x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

After a school term on monarchy, Dunnottar Castle offers the real deal

Travelling with Kids: A visit to Dunnottar Castle in Scotland proves more dramatic than any classroom lesson for a 13-year-old.

Dunnottar Castle is on the windy, chilly north-eastern coast of Scotland. It's so far north I glimpsed my first Atlantic puffins there while exploring the castle ruins with my wife and our daughter, Georgia. This was June 2009, so she was 13.

If a vacation involves scampering around ruins, we can pretty much expect Georgia will be game. (I know I've written about expecting the unexpected when travelling with a teenager, but I think ruins fall outside the rule.) We drove to Dunnottar from a lobster pot of a village called Johnshaven, where we'd had a mid-afternoon pub lunch at the Anchor. Dunnottar came recommended to us as a "must-see" as much for the stunning coastal scenery as for the fact that Mel Gibson shot his Hamlet there. Whoop-de-doo.

For thinking about history and passage of time, there's no beating a set of ruins. The rocks and stones themselves cry out: "I was there."

The timing couldn't have been better for Georgia. We hadn't intended to make our holiday an extension to the school term - after all, it was the last week of June and Georgia had just finished a brutal set of exams - but the visit, as my wife and Georgia were headed home to Canada, turned into an exciting history lesson.

Georgia is in a British curriculum school in Abu Dhabi. I'm a fan of the way history and geography are taught there. History isn't just a recitation of dates; geography isn't a list of rivers and lakes. History includes historiography, source material, alternative points of view. Geography includes tourism, development, poverty, global warming.

Georgia had just finished studying the English and Scottish kings, yet the holiday didn't seem like extra learning to her. She was keen on the castles, sufficiently enthralled by an Edinburgh ghost walk, fascinated by the tales of the six wives when she visited the Tower of London later in the holiday. Earlier, at Edinburgh Castle, we'd seen a portrait of Macbeth, though Georgia wasn't interested. Dagger or not. Still, she did buy a couple of comic books while in Edinburgh; one's on Macbeth, the other's about Mary Queen of Scots. She read Macbeth this year in the Shakespeare component of her English class; now that she's read the original, I don't know if she'll ever read the comic. And, when you've seen the places the thane-cum-king and his gold-digger wife inhabited, comics don't seem to dramatise as well as your own imagination.

Dunnottar had had its share of drama over the years, too. Late in the afternoon of our visit, the sun not even thinking about retiring for the day, we walked on wet green lawns, through stone buildings that once held a kitchen, parlours, arms storage room, a dungeon and a brewery, even a chapel, where a young married couple was having photos taken. Fresh from battle, William Wallace walked along the same wall, peered out of the same window over the same North Sea. Then he threw the English in the chapel and burnt it.