A period of radio silence for me, then, as a trip to Poland for a bit of holiday and a wedding was accompanied by a deliberate decision to leave behind my trusty laptop in order to make extra room in my suitcase for a few more shirts – better clothed sartorially I might, perhaps, have been but also somewhat more naked in that, like a lot of us, my life centres on the connectivity provided by my laptop in ways that are more flexible and easier to accomplish than they are via a purely hand-held, if rather old, device. (Even if, as is the case even in remote Poland, just a handful of kilometres from the border with Lithuania, 3G connectivity is a lot better than it is here in the UK.)
Imagine my surprise, then, to find out that, after a trip of 200 miles from our base here on the islands down to Glasgow, a 1,250-mile airplane trip across Europe to Warsaw and a 150-mile drive up Highway 61 () to the outskirts of Augustów, and then a bit further still towards Suwalki, our initial base at the small village of Dowspuda was just 1km out of Szkocja:
Szkocja was indeed founded by Scots who had been called across to the north-east of the Duchy of Warsaw in the early years of the nineteenth century to provide specialist agricultural advice to the local landowner, a former general in Napoleon’s army who was allowed to build a somewhat grandiose palace and mausoleum at Dowspuda, specifically on crop rotation systems as a way of making more productive use of the land. To those familiar with the history of the Highland Clearances, under which working people were, usually forcibly, evicted to make way for sheep as a way of making more productive use of the land, this is a somewhat ironic footnote in the history of Scots migration, not least given today’s general lack of visible sheep in much of rural Poland.
The army general concerned supported the rather ill-thought out November (1830) Uprising against the Tsar, and subsequently fled abroad, and so little remains of his Palace today other than an impressive portico and a tower, most of the rest of the stonework having been removed for use in local projects elsewhere (the windows, for example, found their way to the church in Suwalki), and the remains were subsequently destroyed. There are, however, plans to re-construct the palace as a five-star hotel – something which raises interesting points of discussion, regardless of the Polish historical context, about whether culture is really better served by looking backwards rather than forwards. Nevertheless, the former guardhouse has been beautifully regenerated as a tourist centre providing well-appointed rooms as well as very welcome employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
As for the Scots farmers, they came, they stayed and were allowed to build houses in a village they deliberately called home, constructing their lives there in the way that migrants have always done. Interestingly, there is at least one other Szkocja in Poland. Travelling the length of our Szkocja, we did see signs naming the village but none with the name crossed through in the way in which the geographical limits of Polish (and other east European) towns and villages are routinely identified – thus seeming to prove that there is, indeed, no end to Scotland. Rumours that the local Polish dialect is influenced by Gàidhlig have, however, still to be confirmed at the time of writing 😉 .