventually the castle and its contents became a part of a charitable trust that brought in much needed funds to help with the upkeep of the gorgeous structure. The Maitland-Carew family occupy one wing of the castle as their personal residence.

Gerald’s son Edward Maitland-Carew and his wife Sarah now continue the care of Thirlestane Castle. They host events such as weddings, car shows and outdoor plays, and created five apartments for guests to lease for short term stays.

Clan Maitland at Thirlestane Castle
Our Clan gathers on the front steps of Thirlestane Castle. That’s the Clan Chief in the middle, next to me, and Edward Maitland-Carew in the blue jacket on the far left, front row.

Touring Thirlestane Castle

I’ve visited the family castle three times. However, this was the first time I’ve explored the castle with members of my clan, listened to Ian tell family stories and met Edward. Truly, it was a magical experience.

We began with a wonderfully prepared lunch in the former castle kitchens and then walked outside to begin our tour at the entrance to the castle. How amazing this place is and how full of history. I marvel at each room, study the paintings of long ago ancestors on the walls, smile at the familiar tingles of energy that tickle my scalp.

This tour, this time, seemed surreal. Ian entertained us with memories and stories handed down through time. Edward shared his experiences growing up in a castle and playing hide and seek in the corridors and secret passages with his brother and sister.

Edward is passionate about being “this generation’s caretaker” of the castle. I appreciated his earnestness about his role and his obvious love for this place.

Thirlestane Castle Grand Dining Room
The grand dining room at Thirlestane Castle with family portraits on the walls.
Thirlestane Castle Sitting Room
Exquisite plaster ceilings in one of the sitting rooms.

Tea at Thirlestane

After wandering through rooms in the castle and viewing the new apartments, we all met in the tea room for afternoon tea. I didn’t even take photos. We simply gathered in small groups at the tables and enjoyed chatting together as we sipped hot tea. Edward introduced us to his lovely wife and then moved around the room, telling more stories and answering questions.

As I have on previous visits, I felt a bit sad leaving Thirlestane Castle. I’m so appreciative of all the measures that have been taken, to keep this historical treasure standing and thriving. It’s no small feat. I’m deeply grateful for Ian and Edward, for sharing their wealth of information about the castle and the family. And I’m thrilled that I spent time at Thirlestane with kinsmen who feel the way I feel about this place. Strong connections now existed with these dear people who were strangers only a few days before. The afternoon was a shared experience I’ll cherish always.

What a day, between the mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel and the beauty and connection at Thirlestane Castle. One more day together, and our Clan Maitland Gathering would draw to a close.

The cranes of Thirelstane Castle
Posing with the Thirlestane Cranes. I have my own crane story that connects to these Scottish counterparts.

Learning more:

Discover more about Rosslyn Chapel HERE. And pick up a copy of The Da Vinci Code below or order the film on DVD.

 

Learn more about Thirlestane Castle and accommodations  HERE.

And read about other Clan Maitland Gathering fun with these posts:

Clan Maitland Gathers

Maitlands in the Borders

 

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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.

A Magical Day in Scotland

Although every day of travel holds magical qualities and opportunities, today on the sixth day of our adventure, the Divine was very much present, delighting us with unexpected surprises.

Journey along with us…

Our day began in high adventure mode. We rented a car. My sister Debbie was the designated driver. Perhaps because she is left handed…or perhaps because she has a natural ability to adapt quickly…Debbie amazed me with her skills at navigating through busy Edinburgh traffic and around countless round-a-bouts, all while driving on the opposite side of the road than is customary in the US! With Linda as her co-pilot and Ashley perched in the middle of the back seat offering encouragement and an occasional Left…Left, we safely arrived in the little town of Lauder in the Scottish borders.

We were excited to tour the Thirlestane Castle near Lauder. This residential castle is still home to distant, distant cousins. My roots are here. The Lauderdales of American came from the Maitland Clan. To be on the grounds and within the castle was deeply meaningful to me.

And here is where the magic began. When I visited the castle three years ago, photography was not allowed within the castle. I was disappointed but respectful of that rule. Today I noticed the signs inside had changed to No Flash Photography Allowed. No flash photography. I asked our kind tour guide and he confirmed that photos taken without flash were allowed. We promptly returned to the first room in the castle and began again, snapping pics.

How incredible to walk through this beautiful massive structure, learning about our ancestors, including the powerful Duke of Lauderdale, and seeing rooms where time appeared to have stopped. It was an enchanting couple of hours. We met more Joplin Lauderdales at Thirlestane, Bruce and Lori, who are visiting Scotland as well this week. Bruce is a cousin, sharing a common ancestor with my sisters and me, four generations back. We enjoyed walking through our ancestral home together and then having afternoon tea in the castle.

After we left the village of Lauder, we headed north past Edinburgh, our destination the town of Stirling, which lies on the edge of the Highlands. We had no plans, beyond reaching Stirling before dark. Debbie was driving successfully, using the car’s built in GPS system. In the quiet of the car, Debbie suddenly expressed concern that the GPS had malfunctioned and we were no longer on the correct route.

This is where the fun began!

Google photo

Sometimes it is when we toss the map away, or in this case, lose accurate GPS readings, that we find what we are looking for. I have had a list of Scottish sites I want to see since my last visit to Scotland, things I did not see or get to do my first time here. Being allowed to take pics inside the castle was one. My niece Ashley has a similar list.

In rapid order this afternoon, by Divine appointment I believe, my niece and I got to scratch these unexpected surprises off of our lists:

• The Firth of Forth Bridges – the Forth is an estuary of rivers, including the Forth, that converge and flow into the North Sea. Ive seen photos of the famous bridges that span the Forth, including the newly completed Queensferry Crossing, but I have not seen the bridges up close. Today we crossed the Forth, twice, as we attempted to correct navigation! The bridges are stunning.

• The Kingdom of Fife – doing a U turn to head back across the Forth placed us in the Kingdom of Fife, which is a real place. Part of Scotland, Fife was once a major Pict Kingdom and the ancestral home to many Scottish monarchs. I can now say that I have been there!

Google photo

• The Kelpies – these mythological water beasts represent the powerful lineage of Scotland’s heavy horses in economy and industry. Standing 100 feet tall, the modern sculpture display, created by Andy Scott, was opened to the public in 2014. I did not get to see the Kelpies when I visited that year. In fact, I didn’t know where they were located. As she drove on our new route, Debbie exclaimed What’s that coming toward us? I looked up in alarm, expecting to see an out of control bus careening toward us. Instead, the majestic kelpies appeared above the treetops! Ashley and I screamed with excitement. We couldn’t believe it as we drove right by. How beautiful the sculptures were.

• The Wallace Monument – we knew the monument, a memorial to Scottish hero William Wallace, was located somewhere in the general area of Stirling. As we approached our hotel, the monument rose from the trees nearby, an impressive tower 220 feet tall. I can see the monument from my hotel window, lit against a dark sky.

Google photo

What a special day this has been, that unfolded entirely as it would. We have simply traveled the road that appeared before us. If the GPS had not changed our course in the car, we would have missed most of these treasures, these desires that Ashley and I carry on mental bucket lists. We weren’t able to get good photos, but we didn’t need to. We saw them.

I love these Divine nudges and surprises. With an open heart and open mind, I can receive without expectation or demand. The gifts are freely given, with a playful spirit that moves me deeply and brings me joy.

I am reveling in this travel adventure, this magical journey. I wonder what lies just around the river bend or beyond the turn in the road or over the craggy mountain? Anticipation courses warmly through my veins.

National Tartan Day 2017

I am grateful once again for the Facebook Memories notification that I get each day. In the midst of a busy day, I quickly scanned through my newsfeed and notifications while eating lunch, and realized today is National Tartan Day. Being of Scottish descent, and a card carrying member of Clan Maitland, this is a holiday I must celebrate.

National Tartan Day 2017
Not only do I embrace this national day, I have an annual tradition of taking a selfie while wearing my plaid. After only a slight hestitation, as I thought about all that I still needed to accomplish during the afternoon, I wholeheartedly entered into the spirit of the day and grabbed my tartan scarf.

It was chilly outdoors today, and breezy, but the sun was brilliant and out into the yard I went with my scarf around my neck. The last two years I’ve worn my silver thistle pin as well. Today, wanting to create something different, I simply wrapped my tartan scarf around my neck and clasped the ends, going for a fun and casual look. Greg graciously acted as my photographer.

National Tartan Day 2017
This evening I spent time browsing through my Clans & Tartans of Scotland & Ireland book, by James MacKay. I read that the tartan originally was a piece of woolen cloth, about 6 1/2 feet wide and up to 20 feet long, that was worn by being gathered in pleats around the waist, wound around the back and over the shoulder, and secured with a brooch.

The distinctive patterns were created by weaving the cloth and dyeing it. The pattern’s purpose was to identify the origins of the wearer by the colors of his cloth.

National Tartan Day 2017
National Tartan Day 2017
I am a member of Clan Maitland. My tartan book describes the Maitlands as a powerful Lowland family that originated in Normandy. The earliest referenced family member is Thomas de Maltalent in 1227. Later in that same century Sir Richard de Mauteland acquired the Berwickshire estate of Thirlestane, near the village of Lauder. Several members of the Maitland Clan held high offices, including William, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots and John, who became Duke of Lauderdale in 1672.

The Lauderdales of America are all descended from James Maitland, who immigrated to the US in 1714. His grandson, William, moved to South Carolina in 1817, and the Tennessee branch of the family descended from him. That’s my branch of the Lauderdale family tree.

National Tartan Day 2017
This September, I will be returning to Scotland with my mother, sisters and niece. We will visit Lauder, in the Borders, and tour the ancestral home, Thirlestane Castle. Distant relatives still occupy the castle, although it is now part of the Scottish National Trust.

My Scottish blood is strong within me. Scotland calls to me and haunts my thoughts. I am proud to be a Scot, honored to be a member of Clan Maitland, and thrilled to be visiting my homeland once again.

This afternoon I paused long enough on this day of recognition to don my tartan scarf and strike a pose. My heart sang…and answered the invitation that continually flows to me from my beloved Scotland…

Soon…

National Tartan Day 2017

Have Scottish or Irish ancestry? Find your tartan in James MacKay’s book:

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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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