Last week I wrote about my trip to St Andrews as part of my assistantship as the JDP Fellow, and the insights I got from being able to visit the campus and meet with Careers Centre staff. I also shared how much I enjoyed exploring the city and visiting a new place. I didn’t undertake this trip alone, however: Brandon flew over with me. Today then, let’s take a look at his Scottish adventures.
We’d actually been wanting to visit Scotland for a few years now. Partially this is because Brandon’s family traces some of its ancestral roots there, but mainly we thought it looked beautiful. We’d started looking into traveling there in 2019 and early 2020, but the pandemic quickly put all travel plans on hold and we didn’t bring it up again. Once the trip to St Andrews became a distinct possibility though, we began talking about the idea of having Brandon come with me. The biggest challenge was the cost. While William & Mary would cover my travel, Brandon had to pay for his own expenses, which were by no means cheap. Thankfully, both sets of parents helped us out, so the trip became financially feasible.
Like me, Brandon spent much of his time exploring St Andrews. During our first full day there, he visited St Andrews castle, where he spent some time talking with one of the local guides. They swapped stories about working in historic sites, while Brandon learned more about the local economy and culture. Like me, he spent many hours walking around the city, and we often met up for lunch in between my meetings at the Careers Centre. He also made a point of trying different food and drink, specifically targeting dishes that are difficult to find in the United States. In addition to haggis, for instance, he tried fried sausages and the Scottish-made soda Irn-Bru (which to me tasted something like orange-flavored Bazooka gum). He also visited some of the local pubs, and enjoyed the comparatively quiet atmosphere in comparison to American bars.
He also spent time observing his surroundings. Since this was his first trip out of the country, he was particularly observant of the differences between the infrastructure of Scotland and the United States. He commented on the approach to housing, for instance, noting that instead of single-family homes, he observed that multi-unit housing was more common, particularly duplexes and quads. He also noticed a number of small, family-owned businesses. On the scaffolding and other supportive frameworks on building renovations or additions, he noticed the number of signs listing the companies as “& sons,” underscoring the family-owned nature of these businesses. This stood out to him because the small business is often touted as a pillar of the American economy, yet big box stores and online sales have pushed many of these out of business. As he put it, he felt like he was seeing the American Dream, at least in some of its manifestations, in Scotland.
Another aspect that especially struck him was the integration of past and present within the architecture, noting how historical buildings had been modified to accommodate modern technologies such as the Internet. Similarly, he observed the architectural variety of buildings in larger cities such as Edinburgh, commenting on how eighteenth and nineteenth-century stone buildings were situated beside twentieth-century glass ones. In other words, neither St Andrews nor Edinburgh were cities frozen in a specific time. Rather, they had evolved through time, keeping some buildings, adding new ones, adapting old ones, replacing others, and so on. With St Andrews, in particular, he found this a striking contrast to Colonial Williamsburg, a place that has been artificially restored to a specific time period by rebuilding structures in a specific architectural style while removing subsequent buildings, additions, or technological modifications (not to mention people, as many Black families, businesses, and community centers that had been there since the 19th century were displaced). As such, CW, while technically part of Williamsburg, feels separate from the rest of the city, existing in its own 18th-century bubble. In St Andrews, however, past exists alongside the present, with buildings adapted to suit changing needs and lifestyles.
Arguably the highlight of the trip for Brandon, however, was the adventure he took one afternoon while I was in meetings. As someone who has studied medieval history, Brandon has always wanted to see castles in person, and he knew that there were several in Scotland. After learning about the two different types (abandoned ruins or structures that have been so modified that they’re really large houses rather than medieval fortresses at this point), he opted to focus on ruins. Initially, he had wanted to explore Kellie Castle, but after realizing that the cab that could take him out there wasn’t running on the day he wanted to visit, he set his own itinerary. He started his adventure by taking one of the local buses through the towns of Anthstruther and Pittenweem before disembarking at St Monans to see the church there (known as Auld Kirk). From there, he spent the afternoon hiking the Fife Coastal Path. As he set out on the hike, he observed the local fishing villages, saying later that they reminded him of some of the coastal towns I had shown him in Maine.
During the hike, he visited the ruins of Newark Castle, Ardross Castle, and the Lady Janet Antstruther’s Tower. He jumped down rock faces, climbed up boulders and walls, and all-around relished the brisk seaside landscape. He observed the bright yellow flowers that were in bloom across the fields he wandered, made note of all the sheep dotting the countryside, and had a stare-down with a disgruntled cow. He saw a few other people on the trail, as well as a dog that was very excited about the stick it carried, but he didn’t find it particularly crowded or congested. It was, in short, an adventure steeped in history and the Scottish countryside, one that he thoroughly enjoyed and I’m glad that he made.
In many ways, Brandon said that Scotland struck him as the opposite of Florida, where he had grown up. Much of this stemmed from the different geography, for while we could see the resemblance to New England, in terms of temperature and vegetation it’s quite different from the Gulf Coast. Yet the infrastructure also stood out to him as different. Outside of major American cities such as Washington, DC, he’s never experienced extensive public transportation networks. To get around most places in the US, a car is a given, and the infrastructure expects you to drive. Indeed, that’s exactly how we got to airport in Richmond, taking 64 and parking our car in the long-term lot. Yet we were able to get from Edinburgh airport to St Andrews without a car, making use of trams, trains, and buses to get around. During our few days in St Andrews, he noticed how his perception of walking distance changed as he grew accustomed to living in a walkable city. He also appreciated being able to take a bus between small towns, something you almost never see in the United States.
In short, Brandon and I really enjoyed the trip, and was glad we were able to make this journey together. After years of putting all travel plans on hold, it was almost surreal to visit a place we’d talked about visiting. The biggest challenge now, we agree, is waiting until we get a chance to go back.
P.S. Just a heads-up, for collections safety and staff security, I won’t be writing any more posts about Brandon’s work at Colonial Williamsburg. You’ll also find that I’ve taken down all previous Brandon-related posts on this blog. From here on out, if you want to see what he’s been up to, check out CW’s website and social media. Or better yet, come visit CW and see for yourself!