The tour bus was departing in five minutes, and yet I was walking further and further away from it. If it left without me, I would be stranded in this small Scottish town. It was after five p.m. and the shops had already closed for the day. The rational part of my brain said to give up my search and return to the bus. But it was over-ruled by the irrational part, which had won out time and again on my trip so far, telling me to keep going until I found what I was looking for. I came across a woman walking her dog and asked her for help. She pointed to a small courtyard, bordered by four benches. I ran to the closest bench, hoping this was it. And it was. I snapped a few pictures, thanked the woman for her help, and quickly ran back to the tour bus. Everyone was waiting for me.
“You’re the last one,” said Gav, our guide. “You know what that means. You have to sing a song.”
“I can do better than that,” I smiled. “I found the bench.”
“You did? Where is it?” Gav asked. After everything I had been through to find the bench, it felt somewhat anti-climactic to simply reveal the location. It’s as if at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy returns home and his buddies say to skip the details and just tell them which goblet turned out to be the Holy Grail.
My own journey had started three days prior. After arriving in Edinburgh, I went on a four day tour of Islay, an island on the western coast of Scotland famous for its whisky distilleries. Three days, two ferries, seven distilleries, and countless drams later, we began heading back to Edinburgh. As the only solo traveler on the tour, I sat in the front next to our guide, Grant. In between the stories he told to our group of sixteen, Grant and I chatted about many things, one of which was his affinity for American country music. Johnny Cash was a favorite, and he played a few of his songs on our trip.
Towards the end of the final day, I mentioned to Grant that my plans for the rest of the week included going on a day-tour to St. Andrews with the same tour operator, Rabbie’s. “That tour stops in Falkland,” he said. “You have to look for the Johnny Cash bench.” I told him I would, assuming it would be easy to find, or that directions would be easy to come by. Little did I know.
Having been to Falkland once before, during my Outlander tour of Scotland, I had heard the story of the Johnny Cash connection. In fact, between my Outlander tour guide, then Grant, and eventually Gav, I ended up hearing three different versions of how Johnny Cash discovered his Scottish roots. But the one certain thing is that Johnny Cash played a concert in Falkland in 1981. His daughter Rosanne has continued to visit the town over the years. To the best of my recollection, Grant was the first one to tell me about the bench. It’s possible I heard about it during my Outlander tour stop in Falkland, but all of my attention at that time was directed towards the main square, the location of a key scene in the first episodes.
On this second visit, however, I was determined to find the Johnny Cash bench. When Gav said that he didn’t know the location, I figured that somebody in the town would know. We had an hour in Falkland, our final stop of the day before heading back to Edinburgh. Everyone else on the tour was going to visit the Falkland Palace. Having missed this on my Outlander tour as well, I decided I could stop at the palace first, then continue on to the bench. After thirty minutes, I excused myself from the group and began my mission.
I began by examining the benches in the main square, all of which had plaques, but none of which mentioned Johnny Cash. I asked a passerby if she knew about the bench. She didn’t, but directed me towards the violin shop on the corner, suggesting that someone in there might know. As I began to consider that that this might be more challenging than I expected, I increased my pace as I walked down the street. Poking my head inside the violin shop, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of paraphernalia. The violin shop could be more accurately described as an antique store. But I was relieved to see an elderly gentleman standing behind the counter located just next to the door. I would not have to navigate the maze before me in search of assistance.
Just barely stepping inside, I asked him, “Do you know where the Johnny Cash bench is?” His face lit up. Two customers nearby looked at me briefly, then resumed perusing. The man walked closer to me, then stopped and opened a drawer at the end of the counter. He pulled out a stack of newspaper clippings and began showing them to me. They were articles about Johnny Cash’s visit to Falkland. “Oh, wow,” I smiled at him. I was certain he knew where the bench was, and hoped to get the answer from him soon. The tour bus was departing in twenty minutes.
Then he showed me pictures of himself standing with Johnny Cash. I was genuinely surprised. “You met him?” I asked. “Yes, I provided security for him when he was here,” the man said. I looked at this frail, but sweet, elderly man, trying to picture him as a security guard. But that was his face in the photo, a robust, middle-aged man standing next to Johnny Cash and smiling. “I used to be a detective” he said. “What?” I asked in slight disbelief.
He then pulled out more newspaper clippings. These were articles about him, Bob Beveridge, a former detective who retired and opened up a violin shop because he always liked the violin as a kid. And then became friendly with the Cash family. This man had led many interesting lives. He next showed me a padded manila envelop recently sent to him by Rosanne Cash. He was still waiting to open it, although the reason why was unclear to me. He talked about what a lovely person Rosanne is, then picked up a guitar nearby and showed me how she had autographed it for him. “That’s so cool,” I said. He began playing the guitar. I asked if I could record him. As I listened to him play, I thought how this was such an unexpected experience. He was an unassuming man with a fascinating life story. I was lucky to have come across him. Yet I only had fifteen minutes left to find the bench and get back to the bus.
When Mr. Beveridge finished playing, he beckoned me to follow him towards the back of the store. “Let me show you something,” he said, and I assumed he was directing me towards a back exit that would lead me to the bench. But instead, we entered a side room filled with violins. He told me stories about the violins, how they came to end up in his store, how a musician once left a million dollar violin in his care. The thought creeped into my mind that I might not see the bench after all. “About that bench,” I finally blurted out. He gestured with his arm to usher me out of the room. At last, the denouement of this delightful experience is that he’ll reveal the location of the bench, I thought. I walked towards the front door, with Mr. Beveridge right behind me.
Finally, standing just outside the door, he pointed towards the right. “It’s just over there,” he said. I looked towards where he was pointing, but needed clarification. “Is it down that street, you mean?” I asked, straining my eyes to locate any benches in that direction. But he did not answer. I turned around and saw that the door had been closed. And then the bells chimed. I looked at my watch. It was five p.m., closing time for the violin shop. I had ten minutes to find the bench and get to the bus.
Hoping that he had in fact been indicating the street on the right, I raced up the block, stopping at each bench along the way. Every bench highlighted someone noteworthy to the town, but none so far mentioned Johnny Cash. I reached a cross street and faced a dilemma. Ahead of me were more cross streets, and then a neighborhood. I didn’t have time for every street. Should I stay on my current path, or venture down each side street? Why hadn’t I asked Grant for the location of the bench? Why didn’t Gav know where it was? When I got back to Edinburgh, I was going to send Grant a message strongly suggesting he tell his colleagues about the location, so that nobody else would find themselves in a panicked rush like this, darting from bench to bench, wondering which one would turn out to be the correct grail. These thoughts began to swirl in my head, like a soft serve blend of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Oh, how I could go for some ice cream right about now. No, stay focused. Either keep searching and risk missing the tour bus. Or worse, risk the ire of everyone on the bus should they be forced to look for me. Or give up the search. It’s just a bench, after all. If I go back now, I’d have time to get an ice cream. Of course, all the shops are closed, there will be no ice cream. And I had come this far. I have never given up on anything in my life, even during that random Nikki and Paolo storyline on Lost. I had to keep searching.
I checked my watch. The tour bus was leaving in five minutes. I looked up and saw the woman walking her dog. “Excuse me, do you know where the Johnny Cash bench is?” I asked. She pointed towards the courtyard. I ran over, and she followed me. I looked at the first bench. “This is it!” I exclaimed. I took multiple pictures of both the bench and the plaque before stopping to read it.
“I always liked his music,” the woman said. “It’s stood the test of time,” I replied, feeling a sense of calm come over me. I thanked her for her help and dashed back down the street. When I saw the violin shop again, I realized how grateful I was to have met Bob Beveridge and hear his stories. If I had known where the bench was all along, I never would have met him. Maybe I would amend my message to Grant, and just recommend he send everyone to the violin shop. Truthfully, while I was determined to find the bench for the sake of finding the bench, I knew even in that hurried moment that my visit with Mr. Beveridge would be the most memorable part of this journey.
I saw the tour bus waiting near the palace and slowed my pace. I could have rushed right onto the bus, but I wanted a few moments to appreciate my victory before leaving this town. I knew I was walking a fine line, potentially annoying everyone on the bus who was waiting for me. But, still, I walked the line.