Scotland, 4 Teenagers, and Swearing

By Kristy McCaffrey
The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands

My husband and I recently took our four children on a family vacation to Scotland. My goal was to see the Ring of Brodgar, a neolithic rock henge in the Orkney Islands and one of the most well-preserved prehistoric monuments on the British Isles. (See my previous blog post “The Earth: Power Points and Ley Lines.” These standing stones are located on a ley line.) My husband’s (Kevin's) goal was to visit the church where his great-grandparents were married, and to not hear how much this was costing him. The goal of each of my children varied. Ben (17) hoped to drink lots of beer in local pubs, which is allowed as long as he’s also eating. Katy (almost 16), our budding photographer, anticipated endless opportunities to add to her portfolio. Hannah (13) packed 3 sweatshirts with the goal of purchasing more, aided and abetted by my faulty memory, hindered further by jet lag. Upon our return home I found a total of seven in her suitcase. Sam (19) tried not to mope in misery at being away from his girlfriend. He succeeded half of the time. Our solution was to urge him to drink beer.

Edinburgh Castle

We began in Edinburgh, exhausted from an overnight flight and our inability to check into our hotel rooms. This would be a recurring problem throughout the trip—my propensity for booking early morning flights that left us without lodging until the afternoon when the rooms were ready. Already my family was loving me. Not. So a little swearing ensued, mostly from me. I will admit up front that my Irish temper (maiden name Kearney) gets the best of me at times and my children have learned most of their swearing from me. Never mind that my husband works in the steel industry and the kids have often eavesdropped on phone conversations he has with customers. I’m not pointing fingers.

Katy at Edinburgh Castle
Rosslyn Chapel

We have a nice time exploring Edinburgh Castle. Scotland is so different, with old buildings, overcast skies, and funky accents. Smashing! We visit Rosslyn Chapel, just outside Edinburgh, made famous by the book and movie “The Da Vinci Code.” It’s worth a look. In fact, if you check out Hannah’s Instagram account you can see illegal photos she took with her phone while inside. The building is very different than portrayed in the movie and as opposed to the hypothesis that Mary Magdalene was buried within, one theory suggests it was built as a reliquary to house the skull of St. Matthew, apostle of Jesus and gospel writer. That said, you’ll never see the inside of a chapel that looks like this one. The barrel-vaulted roof is covered with stars in relief, the faces of the Green Man (an important character from British folklore) peep at you from all sides, large pillars are wrapped in spiraling vines, everywhere are strange masks, dancers, musicians, and characters from the Old Testament.

Hannah on the train to Inverness
Photo by Katy McCaffrey
Loch Ness
Sam, Kevin and Ben (back)
Katy, Kristy and Hannah (front)
We leave Edinburgh by train to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. This is the Scotland I imagine—rolling mountains amidst green farms, sheep, cattle, and that mist. The faerie mist. Why does Scotland make you believe in magic? Maybe it’s because it never gets dark here. Night falls from 11pm to 2am. If we don’t draw the shades we can’t sleep. It confuses further our already confused internal clocks. We tour Loch Ness, which I love. The story of the Loch Ness monster is over 1500 years old, the recent hoopla simply a marketing cash cow. Urquhart Castle, dating back to the 13th century, sits on the lake’s edge and is one of the most visited castles in Scotland.
Urquhart Castle
Ben, Katy, Sam and Hannah
Kevin and I at Urquhart Castle
We fly to the town of Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, in a small propeller plane. While the Orkney’s are now a part of Scotland, prior to the 15th century they were governed by Norway. This is Viking country. Perhaps this is why my children come to blows here. At each hotel we have three rooms—one for my husband and I, and one each for the boys and the girls. But Sam, who has so far resisted our beer-drinking attempts, is fed up with Ben. He swears too much, Sam says. Sam is sick of it. (Not to defend Ben’s colorful language, but in addition to having me as his mother he has also attended an all-boys boarding school for the past three years. Within the span of a week he began speaking like a sailor and hasn’t stopped since.) Turns out Katy is also unhappy with her roommate. It would seem that Hannah has been known to fling an invective at her sister from time to time on the trip. Sam wants to room with Katy and begins negotiations in earnest. I frown. Should brothers and sisters be sharing rooms? But teenage logic prevails. This is a philosophy coined by my husband to explain the smart, insightful decisions that teenagers make, such as claiming that 90mph on a motorcycle is a perfectly acceptable speed, or showing genuine shock when a window is broken after playing lacrosse in their bedroom, or wondering why the competitive team never called after repeatedly blowing off soccer practice.
Maeshowe, Orkney Islands
In Orkney we visit Maeshowe, a neolithic chambered tomb built 5000 years ago and lined up to the winter solstice. What’s intriguing about this one (a similar mound, Newgrange, exists in Ireland) is the Viking graffiti, carved about 1000 years ago and comprising the largest collection of runic inscriptions found outside Scandinavia. With witty one-liners like “Otarr carved these runes” there are also more vulgar descriptions. I have an epiphany. Vikings must have been teenagers. We’re in good company. Swearing spans the ages.
From atop Stirling Castle
Hannah, Kristy and Katy
My husband at
St. Joseph's Church in Blantyre

We finish the Scotland portion of our trip in Glasgow, taking a very touristy bus ride around the city. We return to the University of Glasgow twice because Hannah really needs another sweatshirt. In the suburb of Blantyre we find the church where my husband’s great-grandparents, Robert Gaitens and Jeanie Dobbin, were married in 1897. Well, kinda. This church was built in 1908 so the original is no longer standing. Close enough. The purpose for my husband visiting Scotland is complete. We take the kids to Stirling Castle, north of Glasgow, perched on a high volcanic crag. With unimpeded views in all directions of the countryside, it’s no wonder this was the seat of Scottish kings and queens for centuries.

The final leg of our journey takes us to Dublin, Ireland. Ben, with true teenage logic, plans to apply to Trinity College (aka the University of Dublin), because, well, it’d be so cool to go to college in a different country. So one afternoon we have a nice chat with a professor from the Computer Science Department. We also take the kids to see the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated copy of the four gospels in Latin, likely produced early in the 9th century. I have another wonderful teenage interchange with Katy.
“Why are we here?” she asks.
“To see the Book of Kells,” I say.
“Just tell me why we’re here.”
“To see a book.”
“But what is it?!”
“It’s a BOOK!!”
Just as I’m on the verge of swearing—what part of this does she not understand?—my husband steps in. He points out that books are no big deal to her generation. Ahh. Okay. I explain to her that back then tomes such as this had to be hand-written and were few in number. This is one of the most beautiful works ever created. She still seems unconvinced and blows through the exhibit. I purse my lips—it’s so unattractive if I stand there uttering profanities to myself—and attempt to enjoy this wondrous presentation while calming my blood pressure.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

On our last evening we dine together at the hotel restaurant. It’s not often we’re together as a family. It’s one of the reasons I planned this trip, why I spent my husband’s hard-earned money, why I endured teenage griping about everything from the weather to why we had to visit yet another old church. As my children have grown, one of the best aspects is getting to know them, to hear their viewpoints, to watch their intellect blossom. When they were toddlers family conversations often turned to poop and farting. It’s rather comforting to know that as teenagers their repertoire still encompasses poop and farting, only now there’s a nice dose of cussing in the mix. As the conversation becomes littered with colorful language my husband decides he’s had enough. He sends everyone to their rooms—boy and girl, boy and girl. I can’t stop laughing. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase and eating hotel food, I’m glad I don’t have to flush another Scottish toilet (seriously, I could never get them to work), I’m glad I can stop waiting and waiting for the check at the end of a meal (a waiter feels it’s rude to bring the bill, you must ASK for it), I’m glad to know that lemonade is code for 7-Up (can’t they just call it 7-Up?), and I’m glad that soon I’ll be able to find a nice glass of ice tea (nonexistent here). Still, I’m sorry to see the trip end, swearing and all. It’s the stuff of memories.

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