Ah! The freedom of the open road! But a farewell to Edinburgh, for now. Took forever and a day to get the car, a VW Golf, which already has some “I was driven by a right adjusted driver scratches” noted by the company (and took pics of all of them for the record). The car is quick, and the engine doesn’t idle (it turns off) and the efficiency is good… but man can it absolutely not turn. The Golf is not a golf cart.
Driving was an experience, especially starting out in the city centre and going out from there. We got turned around a few times, but were navigating what we were doing. For Adam, it wasn’t driving on the LEFT of the road that was the hard part, it was driving on the RIGHT of the car. It was a process. A little while at the helm on country A roads and with a VERY good road atlas, we were going southward towards the Borders.
We had wanted to do both Roslyn and Melrose on the way to Hadrian’s Wall, but after the wait for the car (we really chose the wrong time after some trains. Bad idea!) we had to choose one: Melrose. This was a no-brainer. There’s the heart of Robert the Bruce buried there with the Good Sir James Douglas. Melrose is also a very pretty Abbey, but really, it’s the story, not the wee piggy playing bagpipes.
You really have to climb up to see the ONE piggy in all this, but he’s easy from the top:
Story goes, Robert financed and James audited the rebuilding of Melrose. James had immediately offered his services to the newly crowned Robert as his father had supported Wallace and James had to grow up and outcast, landless, in Paris. It was really the only chance he had, so he was one of Robert’s strongest and most reliable supporters, using both guerrilla and psychological warfare against the English, and eventually holding his own border lands in the South with mobile warfare.
In any case, Robert and James go way back, and of course, Robert is ultimately successful in establishing a kingdom free of English dominion. So when he dies, he ships his heart to James, saying, take this heart of mine to Jerusalem! It’s the crusades, and possibly, Robert wanted it buried there. But also possibly, it could have been a rallying point, a token of penance for his unfulfilled crusade (he died before he could go). The heart got placed in it’s own little silver casket, and James wore it around his neck.
But then he too died. Well what now?
Sometime during a siege on a border fort in Granada, James Douglas was killed, but we are not sure how. There are conflicting reports. The Castillians report “rash behavior” while the Europeans have the full romantic story of an attempted rescue in the heat of the final battle where escape was slim anyways, and Douglas throwing the heart to Sir William St. Clair (his rescue) (also, go long) as a bold final dying act. Either way, not so good to get sidetracked in Spain if your goal was crusade in Jerusalem, but this is the story of Christian hubris in the Crusades. Douglas was a highly experienced soldier, but trying to save the life of a friend, or a bold move to get out of a clearly unwinning situation is entirely possible. Both sides agree he could’ve run and survived, but the Scottish side attempts to provide motive to explain whatever tactical blunder James the Good committed.
However, a lord who missed the battle took the bones of both men and the casketed heart was taken by Moray, the regent, whereupon it was buried under the high alter at Melrose. It is telling to the variations of the legend that all the lords were returned home to Scotland, so it lends some credence to the folks who believe Robert wanted his heart to go crusading or do penance rather than be buried in the Holy City. Surely someone would have fulfilled his wish rather than carry it to war or back to Scotland. So in Melrose, the Abbey he financed, and with connections to James Douglas as the last man to possess his heart, the heart lies.
Somewhere under the high altar:
Folks mucking around (Digging? Archaeology? Je ne sais quoin.) found a heart in an iron casket under the ruins of the chapter house. According to sources we had heard before, like stuff from Clan Douglas and Wikipedia, this was so unusual, and it fit the story, so it’s just got to be Robert the Bruce! However, they tell it a little differently here. There’s a wee bit of a grain of salt: burials like this AREN’T really that unusual, but we HAVEN’T found any other ones like it HERE, which is the very unusual thing, AND it fits the story, so it is his. So they put a nice heart-and-saltire marker on it. Scotland love!
It says: “A noble heart may have nane ease / gif freedom fayle”
Speaking of Scotland love, another wee heart story goes out to Sweetheart Abbey in Galloway, as John Balliol, also a King of Scotland (but had to abdicate, this is before Wallace and Bruce and a bit of a crazy time), had his heart embalmed and put into a wee ivory casket by his wife, who carried it around with her, doing charitable acts and such in his name. Among those acts, the former Queen, Lady Devorgilla of Galloway, founded a Cistercian abbey, and it was there that she died. She was buried under the high alter, holding the heart of her husband. It’s named Dulce Cor, or Sweetheart, after her. Again points to recognizing that it’s not too unusual to go around with a loved one’s dearest organ on a chain around your neck. It’s like the secular version of a holy relic. She continued to be with him and do things in his name as he would’ve wanted and refused to be parted. He had his hand, er, heart in all the things she did, showing his caring and what he would’ve wanted to do. Very full of heart.
After Melrose, the drive continued south… to England. There was a climb to a pass, a stone marker, a lovely few, a snack stand, and suddenly, well, if it weren’t for the snack stand…
We drove on to Twice Brewed, which is near Once Brewed, both Villages in Barton Mill, Hexam. Now Once has the Hostel, and around the block is Twice which is the Inn (and Pub and Food). Twice is where everyone goes, and even the eight year old has a “usual” order at the bar (a specific soda). The archaeologists from Vindolanda go there. The day diggers go there. The tourists go if they know to go. Fortunately for us, we stayed the night.
And that was a good thing, because it was Trivia Night, and the last night for one of the bartenders, and he was ordering drinks. We had some horrible fiery rum that was the Inn’s official right of passage called Fire Tiki and helped him finish off the last of some absinthe, and also tasted a gorgeous infused black vodka. We were included in a snapchat to Australia. The local ales (tried a stout and a pale) and larger were superb.
And a moment from home: the special on the board was Anchor Steam.
The food was good and the bed was a welcome break from the hostel. We had a standard room with bath and toilets down the hall, and the facilities were pretty nice. I can’t recall how long they’ve been there, but I remember an article reporting similar to the above (Great plentiful locally sourced food! We’ll find you a bed to sleep in, even if you share! Welcome to the party, mate!) from 1811.
But they didn’t have a sheep in wellies at the check in:
Our room was directly in the corner, so over the pub downstairs. It would have nice heat running next to the fireplace, we had air from a little window (wish we had more in this heat!) but it would be a welcome respite from the road two hundred years ago.
All for a road running east-west, mostly along a nice set of ruins and battlements we like to call The Wall.
Tomorrow, we Walk the Wall.