2005 McCarter Reunion in Scotland: Part 1, Stirlingshire and Edinburgh

Jim, Kelley, Judy Modica, and Julie Moffett McCarter spent a week in Scotland to attend the Moffat AGM Clan Gathering.  This web page describes the first half of the trip when Jim and Kelley roamed the countryside on their own.

The clan Moffat convene's it's Annual Gathering and Meeting every five years in Moffat, Scotland, the borders village that is the ancestral home of Julie Moffett McCarter.  When the idea for attending the AGM came up almost two years ago it seemed a fairly lofty goal to get all the McCarters in Scotland for the 2005 family reunion.  Employment changes, births, and summer camps conspired to keep most of the family state-side.  But Kelley, Jim, Julie and Judy were all able to make the trip of a lifetime.

Jim and Kelley spent the first few days in Scotland at the centrally located town of Stirling.  We arrived on Monday, August 8th through Edinburgh airport.  We caught a shuttle bus that took us to Haymarket Station, about 2/3 of the way to downtown Edinburgh.  From there we took the train westward to Stirling; about a 30 minute trip. 

The countryside going by outside the train was mostly flat or slightly rolling hills with low mountains in the distance.  The land was covered with green grass, crops or grazing sheep or cattle.  The brownstone construction of old buildings in the small towns along the way were the stuff of old movies or postcards.

The weather seemed not too different than Seattle in the late spring or fall.  Cloudy, cool and breezy.  We packed primarily for temps between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit which turned out to be just perfect.  Somehow we forgot to bring umbrellas even though the forecast we pulled from the Internet clearly indicated a chance or rain each day.

scotland map

Neidpath B&B

Our B&B in Stirling was located bout 15 minutes walk from the train station.  We found the Neidpath B&B on line and corresponded with the proprietor, Kay Campbell, several times by email during the month before our trip.  She was very helpful to us in helping us get our ground transportation squared away.  Our room and bath were located on the second floor of the remodeled Victorian house on Linden Avenue. 

Our accommodations were quite nice including our own bathroom, a television and very comfortable bed.  Kay and her husband were most gracious.  They gave us all the information we needed to make plans for visits to Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument, Edinburgh and other attractions.

The traditional Scottish hot breakfast and bowls of porridge were our morning treats we really looked forward to.  The claw footed tub and towel warming radiator were creature comforts we did not expect.

Our first big excursion was to the Stirling Castle located the opposite end of the town of Stirling.  A mile-long walkway along the ancient city wall led us up to the castle entrance.  On the way up the wall, we passed monuments, cemeteries and picturesque views of the countryside and the city.  The town wall was used historically to protect the city from invasion, since Sterling was a strategic location for controlling access to the rest of Scotland.

Along our walk we noticed true pigeon holes where centuries of Stirling residents encouraged roosting sites in the walls.  What a terrific way of assuring a steady supply of fresh eggs!

Near the castle are two large cemeteries and the Church of the Holy Rude.  Ancient tombstones and gothic architecture set the tone for the tour of the castle that we were ready to take that morning.

Stirling Wall Walk

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle's history was built atop a volcanic rock and sits high above the surrounding topography.  Generations of Scottish and British royalty have captured and lost this fortress between 1100 A.D. and the end of Scottish sovereignty. 

The light colored building that can be seen in this photo is the recently restored Great Hall.  When we visited the hall we were treated to part of a wonderful concert by the internationally touring Westwinds Music Society from Canada.  They sang Amazing Grace, Soon-ah Will be Done and a lovely Scottish prayer.

For Kelley, the interactive kitchen area was both
amusing and educational.  The presence of cats and dogs throughout the working kitchen area was a revelation.

We spent the first half hour at the castle reading our brochures, sipping great coffee, and recovering from the hike up the hill.  Once we had our bearings, we did our first castle together!   The weather was perfect for this kind or exploration.

Next we tasted some of Scotland's finest in the Scotch Whiskey store.  We brought home a souvenir size bottle of single malt Scotch and a Stirling Castle etched shot glass.

To the northeast of the castle the Wallace Monument can be seen about 3 miles away.  Also visible is the Bridge at the Forth River, the legendary site of the battle that took the like of William Wallace of "Brave Heart" fame.  To the west of the castle are the Royal Parks & Gardens with the King's Knot visible.

View from Stirling Castle Ramparts

Jim Inside Touret


Stirling Castle has benefited by a very ambitious and expensive restoration process.  It was an especially interesting place to visit because of the active archeological work that visitors are welcome to walk through.  Interpretive signs explain the mysteries that are being investigated as the structures are restored.

Comprehensive government and community support is making Stirling Castle one of the must-see sites when visiting Scotland.  One example is a national guild that is painstakingly restoring the tapestries that were once on many of the walls throughout the castle.  Each tapestry is being replicated by hand with most of the panels taking as many as five years each to stitch.  The results are fabulous, but only three of the tapestries have been sewn so far.  One of the exhibits within the castle walls is the tapestry workshop where we were able to watch one of the artists at work on the current tapestry.


On Wednesday we walked to the train station and took at trip to Edinburgh to take in the big castle.  For Kelley it was a return visit, but much had changed since 1992.  Kelley's previous visit was in the month of October when the tourist season is winding down.  

Now in August, with the annual Military Tattoo and in the middle of five international festivals the streets were extremely crowded and lines were present everywhere we looked.

The first stop was a visit to the Castle Gift Shop where we tasted some wonderful meade. 


 Chapel of St Margaret

The next stop was up to St. Margaret's Chapel for some photos and a quick moment of prayer and thanksgiving for this memorable trip.  Even though the chapel was congested with many visitors moving in and out of the little sanctuary, it was completely quiet and peaceful.  The only interruption was the occasional sound of camera shutters.  St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh Castle and the city, dating from the 1100s.

Another amenity of the castle that was not present when Kelley visited in '92 was the very nice cafeteria and restaurant.  We selected our luncheon items and a table with quite a view of the nearby coast and English Channel.

After lunch we were just in time to witness the firing of the One O'Clock Gun.  The firing of the gun is a long-standing tradition, since 1861, that tells Edinburgh residents that all's well at the castle.  The gentleman firing the gun in this photo has been serving in this role for over 25 years.

We explored various parts of the castle including the military museum, the Scottish Regalia (crown jewels, scepter, etc.), the royal quarters and collection of ancient cannons.


Jim & Archer in Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle has an incredible medieval weapons display in its great hall.  After his archery demonstration, this fellow made himself available to explain the various kinds of swords and their intended uses.  He was nice enough to pose for a photo with Jim.

We scored the required souvenirs like post cards, jewelry and brochures. 

Some parts of the castle were not open to tourists. 
About half of this building is in modern use.  Unlike the castle in Stirling with its military history in the distant past, the Edinburgh Castle is the active headquarters of the regional regiment of Scotland's "national guard".  Unfortunately, only weeks prior to our trip violence associated with the G-8 meeting had taken place followed quickly by a terrorist attack in London.  The military resources stationed at the castle were clearly in an alert status during our visit.

A visit to the regiment's museum revealed the sacrifices made by the Scottish people who have served in the country's military service all over the world and in nearly evenly conflict that the USA has been involved in.

 Clock Tower 

Scotrail Train at Edinburgh

Our day in Edinburgh was full and lively, but getting back to Stirling and a quiet evening at our B&B was something we looked forward to on the train ride south.  The next morning we would head back to Edinburgh on the same train to catch the chartered bus to Moffat for the Clan Gathering.

One comment about the train service... it's still the coolest and most affordable way to get around as a tourist: comfortable, clean, and very on-time.
Continue to Part 2...