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Glasgow and the western Highlands

The beginning of a journey into the land of our Scottish forbearers

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Genealogy is not a burning interest of mine. In fact prowling through graveyards and brittle archival records in search of ancestors seems a singularly ghoulish diversion. But my grandmother, who related to such things, once told me that my name was derived from "souter", the gaelic word for shoemaker. So, in the absence of further research, I can claim a distant kinship to "Souter Johnnie", an 18th century cobbler who quaffed many a dram at the elbow of Robbie Burns.

My in-laws also take pride in their Scottish ancestry. According to my wife her forebearers took refuge in the Highlands after being run out of Ireland for stealing horses.

Tenuous though they may be these ties to the land of heath and heather seemed a fitting excuse to rediscover our Scottish roots.

Attempts to doze our way across the Atlantic proved utterly futile. The seats on our red-eye charter were better suited to a Cirque du Soleil contortion than to relaxation. When we finally touched down at Glasgow International Airport we were thoroughly jet-lagged. The morning rush hour was in full swing and it took another two hours before we arrived at the Forte Crest Hotel in Paisley and crashed until noon.

Paisley is a western suburb of Glasgow, about 10 kilometres from the city centre, and since our car would not be ready until the next day, we checked out the greater Glasgow transit system. A combination of busses, light rail, and subway, it proved to be efficient and easy to use. In less than an hour we were in the heart of Glasgow enjoying a late lunch in St. Enoch Square. By the end of the day we had visited St. Andrews Cathedral, the university, and the magnificent Glasgow Cathedral that dates back to the 13th century. After hours of wandering through a mix of ultra-modern and renaissance neighbourhoods we found a bench in George Square and watched the mood of the city wind down from the bustle of daily business and back up to the beat of evening nightlife. It's only four blocks along St. Vincent Street from George Square to the Drum and Monkey where we joined a lively crowd for jazz, a pint, and a meal in one of Glasgow's many friendly pubs.

Sprawling astride the River Clyde, not far inland from the Firth of Clyde, the port of Glasgow predates written history. The remains of stone-age fishing canoes have been unearthed from the river banks and Celtic druids, who were among the first to settle the area, are believed to have traded with Roman Legions pushing the northern frontiers of their far-flung empire. But it was not until the 6th century that the city of Glasgow began to grow around a cathedral founded by St. Mungo in AD 543. By the 12th century its population was more than a thousand. In 1238 work began on Glasgow Cathedral that still stands on the spot where St. Mungo built his original church. The University of Glasgow was founded in 1415 and by the 15th century Glasgow had become one of the most powerful academic and ecclesiastical centres in Scotland.

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