I decided to take the bus to Kelso yesterday. It’s a two-hour journey over lovely countryside, through the Scottish Borders. I’d gone as far as St. Boswell’s to visit Dryburgh Abbey just over a week before, so was looking forward to seeing some familiar territory. I boarded the bus at 9:10 and settled back to watch the world go by.

Entering Lauder (at about the one hour mark), the bus gave a squeal when we stopped to pick up passengers. The noise continued for a bit, then stopped. All seemed well, until we began to climb the steep hill around Soutra. The bus slowed and a blue haze began to fill the bus, accompanied by a burning smell. Stopping at a lay-by and look-off at the top, the driver assessed the damage and determined a belt had snapped. Another bus would have to be sent for… but he had no mobile reception up there! A passenger offered her phone, and the driver called for assistance. While he was off the bus doing so, one of the passengers grumbled that it was the second time in a week one of the company’s buses had broken down.

When the driver returned the phone to the passenger, she placed a call.

“Hello, Joyce?… I’m afraid I’m going to be delayed. The bus has lost a belt and they’re sending another bus. I’ll call you again when we’re under way.”

This exchange was punctuated by our driver, who was trying to call the office on his cell phone: “Hello?”… “Hello?”… (a few snickers rippled through the passengers)

About a half hour later, our bus driver flagged down the other scheduled bus going from Edinburgh to Jedburgh, and told those of us going to Kelso that we’d have to wait for the next bus at St. Boswell’s.

As we boarded the new bus, the woman who’d called her friend before made another call.

“Hello, Joyce?… We’ve boarded another bus, but I’ll have to get off in St. Boswell’s to wait for the next bus to Kelso, so I’ll be delayed a bit more. I’ll call you when I get there.”

Less than 20 minutes after we’d resumed our journey, we were stopped by a police road block and were informed by an officer that the road was closed because a lorry carrying wood had caught fire. Delay was expected to be 20 to 30 minutes.

“Hello, Joyce?… (peels of laughter from 12 passengers on board the number 51 bus) We’re stopped at — where are we, driver? [Galadean] — Galadean because a lorry’s caught fire in the road. How about I just call you when I’m within sight of Kelso?” (More laughter.)

In the meantime, our new driver was trying to call his office: “Hello?”… “Hello?”… (more peals of laughter from those of us who’d been on the other bus.)

Another woman pulled out a bag of sweets and offered them round. The woman who’d mentioned earlier that this was the second time in a week the bus had broken down, grumbled that all she had to share were canned peas. That cracked me up, but I didn’t dare laugh out loud! You’d have thought we’d just learned we were to be put out in the middle of the wilds to fend for ourselves, without two sticks to make a fire!

When at last we got to St. Boswells, I decided to visit the excellent cafe/bookstore/antique shop that had been recommended to me the last time I was there so, with half an hour to kill, I set off in that direction… only to find that it’s closed on Mondays! So, I stopped in at the Co-op next door to pick up some fruit, and returned to the bus shelter to wait. There, I met up with the woman who’d made several calls to Joyce, and a man who’d had to take the bus to Kelso that day to pick up his car. We had a pleasant chat, and soon the bus arrived.

We continued to talk about the region, its history and people until we arrived in Kelso. As we got off the bus, the fellow pointed ahead and said, “See? There’s the Cross Keys Hotel on the town square. That’s where the drovers used to stay when taking their sheep to market.”

As I looked in the direction of his outstretched hand, I realised where I was — and that I’d been in the town last October! Oh well… the Abbey ruins were worth another visit, and I had a lovely cup of tea and a scone at Caroline’s Coffee House on the Horsemarket. There I read my book until it was time to catch the bus back to Edinburgh.

Walking back to the flat, I saw a notice for a talk at the Broughton History Society for 7:30 that evening. I had a bit of supper, then headed to the Drummond High School over on the next street. There, Professor Charles McKean of the University of Dundee gave a fascinating talk and slide show: “Scotland as a French colony in the 16th century.” Using architecture, he argued that with James V’s marriage to Marie de Guise in 1538 began the process of colonising Scotland. French custom and couture dominated Scottish life, and gradually buildings (new or renovated) began to assume distinctly French features — round towers or turrets. They also began to have defensive walls built around them. This was at the instigation, according to McKean, of Marie’s brother the Cardinal de Lorraine (and a military man — as one would expect a man in his position to be in those days). Until then, Scots had no reason to fortify their houses because they were a peaceful people. (I wonder if Professor McKean meant ALL of Scotland, including the Highland clans? Should have asked.)

With James V’s death, the Queen became Queen Dowager, with lifetime entitlement to properties in Scotland, including Stirling Castle. She remained in Scotland throughout the “Rough Wooing” of Henry VIII, (who was determined to have Mary Queen of Scots become his son, Prince Edward’s wife) though Mary was sent to France. Marie had no desire for her daughter to marry Edward, and instead pledged her daughter to become wife of the young Dauphin, Francois. When Francois ascended the throne, her daughter would be queen of both Scotland and France (though most certainly would never return to Scotland). Of course, that’s not how things turned out in the long run. In the short run, the French influence remained strong on the Scottish court and people — which frequently annoyed many Scots, as they saw key posts at court doled out to Marie’s French compatriots.

According to McKean, after Marie’s death, architecture in Scotland began to assume its own unique design, and Scottish culture asserted itself once more, never to be overshadowed again — not even with the Act of Union in 1707(?).

He’s an entertaining speaker, and certainly leaves his audience with a lot to think about, challenging as he does the textbook stories of Scottish history. Coincidentally, I’d been thinking earlier in the day about an article about General James Wolfe that would cast him in a different light, based on accounts by people he encountered after the Battle of Culloden, which contrast even with the popular story that he risked the Butcher Cumberland’s wrath (and discipline) by refusing Cumberland’s order to kill an unarmed Jacobite soldier (so Cumberland did it himself). I’ll have to think a bit more on that… though McKean has certainly inspired me!