Friday, 14 August 2009
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
Blog of July 2009 Jamie and Claire Tour with Conny and her Mutter, Iris.
Pic: Scottish Bluebells in July
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!
“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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.