Archives: Iona and Walking with our Ancestors

Scotland, Fall, 2005


Traveller’s Joy took Nancy and her mother, Betty, to Scotland in order for Betty to experience the land of their ancestors, the Grays. Betty had a lifetime wish to visit Iona specifically and to experience the beacon of Culloden that has cast its long Light and Shadow into Scottish family gatherings on Turtle Island.

Starting in Glasgow, the women travelled north to Oban, to see the namesake place of Betty’s grandson. This “bay of little caves” is where boats have taken off for countless island journeys over millenniums of time. Betty loved the Victorian flavor of the waterfront hotels and taking of tea, and wasn’t long in appreciating the feeling of being at home in a culture that felt surprisingly familiar.

A stopover on the Island of Mull, led to a visit to Duart Castle, which revealed its incredible view high above the waters and was great fun for the two women because they got a recipe for fruitcake that was worth the whole trip overseas! Not only was it tasty but brought up memories of Gurney Gray, Betty’s dad, eating fruitcake anytime of day or night.

A travelling companion met them on Iona and there it was essential for the threesome to embrace the elements:  There was an adventure in the Druidic mists, a wild storm that drove the ferry from the shore, and gales that pushed them to walk quickly to the Abbey for exploration and contemplation inside the protective walls. The splendor of Iona was found not only in the history of great kings and the dedicated Columba and his followers, but in the rugged beauty of wind, earth and water.  Iona’s community of people of today seem to reflect the spirit of surrendering to the changes in the weather but not breaking from it. The challenge of island living appears to build strength and willingness to be “apart” from the rest of the world in some ways.

There was a personal ancestral altar set up every day during the trip. It featured a photo of Betty’s late parents who had never made it to the homeland in person. The aspect of spiritual pilgrimage was strongest for Betty in Iona where she could feel the footsteps of the devoted that went before them in time. It was a reflection of her own dedication to a Christian life, ensouled in a Scottish family culture.

At Culloden the ravens flew over the field under scudding, dark clouds. Nancy, who is married to David Cameron, did a thanksgiving for the gift of lives given by the Cameron clan and made an offering of whiskey spirits to the fallen. Betty and Nancy had a chance to remember their lineage and to appreciate the costs of warring in the loss of life and lands.

In Edinburgh, Betty found out that the new Scottish parliament had opened on her birthday, Oct 9, 2004. As a person much more interested in contemporary government than even in the amazing history of Holyrood Palace, she was really pleased to feel the voice of the Scottish people through the process of lawmaking.

After a rainbow filled boat ride on a loch, visits to ancient cairns and graves, castle ruins, and the mysterious Roslyn Chapel, many cups of tea and cakes, and taking time to appreciate the ever changing landscape, the journey rounded to Glasgow again.

Betty was planning the next pilgrimage, to the Borders, when she found out that she was terminally ill. She is with the ancestors now, a woman who had the feistiness of the Border Grays, inheriting their fierce protection of land and a pride in extended family.