Finding Shephards Among the Sheep

September 30, October. 1 & 2, 2019 – Ironbridge, Corsham, & Avebury, England.

When this posts we will headed to Florida, but still catching up on the UK & Ireland trip.

Written by Diana

September 30, 2019

We visited Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. This is a group of ten sites within a six square mile area. These museums focus on the Industrial Revolution in England. Turns out this was the first phase of the Industrial Revolution. The one I’m most familiar with growing up in Michigan was actually the second phase. Boy do I have a lot to learn! We had time to see the Bridge and Blisshill Victorian Town. The bridge was built over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 when advances in iron smelting allowed for such a feat.

I loved the sign with the rates for crossing the bridge. Even the Royal Family had to pay to pass over it.

We enjoyed talking with the young man who is college educated as a blacksmith, and has recently taken over the shop at the Blisshill Victorian Town.

October 1, 2019

My maternal grandmother was born Jessie Shephard. Although she proudly took the name O’Morrow when she married my grandfather, I believe she always remained a Shephard in her heart. She lived close to us after my grandfather’s death, and I was lucky to spend a lot of time with her. She loved to tell stories of her father and Grandfather Shephard. Our family is fortunate in that she also wrote down many of her memories of growing up on a dairy farm in the thumb area of Michigan. The farm is still in the family and the road in front of it is named Shephard Road, as they were one of the first settlers in the county. My grandmother wrote about her grandfather being born in Wiltshire, England in 1821. Her grandmother was actually born at sea in August of 1831, while her family was immigrating from England to Canada. My Grandma O’Morrow would be amazed and pleased to know that Jim and I visited her ancestral home. This is a photo of my mother and grandmother that was taken at our wedding. I love how their strength and confidence shows in this picture.

In addition to the information my grandmother provided, I learned from that my ancestors were from the Parish of Corsham, Wiltshire County, England. Jim looked at an aerial view of Corsham on Google Maps and found an old church with a graveyard. This is how we decided to head to St. Bartholomew’s. We have seen lots of sheep on this trip, today is the day we find some Shephards!

St. Bartholomew’s was locked, but we wandered around looking for Shephard graves. Part of the cemetery was mowed and kept up pretty well.

Keeping with our Halloween theme, further away from the church the graveyard was very overgrown. This time complete with a black cat! Maybe he is trying to point out a Shephard grave, but time has erased any engravings.

This is one of my favorite stones that I found. Not a relative, but great genes and teeth!

As we walked through the cute town, we stopped at Corsham Area Historical Heritage & Information Center. There a nice lady suggested that we should also try the gravestones outside of the old Methodist Abby, which is now a restaurant called Grounded. She told us that Aust is still a well known and respected name in the area. My 3rd Great Grandfather married Sarah Aust on June 6, 1821 in the Parish of Corsham. We also saw Aust graves at St Bartholomew’s.

We decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a pub called, “The Salutation Inn”, in Castle Combe, Chippenham. It was a bit of a trick to park the motorhome, but Jim did a great job. An authentic pub that has been there since the 17th century, and a gluten free bun for Jim. What’s not to love!

October 2, 2019

We went to St. Bartholomew’s Church first thing in the morning because it wasn’t open yesterday, and they had a service today.

It’s amazing what a difference sunshine and blue sky make. This is the same building we visited yesterday, just viewed from the other side.

We got there a half hour early, so we could talk to the clergy. He made us feel welcome to look around. It was beautiful and very moving. The font is from the 15th century, so it would have been the same baptismal font that was there when several generations of my ancestors were baptized in this church.

Next we went to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Center, in the town of Chipppenham. They were very nice and very helpful. Since we knew the parish, they were able to bring us three books that had been transcribed from the Parish of Corsham. One book had the births and baptisms, the second book was marriage records, and the third book contained death records.

Jim and I traded off books and had fun, as for the first time we were able to get lots of information. We were indeed finding some Shephards! He even had to go and put more money in the meter as we ended up staying longer than we planned. Each time we had a question, I would ask the genealogist and she would answer my question and add something else to consider. This made me feel comfortable to ask the next question that arose. They get great reviews for being the friendliest and most helpful of these centers. I certainly agree.

The genealogist told us to ignore differences in spelling. Since many people did not read or write, the person recording the information just spelled names the way they thought was correct.

This is the marriage record for my 4th Great Grandfather Matthew Shepherd and his first wife Sarah (Greenland) Shepherd. They were married April 9, 1792. I learned “tp” after Sarah’s name means “of this parish”, which in this case was Westbury, Wiltshire, England (found in an additional book). “Ban” after their information means rather than getting a marriage license, they announced their intention to be married in church three weeks in a row. The “banns of marriage” gave notice to anyone who might wish to object. And I thought the slight pause for an objection in our wedding service was nerve wracking enough!

Before we arrived I had gotten back as far as my 5th Great Grandfather, William Shephard. There was some confusion, as the year of his birth was listed as 42/43. I learned that at that time in history, the new year did not start until March 25th. At the time of his birth William was born in 1742, but according to today’s calendar he was born in 1743.

Notice that John and Betty Shepherd also had a son John that was born on the 9th and baptized on the 10th. The genealogist confirmed that this would have been William’s twin, and suggested that I look to see if the mother or John died at or near the birth date. Luckily that was not the case. My grandmother was proud to have twin brothers that married sisters. She took full credit when one of my cousins had twins. She would have been thrilled to know how far back twins occur in her family tree.

Next we looked for a marriage record for John and Betty, as their name on William’s birth and baptism record advanced my knowledge by another generation. This is the first I had seen the names of my 6th Great Grandparents. Betty (Holberah) and John Shepherd were married July 2, 1741 in the Parish of Corsham. Thrilling! I did double check with the genealogist that St. Bartholomew’s, which we had visited that morning, was indeed the Parish of Corsham at the time. She assured us that it was.

We searched, but were unable to find further information on Betty and John. We did confirm several other birth, baptism, and marriage records for several of my ancestors. We also found possible leads for other family members that I need to further research.

We decided to complete this awesome day with a visit to Avebury Henge. This is the largest stone circle in the world. It was a wonderful place to get out and walk after being inside for much of the day. The stones were buried at one point and millionaire Alexander Keillor, excavated them in the 1930’s.

Of course we walked among the grazing sheep, as we have done on much of our trip. I loved looking out at the countryside and knowing that it still looks much the same as when my Shephard relatives were in this area.

So glad we found some Shepards among the sheep!

Next up, we head to Oxford to educate ourselves on that beautiful city. We also button down our trip to the UK with a nice surprise. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Halstead History

September 28 & 29, 2019 – Burnley & Halifax, England

Written by Diana

September 28, 2019

We drove through the beautiful Lake District National Park in northwestern England while traveling to Burnley to explore my Halstead roots. We stopped to see the Ribblehead Viaduct. It was built in 1875 and has 24 massive stone arches.

We looked around and took photos from many angles, then decided to walk up a hill a ways to see if there was another view. As we were approaching the top, we noticed a group of people and were curious as to what they were looking at. Then we heard the sound of a steam whistle. It was the Tornado, which is similar to the Hogwarts Express. Passengers may book this train for a scenic ride on a steam locomotive.

It turns out that the train was late that day and people had been waiting two hours to see it cross over the viaduct. We were very lucky to happen along at just the right time! It was really a fun experience!

September 29, 2019

Growing up I always heard the term, “Halstead name bearer”. My brother was the last in line for our branch of the family tree, as was our father and grandfather before him. I was always proud to be a Halstead, but at the time I knew very little of the history of my maiden name.

Over the past year of research, I learned that the Halstead surname traces back to Burnley, England. According to Long Island Surnames,, and Find a Grave; I am able to go all the way back to my 22nd great grandfather who was born in about 1280. I have been in contact with the Halstead Trust in England (an organization dedicated to researching Halstead genealogy) several times, and they are not able to confirm all of these links. So the verdict is still out, as it is very hard to be sure of information from so long ago. I am confident back to my 10th great grandfather, Jonas Halstead, who was born about 20 miles east of Burnley in 1611. More about him in just a bit.

We visited the Halstead Centre Swimming Pool, in Burnley, England, as my research showed they sold something that might be the perfect souvenir.

It turns out their beach towel was a hit with my brother Dan, when we stopped to see him on our way to Florida.

Next we visited Halifax Minster, which used to be named St. John the Baptist, in Halifax, County of Yorkshire, England. Remember my 10th great grandfather, Jonas? This is where he was baptized in February of 1611. I was able to see a copy of the church records on It is a beautiful cathedral, with an intricate and historic baptismal font.

They were having a fundraiser to help maintain the church, so we enjoyed strawberries & tea. It was fun to soak up the atmosphere, as I sat in view of the font where more than one of my ancestors were likely baptized so many generations ago.

Jonah Halstead married Sarah Susan Butterfield in England in 1632. They immigrated to Long Island, New York in 1644. He died in 1683 in what was then considered Colonial America. Future generations moved east to upstate New York, and eventually on to Michigan. They owned hundreds of acres near Newburgh, New York, where we love to stay when we visit New York City. Of course we never knew this until recently.

We then returned to Burnley as we wanted to see this plaque on Halstead history that is found inside of St. Peter’s.

This photo is from the Halstead Trust website, as we found the church closed. There was a service held there that morning, so it is still in use.

We were able to find some Halstead’s…

…in the very overgrown graveyard.

But these dates were after my ancestors had already been in the States for 200 years. We decided to leave, as a man who appeared to be homeless seemed uncomfortable with our presence. Such a different experience than we had in Halifax. This cemetery was so creepy! Happy Halloween to all!

In our next post, we explore one last branch of my family in a charming little southern English village. You’ll want to be sure to check that one out. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Little Rain, Good Friends and Irish Whiskey

September 24-25, 2019 – Southern and Western Ireland

Written by Jim

We are back from our U.K. & Ireland adventure, but still catching up the blog.

On the morning of September 24, we awoke to a fairly steady rain in Killarney, Ireland. This was more like the weather we were expecting when planning our trip, but it landed on a day where we were hoping to see some amazing scenery along the coast. We made the decision to forego our drive around the Ring of Kerry that day, and chose instead to visit the coastal town of Dingle.

We parked our little Scout near the marina. Donning our rain gear, we headed out to see what gems the little town might hold. As we weaved our way through the shops and narrow streets, we spotted a church up on a hill.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built between 1862 and 1865. By Irish standards, it’s a fairly new building. What was interesting to note was the new roof that was installed in 1963. A mixture of old and new…something that seemed unique to what we had seen thus far.

After exiting the church, we spotted a convent turned art gallery next door that we toured. As we were leaving, Diana asked if there was a pub in town that the locals frequented. Being married to a Catholic, she knew who to ask. :). The lady there said “either Dick Mack’s or Foxy John’s.” We chose the latter.

Talk about a place with character! Diana remarked how much the bartender looked like her Grandpa O’Morrow. She had a pint of ale and I chose a dram of Slane Irish whiskey. There were mostly locals in the place, besides us and a couple of girls from Ohio. That brought up a mention of the University of Michigan/Ohio State University rivalry. When another couple walked in sporting U of M clothing, I told the girls “Hey Ohio…you’re outnumbered.” 🙂 The other unique thing about Foxy John’s was that it was not only a pub….

…but it was also a hardware store! So THIS must be the place they came up with the drink called a screwdriver!

The next day, we pointed our motorhome towards the Blarney Caravan and Camping Park to meet up with some good friends, Linda and Steven from The Chouters. We first met them in Kentucky when the four of us were working for Amazon. Since then, these fellow full time RVers sold their beloved Travel Supreme motorhome named Scoopy, moved to France and bought a Hymer motorhome they have named Bijou. We caught up with them at the tail end of their two month-plus long adventure through Steven’s homeland of Ireland. After a quick tour of their rolling home, we piled into their rented car and headed off for the town of Cobh. How on earth do you pronounce that one? Steven informed us that the Irish language sounds out a ‘bh’ as a ‘v’, making this tiny port the town of Cove. That’s what it originally was called until it was changed to Queenstown in honor of a visit by Queen Victoria. It was changed to a Gaelic spelling of Cove after Ireland became independent of Great Britain.

Our destination was the White Star Line ticket office. Cobh (Queenstown at the time) was the last port that Titanic stopped at before sailing towards New York. The building is now used to house The Titanic Experience…a simulation of what it was like to board the great ship from there. Before the harbor was dredged, vessels as large as the Titanic had to anchor out in the harbor. Tenders would ferry passengers from this office to the waiting ships. It is interesting to note that the ship in this photo, the average sized Norwegian Spirit, is only four feet shorter in length than the Titanic.

Our tour guide Lynn did an excellent job of explaining the different classes of passengers and what their experiences would’ve been.

We were all issued a ticket from an actual passenger who boarded at Queenstown, which we used at the end of the tour to see if we survived. Most people on the tour didn’t make it.

These are the remains of the dock where the passengers boarded the tenders. Known locally as Heartbreak Pier, over one million Irish emigrated from this spot. Plans are in the works to restore it.

The last photo taken of the Titanic sailing was taken from the mouth of the harbor at Queenstown.

From Cobh, we headed to Midleton to tour the Jameson Distillery. If any of you know Linda and Steven, you are aware that Jameson Irish Whiskey is a favorite of theirs. It was pretty special to accompany them on this tour!

The buildings were quaint, the grounds were beautiful and the entire experience had a magical feel to it.

This huge water wheel, built in 1852, used to power the milling process in the plant. While it doesn’t perform that duty anymore, it does still turn.

This is the largest pot still in the world. At 31,618 gallons, it is too big to get a complete photo of!

And here is a link to my hometown…a Fordson tractor. Manufactured by Henry Ford and Son (that son would be Edsel), these tractors were made both in Michigan and in the U.K. Many people don’t realize that Henry Ford was a farmer before he was an automobile manufacturer. His disdain of manual farm work drove him to look for ways to make agricultural life easier. He was also of Irish descent.

The tour ended with a comparison tasting of Jameson against a Scottish whiskey (Johnnie Walker) and an American whiskey (Jack Daniels). The peat-smokiness of the Johnnie Walker was harsh as compared to the Jameson, but the Jack was pleasurable in it’s uniqueness. The Jameson was my favorite of the three though…I’m sure by their design. 🙂

Cheers to Linda and Steven and their travels throughout Europe! We had a marvelous day with this adventurous pair. 🙂

Next up, we head back through Scotland and into England in search of Diana’s Halstead roots. Along the way, we are treated to a very unique and fun connection to England’s recent past. Be sure to stay tuned for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

A Warm Irish Welcome

September 22, 23, & 26, 2019 – Ireland

Written by Diana

We are back from our U.K. & Ireland adventure, but still catching up the blog.

Please note the dates.

September 22, 2019

My maternal grandfather was Howard O’Morrow. I have been able to trace this branch of my family tree to my 2nd Great Grandfather, Edward M. O’Morrow, who was born in Ireland in 1808. I’m not sure what town he was born in or what year he immigrated, but he died in Canada in 1880. Based on family stories and the fact that the years match up, I’m confident that he left Ireland due to the Potato Famine. Blight devastated the potato crop and during the seven years between September 1845 – 1852, one million people died, and one million people were forced to leave. 100,000 tenant farmers were exiled to Canada in 1847 alone. When we left Northern Ireland and drove to the Republic of Ireland, our first stop was Strokestown Park & The National Famine Museum.

This was the home of Denis Mahon, the first landlord to be assassinated during the height of the Great Famine of Ireland in 1840’s. The tenants and their families were starving and delivered this letter to him, but resorted to violence when their letter received no results.

The landowners were responsible for taking care of the starving tenants. They determined it was cheaper to assist in their emigration, rather than pay for their upkeep in the workhouse. The ships they provided were so crowded with already weak passengers, that the mortality rate was often as high as 40%. There is a memorial on Grosse Ile in Quebec, Canada to the 5,000 Irish who did not survive the voyage and are interred in mass graves on the island. The home of Denis Mahon, called Strokestown Park was musty and not well preserved. The National Famine Museum, on the same property, was well done. It took a sad, complicated tragedy, and presented it in a balanced and understandable way.

Edward M.’s son, Edward Dean O’Morrow (my Great Grandfather), was born in Canada in 1862, immigrated to the thumb area of Michigan as a young man in 1881, was a dairy farmer, and died there in 1944. The fact they were able to own their own land through homesteading and their own hard work, certainly shows they were successful in their new country. What pride they must have had in owning their own land and farm, when generations before them were at the mercy of the landowners as tenant farmers in Ireland.

September 23, 2019

Our second day in Ireland was an exciting one. It seemed like we fit three days worth of fun into one. The first thing we did was visit the Barack Obama Plaza. (If this makes you groan, just chalk it up to us needing diesel.😀) When Barack was President, researchers from Ireland determined that he had Irish heritage on his mom’s side. They decided to name a service plaza near his ancestral home after him. Michelle and Barack came in 2011 to the tiny village of Moneygall, where they met his closest living Irish relative. On the second floor of the plaza, there is a very nice museum that celebrates the many U.S. Presidents that have Irish roots.

Imagine how thrilled we were that Michelle and Barack O’Bama were back for a visit!

Next we visited the nearby town of Toomevara. Before computers and, one of my distant relatives researched the O’Morrow family. He put in a lot of effort, traveling, and even taking classes in Irish history. He still was unable to find much information. He determined that our Irish ancestors were not landowners. He also shared that his research showed that the O’Morrow name went back to either O’Mara, Mara, O’Meara, or Meara. Since Toomevara means “Tomb of the O’Mearas” we felt that this was a good place to start. Jim had a feeling that we should go to St. Joseph’s Parish and check out the cemetery. We were able to find O’Meara and Ryan (Edward M.’s wife’s maiden name), but they were too recent as we were looking for graves of their possible parents which would have been from the early to mid 1800’s.

We decided to go inside and check out the church, hoping the rain would let up some. A couple came in the vestibule and were putting out new bulletins, so I figured they were local. I asked if they knew how old the graves were in the cemetery and the man became very excited when he heard we were from America. He has a sister in California and he insisted that he help us. He wanted us to get in his car, so he could take us to the people in town that know about its history. We thanked him, but declined his offer. He said we could walk then and insisted we come with him. He was so determined to help us, that we took off for what we thought was to be a short walk with him. First we went to the post office, because the postmaster knows a lot of the area history. The post office was closed for lunch. So we continued on in the rain and wind several more blocks to the priest’s house who also knows the history of the parish. Unfortunately, the priest was not at home. Neither did he answer when our new friend called him on the phone. Next stop, back across the road, and down a ways to the gas station. Our friend William was greeted by the locals as we walked up in the rain and wind. While Jim and I were wearing our raincoats, he led this whole adventure in his sweater! Yes, we looked out of place.

William asked the young woman behind the counter if her parents were there. She called her father on the phone, and he came to the store to help us. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. Her father Richie suggested we needed to go to Nenagh Heritage Centre and see Nora who is the genealogist. Richie said once I got the details from Nora, to come back to him and he would find the graves for me! Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day. When we got back in the motor home I broke down and cried. I couldn’t believe how these people had gone out of their way to make us crazy Americans feel so welcome.

We topped off the day with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. The weather cooperated so we could get in a short hike. Beautiful!

September 26, 2019

On our last day in Ireland we went to the Nenagh Heritage Centre to speak with Nora. After some initial confusion, Nora was able to explain that (O)Morrow and O’Meara/Mara are two different surnames. Morrow is Protestant (which fits with my heritage) and O’Meara/Mara is Catholic. Morrow is now more common in Ulster than in England where it originated. This is important information and will help my further research.

Next up, we meet up with some good friends who are off on an adventure of their own! We spent a fabulous day with them exploring a distillery and a ticket office. That will round out our time in Ireland before we return to England. Be sure to tune in for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Northern Ireland’s Titans and Giants

September 20 & 21, 2019 – Northern Ireland

Written by Jim

When planning this trip, one place was a bit of a question mark in our minds: Northern Ireland. There were a couple of positives to crossing from Scotland to Belfast. One was the 2 hour ferry ride being a LOT cheaper than the 8 hour ride from Liverpool to Dublin. The other was that Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so there would not be an international border crossing at the port. The downside (in our minds) is the stigma that Northern Ireland carries from its past troubles. Just hearing the name Belfast conjured up past images of a war-torn country we had so often heard about on the evening news back home. Truth be told, there is still an underlying uneasiness in that part of the UK. But we also found the place filled with helpful and generous people, along with some beautiful landscapes. And the roads were some of the best we encountered our entire trip.

Our ferry service across from Cairnryan, Scotland to Belfast was Stena Lines. Once we drove our Scout onboard, we climbed the stairs to the Hygee recliner lounge we had booked ahead of time. At £6 a seat, it was a tremendous bargain.

That became even more evident when we left the lounges quiet surroundings for the main passenger area to use the restroom. The place was a zoo!

Upon our arrival in Belfast, we looped around the harbor to a place that has intrigued me since I was a kid: the Harland & Wolfe Shipyard, which is the birthplace of the Titanic.

Yes, they still are in business after all these years.

In the early 1900’s, a trio of large luxury liners were built by them for the White Star Line; the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Just ahead of where those ships were assembled. , a large, glistening museum now welcomes visitors. Having seen the artifact exhibit a number of years ago in Florida, my interest wasn’t in the museum…

…but rather to be able to stand within the great footprint of the ship. They have it laid out in the plaza from bow…

…to stern. They have the layouts for both the Titanic and the Olympic, which were built right next to each other.

They even detail where the ship’s funnels were. The museum sits in the background in this photo. What an amazing experience to be able to stand where the legendary liner was constructed.

The next day, we headed north to the town of Bushmills. Our first stop was Bushmills Distillery to sample their products.

The pours were huge! Unfortunately, we didn’t care for their whiskey, so we ended up not finishing the flights. I guess if we liked them all, it would be hard to pick a favorite! We may have liked their offerings better, if we would have chosen a more expensive tasting. We will remember this in the future.

We then parked the motorhome in a Park and Ride lot and took a bus to Giant’s Causeway.

This geological feature along the coast is reminiscent of the columns of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. With it being a weekend and a beautiful day, it was packed with tourists. There is a mythological legend about how it was created, which details that it was created by a giant and that it once led to Scotland. The feature does indeed follow a fault under the sea all the way to the Scottish Isle of Staffa.

The columns rose up quite a ways along the shore, mostly in a hexagonal pattern.

It was a gorgeous day to spend along the Irish coast!

Next up, we cross the border and head to the Republic of Ireland in search of Diana’s maternal grandfather’s roots. That was quite a journey with some very helpful people joining in along the way. We even met up with another American with Irish roots who all of you will recognize. Be sure to check that one out in our next post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Last Days in Scotland

September 18-20, 2019 – Southwest Scotland

Written by Jim

After leaving the Isle of Skye, we had a few other places we wanted to see before catching our ferry to Ireland. Our route had us going through some beautiful territory to the west of Fort William, our stop the first night. After fueling up and getting groceries, we went to check out Neptune’s Staircase.

That is a series of locks along the Caledonian Canal; a cross-country system of lakes and rivers that connects both coasts.

While we were there, we watched a boat head through. The captain piloted it through while his first mate walked the bow line along. It’s a time-lapse video, so the older gentleman with the cane moves like a teenager. 🙂

After that, we set up camp and went to dinner at a local pub.

The path from the campground to the eating establishment bordered the land where the movie Braveheart was filmed. To the left, shrouded in the clouds, is Ben Nevis…the highest peak in the United Kingdom.

The next morning, we pointed our Scout on a circuitous southward course towards Stirling.

The scenery only got better as we rolled along.

Every corner brought another “Wow!”

After visiting several of Diana’s genealogy sites detailed in her post MacGregor Despite Them, Shall Flourish Forever!, we found ourselves in Stirling. Our destination here was The Kelpies, the largest equestrian sculpture in the world.

What is a kelpie? It is a mythical Scottish water creature that can take on many forms, but is usually a horse. In a sense, the Loch Ness monster could be considered a kelpie. Legend has it that they possess great power and can lure a person to their death. These were very cool stainless steel renderings of those fabled beasts.

On our last stop of the day, we found a very different sort of canal lock system.

This is called the Falkirk Wheel. See the long canal boat at the top? It inches its way to the end of the elevated waterway where a partition rises up at each end. At the same time, a canal boat does the same thing at the bottom of the wheel. Once they are both in…

…they switch positions! Once they are flipped around…

…the gates are opened and away they go.

Looks like a fun way to go back and forth across Scotland! We really enjoyed seeing this beautiful land of many of Diana’s ancestors. Next up, we head across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland to explore the footprints of giants and titans. You won’t want to miss that one! Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Isle of Skye, Scotland

September 16 – 18, 2019

Written by Diana

My maternal grandfather’s mother was born Hughena McLeod. I have been able to trace this branch of my family tree back to my 5th great-grandfather, Alexander II MacLeod, who was born in 1689 on the Isle of Skye.

We visited the Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod (pronounced McCloud) for 800 years. We had heard how beautiful the Isle of Skye was, but it was a bonus when we learned that we could visit the MacLeod Castle. This was one of the highlights of our trip.

Inside there are lots of artifacts and displays to explain the history of Clan MacLeod. We enjoyed touring the castle, including this beautiful dining room.

The gardens were beautiful as well and even included this waterfall.

This was the sunset out the front window of our motorhome that evening.

The next morning we went to the Skye and Lochlash Archive Centre to learn more about my family history.

Two genealogists researched my ancestors, but weren’t able to find additional information. They thought it was good that I had already gotten so far back. They were able to fill in more about how my ancestors may have lived, and what may have led them to immigrate to Canada.

Of course my ancestors didn’t live in the castle. This is an example of the homes that were common over 100 years ago. They would gather drift wood to use for the roof. The agricultural system of Skye is crofting. Tenet farmers work land that is owned by other landlords, including the government. After the Highland Clans were defeated at Culloden in 1746, the government of Great Britain saw to it that all who fought for the Jacobite cause were punished. One result was that the rents were drastically raised for the crofters, which led to them being evicted. Many landowners began renting to sheep farmers instead. This led many crofters to emmigrate looking for a better life. Others stayed and have continued this life style. Laws have changed to protect the crofters and assure they are given fair treatment.

In the afternoon we drove the beautiful Trotternish Peninsula Loop.

We got out and enjoyed several walks just taking in this scenery.

It was truly breathtaking, and we were sad when we had to leave this beautiful island.

Next up, we head through some spectacular scenery to see some very unique Scottish sites. You will want to be sure to check that out. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland

September 15, 2019 – Scottish Highlands

Written by Jim

Whenever I hear the name Inverness, I think of the sleepy little town in Florida, not far from our friends Rod and Mary’s house. The name actually comes from the Scottish Gaelic name Inbhir Nis, which means “mouth of the River Ness”. That location is not in Florida, but rather in Scotland…at the northeast end of Loch Ness. After moving north from Pitlochry, we camped above Inverness to visit the Culloden Battlefield.

Culloden was the last battle of the Jacobite Rising. The rising…or what Americans would call an uprising or movement…started in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charles tried to regain the British throne for his father. It ended in a bloody skirmish on April 16, 1746 at Culloden.

The modern museum at the battlefield is well done in that it looks at the uprising from both the British government’s side and the Jacobite’s position. Being students of American history, it was a bit over our heads. But it is a huge deal to those who are interested in British and Scottish history.

One thing we found fascinating was a demonstration on how to put on a kilt. Our first thought was ‘just how hard can it be to put on a skirt?’ It turns out that it is quite an involved process!

The gentleman in the black agreed to be the volunteer who would wear it. The man on the right was the instructor. They folded pleats along the tartans until…

…most of it was pleated. They slid a belt halfway under the fabric.

The volunteer then laid on the fabric. It was wrapped over him and the belt was tightened.

When he got up, he had a double layer of kilt!

They then pulled the outer layer up over his shoulder and pinned it, put a hat, sword and shield on him and he was ready for battle!

After we finished up at Culloden, we headed down along the northern side of Loch Ness to see if we could find Nessie….the elusive Loch Ness Monster.

This 1934 photograph seems to show the mythical creature in the loch. It was later proven to be a hoax. I was determined to find Nessie and prove that she really does exist.

We looked off to the southwest, looking for a sign of the legendary creature. Nothing.

Looking back towards Inverness, we continued our search….still nothing.

Turning back to the southwest…wait….what was that????

There she is! Wow. Finally proof that she really does exist.

With all that excitement, we were toast. We set up camp near the midpoint of Loch Ness and called it a day. 🙂

Next up, we head to the Isle of Skye to discover another branch of Diana’s family. She will detail that beautiful area of Scotland and her ancestor’s role in its past. You won’t want to miss that one. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

MacGregor Despite Them, Shall Flourish Forever!

September 13-19, 2019 – Scotland

Written by Diana

My maternal great-grandmother was born a McGregor. That meant little to me, until I started researching my genealogy a year ago. Her father, William McGregor, was born in Scotland and immigrated with his parents to New York, NY in 1829 at 3 years old. Later they immigrated to Canada, and eventually William immigrated to the U.S. with his wife. I have been able to trace this family line back to my 5th great-grand father who was born in Scotland about 1745. The reason I am not able to go beyond this may be that the MacGregor name was banned for almost 200 years! Yes, you heard right, outlawed.

Clan Gregor is one of the oldest clans in Scotland. They are descended from Kenneth MacAlpin, the king who united Scotland back in the 13th century. Thus their motto was: Royal is my race. The MacGregors lost much of their land through the years for various reasons. Eventually they were set up to lose a battle with another clan, but won even though they were very outnumbered. This upset folks as they said they didn’t fight fair, so they became victims of proscription. From 1603-1775 MacGregors could not use the MacGregor name, were legally hunted down, tortured and/or beheaded. They could not own land, weapons, or even a knife. They were referred to as “Children of the Mist” because they escaped to the highlands to avoid capture. Many changed their names. As you can imagine, learning this story was very upsetting to me.

The good news is that after the punishment of proscription was lifted in 1775, many families went back to using their MacGregor name and have been successful both in Scotland as well as numerous countries around the world. So the Clan MacGregor motto is now, “MacGregor despite them, shall flourish forever!” We visited several sites while exploring Scotland that relate to my proud MacGregor heritage.

September 13, 2019

While enjoying the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, we made it a point to find the Heart of Midlothian Mosaic. This is the site of the former jail where the MacGregor chief was quartered then hung, and 30 warriors were hung in the spring of 1604. This was all done as the public gathered to view the spectacle. Scots spit on it. As we were approaching a tour guide was explaining the tradition to his group. I spit on it with gusto and he commented, “And there you have it.” I felt it was the least I could do to express my disgust at the treatment my ancestors received.

September 14, 2019

We visited Castle Menzies because they have been gracious enough to provide a room for the Clan Gregor Museum. It was wonderful to see the displays and to learn more about the history of the clan. I really appreciated the staff answering my many questions and helping me to understand more about my family tree. My 5th great-grandfather was married to Janet Fleming. She said that the name Fleming was used for Flemish weavers that were brought to the area to weave the sheep wool.

I was very excited, as you can see! So much planning, and we were finally here.

After leaving the castle we headed to the Pitlochry Highland Games. This has been an annual event since 1852. It was great fun! Many events were taking place at the same time; including races, bag pipes, Scottish dancers, and other traditional Highland games. There were all levels of participants, from local school children to professionals. They even had a tent for international visitors were they treated us to a plate of goodies and a glass of wine. I enjoyed wearing my new hat and scarf, made with MacGregor tartan. Below a contestant is competing in the hammer throw.

September 19, 2019

We visited the Glenorchy Parish Church where there are historic MacGregor graves from 600 years ago. These stones of the leaders of Clan Gregor were once inside the church, but were long ago placed out in the weather. The Dalmally Stones Project is an effort to protect and restore these stones, but unfortunately it may soon be too late.

The Kilchurn Castle is castle ruins in MacGregor territory. MacGregors were caretakers here, and possibly built the castle. It later was given to another clan. We really enjoyed exploring the many levels of the castle and enjoying the view out to Loch Awe.

We made a somber visit to the Glen Fruin Memorial, site of the battle that led to the proscription of the MacGregor Clan. It serves as a modern memorial whose wording was agreed to by the families of both of the clans involved. Both sides suffered in this glen on Feb. 7, 1603.

Thank you to my third cousin Robert Fay, who I’ve gotten to know through, for providing this photo of our 2nd great grandfather William McGregor.

Note for my Halstead side: My father’s mother was Ethel Glass. Her mother was Ellen Swift, and her mother was Sarah Athere Narrin. The Narrin’s seem to go back to Scotland, but I haven’t nailed down the details yet. The original Glass family name also goes back to Scotland, but I haven’t been able to trace my Glass roots across the pond. I have Glass ancestors being born in the U.S. in 1755.

Next up, we continue our tour of the Scottish Highlands and its beautiful scenery. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Friday, September 13, 2019 – Edinburgh, Scotland

Written by Jim

After leaving the town of Bamburgh on Thursday, we pointed our Scout northward towards Scotland. Rolling across the Scottish border, we immediately noticed an improvement in the quality of the roads over those in England. Our destination for that night was Prestopans, just east of the City of Edinburgh. Our campground was conveniently located near the bus line into the city, which allowed us to leave the motorhome parked at our pitch on Friday.

The next morning, we made our way to the bus stop.

This is the two-way road we had to traverse to get to that point. When we planned the trip earlier this year, we were concerned about this narrow stretch after viewing it on Google Maps. It turned out to be a nice stroll, with only a few cars passing us while we made our way along. Like in York, they use immaculately clean double-decker buses.

Edinburgh (pronounced EDdin-buh-ruh) is Scotland’s second largest city and is its capital. It’s a combination of some very old buildings and plenty of new ones. Tower cranes dominate the skyline as the city continues to grow.

We disembarked the bus just below the Royal Mile at the Scott Monument. This is a memorial to the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. It was completed in 1844 and, despite needing a good cleaning, looks pretty good for its age!

Heading up towards Edinburgh Castle, we passed Princes Street Gardens.

Interestingly enough, this expanse of green lawn and trees was once a lake known as Nor Loch…or North Lake. It was a man-made medieval moat of sorts to act as a defense towards the north side of the old town. Problem was, sewage flowed downhill, so the lake became more of a stinking cesspool. It was eventually drained and cleaned up, making a lovely park that vegetation grows exceptionally well in. 😉

Once on the Royal Mile, we headed straight up the hill to the western end to see Edinburgh Castle.

This massive stone structure sits high on a hill that overlooks the entire city. It is a very defendable location, to say the least. There has been a castle on this perch since the 12th century, and it is where the Crown Jewels of Scotland are displayed. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed of them, or of the Stone of Scone. If you’ve never heard of the latter, it is what Scottish kings and queens used to be coronated upon. England’s King Edward I took it to Westminster Abbey after the 1296 Battle of Dunbar. Since then, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been coronated upon it. British Prime Minister John Major returned it to Scotland in 1996, with the agreement that it be returned to Westminster for use during future British coronations. It’s a big, rectangular slab of rock that fits in a compartment underneath the coronation chair. A very important piece of rock, indeed.

Not much else impressed us on the interior of the castle, as most of the displays were modern. The exterior had some excellent firepower displayed though.

This large cannon had the Scott Monument in its crosshairs. Some of the many tower cranes we spoke of earlier can be seen in the photo.

And check out this bemouth! This gun is known as Mons Meg, the world’s first weapon of mass destruction. The 20″ barrel can deliver a 386 pound cannonball a distance of over 2 miles. It was manufactured in the 1400’s.

From the castle, we headed down the Royal Mile towards St Giles Cathedral.

There were shops of all sorts lining the street. People from all over the world were out enjoying the nice weather.

St, Giles has a complicated history. It started out a Roman Catholic church, and was the center of the Scottish Reformation in the mid 1500’s. It was here that John Knox preached, and this became known as the birthplace of Presbyterianism. He was buried in the churchyard, which was destroyed in the mid 1600’s. The location of his grave is unknown.

The interior was surprisingly light and airy, unlike the dark exterior. There were times that this space was partitioned into four separate churches, but it was restored to one large cathedral in the mid 1800’s.

An interesting side chapel we entered is home to The Order of the Thistle.

The thistle is the national flower of Scotland. The order is a collection of knights and ladies, selected by the monarch. The stall plates on the back of each stall serve as a record of the knights and ladies who have resided there.

That person is currently Queen Elizabeth II, who presides over a meeting of the order each summer. Her seat is in the middle of this wall.

The top of each member’s stall is decorated with adornments of their choosing. When a knight or lady dies, the adornments are replaced with ones from the new member. We found the one on the left interesting, in that it was so modern looking. The rainbow and the anchor are meant to represent hope.

We really enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh. Next up, we move further north into the Scottish Highlands, into some of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. Diana has deep roots there, so you will definitely want to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

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