Two weeks ago my wife and I went to Scotland doing research for a book I am writing. I was there not as a tourist but as a historian doing research. While we managed to fit in some of the traditional tourist tours, my research took me off of the beaten path. We traveled to little towns and villages that most tourists have never heard of such as Ayr, Girvan and Dumfries.
When we do these kinds of trips I like to immerse myself into the local culture. We donât eat at the chain restaurants. We dined in pubs that were centuries old. I spend a lot of time talking to people â in some cases local historians and librarians, sometimes just people in a pub or in a local business. For me, it is a way to get to know not just where the historical events took place, it allows me to learn about the true nature of the people that are there.
My wife and I learned a few things and reflected on these on the trip back. First, and foremost, I should never drive a car again in Scotland. Driving on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, on winding and weaving roads along the rugged coast, in a torrential rain, was a true test of the strength of my marriage and nerves.
The phrase, âyou drove me to drink,â finally had context for us. After me driving, Iâm sure many locals were seeking alcohol when they arrived at their destinations.
Second, and probably more importantly, we learned that small towns are the same around the world. While we were in Dumfries the parallels to our own quaint Culpeper could not be lost. History is important to these towns. In Dumfries we walked and ate where Robert Burns did. We stood where Robert the Bruce stood centuries ago. While Culpeper embraces its incredible history, especially the Civil War, the Scottish embrace a much longer and deeper heritage. And like us, they have a certain pride in their history and the key historic locations just as we do. It really put into perspective the efforts to preserve our Civil War battlefields like Brandy Station.
The people of the small towns of Scotland have deep ties to their villages. While we in the U.S. are proud to be third or fourth generation in a community; we encountered people that were six to ninth generation in their towns. Like in our county where certain names are well recognized by everyone, the same was true of the Scottish towns.
The pride in their community was also very evident. When I spoke to people, they wanted to share stories about their colorful characters, or local legends. One difference I noted was that many of them had much deeper knowledge of the history of their community than we have here. The good news is we each can rectify that with a trip to our wonderful museum downtown or a driving tour of the Civil War sites in the county.
The locals in Scotland resist change. The streets in towns like Ayr and Girvan are very much as they were decades ago. Culpeperâs Renaissance certainly had a fantastic impact on our downtown, but it did not alter the fabric of our community. The street, sans the automobiles, has the same look as it did years ago. Preservation of that look and feel is something universally shared around the world.
We loved our time in Scotland â and oddly enough it made us pause and look at our own county with a new found admiration and respect.
Blaine Pardoe is a historian and author living in Amissville VA. His most recent book is Fires of October: The Cuban Missile Crisis that Never Was â The Invasion of Cuba and World War III. He is also the author of Secret Witness and Virginia Creeper. His latest true crime book, Murder in Battle Creek: The Mysterious Death of Daisy Zick, was released in June by History Press.