Thursday, 1 June 2017

Scotland #2 - Edinburgh

The National Records of Scotland
The National Records of Scotland
Beauty is sometimes found in the most unexpected places. After much misdirection and misinformation we finally found the National Records of Scotland, General Register House. This is where family histories are stored, and I needed to know how it worked for the book I’m currently writing. It was a suitably impressive building, Greek revival, with a statue of Wellington on a horse in front and many steps to the front doors. Fortunately there was a second entrance for those (like me) who find stairs a serious impediment. So we entered through the back door as it were. The first room we came to was full of people at computers, many with notebooks on their tables, coats over the backs of their chairs. Every age group from twenties to eighties.  Clearly people researching family histories.

Edinburgh's National Records, the Records Room
National Records of Scotland
We walked through to the next room and I caught my breath at the beauty of it. It was a completely circular room, with tall bookcases containing ledgers full of family histories surrounding the walls on both a lower and an upper level, and above all this was a stunning sunshine yellow and gold dome with a circle of oval bas reliefs done in the style of Della Robia, white figures against a blue background.  This room was created by the great eighteenth century neo-classical architect, Robert Adam. Nowhere, in any of the guide books to Edinburgh had I seen any reference to this masterpiece of architecture, just a few blocks from the famous Royal Mile. I would never have seen it, or even been aware of it, had I not needed to find out how one went about obtaining information on one’s Scottish ancestors.  It was the highlight of my day, perhaps of my week.

In the front room, there was a desk manned by several people and we were helped by a very pleasant young woman. She explained how the system worked, with much of the information computerized now, and sent us away with an arm full of brochures, more than enough information to ensure that the characters in my upcoming Scottish book do not do something absurd.
Edinburgh Castle's St. Margaret's Chapel
Edinburgh Castle's St. Margaret's Chapel

Earlier in the day we visited Edinburgh Castle, a magnificent medieval structure, the oldest building of which is a chapel built around 1130 by King David I. In the 1400’s and 1500’s it was the residence of Scottish Kings. Statues of its two most famous kings, Bruce and Wallace, guard its entrance. The castle sits on a high volcanic stone promontory overlooking the city and countryside as far as the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh’s harbour. Castles in those early days were serious fortifications meant to withstand battles and invasions from all comers. Not just soldiers, but whole communities lived inside their walls.

Edinburgh Castle The Stone of Destiny
The Stone of Destiny
My favorite story of the castle is about the Stone of Destiny. This rather ordinary looking but large stone was believed, from 1120, to be imbued with sacred powers. Edward I of England in 1296, essentially sacked the Scot’s royal regalia and holy relics and included the King-Making Stone as a part of his haul. Since that time it sat under the British Coronation Chair. That is until a couple of enterprising young Scots stole the stone back and it was restored to its rightful place in Edinburgh Castle, 700 years after its original theft. Let it never be said the Scots aren’t patient.

Leaving the castle, we meandered down the Royal Mile, stopping to check out the myriad shops selling cashmere sweaters and plaid scarves. We resisted temptation.

Edinburgh the John Knox House
The John Knox House

Much farther down the Royal Mile we stopped in the John Knox House, the last residence of the great Scottish leader of the Reformation. The stairs in this dwelling dating from 1470 were so steep and narrow that I chose to sit in the comfortable cafe on the ground floor and read about the house while Jeanette climbed the many stairs and reported to me what she had seen.

Exhausted, we made our way back to our wonderfully comfortable room in the Royal Scotts Club and ate dinner in their dining room rather than venturing out again. I am so glad we chose to stay in this lovely eighteenth century house in New Town rather than on the noise and chaos of the Royal Mile.


Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

 Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell
A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.

With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?

Praise for Fatal Charm:

"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris,

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B,

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson,

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.

 The books of Blair McDowell


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Blair McDowell