By Paul Hicks
It is not often that visitors to Scotland return home with a suntan, but we enjoyed nothing but warm sunny days during a recent trip there. The main attraction for us on this occasion in the land the Romans called Caledonia was a grandson’s graduation from the University of St. Andrews.
Founded in 1413, it is located in the town of the same name that is known as the original “home of golf” (even though that distinction really belongs to Leith, now a part of Edinburgh). We stayed in a room at the MacDonald Rusacks Hotel that overlooked the eighteenth hole of the “Old Course.” The view across the green to the shore of the North Sea beyond was extraordinary, even for us non-golfers.
As befitting Scotland’s oldest university, the graduation ceremonies at St. Andrews were filled with pomp and circumstance. Dressed in black gowns with a cherry-red lining, each graduate knelt before the university chancellor, who tapped them on the head with an ancient red cap and uttered some Latin words that translated “and also you.” They then joined the alumni ranks, which include the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate), who graduated in 2005.
From St. Andrews our extended family drove about an hour west to Scone (pronounced <Scoon>) Palace, whose history and beauty make it one of Scotland’s most favorite places to visit. For many centuries Scone was the place where Scottish kings were crowned, including the real MacBeth and Robert the Bruce.
The palace and grounds, covering more than one hundred acres, are still owned by the family of the Earl of Mansfield, who occupy one wing of the palace when they are in residence. In order to maintain the estate, funds are raised through admission fees and weddings and other events held on the estate.
There is also a rental apartment in what is called the Balvaird Wing of the palace, which the six of us were able to enjoy during a brief stay. It includes three bedrooms, a living room, and a large kitchen, where we ate several meals, but there are also some good restaurant choices in the nearby city of Perth. There are outstanding views of the surrounding countryside from the apartment, including the nearby River Tay.
Best of all was the chance to roam the palace grounds, especially before and after visiting hours. There are several long walking paths that lead throughout the estate to lovely gardens and an extensive woodland of specimen trees. One tree, a magnificent Douglas fir, had been grown from a seed sent back from America in 1827 by the explorer and botanist David Douglas, a native of the village of Scone.
In the surrounding fields there were herds of Highland cattle, a Scottish breed that is distinguished by its long horns and shaggy coats. Roaming free over the grounds were numerous peacocks, peahens, and even a few peachicks. This veritable profusion of peafowl even included an albino peacock.
As it was past the mating season, there were no fine displays of peacock trains, but that did not keep them from producing occasional loud calls, which have been compared to the braying of a donkey. Images of peacocks on some pieces in the palace’s collection of antique porcelain indicate they have roamed the grounds for many generations.
A stay at Scone Palace can be great treat for a special family occasion and would be remarkably affordable if three couples were to share the cost. In any case, a visit to Scone Palace and tour of its historic and elegant rooms should not be missed as it is easily reached from Edinburgh, just off the main motorway to the highlands. For more information, visit scone-palace.co.uk/.
Peacock on the grounds of Scone Palace
Barbara Hicks with her grandson, Tim Voorham, at his graduation