We were bumping along on the bus to Hawick by 9:30 the next day. I took up my usual habit of listening to music and staring out the window as the bus bounced and weaved along the increasingly windy road. Mom and I hadn’t spared much time for breakfast before we left; a bit of toast and a half a cup of tea had been about it. When we arrived in Hawick, we found our way back along familiar streets to the Heritage Hub.
But before Mom dived into her research, we ducked into the Damascus café for second breakfast. This time I enjoyed a full cup of tea, but not before having to run to the nearest ATM to pull out some more cash to actually pay for the tea. We each had a bagel with hummus, exchanging few sentences and filling most of the time looking around the little café. Kathy and Zilla were at the Heritage Hub just like last time. Kathy gave us a warm welcome and got to work straight away with Mom. They went off to a computer near the other end of the room while I sat at one of the side tables to catch up on my trip notes.
Mom finished things up just as lunchtime came around. The Hub was closing up for the lunch hour anyway so it was perfect timing. We said our thank yous and goodbyes to Kathy, and also picked up a good tip to fly through Dublin next time we visited. We left the Heritage Hub for the last time and made our way back to the bus stop. From Hawick we traveled northeast over to Kelso.
Kelso is a much smaller town than Hawick is. The bus dropped us right at the center of town, and even in the heart of town there wasn’t much to see. Not being sure where we were going or what we were looking for, our first stop was in the Visitor Center. It was a small shop with some souvenirs and lots of brochures on things to see in the area. A single woman was behind the counter. We asked if there was any sort of family history center but she told us there wasn’t one. Instead she suggested we try the library.
A short walk took us there. Two librarians sat behind the desk when we arrived. We explained our situation and what we were looking for, and together, with some help from the group having a meeting in the back room (it was some sort of history society of women or something), we managed to glean that the old poorhouse where our ancestor had lived had since been converted into a hospital. They assured us there was a date stone left on the building and that if we went round there we could find it.
We thanked the librarians for all their help, and I went away with another thing to add to my list of why librarians (and libraries) are so awesome. The hospital was another short walk away, and as we came up the drive I found myself having a similar sensation to the one I had when Mom and I walked to the Wellington airport. It just seemed a bit odd to be walking up to a hospital when you were neither sick, injured, or visiting someone who was. Nonetheless, we stepped into the reception area.
Once again, we pestered some poor, unsuspecting person with our quest to trace our ancestry. The woman behind the window wasn’t one hundred percent sure whether or not what the librarians had told us was true. She tried asking a few people to confirm it, and in the end just suggested we have a walk around to see for ourselves.
There was an obvious shift in the exterior of the building, which we had taken note of as we walked in. An older stone half gave way to a much more modern looking addition. We walked back down the drive, turned a corner, and crossed into a small sitting area behind the building. It didn’t look like the place got used much. Several of the chairs and tables had webs strung between them and the nearby plant life. But this didn’t matter to us, because as we came around the corner we found what we were looking for.
The building was nothing to look at, just gray stone with a bit of white piping running along its surface and window and door frames that had clearly been upgrade in the last few years. But there, at the top, was the date stone we were looking for. 1854. Mom and I both took a moment to stare up at the lightly flourished numbers. The sun was low in the sky and sent streaks of sunlight and shadow across the stones. This was the closest thing Edith Sutor would ever have to a headstone. I stood for a time in silence, letting Mom take in the moment.
We left the old poorhouse behind after spending a few poignant minutes in front of the date stone. Back on the main walkway an older gentleman stopped us. He told us he had just been talking with the receptionist and that she had told him about what we were looking for. We spent a few minutes talking to him about Kelso and its history before moving back towards the center of town.
The center of town was quite literally a town square. Mom and I walked the perimeter, looking into the various shop windows with our eyes trained for any shops that might carry thistle earrings. One shop looked promising, so we stepped inside to have a look. The space was a small narrow strip of a room, and there was one woman inside running the shop. We got chatting with her as we looked around. Sadly there were no thistle earrings to be had, but we did walk away with a new earring organizer for Mom and a nice set of bookmarks bearing images of the Scottish Borders.
There was still some time to kill before our bus would take us back to Edinburgh so we popped into a café called the White Swan. We each ordered a pot of tea as well as a scone to split and took a seat outside. The ladies working the café were very friendly and we got to chatting when I brought in our dishes from outside. One woman was telling me about a large horse festival that takes place in Kelso every year and said I should come back and see it. I told her I most certainly would be back.
One last stop was made before returning to the bus. Just next door to the White Swan was a watch shop, and I had been in desperate need of a new watch for some time (ha, get it? I do apologize for the unintentional bad pun). I spotted one I the window I thought would do quite well but took a quick look at the watches inside before I made my decision. If you’re wondering, the watch from the window is still going strong today, over a year later.
After our brief jaunt around Kelso, we found ourselves in the familiar interior of the bus, once again being jostled back north to Edinburgh and what promised to be a good night’s sleep after several hours of driving. The last of the sunlight was disappearing from the streets as we arrived back at the flat, pale patches of orange receding back into the darkened corners of buildings. The house was quiet. We walked down the hall to our room and flopped onto our respective beds.
Tomorrow we would be flying back home and leaving the home of our ancestors behind. The night was spent organizing all our belongings back into our bags, making sure the various souvenirs we bought along the way fit comfortably with all we had brought from home. I’d started the journey with two books in my possession. I was going home with 10.
When we entered the room, we found two little visitors waiting for us on the window ledge. Maya had left the Highland cow egg cups there for us to take home. It was a very sweet gesture but Mom insisted she couldn’t take them. She asked me to include a P.S in my thank you note saying as much. I sat down to write the note after we had packed everything away and after I had written a draft of the note down in my journal to make sure I’d included everything I wanted to. I wrote the note on a postcard we’d brought back from Berlin, one that was supposed to be Peter’s only I’d forgotten to give it to him before getting on the train. Oh well. He knows where to get more.
I’m not sure why, but by the end of the trip, I felt like we hadn’t had enough time. Our time was shorter than when we’d visited New Zealand, but not by much, and we’d had fewer things planned. But somehow it just felt like there was so much we hadn’t done. For any passionate traveler this feeling is always present when a journey comes to an end. There is always more to see, more to do. Scotland is a place I know I’ll return to soon. It’s a place built of rock and stone and tougher things. The people are grounded, charming, and friendly. And for all the rough edges there is also beauty and a sense of tranquility to be found.
My adventures in Alba aren’t over yet. But for now there are other adventures to be had. My time in Scotland is simply on hold.