Comment from RunnerDuck: My cousin Roger travels all over the world and always has interesting tales to tell. We found this one especiall intresting as he was in search of his home town roots.
For many of us, Gowrie, Iowa, USA, holds a special spot in our hearts no matter how long ago we left. It's been over 40 years ago since I left and, although now living in the Seattle area, Gowrie will always be "home" to me. Perhaps it's because I grew up there in a special time. We felt safe, didn't lock our doors even while on vacation, drugs were unknown and the residents were friendly, polite and seemed to care about the town and each other. We had ten-cent movies and nickel popcorn at the Star Theatre, skating and sock-hops at the roller rink, bowling and ten-cent root beer floats at Eisentraut's drug store. The streets were busy on Saturday evenings as the farmers came into town to shop and visit. It was a very special time indeed.
Rightly or wrongly, I'd been told that Gowrie was founded by two Scots who named it after their home in Scotland. When Scotland was included in my vacation plans this year, I decided to try to locate and visit this "Gowrie, Scotland." I went on the Internet and did a search under "Gowrie." There wasn't a website regarding a Scottish town named Gowrie but there were a few that referenced the "Carse of Gowrie" in Scotland. The description was of an area between Perth and Dundee that's a fertile flat plain formed by glacial deposits. Sure sounded a lot like Webster County, Iowa. This had to be the source of Gowrie's name. I then sent several emails inquiring about a tour of the Carse and got real lucky.
A gentleman by the name of Alistair Clark responded, relating he was part of an organization that had been formed to promote business in the Carse. The group was quite interested in my visit, as well as my hometown of Gowrie, Iowa. Their website had just been developed and they were impressed that I had responded to it from so far away. After asking my interests, etc. he said several people were interested in meeting me and that they had set up a private tour, at their expense. He also asked for my permission to take photographs for the local newspapers. This was sure a lot more than I could have ever wished for.
In preparing for my visit, I sent an email to Bob Patton at the Gowrie News requesting any material he might have on Gowrie that I might take with me. He generously sent a souvenir edition of "The Story of Gowrie" as well as several recent copies of the paper. However, he also related that he believed Gowrie had been named after the town of Blairgowrie in Scotland. Back to the drawing board and the Internet, I went. Sure enough there were several websites for Blairgowrie. I also located it on the map, slightly north of the Carse. My search for the Scottish Gowrie had just been expanded. Bob also sent some material relating that Callender, Iowa had been named after James Callender, another Scot. I wondered how two towns named by Scots had subsequently been overrun by Scandinavians. I guess it was sort of an extension of the Viking conquests.
Since I wanted to visit the Carse of Gowrie as well as Blairgowrie, I extended my vacation by four days. For my Carse visit I reserved the hotel in Perth that Alistair Clark had recommended but decided to "play it by ear" for my Blairgowrie visit. I also made arrangements to rent a car, something to which I wasn't looking forward. You know the Scots drive on the wrong side of the road. I've driven on the left in a couple other countries and it sure isn't my idea of fun.
I soon left Seattle for Kilkenny, Ireland, my first destination. Not having the best of connections, it was a 24-hour trip. However, I soon adjusted to the time change and jetlag and then spent two delightful weeks in Ireland and Scotland as part of a "campus abroad" tour through the University of Iowa alumni association. All too soon the tours were over and it was time to strike out on my own. "Scottish Gowrie," here I come! As I took a taxi to the car rental agency, thoughts of driving on the left had my stomach in a knot. I had insisted on an automatic since it's bad enough driving on the left side of narrow roads with the steering wheel on the right, without shifting with my left hand. The only automatic they had available was a Mercedes so I made doubly sure my insurance would cover me if I wrecked it. What was waiting for me didn't look like any Mercedes I'd ever seen. I was told it was a Model A140. It looked similar to a large box with part of the top pushed in. With gas being over 4 times the cost of here in the States, I guess good mileage wins out over beauty. With no good maps available, I asked directions to Perth. "Turn right out of the lot, drive straight and then take the far right exit in the first large roundabout," was the response. "And remember, those on the right have the right of way."
(For those of you who have never driven in Europe, these roundabouts are their answer to intersections. When roads join each other, a circle is designed with the roads as spokes radiating from it. The circle usually has several lanes and you need to work your way to the correct lane to exit on the road-spoke you require. If you miss your road or you're not in the correct lane to exit, you can keep driving in a circle until it comes up again …. in theory. I've driven in heavy traffic with 4-lane round-abouts and over 8 roads radiating from it. One might be trapped driving in circles for days.)
I nervously pulled out on the road and headed right. At the first roundabout, I took the far right exit. It was a parking lot, literally. "Am I lost already?" I asked myself. I went back to the roundabout and guessed at which exit I should take. Then at the next roundabout I took the far right exit and saw the sign "to Perth." I was nervously on my way. "Stay to the left," I kept repeating in my head; " And remember those on the right have the right-of-way."
I arrived in Perth, which is on the west side of the Carse of Gowrie, around noon. Right when I was convinced I was lost and needed to turn around, I saw my hotel. It was on the River Tay with beautiful riverside gardens that stretched for a mile. That evening, Alistair met me at the hotel. He was driving to the south of England the following morning for his granddaughter's birthday and wouldn't be able to be on the tour. He was one of those people with whom you immediately felt at ease. He gave me an itinerary and told me Hugo Meynell and Sylvia Wilson, two members of the Carse of Gowrie organization, would pick me up in the morning. They arrived on schedule with our driver, Dougie Sharp, and we were off on a grand tour.
What a lovely spot the Carse is. We drove up Kinfauns Hill with panoramic sights of the beautiful Tay River valley, said to be one of the finest views in Scotland. The Carse of Gowrie lies on the north side of the Tay River and estuary which flows into the North Sea, to the east of Dundee. The Carse is basically a drained bog valley surrounded by rolling green hills. Its fertile land is evident by the beautiful fields growing, among other crops, broccoli, potatoes and herbs. It's dotted with small villages that still have many of the old stone cottages with thatched roofs. Many streets in these villages are still the old narrow winding paths but Dougie easily navigated the van through them.
We made a stop at Hugo's farm, a lovely place with an old 2-story stone farmhouse. Although originally from England, he said he always had wanted to farm so had purchased this Scottish farm. We also drove past Sylvia's home and herb fields. Her husband began growing and supplying fresh culinary herbs to the catering and garden trades around 17 years ago. The family business, known as "Scotherbs," is now the major grower and supplier of fresh cut culinary herbs in Scotland and the north of England.
We drove through the small village of Rait, where Alistair lives. Rait is situated amid beautiful woodland country in a hollow just beyond the top of what is known as "Rait Brae (hillside)." Removed from the principal roads, it nestles in its own quiet surroundings, seemingly unmindful of the march of time. Alistair had related that he's finishing the attic of his old stone cottage, which has been remodeled from two homes into one. I saw a "For Sale" sign on one of the cottages in the village and was quite surprised when told that it was probably listed at 200,000 pounds (around $380,000 U.S). I guess prices are one thing that unfortunately has been mindful of the march of time. We stopped for coffee at the nearby Rait Village Antique Center, one of several such centers in the Carse. The antiques were beautiful but I somehow resisted taking out my plastic.
The Carse has quite a few castles, some in various states of ruin, but some renovated and still inhabited. We visited Fingask Castle with its extensive grounds containing delightful statutes of characters from the writings of Robert Burns. I briefly met the current resident, Lady Murray-Threipland, and was given a copy of a recently discovered diary written by the castle's butler from 1849-1855. I spoke briefly to her two small children whose tricycles were neatly parked nearby. The casual, friendly greeting and warm smiles were not what I would have expected from a resident of a castle. So much for the stereotypes one sees on TV.
We also visited "Rosie Priory" the name of a beautiful mansion that's the seat of the Kinnaird Family. If I recall correctly, there were 22 bedrooms and the grounds encompassed 4,000 acres. Lady Caroline, the current resident, told me that one of the large wings had been removed during a renovation. Even so, the mansion is so enormous that, even with my wide-angle camera lens and backing-up over 300 feet, I couldn't get it all in one frame. The gardener took us on a long tour through part of the grounds with its large variety of stately trees and beautiful walled flower gardens. What a lovely place! However, my small-town upbringing made me wonder how much time goes into dusting and mowing at such a place.
For lunch we stopped at the large Scottish Art and Antiques Center (SAAC) outside Abernyte. One could spend weeks just looking at all the various antiques and art pieces. It was here that we were met by the local press who took photos of me being presented with the book, "The Fair Land of Gowrie" by Lawrence Melville, originally printed in 1939. Inside there's an inscription that reads, " This book, now out of print, is gifted to Roger Bloomquist, Gowrie, Iowa, U.S.A. from the residents of the Carse of Gowrie, Scotland, a lovely estuary valley of the River Tay. The Carse of Gowrie residents in Scotland send warm greetings to the Residents of Gowrie, Iowa". In turn I gave the committee "The Story of Gowrie" booklet published by the Gowrie News in 1970. Talk about being made to feel welcome and important!
We were joined at lunch by Mike McWilliam, a Carse of Gowrie committee member and executive with the Morris Leslie Group, a large organization dealing in an extensive variety of businesses including modular buildings, furniture, airport development, business parks, van/auto sales, etc. Mike joined us for the afternoon tour that included a visit to a large reed bed. I was surprised that reeds are still used for roofs on many new homes and exported to other countries. Reeds do make beautiful roofs, although I heard it could be expensive to insure them.
We also visited the Errol Brickworks, the last of what had been several brickworks in the Carse. They'll make bricks in almost any design you desire and some of the displays were more works of art than bricks. Their bricks are shipped all over the world.
That evening, Sylvia and her family took me out for dinner. Hearing how lonesome I was for my Border Terrier, Tony (the best dog in the world), they brought along their family Border Terrier, Thistle, for me to meet. What thoughtful people!
My visit of the Carse of Gowrie included a lot more sights, too extensive to include in this article. I was impressed! This is a beautiful area with friendly, down-to-earth people. I thought, "If this isn't the area that my hometown of Gowrie was named after, it should have been."
The next morning, I headed north to Blairgowrie in further search of my hometown's roots.
I again nervously struck out in my weird-looking Mercedes. The road felt narrow and I flinched each time I met a car coming from the other direction. I decided 50 MPH was a good speed. The Scots on the road felt 70 MPH was better. However, those polite Scots didn't tailgate or honk. No apparent road rage over there. Here in the U.S. I'm sure I would have been the recipient of several "hand signals."
It is only around a 25-mile drive to Blairgowrie. Along the road I passed the Meikleour Beech hedges, the worlds tallest hedges averaging over 100 feet. They're trimmed at the bottom so they don't grow over the road but are left natural at the top. Unusual looking! Shortly, I entered the village of Blairgowrie. As with most of the old villages in Europe and the British Isles, the streets weren't designed for cars, so are narrow with only parallel parking. I looked for a parking spot but none was to be found. I maneuvered the weird Mercedes down side-streets only to find dead-ends or routes out of town. Just when I decided to drive to the outskirts to park, I saw the Angus Hotel. It had a parking lot! This was a sure sign that I was meant to spend the night there, and I checked in.
The hotel is across from the town square which is circled by businesses. In the center of the square is a tall monument honoring war veterans. There's an iron fence around the square with gates on all four sides. Hanging baskets of flowers decorate the entrances with flower gardens along the fence. It was a lovely, sunny day and people were strolling through the square as well as relaxing on the benches. It's a Saturday and it appeared most of the people were local rather than tourists. I thought back to the Saturdays when I was a kid in Gowrie, Iowa and the streets were always busy.
I stopped at the local tourist office and introduced myself as being from Gowrie, Iowa, thought to be named after Blairgowrie. They hadn't heard of Gowrie and were quite interested. I gave them a copy of the Gowrie News and they gave me a copy of some material on the history of Blairgowrie. In reading it later, I discovered that Blairgowrie has quite a bloody past, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. There's even a 16th century ghost, the Green Lady, who commutes between two castles in the area via an underground passage.
Due to its central location, Blairgowrie is a popular stopping-off point for Scottish tourists heading for the mountains and glens in the north. Once an industrial town, the textile mills along the River Ericht are now gone. However, around 100 years ago the Scottish raspberry industry was born in the area's fertile soil and Blairgowrie is now known as the raspberry capital of the world.
I located the newspaper office for the Blairgowrie Advertiser, the local paper, and spoke to David Phillips, who's a freelance reporter. He was quite interested in the Iowa namesake and I gave him a copy of the Gowrie News. In turn, he gave me a copy of the "Advertiser."
There are quite a few shops for a town of 8,000: jewelry, woolens, clothing, etc. This is probably because of the number of tourists who visit. The buildings resemble those in small-town USA, with the tallest being 3-story. The sidewalks and streets are clean and the buildings well kept. I wondered if this is due to laws or just the culture. Unlike flat Gowrie, the town is built on slightly rolling hills. The River Ericht runs through the town with a long, well-kept park along one side. I strolled the full length and saw people walking their dogs, kids playing and a fisherman pulling a fish from the river. A lovely large, brick Methodist Church with a high steeple is next to the river. I asked about a Lutheran Church but there isn't one. I guess the Swedes never made it to Blairgowrie.
That afternoon a bagpipe band of around 15, decked out in their kilts and tall fur hats, marched through the town and into the square where they performed for well over an hour. I sat on the steps of the central monument and thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance and the music. I discovered the pipers are local and that this is a normal occurrence, partly for town entertainment and partly as practice for competitions. I thought back to Gowrie's drum and bugle corps when I was a kid. Music can be such an important aspect of a small town's identity and standard of life.
That evening, I stopped at a local pub and spoke to an older gentleman whose Scottish brogue was so strong I could only understand about half of what he was saying. When I told him about Gowrie, Iowa he became so excited he wanted me to write down how he could find the town if he visited the United States again. He told me he had visited "Ground Zero" shortly after "Nine-Eleven" and his eyes misted as he expressed his horror and sympathy. It was after 9 PM when I returned to my hotel and discovered the restaurant and kitchen were already closed. As yet another example of the thoughtfulness I found in Blairgowrie, by just mentioning that I hadn't eaten dinner, the hotel sent someone to the kitchen to fix me a plate of sandwiches.
The following morning I took one last walk around the town. It was Sunday so there were less people on the streets. I was flying back to the States the next day so considered spending the day driving around the adjoining countryside to visit the castles, etc. However, the thought of possibly getting lost on my drive back to Edinburgh and missing my flight made me decide to return to the airport in Edinburgh that afternoon and get a hotel before my flight on Monday. I checked over my weird Mercedes to make sure there aren't any dings from the hotel parking lot and nervously took off in the direction of Edinburgh. About a mile away I made a wrong turn and ended up back at the hotel. (Did I mention that I have no sense of direction?) I muttered about the lack of signs and headed out again. This time I located the right road and eventually found my way to the Edinburgh airport. Turning into the rental lot I wondered why some fool was driving towards me on the wrong side. I suddenly realized it was me that was the fool and quickly got in the other lane. Boy, was I glad to get that weird Mercedes back in one piece. The next day I flew home, tired but with terrific memories.
So, what's the origin of Gowrie's name? The Carse of Gowrie or the village of Blairgowrie would both be terrific namesakes. (By the way, I found there's another town by the name of Invergowrie outside of Dundee.) Does anyone know the origin for sure? I guess it really doesn't matter for the whole general area is lovely, filled with caring, polite and delightful people. And, that's how I remember my hometown.
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