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Report from Vacationland: In Scotland, a haunting sound

My husband, Bob, and I believe in traveling on our own without a tour group whenever possible. Doing explorations by ourselves has led to many amazing experiences we never could have had on a guided tour.

Bob’s mother was a Shaw, so while we were visiting Scotland a few years ago, we went to the town of Inverdruie, the home of Clan Shaw. It is a small rural town located in the Highlands. We hiked down a long dirt road to an old schoolhouse converted to a library where we hoped to research the Shaws. The helpful librarian handed us a map that showed where the grave of the founder of the Shaw clan was buried.

We walked through fields with heather and thistle, avoiding the places where long-horned, long-haired Highland cattle (or “Hieland coos”) grazed. We passed a small plot of land surrounded by serious chain-link fence and barbed wire and big warning signs, perhaps an old unexploded World War II bomb?

Finally we reached an old cemetery. The librarian had told us that the locals don’t like to go down there, hinting that it was haunted. The thatched roof of an ancient church had long ago fallen in, leaving the stone walls. Old mossy stones carried the names of Shaws.

One grave had a metal cage over it – the burial place of the founder of the Shaw clan who died in 1396. Underneath the cage were five cylindrical stones about a foot and a half high sitting on the stone slab. Local legend had it that anyone who moved the stones would die an untimely death in the nearby River Spey, so a wealthy Shaw had put the protective cage over them.

For Bob, this was like the moment in Roots when Alex Haley said, “You old African, I found you!”

I had realized that finding the ancient Shaw was serious business when Bob passed up the chance to ride the Strathspey steam railroad to find him.

As we were contemplating this ancient ancestor, a car drove up and a mother, father, a girl about 10 years old and boy about 12 got out. The boy was carrying bagpipes. We went over and introduced ourselves.

The mother said, “He came to play for his Gram,” pointing to her son. “He was too sad at her funeral to do it.”

They walked to a fresh grave in the far corner of the cemetery. It was covered with wilted flowers. The boy began to play his bagpipes. We withdrew to the other side of the cemetery by the old chapel and sat on a stone wall. The haunting sound of the bagpipes soon had us weeping. It was a sacred moment.

(Linda Dumelin Williams lives in Chichester.)

Linda, Thank you for sharing your amazing experience.

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