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This is the first time I have written here in 2011 – so Happy New Year would be appropriate – maybe somewhat belatedly. Everything over the festive season was rather disrupted though.  The heavy snowfalls meant that many people were unable to be where they had expected to be over Christmas and the prolonged cold weather made me hibernate for longer still. I have only just wished wished Peter Chalmers a ‘Guid New Year’.

Peter and myself in Edinburgh

Peter is a highly regarded, retired, Edinburgh military gentleman who in his retirement does guiding work for us.  Most people who have been on holidays with us will have met him.  He is a repository of knowledge about Edinburgh, it’s buildings and its historic inhabitants.  As Peter was unwell last year I had planned to visit before Christmas with a box of biscuits. Ice, snow and the general mayhem prevented me from making the trip to Edinburgh so it was not ’til yesterday that I made my way, with my by now tattered parcel – how is it that Christmas presents delivered late look so messy!

On his wall Peter has a copy of a John Ainslie map of Edinburgh drawn in the 1780s.  He found the original  himself in a bundle of books brought into the RCAHMS building in Edinburgh.  It was a great find as it was a map that was unknown. They promptly to 4 copies of it and in gratitude to Peter gave him one!  Quite something to have hanging on your wall.

We use the map library of Scotland ourselves as a resource for visitors tracing their ancestors homes.  Searching old maps is a great way to while away the time and has the element of detective work in it.

Peter gave me a New Year kiss yesterday, so I feel the year has started.

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We’re just home from a short stay in Wigtown in ‘The Machars’ in the west of the south of Scotland. I’m pleased that we’d arranged some accommodation and were able to spend  time just looking round and taking in the atmosphere because it’s a strangely remote  point of land which gives you a feeling of being disjointed from the rest of Scotland or even from the rest of the world.  We were at the Book Festival meeting authors and buying books.  Maybe it was through listening to Roddy Martine speaking about the book he has just written entitled – Hunted Scotland – that I experienced the strange isolation of the area.  Then again maybe it is just auto suggestion! The scenery is richly green just now and with the stormy rain and striking mountainous backdrop we had some glowery sky above us at times!  We drove to Whithorn  the birthplace of Scottish Christianity and the site of the earliest Christian Church founded here in in the early 5th century by the now sainted St. Ninian.  The the identity of  Ninian is in some doubt but the settlement he established there is extensive.

St Ninians Chapel

The ruins of St. Ninians Chapel - Whithorn

The festival was great fun and the streets of Wigtown were alive with people then emptied when we all went in to see our chosen authors. Came home with new reading material having listened to lots of thought provoking conversation – and eaten some good food into the bargain.

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The children have gone back to school after the summer holidays and today the rain has been falling fast and furiously.  However the temperatures are still fairly mild during the day though the nights are getting chilly.  But you don’t come to Scotland for the weather as they say!

Last night we ate out at our local Italian restaurant and sat beside a couple who had spent a holiday in Scotland.  They had had a wonderful time and couldn’t speak highly enough about the friendly hospitality of the cheerful Scots.     I love these comments and they should be broadcast everywhere.  We don’t need great weather we have great folk!

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The idea of putting ‘genealogy’ into a group tour itinerary seemed difficult but we have cracked it! We have come up with an entirely new concept of using an actor to portray a fictional character to illustrate how his life is recorded through his major life events.

While enjoying a tour of central and southern Scotland you get an occasional chance to ‘meet’ our character who tells you personally of what has been happening to him and how these events are recorded in the Scottish records stored in Edinburgh.

You see the tour on page 19 of their spring brouchure. http://www.brightwaterholidays.com/docs/AUTUMN-SPRING-2010.pdf

For more information contact Brightwater Holidays. http://www.brightwaterholidays.com

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I enjoyed attending a reception hosted by the American Scottish Foundation held in Edinburgh last night and it was great to see so many people interested in promoting and maintaining the links between our two countries.  The fabulous building where the reception was held was originally Edinburgh’s oldest Victorian public baths. It has since been re-invented and is now a huge light and colourful space and it made a lovely venue for our gathering.  Alan Bain the President of the Foundation spoke interestingly about the Foundation’s work and the committment of those working alongside him.

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Throughout the evolution of Scotland’s history her people have moved in search of work and prosperity. Sometimes they moved through choice and sometimes they were moved by the owner on whose land they lived. It is often thought that what is know as the ‘Clearances’ occurred only in the Highlands when in fact the land in the south of Scotland actually lost more people than the north.

I am doing homework on this period in Scotland’s history.

On Sunday morning a BBC Radio 4 programme mentioned the ‘Clearances’ in the north and you can listen to it here.  The relevant piece comes in after 1 hour 10 minutes if you want to fast forward!  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t5ybg

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In the UK we have a new Prime Minster and for the first time in 70 years a ‘peace time’ coalition government.  (Of course there was a coalition government during the 2nd world war.)  Today the new Prime Minister, David Cameron is in Edinburgh talking to our Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.  Scotland defends her partial independence fiercely and Alex Salmond is a Scottish Nationalist who would like to see Scotland as a fully  independent nation once again.

The  subjects to avoid are religion, sex and politics so I think that will do for now!

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