The Charger Blog

Professors Explore Scottish Ancestry on the Grounds of a Castle

As colleagues in the University’s Lee College, Daniel Maxwell, MPA and Virginia Maxwell, D. Phil, typically connect while on or near campus in Connecticut. Recently, they met across the pond in Scotland for a “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure that enabled them to explore a castle connected to their shared heritage.

October 2, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Daniel Maxwell, MPA and Virginia Maxwell, D. Phil, at Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland.
Daniel Maxwell, MPA and Virginia Maxwell, D. Phil, at Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland.

Daniel Maxwell, MPA and Virginia Maxwell, D. Phil, share Scottish heritage and a passion for seeing their students in the University’s Lee College excel. They even started their positions at the University on the same day. While they do share a last name, they are, in fact, not related. But they’ve discovered that their families hail from the same region of Scotland – one they recently reconnected with.

The professors have gotten to be good friends, and they’ve discussed where in Scotland the Maxwells are from. They’ve now had the opportunity to visit that very region together – each coming from a different country, six time zones away from each other – to get there.

Prof. Dan Maxwell spent the Spring semester teaching at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy. Many of his students would travel throughout Europe on weekends and during spring break, and he, too, took the opportunity to travel while he was in Italy. Prof. Maxwell and his wife decided to venture to Scotland over spring break. Awaiting them was an adventure that included winding roads, the ruins of a unique castle, and Dr. Virginia Maxwell.

“There is a Maxwell castle that’s a ruin,” explains Dr. Maxwell. “We built a triangular castle. Actually, we built two castles, and one sank.”

“This is why we’re in criminal justice and not engineers!” adds Prof. Maxwell with a laugh.

‘Here we were meeting in Scotland’

Caerlaverock Castle was familiar to both of them before the trip. Dr. Maxwell visited with her kids a few years earlier, and she describes it as “a pretty awesome place.” Prof. Maxwell’s uncle, who was exploring the family’s genealogy, had told him about the castle. Prof. Maxwell was interested in visiting it, and when he was in Italy, he saw his opportunity.

When Prof. Maxwell and his wife were planning their trip, he reached out to Dr. Maxwell and let her know when they were planning to visit. As luck would have it, she was planning to be there at that time as well. Her mother, who lives on the east coast of Scotland, also has a cottage near Caerlaverock Castle. There’s an estuary between her cottage and the castle – they’re just a few miles apart as the crow flies – though getting there requires a drive inland through back roads. The professors decided to meet at the castle.

“Usually, colleagues will meet each other at the kebab place near campus or at Jazzman’s, and here we were meeting in Scotland in the middle of absolutely nowhere,” said Prof. Maxwell. “It was crazy, and pretty cool.”

‘Not an easy castle to find’

Cool, but also somewhat challenging, the Maxwells soon found. Prof. Maxwell, who had never been to Scotland, was particularly surprised by the drive to the castle. He found himself navigating narrow roads with stone walls alongside them – walls that seemed to come ever closer to the car’s side-view mirrors. The route also included several rotaries. And, of course, he was driving with a very different setup than what he’s used to.

“I didn’t know anything about what this would entail, especially the driving part,” he recalls with a laugh. “We’re driving a car with the steering wheel on the opposite side, and you’re driving on the other side of the road.”

“It is challenging – plus, the castle is in the middle of nowhere,” adds Dr. Maxwell. “It’s not an easy castle to find. Kudos to Danny for actually finding it because you come off what’s essentially an interstate, and you go on a smaller road, then you start driving on roads that are just a car’s width. For me, I’m used to driving on those, but he isn’t.”

‘It’s kind of like The Amazing Race’

Despite its size, the castle is not easy to locate. The professors drove down winding back roads, passing a small, inconspicuous sign pointing the way to the castle down a narrow road that isn’t always well-maintained. But, they made it.

Dr. Maxwell explains that there isn’t much else there on the grounds – just the castle itself and the moat surrounding it. They walked around the grounds, taking in the structure from the outside because, they found, they couldn’t go inside. This castle, like many others in Scotland, was being repaired at the time. It has since reopened, though visitor access to certain areas is still restricted.

The professors did get a good look at the outside. They could walk all the way around the structure and even see what was being done inside. They got to see the castle, explored their shared heritage, and enjoyed connecting while across the pond from where they typically meet.

“It was so much fun because of this notion that he’s in Italy and I’m over here,” said Dr. Maxwell. “Now, we’re going to meet in this completely different place that both of us have to get to on a certain day at a certain time. It’s kind of like "The Amazing Race", and we have to get there. I really enjoyed it. We’ll have to make sure the next time Danny and his wife are there, that I’m over there again, too.”

Prof. Maxwell has taken the reins from his uncle, and he’s now in charge of the Maxwell genealogy in his family. He’s now inspired to learn more, and he’d like to return to Scotland – and to again conquer the narrow roads and rotaries.

“It was a cool experience, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “It was so unusual because we’re working at the same place at the same time, and we meet on another continent. I mean who does that? No one. It was awesome.”