Last year we spent Thanksgiving with good friends Matt, Lauren, and Elco at Saddell House, near Campeltown, on the West Coast of Scotland. To say this was a popular idea with folks both in the States and here in the UK is quite an understatement. This was one of the most talked about blog posts we had since moving here, and we received a lot of interest from friends wondering if we were going to do it again. Absolutely. The scouting for our next Thanksgiving destination began, like it will every year, with Lauren and Sara each spending time scouring the listings of available manor homes, castles, estates, and properties for hire.
They make a short list, they check it twice. They call around to get the best price. And after they’ve narrowed their list to a few, they announce the options for the rest to review. We gather together, hearts all a flutter and peruse the pictures with an “ah” and a mutter.
OK, I’ll stop this now.
Due to the popularity of last year’s adventure, all of us had friends who were plotting how to find their way across the Atlantic to spend Thanksgiving with us. We were told the house had no affect on their plans – they were just coming to see us of course. But we all knew better.
In the end, we were delighted to welcome members of John’s family from Indianapolis, Lauren’s sister from Atlanta, and our great friends the Martins, also from Atlanta. We added friends from Edinburgh and Elco’s girlfriend (recently returned from anthropological adventures on the subcontinent) to the retinue, and our group was set.
The house we chose this year was Auchinleck House, built between 1755 and 1760 by Alexander Boswell, the 8th Laird of Auchinleck who is better known as being the father of James Boswell, the author of what is called perhaps the greatest biography ever written in the English language.
Lord Auchinleck may have built the house to celebrate his appointment to the Scottish Court of Session, (the Scottish Supreme Court) and it’s notable that he was one of the majority who voted that Sir John Wedderburn of Ballindean could not force his slave Joseph Knight to remain in his service in 1788. This trial was essentially the death knell for slavery in Scotland, and was the logical conclusion of the prevailing teachings held by almost ever Scottish Enlightenment thinker of the day.
These were some of Lord Auchinleck’s words during the trial:
“Although in the plantations they have laid hold of the poor blacks, and made slaves of them, yet I do not think that is agreeable to humanity, not to say to our Christian religion. Is a man a slave because he is black? No. He is our brother; and he is a man, although not of our colour; he is in a land of liberty, with his wife and child, let him remain there.”
While our last adventure found us driving several hours to the north, braving lashing rain and flooded roads until we turned down a Western peninsula, Auchinleck house is just a bit south of Glasgow in Ayrshire, which befits its intent as a retreat from Edinburgh for her builder.
It’s located in a very rural area, and accessing the house means driving down a few small unmarked roads, the last being gravel, but as you cross a stone bridge over a roaring stream, the house appears before you in all her grandeur. She can sleep up to 13 people and includes a massive dining room, breakfast room, study, huge kitchen, rooms for laundry, ping pong, and games in the basement, and a massive great room and library on the first (Americans: second) floor.
This year we came armed with several improvements – we didn’t carry as much food from Edinburgh as Sara had scouted the area and found a large Tesco grocery close by. We brought a projection screen for our projector. Two of us brought our bikes. We also stayed for seven days this year, up from four last year.
Some of us arrived by rental car, some by train, and some were delivered direct from the Glasgow airport by hired car and driver. All of us had a grand time exploring the area on foot and by bike, eating too much, watching movies, and building roaring fires.
Thanksgiving dinner was an outrageous feast, prepared by Sara, with all of her classic touches. A pre-dinner cocktail, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, yeast rolls, sweet potato casserole, green beans, dressing made with mushrooms and leeks, and of course the turkey. A free range bird, it was specially ordered from Crombies, one of the best butchers in Britain located on the street we used to live on. Sadly, it wasn’t fresh – you can’t get a fresh turkey in the UK prior to Christmas, of course.
After a day of feasting, the group split up and departed back to Edinburgh. We arrived Friday afternoon and had our Christmas tree delivered the very next day. We’d highly recommend staying at Auchinleck House in the future, and if you’re reading this and find yourself dreaming about spending Thanksgiving in Scotland, let us know! We’d love to have you!
Check out more photos (all taken by Sara) on our Flickr page.