The next time you are in Edinburgh, cross the famous Forth Bridge and turn left along the coast for a few miles until you arrive at pretty Culross (ask for Cooros). Here it was at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th that Sir George Bruce began mining coal seams running deep under the Firth of Forth. The coal was easily distributed by ship along coastal areas - and it was also taken across to the Netherlands. The ships discharged the coal and took ballast on board for the return journey - Dutch roof tiles.
These bright tiles are an astonishing sight in the area and are a visible sign of early trade between the Scots and Dutch. It is probable that once across the heaving North Sea and within the sheltered waters of the Wadden Sea, even colliers' tubs could have coasted at ease up along the Frisian coast, past the Ems estuary in Germany to Hamburg and beyond to Esbjerg in Denmark. Is this the route of those curious, bewiskered alphabets, common to Scotland, Friesland and North Germany? And don't forget Ireland and the Scottish influence there. The question is were these alphabets coming from Scotland or being taken to Scotland along the trade routes? Once Ireland comes into the equation, the tendency is to hypothesise that the place of origin is Scotland.....but the questioning continues.