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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

BE THANKFUL & SPREAD THE CHEER!


Hi Everyone! I've jumped on the bandwagon to cut my (negative) impact on this fantastically beautiful planet! So I'm asking each of you to do the same, since it is the season to BE THANKFUL & SPREAD THE CHEER. I will try to be creative and I will try to make it as easy as possible for each of you. So here is my first idea for you. Click on the 3/50 Project: www.the350project.net
(not to be confused with 350.org - which is great too!)
The premise of the 3/50 Project is this:
A. PURCHASE LOCALLY AT INDEPENDENTLY OWNED RETAIL SHOPS.
B. SPEND $50. A MONTH AMONG INDEPENDENTLY OWNED SHOPS.
Since it's the gift giving season, what better time to do this?
HAVE YOU PURCHASED YOUR GIFTS, DECORATIONS, TURKEY, ROAST, MATZA, OR SPECIAL RICE AND ALL THE FIXINGS LOCALLY AT AN INDEPENDENT RETAILER?

As the 3/50 site says:
3: What three INDEPENDENTLY OWNED BUSINESSES would you miss if they disappeared? Stop in. Say Hello. Pick up something that brings a smile (and is hopefully useful). Your purchases are what keeps these businesses around. And if you think about it, they're really very pleasant atmospheres to shop in!
50: If half the employed population spent $50 a month in locally independent businesses, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue.
Note: For every $100. spent in locally owned independent stores (not chains and franchises), $68. returns to the community through taxes, payrolls and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, $43. stays locally and if you spend it on line, ZERO stays locally.

BENEFITS TO THE PLANET: How does this help our beautiful planet?
1. Many stores are closer than malls - LESS FUEL.
2. Have you seen the lights that are on inside a huge shopping center? - LESS UNNECESSARY LIGHTING - LESS NUCLEAR, COLE, HYDRO POWER NEEDED.
3. Independent shop keepers/retailers usually live in the community where they have their shops. NO LONG FREEWAY DRIVES IF THEY HAVE TO WORK FOR SOMEONE ELSE IN A HUGE CHAIN - LESS FUEL AGAIN.

BENEFITS TO PEOPLE: Keep this in mind - if you've saved lots of money on an item, that means someone out there who put in their time to help create the item is losing out! This is especially true in big supermarkets and other state-wide and national chains! When you see a 2-for-1 at the supermarket, it is the producer of the product that has to foot the cost - not the big store who is 'insisting' on it or cutting the producer's contract......hmmph! This means someone who works for the producer is making minimum wage at best in this country or .50 cents an hour internationally, if they're lucky.
Happy Holidays from Sam and Scot

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Happy Halloween & Celtic New Year Blessings

Thanks to Hamish Burgess of Maui Celtic for the following:
The Celtic New Year on the eve of November 1st, SAMHAIN (pronounced 'sha-ven' or 'sow-en' depending where you were), the Celtic Feast of the Dead, or the feast to the dying sun, marked the beginning of Winter, with the harvesting finished and the (photo of my three pumkins, sam)

start of stockpiling fuel and produce. Bonfires were lit, and household fires extinguished to be rekindled later from the ceremonial fires, to welcome returning souls of the dead. The ancient Druids believed the Lord of Death, Saman, gathered together evil souls, and so the Irish called this evening Oiche Samhna (The Vigil of Saman). The goddess Bride or Brigit, ended her ruling season, and her straw crosses were put up to proect family and livestock. In Scotland, Cailleach Bheur, goddess of winter, began her reign. (3 pumpkins gazing up at the moon)

For myself, Samantha, the celebration is extra special, because my mom and dad met at a dance on Halloween. It wasn't until I was a bit older that I realized why he liked the celebration so much, besides the fact that he loved entertaining, telling stories and making people laugh. So, in a sense, you might say that I exist because of this celebration...cool. So in honor of my father and mother, I carved three pumpkins and no....that is not me in the middle!

The Celts believed on that night between the passing of the old year, and the arrival of the new, that the veil between our world and the Otherworld (or spirit world) was thinnest, and that spirits and faerie folk could visit the human world, and vice versa, and that you could contact your passed ancestors. That belief has continued with today's Halloween traditions of witches and ghosts, etc.

The Christian church took a festival they moved from a different time of year to Samhain, which they called 'The Feast of all Saints', on 'All Saints' Eve' or 'All Hallows' Eve', hence the term "Hallowe'en".

The tradition of children 'trick or treating' possibly came from the ancient practise of 'soul caking', when children went round collecting cakes in return for saying prayers for the dead. In later times, children wore masks and carried turnip or pumpkin lanterns, going door to door asking for apples, nuts or money, the disguises originally to stop them being recognised and taken by spirits.

The tradition of a turnip lantern, or more popular today, the "Jack O' Lantern" carved pumpkin, actually comes from the ancient Celtic practice of placing skulls of the dead on poles around the encampment, to drive away evil spirits.

More info at http://mauiceltic.com/celtic-beliefs.htm

Hamish is starting the New Year how he means to continue, immersed in creating Celtic art - the results so far are on the Gallery page at http://mauiceltic.com/gallery.htm

Monday, 26 October 2009

Celts in the New World


Feasgar math and Aloha! If you followed the blog, you'll have seen bits about Hamish Burgess whom we met up with at Crainesmuir one day. Hamish is a Celt, living in Hawaii. He is a piper, an artist, an historian and basically a Renaissance Celtic Man - or would that be a Celtic Renaissance Man? Here's a bit of his work and his Maui Celtic web site:
http://mauiceltic.com/gallery.htm

He has everything from designed t-shirts to beautiful pieces like this:
You can also hear him every Sunday morning as a host for great Celtic music on Mana'o Radio at 8am Hawaii Time:

http://manaoradio.com/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
This is public radio with no commercials - please do donate even just a couple of dollars to the station if you can - it really is supported by people and is so much nicer than stations playing 'corporate list pop music' and trying to sell things to teenagers!


So you can take the boy out of the motherland, but..........













Mahalo Hamish! We look forward to seeing you on your next trip back to Scotland.

Monday, 12 October 2009

We grew a....POTATO or two!


Things to inspire: Harvest time. As blog followers will perhaps know, we have only lived a year in our house. This is the first time we have had land and time to grow things. Yesterday we lifted the last of our massive potato harvest.
Pictured is my husband, who is INORDINATELY proud of a few spuds that HE grew. (What no pladdie laddie?!)
Few things satisfy a Highlander more than the prospect of a winter of eating potatoes, self grown.

Also starring in the picture are Arran Victory 1918, a heritage variety. They are shown to their fullest effect, outshining the lad, only just, from top to bottom as, "just harvested", "stored" and "washed". The latter displaying their luscious pinky purple hew.
The Arrans were just one of five varieties, amounting to some 100lb / 50kg that we will be making our way through this winter and spring.
Now where did I put that potato recipe book....?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Ina - loanspirit

Ina's Return and the Starship "Outlandish"
This last week has been spent in the company of my Sunshine sista, Ina. As I write, she wings her way back to Hawai'i. Under the heading of "Things to Inspire", which is after all a main focus of this blog, Ina left the comfort of 80+ degrees to make her second visit to Scotland! We are mustering all of 45-55 degrees currently in mid-October. (Pic: Ina & Scot basking in a sunny window during high tea in a castle hotel).

She came to enjoy Scotland in perhaps its most "grand" season, the Autumn. As blog followers might recall, we had intended to make Ina's trip into a reconnaissance for a tour of the amazing Outer Isles, but time was limited, so we went as far as a remote area of the west coast which we hope to take our traveling companions to in the future on our way to the outer isles - the Hebrides.

This is a land of mountains where the colors of autumn were painted in grandness from top to bottom and yet also in the smallest of places where the lichen and fern surround small mushrooms and autumn flowers. It is where the sea and its inlets merge and fill the base of the land with slate grays and brilliant blues.
You can still find Gaelic speakers in the homes and deer on the front lawns.
What's not to love about those warm colours, those misty days, the chill of autumn just arriving? Who can fail to be touched by the solitude, the grandeur, the power of the natural world? We cant wait to see it in the spring as well, with all the small flowers budding from rocks and earth and the light greens giving a velvet touch to the views.
Watch the post below in the Comments link for perspectives Ina Sunshine may share. Ina, pray tell the Spirits of the places we went to and things you saw. You warmed up yet, Girl?

The
Inspiration For New Travels
Scotland, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship "Outlandish". Its continuing mission to explore strange old worlds; to seek out old life and old civilizations; to boldly go where few human beings (or other species) have gone before!
Many times during this trip I have turned to Scot and said "We HAVE to take our friends here! Let's organise a tour." He, being a dour Highland Scotsman, mumbles things about "market research, customer led tour design, " yada yada.
As you might have gathered from the Jamie and Claire Tour website, the tours develop from a wish list, building each tour to our inspired travel dreams and desires. So what I'm putting out there now is a question, nay a Challenge! Who would like to come to Scotland's more remote and most beautiful places, and have a hand in the creation of a unique adventure? Outlandish Spirits step forward!
Some basic ideas, many from Ina, to begin with:
~The tour would need to be about 8 days long, so we have time to reach these remote places.
~It can be for a regular budget, staying in 3-4 star B&B's or or limited budget, staying in hostel / bunkhouse accommodation.
~The tour would NOT take place in the summer (the least interesting season in Scotland, as Scot calls it), but rather spring or autumn, depending on the choices of those involved.
~The vibe of this tour would be Solitude, Contemplation, Awe, Connection to the Land, W-i-i-i-i-i-i-de Vistas, ancient sacred sites, BIG skyes, Mist.

Want to create and be a part?
Email me through the J&C website, link above, and we'll start to create it. (Only those wishing to make the journey please.)

Welcome to Scotland

As an American living in Scotland, as a tour guide for other visitors, married to a Scot... Billy Connolly - "Welcome to Scotland". An Eejit's guide to Scotland. Brilliant! Contains Strong language. Also explains why all my rented kitchens prior to this one were carpeted (?!)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Jamie and Claire Tour September 2009

September is the time to see the purple on the heather, but this year, it has been outshone by the rich crop of Rowan berries. I have named this tour “The Rowan tour”.

On it, we have Glenn and Jeana, a couple from New England, and Denise and Debbie, two friends since their childhood, coming to Scotland for the first time. They are also celebrating their birthdays.

(Pic: Debbie, Denise, Samantha, Glenn, Jeana)

We set off from Edinburgh this morning and an exclusive little, hidden accommodation that our guests have been mightly impressed with. As we travel along we have been practicing our Gàidhlig. We started with the word Fraoch. The name for Heather Ale. Which led us onto ale at lunch. Our pronunciations are varying from Fraych to Frach, but generally getting in the right vacinity (which of course, cannot be rendered here in English). Looks like we'll have to practice with a bottle or two to aid the vocal chords. Jeana, a natural linguist, cannot apparently get her tongue around Fraoch. She later confesses her failure is deliberate and to wind Scot up.

We 'began' our tour with the journey through / to The Stones. Here are some impressions:

Denise and Debbie: “very picturesque, very intriguing, how did they come to be there? The hike was arduous and invigorating. The falls were amazing. I wish we could let our husbands see.”

Jeana “They brought me to tears. I heard the buzzing. I had to run out of there.”

Very powerful” says Glenn, “gave me vertigo”. There's a special place we can sit by the stones to get the most amazing view, sat right on the energy flow. I encourage our guests to sit in this place for a few minutes, in silence, alone in their thoughts.

Jeana “You should tell them that you came down with one less guest”. (She'd gone ahead, people, not lost to time.)

DAY 2

The day of the Handfasting. Jeana and Glenn asked if they could renew their marriage vows while on the tour. It took some planning, but we think we got it right: they are to be married (again) in the chapel that Claire married both Frank and Jamie in.

In our tradition, a renewal of vows first involves dissolving the bonds that tie a couple together.

Glenn: “Spectacular. Between what was said and where we were, it was almost like going back in time. I felt closer, the two of us, because there is nothing else like it.”

“Very moving.” Denise and Debbie (temporarily known as Murtagh and Dougal). They played their part in the ceremony, giving readings and calling in the Four Airts, as well as watching the door should someone steal away the bride.

Denise: “The chapel was awe inspiring. It's 500 years old.”

Bride and Groom are going for the record of being hand-fasted, as in bound. They are going to stay bound till breakfast tomorrow morning, so they say. Photos will be taken. By the way, Jeana and Glenn are wearing traditional highland garb. Don't they look Gorgeous? Remind you of anyone?

We planned this tour to coincide with an evening of live Celtic music in Drumnadrochit. We enjoyed everything from fiddles to pipes to Gaelic singing. Much to our surprise, the BBC were filming the event! Who knows, maybe the group will be able to catch the performance again.


DAY 3

Alas Jeana and Glenn managed only to 11:03 pm being bound. That said, they do still have the record of about 11 hours. Helping each other to enjoy lunch while tied was perhaps the cutest (Pic).

Today is our into-the-wilderness day. We are firm believers that Scotland can not be really experienced through the window of a motor vehicle. If that was the case, it would be cheaper to just buy the DVD. We're spending the morning on horses and the afternoon on foot in some of the most remote lands in Scotland. Most importantly for the tour, the places are the closest in feel to those described in Outlander / Cross Stitch that Claire first experiences with Jamie, the men, on her honey-moon and at other times traipsing across the hills and through the glens, wind, rain and all. I hope that we get opportunity for the guests to write a fuller impression of their experiences for the blog as their expressions regarding the beauty of the remote glens cannot be captured by my good self.


Debbie writes: “Our pony trek began at the [Highland] home of Ian and Sasha. Let's just point out here that it was a pretty steady rain at this point, the rain falling somewhat horizontally due to the brisk winds. Denise and I had wondered, on waking that morning to find it raining, if we would still be doing the pony trek. Denise had said 'It's one thing to get caught in the rain, but entirely another to set off in the rain!' On asking Scot if we would still ride, he replied 'The horses are waterproof!' Hmm....that's not exactly what we had been worried about. As I was saying, our trek actually began in the home of Ian and Sasha, a delightful couple with four children, who live a very simple life in the Scottish Highlands. He provides for his family by working the land, she by running the pony trek business. Ian kept us entertained in the house (they don't bother closing the windows or doors in the rain, it all dries out later) with stories of his children riding around the kitchen table on their scooters, and by showing us the enormous mushroom he had found the day before. At one point, Ian was asked the ages of his children, to which he replied 'Oh, somewhere around 14 or 15, something like that....' (etc.) and then, 'Sasha could tell you how old they are exactly.' We also enjoyed his use of the purely Scottish noise 'Och!' While we were inside talking to Ian, Sasha chased down the horses in the rain. That accomplished, we helmeted up and set off, in the driving rain. [Pic of a Scottish Eskimo, by Denise] We quickly discovered that the horses pretty much knew the way, and really weren't going to go faster than a slow walk, so it was a very mellow ride, punctuated here and there with Sasha riding up behind us and yelling (bellowing is perhaps a more appropriate word) 'WALK ON PONIES!!' while slapping the rump of the horses with a riding crop. That would speed the horses up for about two strides, after which they would slow back down again. What the horses lacked in spunk though, was made up for by the scenery. It was breathtaking and I don't think we could have seen anything like it without having gone on the trek. We eventually rode up to the top of a high ridge, at which point we could look down over the glens and lochs and see for what must have been miles. I hope we will get some pictures of the view posted, although they can't possibly do it justice. By the time we reached the top of the ridge, the wind had picked up considerably. Glenn, ever the sailor, estimated that the winds were coming in at about 40 knots. Personally, I felt like we had been washed by the rain, and then stuck in a hand dryer. Like one of those dryers that blows so hard, it makes the skin on your hands move around. The up side of this was that we were no longer soaking wet, in fact we were dry at this point, but I was actually worried that one of us might get blown from our horse. As it turns out, Scot did take a tumble while dismounting his horse on the ridge. I believe his foot had gotten caught in the stirrup. It took a little doing, but he was eventually righted and all was well. We stayed at the top for a while and took in the scenery, and then we turned the horses around and headed back. In all, we were gone about two hours, and it was a very enjoyable ride. We were all a little sore on dismounting (some of us more than others!) but within a few minutes of walking around the property (getting to see the future site of Ian's barn, and his deer carcases hanging in the back of the yard) we were well enough for the hikes we would be going on a little later. Jeana and Samantha had opted out of the trek, and so got to spend some quality time together in the house and later, when it had stopped raining, taking pictures of the scenery. We left the Highland homestead, and headed into town for American cheeseburgers and fries at the local cafe. Delicious!”


Samantha Writes: Yes, the rain in Scotland comes and goes with the wind. Ian knew it wouldn't last and besides, as he put it, if you wait for the weather to get better in Scotland, you would either never go anywhere or you'd be running in and out all day long. As Ian predicted, the rain stopped and only about 15 minutes after our Highland Cowboys and girls set off. Part of being a highlander is 'just getting on with it'. So I'd have to say that our pony trekkers passed a kind of initiation and can now be considered Honorary Highlanders. Good on ya, ladds and lassies!

Scot writes: Our evening meal was awash in Scottish Ales and Uisge Beatha. Fraoch seems to be a hit with the ladies. Amongst the very fine single malts we tried were two oddities. One would have classed as a James Fraser special reserve. It was the spirit straight from the still, never having seen an oak cask. Raw is not the word. “Well, I guess I had to try it,” concedes Glenn. The 25 year old, rare, Port Ellen hit the mark though. Glenn has been in a daze, trying to make his choices. There are so many Malts that he can't get in New England.

-dhùi, anyway, dragging our attention and heads out of the cask, back at the lodgings, another dram in the low light (for some) and the harp comes out: Tales of the Each Uisge agus Tairbh Uisge, the water horse and the water bull; tales of Big Malcolm MacGilvain courting his unworthy sweetheart; Tales of Oban and it's whisky (do I always come back to that? I do when Glenn is around).


DAY 4

A visit to Leoch. This morning Lord John MacKenzie of Leod is showing our Outlandish Spirits around his castle home. Sam and I are catching up on tour matters elsewhere, so it will be good to hear from the guests in their own words how they felt about the castle. For those who are less obsessed about Diana's novels than some of us, a few words about this castle and it's inclusion in the tour are given. Remember that Diana had not visited Scotland when she wrote the first two books. While her research on Scotland is impeccable, she had neither desire nor ability to match the fiction to the reality of Scotland exactly. It is interesting therefore that often she has placed a fictitious location where there is actually a real facsimile, without intending to perhaps. So it is with castle Leoch. There is a real castle, pretty much exactly where she describes Leoch as being. It is castle Leod, owned by the chief of MacKenzie to boot.

Having learned this several years later, Diana suggests that the castle is also like the one in the book. On that point we diverge. The real Leod of today is much smaller than Dougal and Colum's castle. Also, the fictitious castle is actually quite a-typical of Highland castles, to wit, “The Hall” that Jamie avoids pledging fealty in, and later takes blows for Loaghaire. Such a large hall with a gallery is not common in Scottish castles. This is why, depending on our mood and whether Leod is open, we sometimes take guests to another castle not far away which has many more of the required features for Leoch (like the hall, the gardens and so on). It's a coin toss: go to the castle Diana likes, of MacKenzie, in the right location; or go to the castle most like Leoch in body and feel. Which would you choose, given that your short week allows perhaps only one? Your comments below are welcome.


Glenn writes, “It's going to be hard to beat a visit to a 15th century castle, led by the Laird of Clan Mackenzie, Lord Cromarty himself. Our tour began as the castle's heavy door closed behind us, bolted and latched with a 16th century key (that one won't fit in a Sporan). The laird led us up the stairs and into the drawing room encircled with centuries-old family paintings (layered with Victorian varnish), the swan card table (designed by the laird's grandmother), and an impressive array of 18th and 19th century furnishings. We enjoyed a glass of Spanish Amontillado as we chatted about the history of Clan Mackenzie. One story in particular was very entertaining – that of the capture of the future General John Mackenzie following the defeat at Culloden as he attempted to hide beneath the voluminous skirts of the countess of Sutherland (apparently he neglected to pull his feet in far enough). The lord redeemed himself by proving his skill as a general as leader of the Norwegian army. He did well enough to be invited back to Britain to re-claim Castle Leod and its lands.


“When the glasses of sherry were drained, we stepped into the dining room, lined in varnished oak. The original sash windows are apparently the earliest in Britain. After a fascinating story of lands and titles lost and won back, we stepped into the cavernous billiards room and studied one of the remarkably accurate 18th century maps drawn by Mackenzie cartographers prior to subduing the lands surrounding the castle. Lord John led us down a stone spiral to the servant's room and dungeon. The servant's call bells still hang in the corridor connected to each room of the castle by the original wires. We stepped into the tiny dungeon and heard tales of the human leg found shackled to the floor when the room was renovated in the 20th century. Lord John is puzzled by a bit written in the family history about a cow kept in the dungeon. The room is maybe 12 feet by 6 feet with a tiny doorway. Scratching his head and squinting his eyes he says “why ever someone would do that... I have no idea.” After bidding farewell to the lord and his castle, we strolled through the tree walk and took in the sights of rare and beautiful specimens planted as much as 450 years ago. So ended the visit and a perfect step back and through time with a true Scottish royal. It must be added that the lord is an extraordinarily friendly and good-humored man who speaks passionately about his family history and apparently enjoys every minute of it. Well done!”


We're running a wee photo competition / reportage on this tour. Each guest has two subjects to photo on. One is “locals / people”. I hope they captured some images of Lord John. We'll show a few of the other topics after the tour, perhaps on the tour website.


DAY 5

A Trip to Tarry Ile

Jeana writes of the night before: “We decided to take a wee trip around Inverness. After buying more souvenirs and adding a 5th bag to our baggage pile, we stopped at The Filling Station. Much to our surprise, our waitress did not greet us with the typical Scottish “Gud evenin' “, we were greeted with a guttural “Hi.” We learned that our waitress was Polish. Not only that, she told us that there were approximately 10,000 Polish people in Inverness, in a community of 60,000. Using our waitresses Polish math, that would be 10% of the population.


After our very fulfilling “stick to your ribs” dinner, we decided to find a working man's pub to talk to some of the local folks and maybe for a little water of life. We went into the pub and there were empty stools at the bar, but not together. There was a taken seat, but the stool was empty (my guess was the patron was in the loo) and the bartender moved her things and made room for us. We loved the place already!

After ordering a beer and a whisky (the first and only drinks we paid for in the pub), the woman next to us introduced herself and just started chatting. She wanted to know where we were from, how many kids we had and all the usual chit-chat. Her name was Rena. As it turns out, her husband (Victor) was at another pub watching the football game and soon arrived. Around about this time, I decided to have a dram and ordered a blended whiskey mixed with soda and ice. Before even the first drink, an arm reaches over my shoulder and takes the drink, hands it back to the bartender and a male voice says “She'll have a MacCallan with one lump.” He looks at me and says “No one should ever drink that garbage you had sittin' in front of ya.” This is when Glenn & I met John who bought a round of drinks for all as he happened to be a friend of Victor and Rena.

About this time Victor shows up. He has very old sailing tattoos on his arms which Glenn recognizes and talk turns to sailing. It turns out that Victor was in the Navy is whole life and has actually sailed around the world. Glenn was immediately in his element and the water talk began. Needless to say, we closed the pub, exchanged addresses with our new friends and strolled back to our lovely B&B and tucked ourselves in for a nice long night of rest.


Debbie writes: “Our trip to the other castle was a very different visit from our tour of Castle Leod, but enjoyable in its own rite. Instead of drinking sherry with the laird of the castle, we went through several rooms, unaccompanied and left to our own devices. The castle is apparently inhabited by the owner part of the year, including the rooms that we went through. There is a collection of fine prints and tapestries in each room. After we completed the tour, lunch was eaten at the café on the castle grounds. Scot had blood pudding (excuse me, “black” pudding), while the rest of us did not. After that, we toured the castle gardens. The flowering plants were a little past their prime, our visit being in September, but still beautiful. The formal gardens were very impressive. We also visited the gift shop and book store before we left.

(Pic, castle more like the book, by Denise)

Denise writes of the accommodation that night: “Upon arrival at our castle accommodation later in the day, the owner and hostess was warm and friendly and showed us around, relaying the history of the castle.

Dinner was to be served at 7:30 and a few minutes before that time, as we dressed in our rooms, the sound of bagpipes filled the castle—we were being summoned to dinner. Glenn donned his kilt, managing to put it together from memory and we all headed down to the dining room. We were greeted by the sight of a piper in full regalia standing just out side the dining hall. He and the waitress looked a little surprised (and pleased) to see someone in traditional dress arrive for dinner. As we sat down, the piper came into the room and played a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. The table was set beautifully. For £45, we enjoyed a 3-course meal with a bottle of champagne in celebration of mine and Debbie's birthdays. It was delicious and the service impeccable!

We then retired to the Drawing Room where we enjoyed a wood fire, wine, whisky, and good conversation. Glenn, Jeana, Debbie, and I talked late into the evening there in that romantic room. At around midnight we decided to explore the castle! We went to every single room, with Glenn in the lead because we were scared of ghosts! Our host had explained earlier that the castle was known to be haunted and had been so for centuries! She followed up with a tale or two. Needless to say, we were sufficiently spooked by the time we went to bed, so much so that when Debbie and I were offered the option of sleeping in separate rooms, we declined and took a twin room instead!

Ghosts aside, we made it safely through the night, enjoying lovely rooms with thoughtful attention to detail in their décor and acoutrements. Our stay at the castle was a first rate experience, and a definite highlight of our trip to Scotland!”

The adventures of the castle have so impressed them that they have forgotten to write about Ardsmuir and Culloden. Ah, but there's only so much we can say in a post, so we'll leave it for our future traveling companions.

DAY 6

As we journey south next day, the Outlandish Spirits are still laughing about their midnight adventures running around the castle, or as we say "running amok" which they related with glee. I will refrain from adding the details here, suffice to say, no photos were provided by our company for the blog.

DAY 7

A tour of Edinburgh closes (an uphill journey) and some special attractions with a bit of time to duck into some shops and we finish with an evening meal OUTSIDE! It was so lovely and warm in this September day, that we sat at one of our favorite restaurants and dined in the sun. Our people were off to the airport the next day for a safe journey home.

For now, we will leave this blog post of the September tour in anticipation that our future guests will “comment” on it once they step through the stones. For our own part, we had a grand old time with our four Outlandish Spirits, forming bonds of friendship and plucking at the heart strings as we said good bye in Edinburgh. We will miss them and look forward to sharing a dram another time. I'll leave you with an image only, of the last few days, our final meal together.

And what about that photo under Sept. 9th! Well, that's a few Outlandish Spirits hiding in the heather of course; just like Jamie! Though he was not prone to sticking his 'hied' up like the rest of us and being seen.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

What is this?

The September 2009 Jamie and Claire Tour is in progress. I thought I'd whet your appetite with this image, mid tour. All will be explained in the full blog, next week. At least I hope I can explain this...

Friday, 14 August 2009

September Inspires


Things to inspire....
Despite the sudden, but yet somehow quite typical, downpour that August has become, we are inspired by our lovely garden of wildflowers. I have been out of a night talking with the owls, who talk back of course. This expands the former early evening soiree of "singing to cows".
"The boys" as I call them live over the road and saunter up to the field head each night. Sometimes they even sing back.

Anyway, to the matter in hand: Outlandish Spirit, Ina. As you may remember, Little Miss Ina Sunshine was on the May Jamie and Claire Tour. So inspired was she by Scotland's beauty that she is coming back. Very soon.

She picked up on the existence of Calanais when here. I mentioned that I was thinking about offering a tour to these remote and remarkable standing stones as a further, off-book adventure to Outlandish Spirits, perhaps ones that had been on the Jamie and Clarie Tour and wanted to explore the Western Isles, which of course, Jamie and Claire do not get to.

So, we have timed a reconnaissance trip to the Outer Isles to coincide with her October visit. (Ina is also partaking in literary smuggling on the trip. Call her "mule". She will be smuggling in the hard copy of the newly released, yet not available in Europe, hard copy of Echo for us. If she is caught, then we will deny knowing her as we exit Edinburgh airport in a hurry).

Our trip (pilgrimage) to the Eileann Siar, will take two days just to get there (island hopping by ferry). It's a long way west and north. Makes Ardsmuir look like a downtown cafe. Well worth the trek though. The string of islands is a most remarkable place. Here are some photos Scot took in August 1996 when there. They have had NO colour enhancement or digital scullduggery.

The megalithic complex was originally 19 standing stone sites, interlinked across several miles. It makes Stone Henge look like a garden ornament. The landscape of the place is quite unnervingly beautiful, challenging, oppressive, inspiring... Scot's favourite stone ring in the whole of Britain and Ireland is there (and he's visited a lot of them). The Western Isles are a quite fantastic place too. They are not really part of Scotland, remote, bleak, pristine, windswept, Gàidhlig speaking, hard-living, a wonder of nature, half viking.

If you consider yourself an outlandish traveler and would like to come on this trip (some time in 2010), then help me create it. Get in touch via the Jamie and Claire Tour website and lets talk about what we would want to do on the trip, the best time of the year, cost, focus. I've put a wee Poll to the left for some basic opinion gathering. Only fill it in if you would consider coming on the tour.

So, Bonnets off tae ye, Ina, Outlandish Spirit that you are.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The July Jamie and Claire Tour

Blog of July 2009 Jamie and Claire Tour with Conny and her Mutter, Iris.


Pic: Scottish Bluebells in July

Day 1

The next Outlandish Adventure begins! The Homecoming Gathering finished in Edinburgh yesterday and my tour was timed to allow our Outlandish Spirits to attend and meet Diana. So Conny was very pleased by that. Poor Diana, all those signatures in books...

Having stopped off to gather sixteen bottles of good Scottish ale (for those picnics in the heather) we have drifted into the mist of the Highlands, leaving behind our friend Hamish, a piping Celt living in Hawai'i who is over here on a brief visit for the Homecoming Gathering. We shared some time with him in Cranesmuir, nibbling on the herbs in the kitchen garden, always mindful of witches. “The garden was perfect after the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh; it was so calm.” opines Conny. No witch burnings today, come back after the next session of the Scottish Parliament. Pic: Cranesmuir today.

The ladies went to experience the verra full water falls in (granny) MacNab country. They are visiting the mill. The wheel is turning, but the red bloomers are gone.

Wir haben gartenzwerger gesehen,” says Iris. That apparently means she saw some garden gnomes! Ha, they're everywhere around the world; no escaping the crafty little guys.

Time to Cross-stitch. We 'began' our journey through The Stone. “The cleft stone was definitely bigger than I expected it to be” said Conny. Perhaps years of weather have worn away the ground around it surmises Sam...... hmmmm. Pic: Sam reading about Claire's first approach to the stone.


Our first dinner together was “so so delicious and mouthwatering. Scottish Salmon was even more delicious than German Salmon.” Conny has also discovered bread a butter pudding. This could mean trouble. We were treated to a pipe band we happened upon during our stroll back to our accommodation, so we marched with them and they took us back to our lodgings.

Back at the B&B and Mutti (a term of endearment for mother) says the Black Beer we are sampling that we picked up earlier is “Very good”, but now we are craving the accompaniment of the most excellent hand made-on-the-spot potato crisps (chips to Americans) that we had this morning, still warm and slightly salted.

So our Outlandish Spirits saw Geillis's village, climbed a small mountain, saw lots of sheep, heard a pipe band and had some great meals. They went to bed in their first night in the Highlands counting..... no not sheep.... pipers in plaids!

Day 2

A yummy breakfast at our lovely B&B and we were off to find a wee chapel. Pic: Conny reading to Sam:

Ye are blood of my blood, and bone of my bone.

I give ye my body that we Two might be one.

I give ye my spirit, till our life shall be done.”

Cross Stitch pp.277

After which, Sam and Conny went all-a-flutter.

Hmmph”, says Scot.


In which we meet some Highland villagers - Conny writes: “When we went to the [village], it was interesting to finally see what I had been reading about. The pictures I had in my mind while reading where partially met by the thatched houses and the fireplaces. But after seeing it now, I was wondering if I would really be able to survive like Claire 200 (plus) years in the past. What could I really live without? While heading up to the next stop on our journey Scot was left pondering that very question.” Pic: Sam talks to a resident of Broch Mordha about baking bannocks.


Is it Loch Ness or Lake Tahoe – how dare the sun be out today!

Iris: “Loch Ness is a very nice loch. I also like the mountains around. It's not like anywhere in Germany, our mountains are different. The smell reminded me of being at the Baltic.”

Conny “I found Loch Ness very impressive, but I didn't get the 'Ooh Nessie' feeling because it was sunny. In the book it is gloomy.”

Yup, I think, it usually is in real life too.

Tonight we are in Inverness, The lasses are staying beside the river albeit in a much nicer accommodation than Claire experienced here. We tapped on their door and asked if they could come out and play. They managed to stay awake past 9pm and join us for an evening of foot stomping, hand clapping, ale drinking Celtic music on the town; a real accomplishment after a full day of following Jamie &Claire's tracks.

The music was awesome.” Conny reminisces. We also noticed that ladies of all ages kept whispering in the ears of the musicians. Were they asking for songs? No, Scot speculates they were singing their own tune; “Come home with me my bonny boy, come home with me tonight. Come home with me my bonnie boy and sleep with me til light.” (To the tune of Matty Groves). Pic: a wee session.

Day 3

Over a whisky-porridge breakfast, we debate the Scottish weather (our guests have gone native in their contemplation on the weather) and how we've had very little rain considering it is the summer, which is the wet season in Scotland. Actually, it had been raining every half day for the last month, until Iris and Conny came and brought the sunshine with them! Today we were on horseback, hoping to get blown away and soaked, just like it should be, a-la Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. But the weather held until the end of the trail when the wind whipped up like a Banshee.

Our Hielan' horse hosts were in good fettle. Horses were ridden by Scot and Conny, while Iris and I went to walk a forest path and viewed an impressive waterfall. Iris enjoyed the waterfall and liked that we could look directly over it. She was also quite knowledgeable on her forest plants.

Scot's pony was called Usky, a fine pale brown beast, named after Whisky (type casting, I think). Conny's was Rogie and indeed he was a rogue, taking her down muddy, skeety cliffs and trying to scrape her off with low hanging branches. Again, literary comparisons abound, and bring to mind Judas. But Conny smiles on and on. She is in her element. Pic: our highlander horseman in a moment of contemplation - (his wife is back out with the next group of riders!)

Afterwards, around the massive hand-carved table, amidst dogs, children and people coming to borrow fishing rods, our hosts plied us with strong tea and the dogs tried to make us new owners. This is the old way of the Highland people. They do not let you leave without a warm welcome and true hospitality. The children of this remote highland home are a marvel. The daughter, the eldest, manages the bookings for the horses, grallochs and butchers the deer the family hut and makes the best tea in the Highlands. One of the sons shows us his misaligned fingers where his sister accidentally cut off two with an axe last year. A bag of frozen peas and a bit of doctoring and they are sewn back on. Hmm, some things in the Highlands change little in 250 years.

The tea iss goot”, marvels Iris. She is probably admiring the strength as well as the flavor, which given a chance, makes a proper cup of tea. Iris and Conny are also impressed with the young daughter who speaks very good German, having learned it in her local Highland school.

Our lunch following the pony trek was in the style of Jamie and Claire in the Honeymoon wanderings – sat on a rock beside the river in a great wilderness, a lump of cheese, a bit of meat, blaeberries that we gathered along the way and bottles of black ale. Iris enthuses: “The nature is brilliant.” She likes that some of the paths have steps; I like that too! There are people about from time to time, but mostly we sit in the quiet of the wilderness in peace. And then it happens; the sun goes behind the clouds and the midges come out.......they are having a forehead sandwich ....argh! Out comes the Skin So Soft, off go the midges... well mostly. Pic: Scot reads about Claire and Jamie meeting the wolves in the night.

Dinner involved copious quantities of venison and lamb-so-soft-it-crumbles and scottish ale. We dined in a traditional pub that has has an impressive collection of Whisky, verra useful if you need to get drunk before your shotgun wedding (Miss Claire). Scot picked two old and rare ones and Conny made here first visit into the mists of the uisge beatha. But alas, one of these was 110 proof, so he had to drink most of it himself...... a cunning plan me thinks.

You'll recall the beatific expression (mona lisa esque) of Hannah on the last trip; lips curled up slightly at the ends as the “spirit” visited her. Well, Conny's was the same, but upside down. Less Beatific and more Mother Superior. “Well, I can see that it is and acquired taste,” she reports. Nothing like pushing the lass into the deep end Scot!

Pic: a blae berry

Scot and I chatted with two fisher men from Yorkshire later on. Conversations were had, gifts of beer and wine and whisky were exchanged and the stories came out. We learned from our friend that in a wee local village (which we know well enough) there is a ruined church that he visited a number of years ago. It is normally off limits, but on the day he visited, the local historian was holding an open-doors. Our friend persuaded him to show them into a tomb that the historians were just investigating. And there they viewed what is believed to be the headless skeleton of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, 'apparently' the last man to be beheaded in Britain, the Old Fox (Jamie's Grandsire). So, where, dear readers, does the Old Fox lie?

Day 4

This morning, our Outlandish Spirits are visiting Drummossie Moor, Cùil Lodair, Culloden battlefield. Not a jolly place, as well you know. They are out there as I write, so we'll see how they fared. You can read Hannah's entry in the May Tour blog to understand more of the effect of the place. Conny seems to have found some descendants from the last battle, some Highlanders (see pic). Could even a mother love those faces? Could one of these be Dougal? We'll have to ask Max!

Culloden is very depressing,” says Conny, “Just imaging that the highlanders were totally exhausted then they had to charge across that bog. It makes me angry to think that they allowed Prince Charlie to go ahead, that no one said, no you can't do that. It makes the assassination idea seem like a good one.”

Samantha notices a change in the people since her last visit from the staff to the visitors. “People keep approaching me and saying hello. Everyone is really friendly and 'light'.”

After the seriousness of the battle, we went to the lighter side of things and ate lunch in a wee Victorian tea room. Cream Teas were served, and portions of baked potato and Haggis, by a lovely gentleman in a proper tea room vest. Down the road, the now famous Mrs Bean (see May blog) has convinced us to return to her wee shop this afternoon for some Tablet. How did that happen? We will enter the shop (aka “Brigadoon”) and come out after “just one wee minute” and 100 years will have passed. Oh mo chreach, mo chreach! (Gàidhlig exclamation equivalent to “We're doomed”).

Castle Leoch sits this afternoon beneath a bright, breezy summer sky. Seeds and scents of fresh cut grass and turned hay travel on the wind. The soft, red stone of the castle gives an invitation to the sun. Lord John MacKenzie was sitting on a bench outside of the main door just as casual as any man sitting on the porch of his castle/home. Unpretentious and pleasant. The castle was open on one of it's few days today, so we toured inside a bit.

Conny: “We met the house cat and we met the Earl who is a very soft-spoken man. The portraits were interesting. You could see some similarities to him.” We asked if the current Clann Chief and his family live in the parts we visited, but apparently there is a newer wing out back. Conny said "There were some ghosties, I can tell you that. There were a couple of doors where it was as if someone had just peaked in and gone. There was that sound of doors just shutting behind you. I don't think I'd want to stay there.”

Iris: “I think it is very important to open the castle to the people. It helps the laird. Also, the people of Scotland and the world can see and understand the history and how it was, that life.”

t evening our guests stayed in another castle. We left them to settle in. They were having way more fun exploring the castle, guided by Caroline (aka Mrs FitzGibbons), than Claire had on her first visit to Leoch. Conny said “The best thing was Caroline was walking us all around and getting us lost – the hidden hall ways and all.” It's a fantastic place to stay. It is not a museum piece, but a living castle. I love the welcoming atmosphere of the place. She's very good at what she does – host. The décor is comfortable, pleasing, homey with an air to the old, minus the draughts, with bathtubs added (lifted in through the windows during renovations). A small army of minions, tartan clad.

Some thoughts on the castle from Iris. “I felt very high. (meaning, she felt important and pampered) Zwei im Himmel Bett. All the women who work there do all what you want. You have not to speak – they see it in your eyes. It is wonderful. For one or two days it is great. Also I like going to the top - the roof. When we are going to dinner, the piper plays. We take photos with him, then sit and he pipes round the table. I love the music.” Conny suggests that “it has a more ghostly feel to it.”

Some other thoughts from Connie on whether our tour guests need to go inside castle Leod, which is open rarely. You'll recall from the May Tour, we simply visited the outside and took some photies, because the Earl was away. “I don't think it's needed to go into castle Leod. If Cawdor has that homely feeling, then that would be good as an alternative. With Caroline [where our guests stayed], she says, 'make yourselves at home, it's not a museum. ' I liked that.” (See pic of Connie Flouncing at the Door.) This is good to know, as the May 2010 tour will include a night in a castle! Young Claire didn't appreciate the generosity of Colum MacKenzie offering her free bed and board in a fine Scottish Z-plan tower house, bard and clansmen laid on gratis. We've managed to recreate it though!

Day 5

When we picked our Outlandish Spirits up in the morning, they were alive and well and their hair was not standing on end from seeing the ghost, so a good night had by all. There was a fire going in their bedroom and I almost felt guilty for taking them away.


And so we made the long journey out of the Highlands to move into Voyager territory, Edinburgh. We've shortened the road by a stop and tour of a Distillery. Connie and Iris have found “their mark”, with Malts. The right timbre has been achieved with Dalwhinnie and Connie expresses her understanding of the “beatific smile”. She says, “The smells were the most important thing to me, or at least the first thing. Roasty, hoppy, but not bitter like beer.”

What did you like, Iris, about the Distillery? “The Whisky! Well, that's to the point... ha! “It was good to see the copper pots and look into the mash tun,” tells Conny. Woa! Getting technical here. But in all seriousness, the ability to shift plan and visit a distillery has been a big hit. Looks like we may have to keep that one in the tour. Let us know, Outlandish Spirits.

They have been most impressed with the bleak scenery of the Monadh Liath agus Monadh Ruadh, the high mountain massif that we cross heading south.

We made a wee stop at the Big Hoosie. “We saw an all rainy Lallybroch,” tells Conny. “But from the books I expected Lallybroch to look older.” Samantha suggested that perhaps it's current owners (Bree & Roger even?) might have spruced up the 400 year old house we were viewing; a necessity if you want to keep the chill and mildew out! The grounds (in front) are neat, unlike the image of a working Lallybroch. Scot explains that the house we saw today was like that until about 40 years ago when the laird married and his lady demanded that the cows did not graze up to her kitchen window!

Tonight, after arriving in Edinburgh, we had our final meal as a group, we are honouring the Auld Alliance, that connection between Scotland and France that led to the trade of Jared Fraser, to Louis's gold supporting the Stuart rising. Edinburgh, as you know is a port, or at least has Leith as its port. MANY hogsheads of Claret and Brandy have come through here (and the odd Crème de Menthe). So we are dining on French peasant food this night. Sacre Bleu! La cuisine est tres bien! The wine is served in tumblers, which remind me of the time I worked in a French vineyard and we drank our wine out of these at the dinner table. This is a wee place in the poor part of Edinburgh, just round the corner from where Alex Randal said his final farewell to Mary Hawkins.

Day 6

I met our guests at Holyrood...la la la la la la la Holyrood....ok, I digress. But the palace was impressive and we viewed the courtyard area where the dance with Jamie and 'uncle' Dougal took place. Afterwards we meandered up the Royal Mile, taking in the closes of Edinburgh until we reached our destination to view the 'seedier side of the city' (say that 5 times, fast). The crowds were swarming; after all it is the summer when everyone and their granny comes to Scotland! A late afternoon pub lunch of Conny's choice with lots of yummy food again and a huge piece of chocolate cake that we couldn't finish and it was time to say goodbye........ mar sin leibh an-drasta!

By the by, we didnae drink all the bottles of ale. I guess we'll have to share them with the next group. Aye, there's gonae be a Handfasting, so we'll use them to toast the occasion! Keep your eyes peeled for an early September blog, that is, if the new book has nae come oot yet and you have yer noses deeply burrowed!

Written intermittently between Scot and Sam.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

New interviews with Diana G.

In May and June 2009, Scottish Memories magazine ran two articles on Diana Gabaldon, written by Jean Britain. Scot and I contributed to the second.
Jean has given me permission to publish them for those of you who don't get Scottish Memories. These are the unedited versions, so longer than the published ones. I have also included the FULL interview with Jean and myself.
Click for PDF versions of articles

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Jamie and Claire Tour - May 2009



So we have roared straight through Belteine, not even pausing to really welcome the start of the Light Half of the year because I have been so busy putting the final touches to the first Jamie and Claire Tour. The day has finally arrived! The Jamie and Claire Tour (May) has begun and this entry will be the blog of our week on the Highland trail, with insights, images of the land and of course, Matters of Great Import regarding the journey of Claire, Jamie and Clannsmen through the Highlands.

Day 1 – into the Highlands

We have two Outlandish Spirits with us, Hannah and Ina. More from them later when they have recovered from the adventure of their International Flights. After months of anticipation, the first explorers have come to see what Inspirations 18th Century Scotland has in store to fire their souls.



We hope many.

Our visit to “Cranesmuir” (two pics) did not involve being nailed to the pillory, or being burned as a witch (despite the company of the tour), but we did explore the herb garden beneath Geillis Duncan's house and now our fingers smell of crushed lemon and rosemary.





Ina stood beside a fine waterwheel in MacNab Country, waiting for the appearance of Granny MacNab and the red drawers (complete with disrobed Highlander). Alas, there was but a wolf for company.




I decided that our guests' adventure should begin, as did Claire's, with Craigh na Dun. It is a Verra Special Place (pic) and leaves an impression on all of us.



It also resulted in Hannah finding our dashboard totem, now called Donas (pic).


With a mascot we needed a name for our travelling clann. Ina suggested Three Crones and a Dude. Hmmph. (see pic of three crones)




Things from the day that put a smile on Hannah's face “The view from the top”, “luggage arrived at the same time as me”; Ina Costa: “The really good Coffee named after me.” (Costa Coffee – we had to get her something to stay awake after her 36 hours' journey). Day one ends with all the girls safe asleep in the Highlands. We have begun!


Day 2 – Raising a Rebellion

Over breakfast, Ina describes her previous night using her US hairdryer with her fancy travel plug adaptor.

Scot: “Does it have a transformer in it to change the voltage?”

Ina: “Huh? Well it worked.”

Scot: “Err...”

Ina: “Although it did make this vrum vrum noise.”

Scot: “And did it get hot?”

Ina: “Yeh, actually, it got real hot. And my hair went all fuzzy.”

Scot: “ So you plugged in a hairdryer that was expecting 110V to a supply that gives 220V? That would explain your White Afro this morning.” LOL

They thought our 1800s B&B was “worth it for the great breakfast alone” and Hannah introduced Scot to Porridge with Whisky added. How had he missed that all his life?


This morning we went to the Tacksman's house, akin to the houses that Dougal took Jamie to when gathering MacKenzie rents and drumming up Jacobite support (pics).



The men there told us sooo many things about the thatched roof structures: the fire in the middle of the floor; the box beds; the Soay sheep, the oat drying kiln (like the one on Fraser's Ridge). The smell of peat smoke still lingers in our clothing.






Our next Special Place was introduced by reading the passage about Claire in her borrowed gown, walking between Dougal and Jamie, up the hill to her marriage. As the chapel comes into view she realises it is the place where she married Frank. Our Chapel today manages a similar impact. The visit was made more special because Ina carried a we remembrance from a recently departed Outlander fan, a MacDonald sister whom some of you may know. The keepsake was left in this MacDonald Chapel, high on a hill, with the echoes of Gàidhlig poetry and wedding vows on the wind. A good place to come to rest.





Our trip on Lochness did not result in meeting the Each Uisge or any other 'craiturs' or monsters, other than the redoubtable Gordon Menzies, our skipper, who furnished us with Tales and history of the Loch and surrounds. He showed us evidence of his own encounter with the unexplained of the Loch. Gordon was born and raised on the Loch. It was nice to meet a local 'boy' who was friendly and knowledgeable.

Hannah and Scot have had a Monalisaesque grin on their faces since dinner. The food was excellent, but a 30 year old Islay single malt has them quite transported. It went verra well with the Chocolate Cheesecake.

This time of the year is arguably the best to visit Scotland. The are fewer visitors, things are cheaper and more available and most importantly, nature and weather are at their best. We have been enjoying fields and avenues of the Wild Hyacinth (what the English call Bluebells) which are at their peak this week and only last about three weeks.


Day 3 – in the wilderness

Today we spent walking in the wilds and we are very tired, weary of limb and not a little sunburnt, all in a good way. We were in a remote, wooded glen, perhaps not unlike those around Lallybroch. Ina and Hannah report that they got a strong sense of what Claire experienced while travelling through the Highlands with the Highlanders. Hannah even made a bed in the heather for a while. Walking through a native Scots Pine forest we came across a cnoc that reminded Scot of the place from where Jamie and Claire looked down on wolves at night while on their honeymoon. We read the passage from the book (pic of Sam reading).


This area is new even to Scot and myself and I was left wondering why have we never been here before.









Day 4 – from Leoch to Silkies



The morning involved a beautiful walk through the wild hyacinth that lines the avenue to Castle Leoch. Photos were taken beside the castle in beautiful sunlight.

During our stop in the village, Ina and Hannah met “Mrs. Bean”, as in “Mr. Bean's mother”, keeper of a “bits and bobbies” shop in the village. Ina takes up the story; “Hannah motioned me in to see the pottery and things. We were real quick, went straight to the teapot and picked it up to buy it. As we took it to the counter and Hannah paid for hers, Granny Bean asked if we wanted it wrapped for the journey. 'Sure' we said. She's SLOOOWLY pulling out the bubble wrap, smoothing it onto the counter, and I'm waiting her for to take my money for my own teapot. She slowly writes down the price on the cash book for the day. We were still paying for them when Sam came in and said 'we gotta go', so I said 'we'll just pay and come back tomorrow'. Mrs. Bean said, 'Oh no people don't come back tomorrow' and she carries on tying the little bow, slowly. By this time Sam's jumping up and down.” It was like that scene with Rowan Atkinson in “Love Actually” when the man is trying to buy jewelry for his girlfriend but his wife is in the store and he's in a hurry, but the attendant (Mr. Bean) wants to wrap the gift.

Mrs. Bean gave us enough to snicker about to keep us going as we progressed into the wilderness and... To the Silkie's Isle. The island sat amidst a flat, gray ocean, windswept and sweet-scented on the heather cliffs. The surprise for us was that we found on the cliff top, a blow-hole or chimney that we had not known of before, just like the one that Jamie and young Iain climbed down to reach the shore. We love these synchronicities. No seals to be seen, but we watched in wonder as the Gannets dived for fish.

The landscape was bleak and empty and we'd prepared for this place by reading sections from Voyager where Jamie escapes from Ardsmuir seeking the place of the White Witch on his journey to the Selkie's Isle. Ina said, “You think about what people went through, so harsh. We really got a sense of that.”

Tonight our guests stay in a smaller version of Lallybroch and sleep, dreaming of the Tale Scot told (with harp) of how the MacKenzie's came to own Gearrloch (that being the location of Lallybroch in the Outlandish Companion).

Gàidhlig lessons move on a pace and Hannah especially has enough interest to take up more formal lessons.

Day 5 – Cùil Lodair - Culloden

We leave the west coast this morning, stopping in to pick up yesterday's purchases (Mrs. Bean should have wrapped them by now, we hope.) From there it's onto a difficult part of the tour, the battlefield of Drummossie Moor, Culloden. This is not going to be an easy visit. For those of you who have been to the place, they will know the feelings that cannot easily be put into words. Hannah has prepared a ceremony for her time with the fallen.


Perspective from Scot:

We are here at Culloden as I write. I am sat in the visitor centre. Myself, the manager of the Centre and no doubt many others have no desire to walk onto the field of battle. I went once, many years ago. That was enough.

Hannah is out there now, performing a ceremony for the aftermath of the last battle on British soil. She has with her seeds of two flowers. The Wild Hyacinth - the flower the English call Bluebell – and the Scottish Bluebell, the flower the English call Harebell. Both Bluebells, both beautiful. They grow in different soils and flower at different times of the year. They hold the same name, but are quite different. A metaphor for the two cultures that met and clashed on the field 250 years ago. As I write, Hannah is out there, bridging the gap between. She's laying the Low Road for the men who fought, for the families that stood behind them, for the echo that is still heard by the Americans, Canadians and others that carry the blood of the Culloden victims today. She lays the Low Road to carry us all home.

Scot

From Culloden we went to Cawdor castle in a mood more upbeat than one might expect. Hannah's ceremony has accomplished something. The reason we choose to visit Cawdor was that it is close to Castle Leoch in general size, which is unusually large for a Highland castle, but most importantly, Cawdor is very much lived in and we could feel that quite easily. While other castles are perhaps more similar in layout or furnishings to Leoch, Cawdor 'Feels' more akin to what Claire might have experienced. In that respect, it is a good approximation of Leoch and worth the visit. It even has a garden where we tried to picture Mrs Fitz-Gibbons bustling about collecting herbs.

Tonight we stay in an Inverness guest house very like the description of the Wakefield Manse, but brought to modern styles of décor. Our host is Mrs Graham. No, really. However, she reminds us more of Mrs Baird, the host of the guest house where Frank and Claire stayed on their first visit to Inverness, on account of the frantic hoovering she undertakes as soon as our muddy feet have left her entrance lobby.

Day 6 – Grand Houses

We might call this a Lallybroch day. We have taken Ina and Hannah to a number of houses akin to Lallybroch, but this, we all agree is most like our vision of Lallybroch. Still a lairds private home, set amidst hills just like the Fraser estate. Today there was a beautiful, healthy, light atmosphere about the house and grounds.

We have returned to Edinburgh. On this particular incarnation of the Jamie and Claire Tour, our guests are staying in a fabulous house, more grand than Lallybroch, more opulent than the Duke of Sandringham's house, more tasteful than Versaille. Dinner will be served at seven by black-kilted young gentlemen. We'll hear in the morning how they liked the attention. We may have trouble getting Hannah and Ina away for the last day – the lowly closes of the old town, haunt of A. Malcolm, Printer and his nefarious associates.

Day 7 – Edinburgh, the underbelly

We walked the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace, seat of the short-lived court of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1746, up past the tavern where Claire's coach arrived back in Edinburgh in 1768 to find Jamie. Along the way we looked in on the various closes and buildings that Claire and Jamie visited. We had a strange adventure in 'Carfax' close (or rather the real close that exists in place of Carfax).

As we entered a small, “little old ladies'” tea room, we were met by the proprietoress, a woman that bore more than a slight resemblance to Mrs Graham, the Wakefield housekeeper. This morning though, she did not have the competent calm of Mrs Graham, her assistant had not turned up and the lunch rush was beginning. “Jist write yeer order doon on that piece o' paper and I'll get tae ye,” she called over her shoulder from the sink, frantically washing dishes. Within minutes Samantha was in the kitchen helping, a moment later two strapping men in town for the Heineken Rugby Cup were drying up and making their own breakfast to wails of “ochone, ochone” from the host. It was like a scene out of an Ealing Studios films from the 40s.

Scot was happy though, as our frayed host had REAL mutton pies, which were once common in Edinburgh and Glasgow and have disappeared. He hasn't had one in twenty five years, poor lad.

I was left left behind in the tearoom, playing waitress and helping out the lady, while the other three descended to the underground vaults of Edinburgh to hear Tales of wine merchants, smuggling, illicit stilling, prostitution and body snatching. Ina said “I could really imagine Jamie and his men working away in those low vaults. I could just see him.”

A stop into a rare shop provided Hannah with a good excuse to leave all her remaining money behind in Scotland. Just a few local women make the woolen clothing, none of which has seen a machine. Hanna now sports a fantastic hat made by a woman who is a Gille (gamekeeper) and still uses Highland Ponies to bring the shot stags off the hills. Verra fetching is Hannah's Hat. Ina has a Shawl of Harris Tweed with beautiful Celtic knot-work on it. These garments come from a long tradition of home industries that haven't much altered since MacDubh was born. Next door, Hannah and Scot got left behind discussing the finer points of whisky with the fine gentlemen of Cadenheads, Purveyors of Single Malts. They might have stayed all day were it not for the delights that awaited them further up the hill.

A walk through the various closes in the book, ending the day with a some fine Scottish ales in the World's End tavern (pic below). We even got to peer down into the cellar of the pub where the Flodden Wall still stands. Perhaps a small, blue-silk Chinese man can be heard singing from below; a smell of brandy wafts up...


So, we have come to the end of the May 2009 Jamie and Claire Tour. Each subsequent one (July and September 2009) will be a little different, partly in the itinerary, guest numbers and tour length, but mainly because there will be new people ready for adventure, each bringing their own spirit to play. Scot and I are very glad to have begun with the fine travelers that are Hannah and Ina. They were up for everything and such good company along the way. Special people make a special adventure. Here's tae ye lasses!

Visit the Jamie and Claire Tour website for more photos

Some words from Ina after her return home

"Being with you guys made me realize life is for adventures and I had been only surviving day to day. I know I'm on the "'just got back from vacation high", but hanging with you three made me see that that is no way to live. After Culloden and being apart of Hannah's cemeromy, I have to shake it up a bit. I do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and need to pay attention to that."

Mission accomplished then. I take Ina's words to heart, for perhaps we all need to go away to appreciate what we have at home.

[Post edited to say: Click on "Comments" below to see more of Ina's words.]