Shelly Biswell continues on her amazing journey. Thanks so much for sharing your OE with our readers.
In April, we went to Scotland. It was a family trip that included a visit to see our elder daughter, Haley, at the University of Edinburgh. From there we travelled to the northwestern Highlands to see the Farr Stone, which was the one thing our younger daughter, Piper, wanted to do when she came to visit the UK.
My mother has travelled in Scotland quite a bit, and she counselled me before we left that “the farther north you go, the happier you will be”. Or as an old colleague who returned to Scotland said to me, “From my perspective, a day not spent in the Highlands is a day misspent”.
Since Farr is my surname by birth, it seemed right that our daughters and I should venture to the parish of Farr where the River Naver meets the sea. Within the parish is the small village of Bettyhill, where the Farr Stone with its ringed cross sits unobtrusively in a cemetery. From an archaeologist’s perspective, it’s a Class II Pictish Symbol Stone that probably dates 800 to 850 AD. From my perspective, it’s a talisman that has an unclear association with our family tree.
In Scottish-Gaelic, “a’ dol dhachaigh” roughly translates to “going home”, which is what Haley, Piper, and I felt as we stood in front of the Farr Stone. I can’t explain it, but even now a sense of serenity comes over me when I think of that windswept place.
On our way north, we stayed in Inverness and took the six-hour “passion” tour of Loch Ness. As we were in search of a mythical creature, I was expecting slightly hokey (yes, there were moments of that, but mostly with tongue firmly in cheek). What I hadn’t bargained on was the amazing scenery and the history lesson our excellent tour guide, Allan, imparted (Loch Ness by Jacobite tours). The first stop on our tour was a Pictish burial mound. The mound sits on a working farm, but Allan explained how we can visit the site, in part, because of Scotland’s “freedom to roam” ethos.
The Scottish take this centuries-old freedom seriously enough that their government passed the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The law came into force in 2005 and gives everyone the right to access land and inland water (with some exceptions spelled out in the act), if they act responsibly.
What does “responsible” mean? According to the Scottish Rights of Way & Access Society, it means “acting lawfully and reasonably and not causing unreasonable interference with the rights and interests of others”. A Scottish Outdoor Access Code has been developed to provide guidance for abiding by the law. The code is based on three principles: “respect the interests of other people, care for the environment, and take responsibility for your own actions”.
In the shadow of Brexit and the general discourse on immigration across the world, it’s hard not to think that freedom to roam and its associated responsibilities should be part of a wider discussion.
When we arrived at Bettyhill, these thoughts were swirling in my head. I let the waves lap at my legs in Farr Bay and wondered what my ancestors’ lives must have been like here. What sent them from this part of the world? Was it freedom, necessity, or something else altogether that drove them to roam?
 My brother has spent time searching our family lineage and found that our Farr line appears to trace back to the early 17th century with Johnathan Farr (Farre), whose birthplace according to church records was “Naver, Highlands, Scotland”.
When not on her OE, Shelly Farr Biswell works as a communications consultant in New Zealand. You can follow her on Instagram (shellybiswell).
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