When we first decided to spend some time exploring the British Isles I put Edinburgh at the top of the seemingly endless pile of cities to visit. As a World Heritage Site, brimming with charming 18th century stone buildings, magnificent churches, the iconic Edinburgh Castle, and exquisite Holyrood Palace, I knew the millions of annual visitors attracted to the city each year couldn’t be wrong that Edinburgh is a city worth visiting. However what attracted me even more than the promise of stunning architecture and intriguing history (they say Edinburgh Castle is haunted…) was the fact that my family has deep roots in the city and our visit would allow me the opportunity to explore a part of my heritage firsthand, something I’d never done before.
As the third generation of my family born in Canada, I’ve never considered myself anything other than fully Canadian, and although the Duncan surname is still as Scottish as the day my great-grandfather Duncan immigrated from Scotland, I had never put much thought into my own genealogy (besides constructing a family tree in fifth grade). However strolling along Edinburgh’s cobblestone streets I couldn’t help but wonder about these ancestors for which I share a common bloodline. Who were they? What were their lives like? Did they too suffer from a nearly constant need for validation and prefer salty to sweet for their go-to movie theater snack?
Although I’m sure that the movie theater snacking dilemma is a relatively new struggle, delving into ones heritage, it feels impossible not to wonder what characteristics you share with the family members that came before. There is something deliciously enticing about discovering where you come from, of which I was far from immune.
One sunny afternoon, while walking through a cemetery at the foot of Edinburgh Castle, I stumbled onto a gravestone marked with the surname Duncan. Although I hadn’t been looking for it, the name jumped off the moss-covered slab and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d found one of my own, with whom I perhaps shared a propensity for being near the water or a fondness for the smell of the Earth after a rainstorm.
Walking around Edinburgh, marveling at the city around me, I felt myself began to swell with pride. Although not my hometown or birthplace, I immediately felt a deep connection with Edinburgh and I couldn’t help but gush with pride at how truly remarkable the city is. We’ve been fortunate to visit a lot of incredibly beautiful cities during our time in Europe, including many of the world’s most attractive and popular destinations (Copenhagen, Budapest, and Prague immediately come to mind) and after walking around Edinburgh for only a few hours we were already prepared to add it to this list.
Although I’m sure many visitors will find fault with certain aspects of the city. It is overly touristy (I can foresee the crowds being practically unbearable during the peak summer season) and as a result of all this tourism prices are ridiculously inflated, even compared to other parts of Scotland and the UK. Furthermore, the city isn’t known for it’s famous culinary scene like nearby Glasgow and can’t boast a mind-blowing cultural scene like Liverpool, another city we visited while in the UK. However I’m willing to accept these flaws as minor aspects of one hell of a great overall package – after all, that’s what you do when you fall in love with someone, something, or somewhere.
For me, Edinburgh felt in some ways like coming home after a long absence. After a few hours sleep and a good meal everything easily falls back into place and you can’t help but feel comfortable, a feeling that can be hard to replicate while traveling. Unfortunately our visit, like most, wasn’t nearly long enough. However leaving Edinburgh, I knew I was carrying a part of the city onwards with me, and now that we’ve returned home I have a little ember glowing on deep inside still wondering about my ancestors and their stories. While I may or may not share a bloodline with Anne Avery and Thomas Duncan from the tombstone I stumbled onto during our visit, I have roots in Edinburgh and I can’t wait to return one day and retrace them.