ROOTS VI Part 4 Reflections

I will continue the travelog later, but Sunday turned out to be more reflective than I had anticipated. It was the final full day in Wick and after brekkie the first stop was church.

St. Fergus is an old building, significantly upgraded in the 1990’s. It is one of only two remaining Presbyterian churches in the area (the other is in Pulteneytown), and is actually an amalgamation of at least two earlier congregations. It is surrounded by a cementary overflowing with tombstones and Crypts going back at least 2 centuries. It also contains the remnants of the Sinclair Aisle, a somewhat eerie chapel-like edifice wherein some ancestors have been interred.

Entering the church one is greeted by four elders who show you to a broad staircase. As you acend into the sanctuary you come upon an arena style seating arrangement which it turns out is the result of the big modifications near the end of the last century. At this point one of the elders, realizing we are not locals, comes over and in 15 minutes gives a wide-ranging into to the church & congregation: the story of the renovations, the significance of each window, why the various flags, the irony of a rebuilt pipe organ that the organist is afraid to play, the lack of a regular minister, and the various schisms and disruptions over the centuries — all of which combined with the more recent capture/takeover of Sunday by sports, social activities, work, leisure and even social technology, has decimated the local parish. His points are well made: the service is called to order with only two dozen of us present.

He also told us today’s preacher was a retired “interim lay minister” whose wife is a better preacher — an ominous omen that turned out to be too true. I could have been more energetic in the pulpit; at least I wouldn’t keep losing my place in my notes and have to flip back and forth looking for my next point which probably should have been omitted anyway. For the few, even with a wee spinnet organ, the music was good and the five lady choir lead from conviction. Mercifully the sermon ended as did the pastoral prayer before anyone passed away. To be honest, I was still glad I came — small town churches in Scotland are faring no better than their Canadian counterparts. The church doubtless has a role in today’s world, it just isn’t finding it as readily as it might…

The next stop was the Sinclair Castle, or at least what’s left of it. The Sinclair Trust is now working very diligently to preserve the remnants, who knows if there ever will be enough funds to rebuild even a portion. From drawings and sketches it becomes apparent that the Castle was an amazing architectural masterpiece — built right on the seaside cliffs. In its fullest glory it was long and high and well-protected. It should have lasted: why didn’t it? And here is where myth and folklore need to be set aside and the reality accepted (at least from my perspective).

The propensity of the Sinclair Clan for internal feuding, bickering and jealousy is the principal cause of the castle’s demise. One favoured son, feeling disavowed another feeling his own home in another nearby town is better, scavenging building materials, stealing furniture, all combines to leave the castle somewhat precarious. Then comes Cromwell and his Parliamentary Army. He uses the place as a military barracks and temporary stronghold. So much for the “democratic reputation” of Cromwell — he was as ruthless of other’s property as the elites he wished to replace.

For the Sinclair legacy — one ruined castle, one incredible monument, lots of imaginative memories… to walk among the ruins is awesome (or at least awe-inspiring) and it gives one a sense of what an earlier era could have been like. Would I have enjoyed being the Earl of Caithness &/or Earl of Orkney — yeah, I think it would have been cool. I might have even come to love the sea. Whether it would have been better to be Earl of Rosslyn, that can be the conversation I have with my cousins &/or family at some future family gathering. For now I am content to accept that between ourselves as a clan and the mythical desires for a more democratic lifestyle, part of the price was the destruction of our landmark castle…

The third stop was the Old Wick Castle. It turned out to be closed and even as close as we got to it suggested it was neither an architectural marvel nor a pictoral treat. It will mostly be remembered as a long walk back to the part of Wick wherein our residence was (a part of Pulteneytown).

I am glad I made this trek. I learned more about who a Sinclair was and thus is. I was well treated whenever I went, whether at church or Old Pulteney or for dinners… Thank you Wick, thank you Orkneys & John O’Groats… we may not pass this way again, but the memories will linger onward!!