The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 There has been a dramatic change in the weather here in St Andrews, a dullness has descended over the town, and it did rain rather heavily, but like Camelot, it was only allowed to rain overnight. It is good to see the earth dark after the rain and the plants stand as erect as toy soldiers.

After the Monday chores I settled in with Antonia Fraser’s book ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

A book that I’m sure will take me the remainder of the year to finish, for it is so full of detail I keep running off to find maps of France or the internet to translate some of the French and Latin, or find out more about somewhere along the young queen’s journey.

I visited many of the places associated with Mary over the years and read the notices that tells us that “Mary slept here” or planted a tree here or….. and like Bruce’s caves (doted all over Scotland) all with their obligatory spider’s story, most are pure fiction. And Antonia with her careful research, has blows many such myths about Mary apart too. Also by reading the letters of those around Mary at the time we get a far better picture of how Scottish history at that time was so interwoven with the politics of the day, so we can understand better how such stories, started and grow into fact.

I have cycled extensively in Basse Normandie and Bretagne and have visited the little chapel that marks the spot where Mary was reputed to have come ashore in Roscoff, the pamphlet I read at the time stated that ‘it is believed that Mary herself commissioned the building of the church to mark the occasion’ but again I find out that this too is possibly incorrect, then again, you must have a story to tell to the tourists.

Then there are the surprises that come by coincident throughout the book. Like how 200 years after Mary stepped ashore at Roscoff – and no there is no footprint in the rocks, that also is just a nice wee story, sorry. We find that Prince Charles Edward Stuart, arrived at that very same small fishing village, after Culloden. Two hundred years, of war and upheaval and going all the way back to Wallace before that. Maybe Culloden was not such a bad thing for Scotland after all. OK, it turned Scotland into a vassal state, for a while, (but still an independent nation) with English garrisons throughout the land, and the New Town of Edinburgh said it all “We won”. But at least it ended the reign of the feuding bickering Warlords and constant wars with England. It also ended the power that the Catholic Church had over the lands. (at the eve of the reformation the Church revenue was £300,000, whereas the royal lands only brought in £17,500). So Knox was right to call them out, as a ‘greedy pack’. The clergy had grown fat, literally, off the land, whilst the people starved.

“That which you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me” The idea of their pastoral mission seems to have been lost in translation along the way.

St Andrews castle was the home of Cardinal Beaton, one of the most powerful men in Scotland, still being a Roman Catholic Cardinal did not stop him have an open relationship with at least one mistress. The RC church was so corrupt and far too close to the seat of power.

(although I do believe he would have made a better leader and diplomat for Scotland, at that time, than an infant queen, and all those that were trying to use her to grab control over Scotland.)

The spell was broken at the coming of the reformers – no need to give your lands and wealth to the church to have prayers said for you from now to eternity – easy to see why many thought,

If that’s the case, I want my land back”.

Many blame religion for all the wars and evil that has gone on down through the ages, but it was not a religion but those men of the cloth that used religion for their own ends.

True to his word the president moved all the US troops out of Afghanistan as promised, I did not think the people on The Hill would allow him to do so. Sad that they left like a thief in the night. On Channel 4 News tonight, we heard that the Taliban have recaptured two-thirds of the country already, including one of the US main bases and all the munitions therein, cases and cases of modern guns and ammunition. The Afghan army soldiers fled across the border – seems they are not willing to fight a civil war with their countrymen. Echoes of their departure from Vietnam – leaving behind chaos. 20 years – trillions of dollars – and hundreds of thousands dead, for what?

“I like the smell of nay-pone in the morning – smells like – Victory.”

My bike did not arrive today as promised, boohoo, they now say tomorrow. Anyway, the weather forecast is crap for tomorrow, don’t want to get it all wet and dirty on the first day anyway do we.

Keep safe.

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