Scotland Travelogue

08.31.17 After Zurich, the Edinburgh Chess Club is the oldest functioning club in the world. We were recently in Scotland, visited the Edinburg Chess Club, and played chess in some far-flung Scottish locations including the Isle of Skye and up in the Highlands. We're delighted to share our impressions and images of both the club and this beautiful country as well as the haunting Tale of the Lewis Chessmen.

Scotland is full of royal iconography. This King's crown with fleur de lis appears on the eastern wall of the Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh.

We began our journey on the Isle of Skye, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, off the northwestern coast of Scotland.

This bridge connects Skye with the mainland town of Kyle of Lochalsh.

The hills and valleys on the Isle of Skye are often cloaked in a thick misty fog with rain occurring very frequently.

The town of Portree on the Isle of Skye from a bluff overlooking the bay.

A closer look

This ferry will take you up to the Outer Hebrides including the Isle of Lewis where the oldest set of chess pieces ever excavated, know as the Lewis or Uig chessmen, were found in 1831.

We wandered over to the Portree Community Library which houses a large collection of books on the history and archeology of the Scottish islands.

This particular book had an entry entitled, The Tale of the Lewis Chessmen. Here's the harrowing story.

The Tale of the Lewis Chessmen
(Warning - do not read late at night)
Behold, Be Bold, Be Told,
A tale of death, murder, treachery.
Ah! Shall I? Tes! The tale unfold.

Wanderer, a hiking man I be.
One late evening, cold, mist, rain.
I see a cave, light sticks to fire,
a rich man, bread, butter and tea.
A misty eve at Uig,
my blanket so comfortable and warm,
I see a figure, a shadow,
in the cave's arched, open door.
"Ay-Ay there" was the cry,
"Come in" cries I.
A sailor boy came into the cave,
And sat sown facing me.
He shook my hand and gently smiled.
We spoke, as we shared some tea.

He asked if I had found a bag,
Nought of which I knew.
He gently smiled, yet looked so sad.
He told a tale,
'tis a tale from the sailor lad.

The tale does start, at Ard Mhor,
beyond the mountains of Uig,
Where cattle grazed, on Loch Hamnavay,
and the herdsman was the Red Gillie,
Gillie Ruadh, climbed to the top
of Ardmore.
Behold, a ship riding at anchor, far below.
Red Gillie, a suspicious man,
he lay in wait, to see what be the fate.
Moonrise, a dark and misty night,
and through the lapping waters
silent creep, a small boat,
oars kissing circles, upon the water deep.
A young sailor boy, did meet the land
at Gleann-na-Curach.
Red Gille watched, like hawk to prey,
the sailor boy's 'bag o' swag',
a secret come Red Gillie's way.

Red Gille stalked the boy, to meet at Guire,
and the boy, was much, confused.
He knew not where he was nor why,
but has stole a lot, from the ship in dock,
and such a crime, be not forgot.

The captain's playthings in a bag,
a treasure be, that day.
A simple sailor boy, took flight,
to disappear in a cold and lonely,
deep, black, night.
Red Gille, killed the boy,
temptation, lust, desire.
Who would know? For the boy did go,
as a thief, and an evil liar.

The boy and his treasure hid,
Red Gille headed home.
He told his master Calum,
there be a boat, in the loch, in the dock,
let's take some men and plunder
then sink her bows, way under,
to sing, then dance,
to drink to chance.
The devil will rant
a sin, no one, will wonder.

Master Calum, a righteous man of God
banished Gille from Balnacliffe.
The treasure be lost in the Uig sands,
near the sailors bones, that rot.
The Lord moves in mysterious ways,
His justice to begot.

Red Gille, caught in Stornoway
for a multitude of crimes.
His nature be, for the hanging tree,
for Lord Kintail and Gallows Hill
opposite the ancient stronghold
of the old Siol Torquil.

Many years passes by, and the days be still,
as Malcolm MacLeod stood with his long-horned cows,
on a lonely heather hill.

As if some unknown, fate or spirit,
restless be, the sailor boy?
Killed in a frienzied spree,
a secret to unfold
the truth be told
of a wondering restless spirit forever roam
the sands and seas of everlasting time,
time locked, Pandora's box, a murder and a crime.

The old cow, rubbed upon the sand,
and dug her horns in deep,
an old bag fell upon the land,
and a whistling wind blew dust
across the ragged peat.
MacLeod stood frozen to the spot
as he saw the chessmen drop.

What be? Some effigy, some graven images,
such of the like, be never seen.
Malcolm MacLeod dropped to his knees
to pray, to God, for maybe, these devils tools.
'Twas an eerie wind, so suddenly
to twirl around, a howling sound.
Malcolm cried out aloud, "OhLord, please Lord, save me",
as the cow did screech, a wail,
as, the like of, never known,
and the only though in Malcolm's mind
was to be, now safe at home.
Suddenly, what was? An, an, apparition.
Malcolm's body did shiver, and his bones did shake,
a fear felt, never before.
'Twas a, a, sailor boy, stood by the bellowing cow,
pointed hand, to secret bag,
now lying clearly upon the sand
with a strap, to the cow's horn snag.

Suddenly, the cow did bolt and rear and roar,
the simple beast, could take no more,
and with the bag dangling from one horn
to Malcolm ran
as if, a desert, whirlwind storm.

Ahhhh - Ahhhh - Malcolm ran, so fast,
so fast, a trail be left forever, now within the sand
they say, scorched brown upon the land.

Once home, Malcolm did drink much rum,
'tis said he did not speak
for many weeks
he drank and lay in bed,
as if a curse be in his head.

Time on, a gentleman from Stornoway
heard of this ghastly tale
and went, with many men to see,
to see, what be, what may prevail.

They were to find eighty chessmen,
which they took to Stornoway
and placed into museums at London and Edinburgh
where they remain until this day,
and Malcom MacLeod
received thirty pounds
to help drink his fears away.

But please, sit tight, for the tale,
be more, or go now if you fear,
for what to tell, I tell you now,
a secret be, which no one, now, should hear.

Many years pass by and nought amend.
'Twas one wild, freezing winter's day
when Rev. A. J. MacKenzie, with a friend
were exploring Ardmore.
"Best let be, MacKenzie".
spoke wisely so, his friend.
They poked the sand with sticks
as if to find some secret clue.
maybe a coven, be a witch,
maybe a secret hole,
curiosity, what was it be, to fear MacLeod
to chill his very soul.

Three hundred years, yet some things
Time nae change.

"Best let be, MacKenzie, head for home,
I feel a breeze,
be cold like ice,
within my soul, a stabbing, cold steel knife".

The breeze turn to a gale of ice,
to push both men into a cave,
a cave so cold,
it felt as if a grave of old.

The two men sat within the cave,
awaiting for the storm to pass.
and yet, could see a calm, beyond the wind,
beyond the wind a stillness be,
it was so still, the grass.
Both men shivered to the bone
yet both men were deeply stirred,
for something in the wind, was said,
it was a hidden word.

Suddenly, a pouncing fear,
a heart beat, hard, the breath a hiss,
to break free through the ribs,
as if the heart beat, true, to know,
to know a devil's kiss.

Both men sat within the cave,
frozen, staring, wide-eyed,
white-haired. like ghosts.
If you had been and seen the two,
you would have screamed and ran from hell
be a tale, be nought to boast.

Suddenly, faintly, slowly, as if a mist,
over a pile of stacked stones.
an apparition began to appear,
the wind did whistle oooooo,
and the men were froze in fear.
A sailor boy stood upon the rocks,
the blood ran from his head.
He kicked the rocks beneath his feet
and there below
behold the bones, the bones of one man dead.
Both men did scream, and run,
like two lost souls from hell,
with snow-white frozen hair, spiked icicles,
wide mouths and eyes,
like living dead, from a cold death bed,
they both ran for their lives.

And now the secret be released,
so free, the soul, the sailor boy,
and yet, his spirit, be seen, but now and then,
as he wanders o'er the land,
forever to search for the Lewis Chessmen,
his treasure all so grand.

At a pub in Portree, I sparked up a game with Stefan, a Spartan Agoge competitor from Zurich.

Black holds onto his winning advantage with 1...Nd6 or 1...Nf6. Instead Black couldn't resist the "free" Bishop and played 1...Rxc4?? Granted, it was after 1:00 a.m. and my opponent had had a pint or two. White breathed a sigh of relief and played 2. Rd8 mate.

After some more exploring and some fine meals on the Isle of Syke...

we boarded the train at Kyle of Lochalsh and headed to Inverness.

As we departed the weather-making Isle of Skye, the sun started to peek out.

On the train from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness, we were treated to stunning Scottish scenery.

A popular way to see Scotland is on bike. We ran into many intrepid cyclists on our travels...

including this lad at the Inverness Airport.

Take a closer look at his shirt.

Downtown Inverness

The number of beautiful stone buildings in Scotland is astounding.

The Scotch are very proud of their Ales...

and their Wisky (without the "e").

They are also innovative thinkers.

At an Airbnb in Inverness I got in a few games with yet another Spartan Agoge competitor!

More lovely dining and then it was off to Edinburgh.

The Scottish Highlands are breathtaking.

The train ride from Inverness to Edinburgh passes through Cairngorms National Park.

An interesting chess tidbit related to the Scottish Highlands is that it was home to the 1946 British Champion R.F. Combe. C.J.S. Purdy, in his excellent manual Guide to Good Chess, says this of Combe: "In 1946, the British championship was won by an almost unknown Scot, R.F. Combe, who had hardly played a game of chess in six years. But Combe's hobby was playing over published games by a cozy fire somewhere in the Highlands; and that had made him good enough to win the title at his only attempt, though the field included some famous players."

Upon arriving in Edinburgh, we headed straight for the Edinburgh Chess Club only to find it closed on weekends during the summer.

Not to be denied a visit to this historic club, we set about a task of creative problem solving using, among other resources, these payphones on the Edinburgh Royal Mile.

After ducking into the Edinburgh Youth Hostel to make use of their WiFi connection, I was able to speak with Mr. David Stewart, President of Chess Edinburgh. With his very kind and gracious help I was able to get in touch with Dr. Mike Ridge, Vice President of the Edinburgh Chess Club.

Dr. Ridge, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, honored my request to see the club during off hours by taking time out of his busy schedule and giving me a private tour. I am forever grateful to both Mr. Stewart and Dr. Ridge for their efforts in working to assist me in visiting the club.

Dr. Ridge, here taking some friendly jabbing from his wife, is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Tufts University.

Dr. Ridge's son, Benjamin, is a talented junior player who quickly mopped the board with me.

One of the most historically significant items housed at the club is the Scots Gambit Cup. The cup was won by the Edinburgh Chess Club in a correspondence match with the London Chess Club during the years 1824-1828. The moves were relayed between the two clubs via a rider on horseback! As a result of the match, both the Scotch Opening and the Scotch Gambit entered the modern chess lexicon.

Many other awards and artifacts grace the trophy case.

In addition to awards, the Edinburgh Chess Club houses many fine chess books...

and more books...

and more books!

The tournament room

This beautiful antique chess clock harkens back to the early 1880's.

This scoresheet was given to the Edinburgh Chess Club by William Lombardy on September 28, 1975 just three years after Lombardi served as Bobby Fischer's second during the historic 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. The bottom of the scoresheet is signed with the inscription: To the members of the Edinburgh Chess Club, Always check it might be mate, and you can't win by resigning. With best wishes, William Lombardy. Click HERE for a high resolution image.

The club has a number of beautiful inlaid wooden boards.

A classic set of pieces on a wooden chess table

Here's a photo of the British Chess Federation Congress taken in Edinburgh in 1926.

Officers of the Edinburgh Chess Club 1822-1922. Click HERE for a high resolution image.

In my situation the key words are: and by arrangement. Thank you again to Mr. Stewart and Dr. Ridge for arranging my memorable visit to the Edinburgh Chess Club!

After leaving the Edinburgh Chess Club at 1 Alva Street we headed out into the city.

The magnificent St. Mary's Cathedral on the west end of town

A close up of the entrance to St. Mary's Cathedral

Edinburgh Castle seems to loom from every vantage point in the city,

The Scottish Highland cattle enjoys an almost mythic reputation.

During our visit, the city was hosting the 70th Annual Fringe Festival--the world's largest arts festival--with thousands of performers at hundreds of venues throughout Edinburgh.

Bulmers Assembly Hall is at the corner of Market Street and The Mound in the heart of Edinburgh.

We took a stroll over to the University of Edinburgh which maintains its own chess club.

The stone buildings of the Old College are stunning.

Back downtown we visited the National Gallery which houses many breathtaking masterpieces.
Benjamin West (1738-1820) American
Alexander III of Scotland Rescued from the Fury of a Stag by the Intrepidity of Colin Fitzgerald 1786

On certain summer evenings there is an outdoor chess scene gaining momentum at the Princess Street Gardens.

Princess Street Gardens provides a comfortable outdoor venue equipped with tables and a full serve restaurant!

A glance up reveals the splendor of Edinburgh Castle.

I found it fascinating that not only do residents of Scotland drive on the left they also walk on the left!

Edinburgh nightlife was abuzz with activity.

We spotted this beauty somewhere up by Castle Hill.

The Fringe Festival celebrating Scotland's castles.

Bagpipers in full regalia

Many shops along the Royal Mile displayed chess sets for sale.

Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II.

Chess imagery abounds.

Farewell Scotland! Until we meet again.


Thanks for sharing. Brings back wonderful memories of my 25th wedding anniversary which was spent in Inverness.

Wow--I'm in Edinburgh for the semester, and now know to be sure to check out the chess club. Thanks for posting!

Fascinating report.
Thank you.
It reminded me of our trip around from Edinburgh to the Highlands to Glasgow many years ago.

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