I’ve always been interested in my ancestry and heritage. I remember back in my early 20s driving around to graveyards throughout East Tennessee collecting data from tombstones and reading tons of genealogy books and court records. I eventually was able to trace my family history back to the Revolutionary War and find links to Scotland as well.
Many Scottish and Irish immigrants settled in the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. They chose these Appalachian Mountains cause it reminded them of the Highlands and Cairngorm Mountains they left behind. But the lush green valleys of Tennessee also reminded them of their eastern Scottish farms with the gentle rolling hills and its many streams.
This past summer I had the opportunity to be a hike in Scotland. The Great Outdoor (TGO) Challenge. It’s a self-supported Scottish coast to coast backpacking adventure. Challengers are required to hike from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland, all on foot with no assistance from motorized vehicles and are required to complete it in under two weeks.
This was an exciting opportunity since my ancestors came from Scotland. I would be walking on the same ground that they once did. I was also excited to see all the old settlements and castles that lace the countryside. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I’d be seeing historical sites that would predate the 1200 AD. The things I would discover along way would reinforce everything I had learned about my ancestors and how they lived.
As I began my hike across the Scottish countryside. I walked along many settlements, properties and castles. The one thing I noticed immediately was they all built their fences/walls out of stone. You can find a lot of old settlements in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park like this as well. Settlers would build these walls/fences along their property boundaries out of stone they found on the property. Built identically, walls/fences in both Scotland and Tennessee mirror each other as if they were built by the same people.
Another striking similarity was how they lived. Both the Scottish and the Tennessee setters we’re farmers. Raising sheep, goats, chickens and cattle they could provide their own milk, eggs, meat and materials for making clothing. They also worked gardens which would provide the vegetables as well. Nothing went to waist. They found ways to be efficient with what they had. And those same ways and traditions were passed on to their child and grandchildren who immigrated to the Smokies and East Tennessee.
So my trip to Scotland was not only a walk across a beautiful country. It was also a walk to discover the land my ancestors left behind. I am grateful to have been able to walk the same soil they once walked, drink the same water they once drank and see the same views of their beautiful Highlands and Cairngorms Mountains they once looked at.