Going up into Scotland for the first time was a trip that one of our members had looked forward to for many years. This is a travelogue, written by Matthew Carruthers, who has written for us before on the connection between Welsh and the ancient Brythonic language from which our name derives. This time it is on his trip from South Wales, up through Dumfriesshire to the northernmost inhabited point in Scotland; John O’ Groats.
From Wales to Scotland, a trip of a lifetime, by Matthew Carruthers.
‘As a Carruthers and a proud Welshman and through the evidenced information that is posted here by the Society, I have learnt a lot about my Scottish roots and have became more interested and intrigued as my knowledge grew. I felt that I owed it to both myself and my ancestors to visit the country that gave birth to our name as well as experiencing what Scotland had to offer.
On the 20th of August 2021, I greeted the early morning in preparation for the trip north. This would be on motorcycles and accompanied my two good friends Mikey and Rhys. We met at 7 am on the main thoroughfare, in a little village called Trecynon in South Wales, near the town of Aberdare. With our tanks full we headed towards the Brecon Beacons on the A470. It took 45 minutes before the road signs changed from Welsh (similar to the old Cumbric dialect from which we take our name) into English, and we knew we left Wales and entered England. Heading on through Leominster towards Shrewsbury and our first stop to refuel both our tanks and our stomachs, in Whitchurch, Shropshire.
Filled to the brim, we headed up towards the M6 motorway. Initially we made good time but hit heavy traffic around Manchester, which eased as we moved up towards the English side of the borders and the famous City of Carlisle. Carlisle has played such a major role in Anglo Scottish border history and acted as another fuel and food stop for us en route. Originally called Luguvalium by the Romans but was renamed after they left by the Celts; Caer (fort) Luel (of Luel). In the middle ages it was seen as a reasonable sized town with around 2000 inhabitants. Although the Scots tried, they never managed to capture the town, that was until the Jacobite army under Bonnie Prince Charlie took it in 1745, but not for long. Still a flourishing little town it housed the Tullie House museum, which covers in part the story of the reivers. Sadly we couldn’t make it this trip, but there is always the next time.
Relating to our family, it was in this city that two brothers; John and James Carruthers, descendants of Holmains through Over Denbie, started their cotton weaving and thread business, which they brought down from Langholm in Dumfriesshire in the 1800’s. It is from this line that the famous Carruthers clockmakers of both Langholm and Carlisle hails.
On leaving Carlisle with bikes and riders refuelled, we headed north and it wasn’t long before we saw the sign we’d all been waiting for. We stopped in awe, to enjoy the moment and appreciate that “we are here boys’.
We then set off and saw the signs for Gretna Green on the A76. At this point we rode in the rain, and I thought how our ancestors as reivers had faired on horseback and no real waterproofs to keep them warm and dry. However we weren’t fazed by a it at all and rode on in excitement of being finally in Scotland. Soon a great opportunity presented itself. This had been on my bucket list since my late dad had told me as a child that a place existed in Scotland, which carried our family name; Carrutherstown in Annandale, Dumfriesshire.
And there it was! It sits in what was the ancestral lands of our family and is in itself a quiet place with a few farms, a row of cottages and a hotel, once called the Carruthers hotel, now the Kinmount hotel.
On our way back to the A75, we stopped in the hotel and spoke with an old man who lived next door. We told him the reason for our trip and he laughed and told us that many take a photo of the sign, and it must be a Carruthers thing. It seems that many of us in the family, if in the area do make that pilgrimage lol. As a place, Annandale will always hold a place in any Carruthers’ heart, so for me it was important to stop en route and enjoy it. From Carruthers ‘of’ Carruthers, through to Carruthers of Mouswald extinct in 1548 and from there to Carruthers of Holmains, our chiefly line has sat for well over 1000 years and beyond. It is the place where our ancestors lived…and died, and through them and their tenacity, as Carruthers we are who and what we are today and I’m very proud of that.
So, reminiscent of our forebears, we fired up our metal steeds and headed right at the Carrutherstown junction travelling through the country lanes until, on the right stood Mouswald Parish Church, which was under the patronage of Carruthers of Mouswald from the 14th century onwards until their demise. It is here that the remnants of the effigy of Sir Simon Carruthers lie.
I believe the church has since been sold for private use, but the neighbours in the church yard remain as a reminder of what it once was.
After riding in the rain for a while with smiles on our faces, past rows of low roofed houses of cut stone, in rural villages and roiling green fields, we eventually reached out next stop and hotel in Ayr. Ayr, reputedly founded by William I (the Lion), was a well-established port in its day and is famous as the birthplace of the Scottish National Poet, Robert Burns.
With the bikes parked up the chef came out to speak to us, being a biker himself and asked what route we were taking. Giving us some local knowledge he advised us to go over on the ferry to Dunoon as they were better roads for bikes. Getting showered and changed and as we had time to kill before our meal at 8pm, we went for a walk along the sea front, found a bar and enjoyed a well-earned point.
My first full meal in Scotland back at the Kylestrome Hotel included haggis, ‘tatties and neeps’ (potatoes and turnip, both mashed in butter), then haggis on steak, again with neeps and tatties for my main, finishing it off with a chocolate cheese cake. But oh boy, what a meal and all was down with a few beers.
By 9 am we were checking out the new recommended route and after a breakfast of porridge, as when in Rome etc, and toast with my Carruthers badge pinned to my jacket, we set off again. Even with heavy rain forcast we simply smiled at the prospect of the journey ahead. I’m told that some Scots call rain ‘liquid sunshine lol
We headed to Greenock along the coastal roads, through small towns and large cargo ships on the water. The smell of the sea was in the air and we knew we were close. Heading for the ferry terminal at Mclinroy’s Point , we waited with all three bikes in an empty car space, but the rest soon filled up. We were there only 10 minutes and this peculiar ferry docked containing other vehicles with disembarked one by one.
A lady in a good waterproof on walked over on the ferry with her ticket machine and said ‘you boys go first’, so up we went up what can only be described as a slippery ship ramp with bike wheel eating gaps. Staying with bikes in the rain, the crossing to Dunoon only took about 10 minutes thankfully as trying to keep the bikes upright when the ferry rocked so much was a task. As we docked and the ramp was lowered, the Captain shouted down from the upper deck to us. He said ‘ sorry we’ve not got the weather for ya boys’, we just laughed and said we were welsh and used to it.
We departed the boat and headed along the sea roads with the waft of salt in the air, ~The rain was heavy but we were still smiling as we passed Loch Lomond and headed up into the glens. The roads went on forever and you could see for miles with the twists and turns like a ribbon before us. The majesty of the mountains reaching into the rain cloud. An experience of such beauty I’ll never forget, even in the rain.
Heading on down the A82, passing campervans and caravans labouring along the road, we came across a place to stop called the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrom, considered the gateway to the Western Highlands. We sat discussing our trip with a nice cuppa and a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer biscuit, as an adjunct. It was a great place to stop and a must if you’re on that road. As the rain eased we headed up the A82 towards Glencoe. Glencoe was the place of the infamous massacre of the McDonalds by the Campbells at the behest of the English king William III, and dutifully carried out by the Duke of Argyles men under Campbell of Glenlyon, in 1692. The infamy was that they slaughtered the very men, women and children that had given them food and shelter. Something that has stayed in the memories of many Scots to this day.
Moving on past Lochleven, we stopped at Fort William for a refuel. Fort William is located on the shores of Loch Linnhe, on what is called the great fault. It is situated south west of Loch Ness as is seen as the gateway for those who wish access to Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. The fort built in 1654 and named after William III the perpetrator of the massacre previously mentioned. Interestingly the Jacobite steam train, which passes through Fort William, is also used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.
Heading out of the town into the Glens, the view was spectacular with the greens of the flora interspaced by the winding reddish coloured tarmac roads as far as the eyes could see as we headed for Fort Augustus. Crossing the bridge over the Caledonian Canal and the River Oich with a view of Loch Ness surrounded by overlapping hills to the right, was truly breath taking.
Riding along the road heading north east along side Loch Ness, I couldn’t believe how vast it was (sadly our own pic was blurred so we used one from pinterest to convey the vastness of the loch). With the Loch glimmering on our right we headed through Drumnadrochit towards Inverness.
We thought that with a name like Drumnadrochit, it would have had history. It seems that the village grew up around the bridge over the Enrick built in the early 1800’s. It hosts the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition which is worth a look at and being surrounded by three glens; Glen Urquhart and Glen Moriston, as well as the Great Glen, the views are spectacular.
During the ride our eyes would glance at the Loch looking for signs of the ‘Beastie’ but no such luck. We did however meet someone at a fuel stop who had been on the Loch for over 29 years who hadn’t seen anything either. However he stated that two of his neighbours, sensible people both, claim they had. The mystery continues!
Driving up the Loch we headed for our hotel in Milton of Lays, Inverness. The area itself seemed emmaculate, like a brand new town. After a shower, we phoned the local fish and chip shop and on the recommendation of my good friend George Carruthers, we had battered haggis and chips, locally known as a haggis supper and just had to try the battered Mars Bar. The haggis was lovely, but the Mars Bar in batter was sickly and too sweet for me, but some must like it, or maybe it’s just a tourist thing.
Inverness itself sits at the northern end of Loch Ness. Dating back to the time of the Picts, it is here that Macbeth aledgedly killed king Duncan. It was made a Royal Burgh by King David I and given further charters through William the Lion. It has played it part in Scottish History, being involved heavily in the internal wars that ravished the land through time, but even with that, it prospered to become the thriving historic town it is today and well worth a visit.
The next morning we headed off in fog, onto the Inverness bypass heading towards the A9, passing the regional Police headquarters sas we went. As we left the bypass, the roads started to narrow through lush greenery and towering trees, through which the subdued daylight occasionally glittered and the roads started to twist, turn and climb. These were roads that bikers dreamed of. As we climbed out of some fog, crystal clear blue waters started to appear to our right, surrounded by lush green grass, obviously fed by the good old Scottish rain we had experienced during part of our travels.
We continued to travel higher, hitting cold fog or low lying cloud, occasionally even passing some signs of snow. However it was worth it, finally riding out of the mist we were met with views of amazing black craggy rocks, topped with green algae, leading down to azure blue water, peppered with oil rigs in the distance. We had reached the eastern Scottish coastline and the vast North Sea, that separates us from the rest of northern Europe.
Motoring on through small towns we were met with a surprise on reaching Wick, which envelopes both sides of Wick bay into which the River Wick feeds. Wick itself is a former Viking settlement and in the past, it was the busiest herring post in Europe in the 1800’s. What was impressive was the architecture of the grand old buildings in the town, totally unexpected so far off the beaten track.
Leaving Wick, the land started to level off as we headed towards the northern most village in Scotland and in fact the UK mainland; John ‘o Groats. John O Groats is a small village named after a Dutch ferryman who ran a ferry from here to Orkney after it had been acquired by the Scottish King James IV, from Norway. Legend has it the ‘Groat’ part of the name was the level of old Scottish currency taken by the ferryman for the trip, how true that is I don’t know, but it’s a nice story.
The place itself has a nice array of giftshops and cafes and it was in the latter that we enjoyed a nice cuppa and a bacon and ‘square’ (Lorne) sausage sandwich. We sat there simply admiring the view and celebrated our achievement on the 756 mile long but very enjoyable journey from South Wales to here.
For those thinking of going to Scotland to visit, whether living elswhere in the UK or overseas, take it from a Welshmen whose homeland is full of natural beauty, go for it. Scotland is a spectacular country, where history and majestic views are around every corner and for those of Scottish descent, you will feel it in your very soul.
Although this trip was not just for me, we did manage to skirt our ancestral lands, which I touched upon at the begining. Our combined goal was to reach the northern most village in Scotland and mainland Britain which we achieved. But now that I’ve been into the country of my forebears, it definately wont be my last trip up there and the Scottish borders remain high on my list.
Hope you enjoyed the travelogue as much as we did the journey.’
Matthew Carruthers, South Wales, August 2021