Too Many Castles

So I’ve bounced over from Ireland to Scotland (a forty minute flight between Dublin and Edinburgh), and I am having an enraptured time. Whenever I visit Scotland, I feel a sense of wonder and joy, in part because it’s just so danged pretty, and in part because it’s Scotland. History here, as in Ireland, goes back thousands of years before the pyramids, and everywhere you look somebody’s story—the Picts, the Vikings, the Jacobites—has left venerable footprints.

I envy the Scots the unifying influence of a long, shared legacy, but I also realize history can be too much of a good thing. Which castles should be saved? Which should be allowed to continue their slow march toward a death from natural causes? How many “historic stately homes” can the sightseeing public or the taxpaying public support, and what should be done with the extras?

On this visit, we paid a call at Traquair House, the oldest continuously occupied home in Scotland—continuous, as in since the early 1200s—and one of few that preserves the Catholic side of the whole violent mess we call the Reformation. Mary Queen of Scots slept there, and her rosary and crucifix are on display.

We also called at Abbottsford, Sir Walter Scot’s home, and one that claims to be the most important writer’s residence open to the public anywhere on the globe. Without Sir Walter, we might not have stumbled upon the notion of historical fiction (he turned hist fic into a global phenomenon), so of course his house ought to be preserved too.

My favorite place so far has been Ellisland, a humble farm worked by Robert Burns for a few years in his late twenties and early thirties. He built the farmhouse and many of the existing dry stone walls himself, plowed the ground and designed the house. His years at Ellisland were among his most productive, and the property is beautiful, even if the ground wasn’t all the fertile. I’d like to see Ellisland preserved for future generations too, and besides, it has a resident self-appointed feline welcoming committee of one which immediately ensures National Treasure status, right?

Americans move on average 11 times in our lives, and I’m on track to match that number, but my story has taken place mostly in two places: The one home I lived in between birth and age eighteen, the home where I’ve raised my daughter.

And yet, the place I lived when my daughter was conceived, the little apartment where she began life, the blasted summer rentals in San Diego where I was forced to spend several childhood summers… they are part of my story too.  My dad always pointed to the house where I and six siblings grew up as, “the place where it all happened,” but it turned out to be just one scene in his long, long story.

If you had to preserve one location for posterity as the place to tell your story, where would it be? Why? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card. (Which reminds me, keep an eye on my new Deals page, and feel free to nominate a book for discounting.)



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

15 comments on “Too Many Castles

  1. My great-great-grandfather (aka *Grossvater*)came to Chicago from Berlin in 1867 (some say 1868 but let’s not quibble). He was a master Carpenter and lived through some of the most important events in Chicago history. Being a carpenter and as smart as smart can be, when he saw *The Fire* (1871)coming toward his home, he buried his tools in the backyard and got his family (everyone was fine, if a bit shaken up) out and they all walked to Lincoln Park. He figured there would be plenty of work after The Fire and he was right. He also was witness to the Haymarket Riots which changed Labor history.

    Which bring me to your question; what place to save for posterity? Our family owns the two flat he built for his family (his family lived on one floor, cousins lived in the other) in 1890. We also own the house next door, which was built by a friend of his. I would save both. They not only tell my story but the whole family’s for six generations, my sons generation and my great-nephew’s and great-niece’s generation included. Generations have sat at the kitchen tables, opened Christmas gifts and done their homework in these houses. It tells our stories, which are not the same, but part of a greater whole and that means something. 🙂

  2. Being seventy one and knocking on to seventy two your blog this week made me count my many homes that I have lived in.Some of them were not the nicest of places and comforts varied through years of managing on poor wages(my childhood).This home was an old farmhouse with an old black cooking range fuelled by coal a tin bath for the family to have their weekly baths.A brick built laundry tub stood in the corner of the kitchen with a fire beneath it for wash days.The kitchen was the warmest room in the house.This was the most poorest time of my life because my parents had to work very hard to raise their family.But it has so many happy memories of my parents and my two sisters.We were surrounded by love in a home that welcomed all.It is still there but no longer in the country.It is part of a very busy housing estate and a listed building so it is protected.Part of our heritage and a very important part of me.Where I live now is very special to me because it’s my swan song,it’s the home that I have brought myself to,I have married,had children now have many grandchildren.I have been blessed,I have come through many difficult and sad times to be here in my home my little haven of happiness.(most days).I will continue to go on my little travel holidays around the British Isles while I can.Still lots to see and give thanks that I am able.

  3. It’s not the house that I have lived in for the last 40 years. Nor any of the many residences I lived in over the years. It cannot be preserved because it is gone now. But I go there often in my dreams.

    It is an old farmhouse that belonged to my great aunt and two great uncles who raised my father. I think I go there in my dreams because it represented a form of security in my youth. I always felt good and safe there. In my dreams, it is always the old farmhouse, not the new modern house they built toward the end of their lives after they sold some of the land.

  4. My grandmother’s home in L.A. The happiest times of my childhood were there and her tiny (by adult standards) yard was magical with fig, lemon, orange, and avocado trees around the edges and a cactus garden in the middle. The garage held wonders to explore and countless hours were spent with my brothers and cousins playing and imagining.

  5. Although I have wonderful memories of my childhood home, my most cherished memories are associated with my home. My husband and I moved here 4 months after we were married and I remember thinking how big it was and this house had a garage!

    I remember carefully selecting our first Christmas tree(the Charlie Brown tree), spending time picking out wall colors (never ever matched the chip), running out of oil the day we brought our daughter home, the late night bad news phone calls and watching the corgis race around the yard playing corgi tag.

    Lots of great memories…dinners, graduations, Our house has changed as our family changed. We have added a front porch, fenced yard, added closets to make it our own.

    I am growing tired of the commute to work but I feel refreshed when I turn the corner onto my road and see the blue house with the white pillars…because that’s my home.

  6. I’ve only lived in a few places but my current home is where I’ve lived the longest though not continuously. It’s when I grew up, became an adult, had my son, played with my grandchildren. Its the family home. Its the place where we all gather for every family event. Its where my dad is currently in hospice care.

  7. I “started” in an apartment upstairs in an old house. My sister and I shared the one bedroom and my parents slept on a closed in porch.

    The place that was MY place was where I/we lived when I was in junior high, high school and college. We were moving from the little house my father built for us when we moved from the apartment. Everyone had an opinion on where we should look. My dad, my mom, my sister all had preferences different from mine, but we wound up in my preferred area.

    The house is all red brick with high pitched roof. It is apparently an “English Countryside” style. My bedroom had sloping ceiling to wall transitions where the roof ran sharply by. There were real stairs to the attic not a ladder. It sat on a large (for city living) lot at about a third of an acre with lush overgrown bushes dividing the yard making any fencing invisible.
    A place where my imagination created lots of ideals & stories, just because the house was so amazing. There was a window seat half way up the stairs with a built-in bookshelf. I was not a big reader at the time, but I sat there and knew it was special. I loved that house. Drive by every time I visit the area.

  8. Having lived 13 places thus far and contemplating a 14th shortly, I don’t feel attached to any place to claim to “tell my story.” All places have had pros and cons, mostly cons, and I can only think of 1 place I would possibly move back to, given the choice. Knowing we are fairly peripatetic, we don’t get attached at all to places that we’ve been. I do mourn the fact that I don’t have good friends who have known me more years that I still see regularly, but I do appreciate that we’ve been able to see so much of the country.

  9. A little off topic, but I do wish people built structures to last more than 15 years.

    Were it feasible, I’d save them all because someone’s story is there… including the graveyards where too many of the stones state “Known Only to God.”

    A short walk from here going about straight up, there is a small level area and a white lilac in the middle of the bush. I sometimes wonder about that story.

  10. It’s not as easy a question as some you ask, Grace. Every home I’ve had, plus my grandparent’s homes have played a part in my story. Even the trailer in the trailer park that no longer exists where I spent a month and a half with my maternal grandmother one summer played an important roll in my life. If I had to choose one, it would be our current home. We’ve been here 20 years. My kids grew up here even though we lived in another home when they were born.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip, Grace!

  11. So many choices! I also was a mover.
    The first house I bought all by myself for 4 children and me was very special. We rode out 2 hurricanes in it. My 2 daughters graduated into adulthood from this house. I loved the fireplace, and the path down to the pond with a place to sit and watch the seasons, birds, trees and ducks.
    It was the home I learned how to be me again. So much happened while we lived there.
    I loved that home!

  12. I’m living in a 1786 farmhouse in New Hampshire which was built by a Revolutionary War Soldier on the land grant he was given instead of pay. It sits on 160 acres of the original land grant. The old stone walls which divided the fields still stand while the Forest has grown up around them.My parents bought the house in 1962 as a summerhouse. I was fourteen that summer and we spent all summer working on the place bringing it into the 20th century. Seven years ago, I decided to winterize the house and live here year round. It has really wonderful. I enjoy the peace and adventure of country living, but my daughter’s family live an hour away in Medford Mass. This weekend my granddaughters are coming to spend the weekend with me and we shall hunt for the best Pumpkins!

  13. Grace I am the product of the joining of a first generation Italian American Woman and man who was of mostly English, and a little Scottish and Dutch heritage. Dad’s family came to America through Boston in the 1600’s. I am a direct relation to the Samuel Wardwell, the last man hung at Salem for being a witch. It is a long sad tale and he sacrificed himself to save his wife and child. That child’s child later married Phoebe Bancroft, my maiden name is Bancroft, and she is a direct descendent. Our Scottish relative of approximately the same time is a woman who’s last name is Gragg. Her name was changed because it was originally Mac Gregor and proscription forced her to change her name. She was then forced to leave Scotland with her children because her husband who was in the military under the Roundheads, was killed by a mob in Londonderry uprising along with his parents and younger siblings. The Presbyterian Church paid her passage to America but she was of Highland Catholic descent. Anyway, before I die, I would like to go to Scotland to see where Rob Roy is buried, to see where the MacGregors lived orininally, and to see Culloden…But for posterity, I hope Culloden can be preserved so people never forget the tragedy that occurred there. I was watching a Scottish you tube Vlog about things to see in Scotland and the guy in the Vlog said that he was surprised that Americans knew about their Scottish Heritage and that most Scots who live there except maybe in rural villages have no idea of what clan they were from or even what their family plaid looked like. He mentioned no one speaks Gaellic either. This saddens me because I fear that once we forget the bad thngs that happen in history, we are then destined to repeat them. I am not jewish, but I certainly understand why the elders work so very hard not to let anyone forget the Holocaust. I hope nobody ever forgets Culloden or proscription. They were both very said times.

  14. The home I would have preserved was that my my maternal grandparents and it sat at 1027 28th Street North in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a huge three story home with an unfinished cellar, and a covered porch, complete with porch swing, across the front.
    We spent every Christmas there in the late 1950’s and our last was the Christmas/New Years of 1960 when my grandfather passed away.
    I always felt secure and well loved there and wish it was still in existence.

  15. What an interesting question. Recently someone on the radio made reference to their “hometown” and I thought that if I had to state what my hometown was I’m not sure I could answer that question. The town where I lived for the first 19 years of my life but have no love for? The town where my entire family moved after that and where my mother and I still live? Is it where you started life or where your heart is? I don’t think I would care about the buildings so much. There have been so many of them (we moved a lot as a family). It’s the people in them that matter more.
    On another note, I just returned a few weeks ago from an 8 day whirlwind bus tour of England and Scotland. Not nearly enough time in Scotland and not nearly enough castle seen. Need to go back again and just spend time in Scotland, including at the three places you mentioned (and many more).