I just returned from two weeks wandering the Argyll regions of Scotland with 39 others exploring, for the most part, the historical sites associated with the great Clan Campbell. We visited many castles, among them Kilchurn, Scone, Blair, Stirling, Inveraray, James V Place, and Castle Campbell. Even among the many that now lay in ruins, the sense of power and wealth can be experienced. The builders of these fortress/habitations came from a hearty, clever breed of men and women. They lived with a consistently harsh climate and an internally threatened social order (clan raiding clan) while having to keep an eye on their powerful neighbor to the South, England.
At one point in its long and turbulent history, the Clan Campbell controlled 300,000 acres. When the clan supported the winning side, it gained lands; when it supported the losing side it lost lands – sometimes even their heads. One clever Campbell knowing that his head was in danger, inventoried all of this property, down to (they say) his last walnut over to his wife. When his head did roll, his family lands were saved.
In the early days, the Campbell’s supported the independence of the land of the Scots under Robert the Bruce. Later, they helped to maintain the Protestant Monarchy in England. For better or worse, a Campbell Earl invited John Knox to preach to the common folk. The rest is history.
The American Campells with whom I traveled were proud of their ancestry; and, their ancestry had to be proud of them. Among the travelers/pilgrims were several teachers, a few professors, three Protestant Ministers, a Baptist lay missionary, at least two lawyers (one of whom was a child advocate), a news media photographer, a Director of La Leche League, an engineer, the kind that drives a train, a director of nurses, and a successful businessman who races cars. Those are just the ones with whom I spoke. To give the reader an idea of the stalwartness of their character, after the tour leader said that the on bus lavatory was for emergencies only, no matter how many miles or hours a day that we traveled, not one person used the on-board facilities! Some might say that given the fact that 34 of us were over sixty, that might constitute persistence in adversity, others may classify it as a small miracle. To me, the Campbells are strong, salt-of-the-earth types who abide by the logic of a situation.
One tender memory involved a visit to the currently being restored Kilum Burial Chapel. On a particularly wet, rainy day, our tour leader escorted us into a tiny chapel, next to which were buried five Campbell earls. The curator of the restoration project welcomed us as the first visitors to the almost fully restored Kilum Chapel. In our honor, the parishioners had prepared tea and scones for us in the basement parish hall. In a dank little room with a tiny kitchen off to the side, on two long tables shrouded in linen cloths were forty delicate china tea cups and saucers, dessert plates to match, serving dishes of scones and cookies, bowls of strawberry jam and clotted cream and soft blue napkins. What a lovely surprise! The setting took me back to a time before Styrofoam cups and instant anything. The ladies who served from ancient tea kettles might have been anyone’s granny happy to provide you with a spot of warmth in such miserable weather.
On the last day of our trip, we returned to Inveraray Castel where, under a beautiful white marquee, with a crystal chandelier, we had lunch with the 13th Duke of Argyll, the current Clan Campbell chief. The service was gracious, the food delicious and the company grand. This is what one expects from a Duke today. But, china tea cups in a humble parish hall in the Twenty-first century, is a memory to be savored.