Travel Blog -The Mature Wanderer


Scotland and Spain - Ancient Connections?




It should be obvious that I like wandering in Spain. One of the most exciting recent finds was the website Books4Spain,created and managed by Rod Younger. I found it (strictly,it found me) through the magnificent blog of Molly at Books4Spain is a splendid site if you are at all interested in Spain and not only because they have decided to feature my book "Coffee,Castanets and Don Quixote" as a recommended buy. Rod Younger himself is interesting. He is descended from Spanish aristocracy and Scottish merchants who went to Jamaica several hundred years ago. One reason this background intrigued me was because in my novel "Masks of Venice" the main character, Lucy, meets an intriguing Spaniard at a masked ball in Venice. He teaches her how to travel back in time. Those who know something about the beautiful town of Inveraray in Scotland or the treasure of Tobermory, will know how Spaniards found themselves in Scotland in the 16th century. That led me to speculate about connections. You can take it further. If you investigate the Picts who occupied Scotland in Roman times the question arises of where they came from originally. Their art on stones and jewellery depicts creatures never known in Scotland but common in the eastern Mediterranean. Early inhabitants of Andalusia, the Tartessus, were probably Phoenician, so from the Eastern Med. Too fanciful? Probably. Anyway, who needs an excuse to visit Spain or Scotland? 



Sunshine and Crannogs

Today we have blue skies and the temperature is already around 20 degrees Celsius and it`s not yet 10 in the morning. The weather was similar on my last visit to the crannog at Loch Tay. Ask even most Scots what a crannog is and they are likely to guess it`s some kind of cake you eat with your tea, but that is not so. It is a house built of wood which sits in a loch. I`ve never seen a  derivation for the name but I imagine it comes from the Gaelic crann meaning a tree trunk or mast. Crannogs are not unique to Scotland. They have been found in Ireland, Wales and Scandinavia.  The Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology has reconstructed one at Loch Tay so visitors can get a very realistic idea of what it was. The oldest evidence suggests they were in use at least 5,000 years ago and they give a wonderful image of what life in Scotland was like then. Loch Tay is a loch of great beauty in Perthshire. Its name means Loch of the fairy and it is not at all difficult to imagine supernatural presences around it . Something about its still,serene beauty on a summer`s day hints that you are at some kind of threshold between the earthly and the heavenly. 

A crannog was a round house built often on stilts in a loch or lake with a short passageway from the land. It was often large enough to house at least one large family along with some livestock. The cold, peaty water of the loch is a very effective preservative so we know quite a lot about life in those times. The archaeologists even discovered a butter dish with butter still on it. They usually had a  double layer of walls with a type of moss stuffed between the layers for insulation. There would be a hole in the roof at the cente of the house for smoke to go out. 

There would have been no shortage of food. They clearly had domestic animals. There would be lots of fish which could be persuaded to jump into a frying pan. There were berries in the woods and they made wine of a sort by fermenting these berries. 

So why did they go to the trouble of putting down stilts and building a house on a loch? Well, Scotland would have been densely forested at that time so wild animals or enemies could have crept up on a house on the land. A crannog was easier to defend. Any invaders rampaging wildly across the narrow causeway could easily have been repelled by missiles of hot porridge.

It is interesting to note that in these times when Europe is still talking about escaping from insularity and furthering free trade that the crannog dwellers clearly traded at that time with Europe. They would have travelled by waterway and the sea to Denmark or the Netherlands and commerce appears to have been vigorous.There is no evidence of bronze age European directives which had to be observed. No 17,000 page treaties on growth and development have been found.  

The site of the reconstructed crannog is well attended by specialists who will teach you how to start a fire without matches, shape wooden implements on a form of lathe and even holllow out a tree trunk to make a boat that will take you to Holland. Once you have tried these vigorous activities you will understand why no ancient inscriptions advising how to lose weight have been found.

After this great experience you might want to go back a little way round the loch, through the lovely village of Fearnan to the equally beautiful one of Kenmore. There you can eat in what is claimed to be the oldest inn in Scotland, dating from the 16th century. If your attention happens to be drawn to the verses scribbled on the mantelpiece then restrain your wrath about modern vandalism. It is the work of the mighty Robert Burns who visited the inn in 1787 during his onerous and ultimately fatal duties as an




What is a Scot?

I rarely read much in the Sunday papers. Some things catch my eye as I hunt for the crossword over my morning coffee in the excellent cafe in the neighbouring village. In the endless exchanges of questionable information from interested parties I find lots of sentences beginning with the formulae: "No true Scot would ......" or "The Scots won`t stand for ......" or  " The Scottish mentality...." or even pseudo-learned views on "Scottish identity".  I don`t ever recall anyone defining how one qualifies as a Scot. Since I was born here of Scottish parents and have spent most of my life here I should think I meet any criterion one would care to name, but I don`t feel I have anything as mystically interesting as a Scottish identity. I went to school in Glasgow with some extremely unpleasant people, some of whom later became guests of her majesty in Barlinnie prison. I have taken my son to football matches where we encountered beings of a mentality that would not be uncomfortable in Alqaeda if you simply changed the name of what they hated. Fortunately, there are many Scots I like and admire and amongst whom I am very comfortable. However, I have spent delightful evenings with people from Spain, England, Ireland, France etc with whom I have felt just as much at home. The situation reminds me of the Greeks after they won independence from the Ottoman empire.They set about consolidating their status and expanding to encompass more and more territory. Their land had always held people who thought of themselves as Vlachs, Macedonians, Bulgarians,Albanians but all spoke some form of Greek. They realised quickly that ethnic purity was an illusion.  The world would have been an infinitely happier place if this had been realised throughout the world in the past 100 years. My sense of identity is with people who like harmony, music, laughter and expanding good human contacts. I think we should be very wary of propagandists, whether in  politics or elsewhere, who use the term "Scottish" to divide one set of people from another. Small as it is, the Scottish population is ethnically a mixture of Celts, Vikings, Norman French, Angles, Saxons with now an admixture of Indian, Pakistani, Bangla Deshi, Polish and more. 




Knights Templar and Scotland

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown revitalised some old tales about the relationship between the Knights Templar and Scotland. There is a lot of historical evidence behind these tales, but as elsewhere in Europe it has been mixed up with legend and superstition from a number of sources. There are not as many readers of the works of Sir Walter Scott nowadays but those familiar with his novel,Ivanhoe, written in 1820,will recall the character of Brian de Bois Guilbert who was leader of the Knights Templar at the time and a friend ( one of the few apparently) of King John. The novel is set in England ,but Scott was an accurate historian and he shows some of the power of these knights in European circles. It was that power that increasingly frightened the French king Clement V who connived with the King of France, Philip IV, to destroy the order. Philip`s motivation was largely that he owed the knights an enormous amount of money after his wars with England and this seemed an attractive way of avoiding the debt. The Papacy and the French throne had recently combined very satisfactorily in a similar piece of gangsterism in the Albigensian massacre against the Cathars. The Knights Templar who survived this horror escaped to countries where the power of the Pope was far less. They went to Portugal and Scotland. Perhaps the most tantalising tangible evidence of their presence in Scotland is Roslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, scene of one of the later parts of the Da Vinci Code. It is a beautiful building in a lovely setting. Whatever the truth of the many stories, it is certainly an unusual church in its design. One of its puzzles is how come it has sculptures depicting the crop maize, which did not exist in Europe at that time, several years before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. Some think it proves that Templars pursued their quest for the land that had been referred to in their texts for a long time as `Armorica`. After all, we know that America was so-called many years before the arrival of Amerigo Vespucci who is often cited in pub quizzes as having given his name to the great new continent. Did the Templars bring back maize to Scotland? Of course, we should not be too surprised at people knowing about America before Columbus. The Greenland Saga and the Saga of Eirik the Red show that vikings had discovered America in the 11th century. Scotland certainly had plenty of contact with the viking lands as its place names and its dialects prove. 


Future blog entires will appear on




One of the great joys of writing is contact from people I`ve never met. Most of that is very welcome and interesting. If you want to comment or ask then contact me on: