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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Jamie and Claire Tour returns

DAY 10 - Return of the Natives

We leave the islands today. The ferry will take us to Eilean a'Cheò, Scotland's biggest island, from where we will drive to the mainland. Yesterday Scot bought some Harris tweed socks. It was in a wee 10 x 6 foot shed where Sandra has her workshop – she is one of the many cottage industry crafters here and one of the few that actually makes Harris Tweed bags on the island. She asked with a concerned look on her face “you do know to wash Harris tweed socks?” We misunderstood the question and began replying “yes, wool-wash programme...”
No. She meant that they were actually be washed, just checking. So unfolded the story of the man that bought three pairs from her. Sometime later she got a package in the post thinking that someone had sent her a present. She opened the bag to be greeted by a stench and three pairs of her own knitted socks. There was a note explaining that he had been told he could not wash tweed socks so here they were back again, having been worn extensively but never washed, and he'd like a refund. Some choice words were spoken about the, let's say level of knowledge of life-basics held by this customer. We never got the end of the story as to what she did in response. We'll email her and keep you posted.

This morning was spent in the tweed storehouse, pictured yesterday, trying to make a tweed choice in just two hours before the ferry sails. We were left running for the boat, bags in hand. The Sisters have bought tweed-leather holdall bags to augment their carrying capacity for the journey home. Scot has a new feilieadh beag (looks like a kilt) and I have a bent, warm credit card.

Tonight we dine on the side of Loch Linne.  The mist is about, the place looks fantastic as ever.

DAY 11 - Hiking Hills and visiting Lallybroch
So, back to the mainland and back "on book" to complete the Jamie and Claire Tour Cross, Bones and Island Stones.  The islands have been, of course, Amazing, and we've only done three out of about 800.   As ever, the sisters stayed in good form walking up and down wee mountains and hills - the best way to get yer land legs back!
Mare: "And we found Lallybroch this morning, strolling about the grounds with its gardens, fields and outbuildings including its own chapel. Sweet.."
The mountains and hills around Glencoe are spectacular, lush and green. So many trees in this part of Scotland. Loved that it was a sunny morning after yesterday's all day soaking. [Sam: It's raining in July... Oh, we must be in Scotland!]  Our B&B hostess begged us not to take the sunshine away from Glencoe, but we did anyway.  Scotland has an amazing variety of terrain, weather and scenery. [Sam:  We call it atmosphere].
Sam: Glencoe, for all it's history is still one of my favorite places. Being enveloped in lush green from all sides and making the rest of the world disappear; perhaps its own little Brigadoon.
Care: "Glencoe is a marvel, so very panoramic, I could barely take it all in as much as I would've liked...  Actually, all of Scotland, so very different wherever you go, has been a thrill, especially seeing it with our own special tour guides!"
We drove the length of Skye, stopping for some 'hill walking' aka hiking and discovering new sun bleached bones along the way; perhaps just one more for our collection?  Then on to a famous castle to see how the west was won.

We stopped in at The Storyteller's Cottage (our home). PIC: The Sisters in situ, proving that our house exists and is not in Brigadoon.
Mare: "Ah well...here we are [back] in Edinburgh to see what there is about, and with all the bustling, it should be an entertaining afternoon. Great view from our top floor flat in the middle of town and really fine to know what is behind those nondescript doors along the street. Away from the wind swept Isles now in sunny Edinburgh, happy to not be blown off our very feet.  Uh oh. Sam said I HAD to order Turkish food at this Edinburgh restaurant, so I reluctantly acquiesced and ordered chicken couscous. Of course the lady at the next table had some for me to examine first and of course, it looked pretty good."
Sam: Oy! Through the whole tour we're told about middle eastern and other exotic places the sisters love to eat at back home. So I take them to my favorite Turkish restaurant and Care attempts to order a basic British chicken and bacon wrap.....what!? No, no, no, you may as well order a burger!  New country - new experiences - that's my motto!

DAY 12 - Edinburgh ~ Claire Returns
Edinburgh. Today we walked the closes and haunts of old Edninburgh. In one of those great coincidences that we seem to happen upon quite a lot when on tour, we were stood in Carfax Close, reading the passage about Claire's arrival in search of A. Malcolm and the passage about dodging the “gardez loo!”, when a little old lady came out in cap and pinny and emptied a bucket of slop down the street, running between my feet. Being the 21st century, though, it was just bleach-water, thankfully.  Perfect timing though. It looked like we'd set it up for the Sisters. These things seem to happen a lot on the tour and really add to the authenticity.
We dined in Moubray's Tavern. OK it's been closed for more than a century so we didn't get oyster stew and “take a room” afterwards, but we did dine on the steps of the old tavern.
Mare: "Yes, the last day of the tour has arrived and then after our 3 day extension of Edinburgh on our own when the tour is complete, we will board the Big Blue Bus to the airport, kicking and screaming. Edinburgh is a fitting way to finish up (where we started), and we made the most of our morning.    Ate a different cuisine provided by Scot on the steps of Moubray's Tavern and listening to the appropriate readings from Voyager.  Then to the closes, the World's End, the tea shop in a close complete with a cafe owner swabbing down the pavement. So much to see and it's been wonderful to identify places that could have been the real thing had the book been non-fiction instead of a great story."
Sam: Fiction?! Fye! I'd say those were fighting words!
Mare:  "Thanks, Sam and Scot – it's been great and an experience we'll not forget, ever!"
Our Outlandish Spirits proved to be a joy to be around.  We enjoyed the humor and camaraderie of Marilyn and Carolyn and they will be truly missed.
PIC: our final time together.
 PIC: Scot's favourite tour picture:

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Islands - Day 5-9

DAY 5
The tour is running thick and fast and we are not getting enough time to blog our adventures. Later...  Culloden, Leoch... four poster beds.... a saw-bones..


Mare: “Days are going too fast. Our stop at the split standing stones was awesome. Had to be pulled back before I disappeared all the way into 1773. Weather has been spectacular, only a smidgen of rain.  Are we really in Scotland?  On our way to the islands this afternoon with an important stop for a twelvesy at a coffee shop for a piece of cake and a brew.  Everyone's enjoying the silent movies to go along with the coffee. Life is good and we are having one terrific time. I think we will sign up for two more weeks, please.”

Carolyn: “Oh dear. It's been a couple of days of great touring all over – out in the forests, along the streams, munching on a picnic lunch out in the quiet woods where Jamie and Claire would've wandered, perhaps on their honeymoon and on to 'Leoch' and Culloden.  So much sadness on that moor, can feel it even now, not to mention the visual presentations on posters and in a short movie.  Couldn't keep out the tears...         Then, lucky us – we spent the night in the castle last night waaay up at the top in an elegant room with, alas, no ghosties or bumps in the night to disturb our sleep.  Can't say that bothered me so awfully much.  Treated to a devoted Jacobite presenting his story of the battle, dressed in his tartan, complete with the weapons, targe and sporran. He took a lot of time answering our many questions after his presentation which was quite fine.  Now, on to another day of travelling surprises that keep us on our toes and delightedly guessing. We are so enjoying every moment of this trip.”

I returned to our tent tonight to find we had a new friend – our very own wee Cheety has moved in. Cat hair everywhere.  Tonight the sun goes down on the Beauly Firth and it doesna look half bad. PIC

DAY 6
Today we went to Castle Leod.   Lord John is not at home today, but like us, he's on his way to the Outer Isles, so we might see him there.  So, instead of going into the castle, we sat below it on the sward and had Tales in the sun of the MacKenzies, namely Coinneach Obhar, the Bràthain Seer, upon whom the Seer of Lord Lovat is based in Dragonfly. PIC: Tales at Castle Leod.






To the Isles we go today.  Our Islands adventure begins.  To remote Leodhais we go, “The Edge of the World” as some would have it.



After waiting in a sunny blowy Ullapool for a late ferry and some stevedores who seemed in no rush to load us, we made the three hour journey on a fairly calm sea.  There was even a hint of a porpoise or dolphin pod.
The sea was as bright as a mirror in the sun and after a couple of hours the islands began to appear out of the clouds and rain showers.
Our host this night is a Leodhasach crofter, who keeps pigs, geese chickens and three crofts.  The house sits with a view of Tursachan Calanais, the largest of the many stone circles and alignments in this amazing collection.

DAY 7
Phrase of the day:  “Could ye no do with a bit maer wind here!?”

It's nice to see that Aven and others are following the blog of this tour. Who else is lurking out there?  Make a comment below and share a thought.

Carolyn:  Anything left of me after being blown three sheets to the wind up to the broch? People who lived here in Lewis must've been/are hardy folk, and precious few with the lack of arable land and plenty of rock all over the hills!  OK, compared to Ohio, this is another planet, which of course is why I'm loving this side trip to the island.  Our B and B hosts treating us to their droll sense of humor complete with the eye twinkles added a touch of fun to our beautiful breakfast.”
PIC: Broch.



Mare: I don't remember a fiercer wind than the one on the top of the hill at the broch. 'Twas once a strategic defense site as well as a family home and barn.  Amazing how these resourceful people managed to survive and thrive in these rugged conditions. Shared the pathway with some vocal sheep on the way down. Don't see THAT in Michigan.

Just had a most unique and delightful stop at the local weaver of Harris tweeds. Norman MacKenzie was in his wee loom shed, working on a gray design on a 60-year old single width loom.  His business was out in the countryside near our B&B and we just happened on it.  Mr. MacKenzie demonstrated how his loom worked and gave us a running commentary. We picked out our favorite tweed to purchase from his wee wall of bolts he had woven. All this going on in a workroom of about 10 by 14 feet! Mr. MacKenzie – a new friend on the island of Lewis for all of us. Next time we're here we coming back!”
PIC: Norman MacKenzie, Weaver, at his 60 year old loom.
PIC: Norman with our cloth.  “The Looms Norman! The Looms!”




 
Scot: “It's raining in Leodhais, at the minute, mainly from the side.  It will be bright and bidh grian ann a-rithist air a'mhionaid (the sun will be out again in a minute) but I am waiting in the car, while the women of the party visit a Harris tweed handbag shop.”
PIC: The Norse Mill and Kiln.
PIC: Eaglas Moluag. 900 year old church




 
Carolyn: “Learning about Black Houses up here in the windy seaside hills, and what better way than to see a well kept historical one (I should think most of them are truly historic!) than to be guided by a 14 year old young man with knowledge and confidence, not to mention a cute smile and the perspective of youth!”
PIC: Donald, our guide

PIC: the range in the new house.





To be honest, there were too many pictures to put on this page from today.  Even more will no doubt be taken tomorrow.

DAY8 – gu Na Hearradh – To Harris

Sam:  Well it is Scotland in July and here's the rain right on schedule!  We've be dodging huge drops yesterday and today and outrunning clouds around the isles only to experience winds strong enough to blow a person over the craggy edges of the Today has been a little cliffs down to the sea.  The color of the water near the shore is Caribbean blue-green with the waves creating clouds of foam over the rocks below.  We see many ruins along the way of the old Black Houses which used to stand against the long green crofts.  It's amazing to think how all these people survived back then.  Though a brutal move from their land, was this actually a good move in the long run as many people were cleared and left the Motherland for the new world.  Many people survived, some even prospered.  The ones who remain and developed into the faces of the young that we see now are still a hardy bunch and still have to find many ways to survive, physically and financially on these islands off an island.  There are grandchildren who return to their family lands now and there are 'incomers' who were enchanted by the land and peaceful way of life.  Still, the small schools are being closed year after year for lack of new generations to fill them.

Yesterday was a very full day.  The Sisters tell me they counted 11 places that we visited.  Today has been a little easier to keep track of.  We headed south to Na Hearadh – Harris – which probably is Norse for “really big hills”.  First though, we went west to the Isle of Bearnaraigh where Scot and Mare braved the horizontal rain to be in the presence of a strange stone alignment that is a half moon right on the edge of the cliff above the narrows between the islands.  From there we went to a very special place, an iron age village in the dunes that has one house rebuilt.  The other five are still under the sand.  There is so much to see out here that we have had to pick just a few things otherwise we'll be too full of experiences, worn out and never get to Harris.
PICS: windswept buildings.


We have had a guess as to the identity of the mystery “thing” picture from a few days ago.  Conny from the tour last year thought it was a Haggis.  Well, I can reveal that it is not, but it was a fair   suggestion.  Wrong plumage, dear.  Watch out for the comments below the post.  Place your own.  Prize to be won.
PIC: mystery thing.


Later: The ferry off the island had been cancelled today due to the wind.   As it reached gale force, we ran (were blown) to the hotel where panacotta awaited us, gently followed by Scot's harp and Silkie Tales of Lighthouses and Storms, to fit the mood.  We were joined in ceilidh by a Dutch couple – always nice to find friends that we haven't met yet.  The savage temper of the Atlantic beast must have been soothed by having its spirit called in the Tales, for the wind dropped as we made our way home in the dusk at 11pm.  Oidhche mhath, cadal gu math.  Good night, sleep well.


DAY 9
What shall we title the day ?  Na Hearadh – traighean agus clò mòr – Harris – beaches and tweed.
Mare: “Ah yes, TWEED. Must needs find a Harris Tweed carpetbag to help schlep my purchases home.

The beaches on Harris are spectacular – white, clean, and even today in the cold and rain, little kids were frolicking in the water. Looking for Puff the Magic Dragon I think.”

Care:  “Then along came some wild and woolly sheep dog, galloping along the sand, hoping to make friends. Loving dogs, that made the beach for me, even though they themselves were startlingly white and quite decorative (patterns from what? Assorted minerals, wave action...whatever).  I think I have never seen so much rock in one place as here on Harris, not even counting the Grand Canyon. Would think that the presence of so much rock might be somewhat depressive should I live here for any number of years. But today, they were beautiful.”
PIC: Tweed Heaven. It's where all the plaid goes when it dies.  Scot has gone to heaven too, buying it back.

GOTO the last posting in this tour blog

Monday, 28 June 2010

Cross, Bones and Island Stones Tour, Day 1 to 4

DAY 1  (scroll down to jump to later days)


So the fill-in-the-name tour has begun with The Sisters, Marilyn and Carolyn.

The Sisters arrived early in Edn., having been forewarned that storms might delay flights, they changed and flew in ahead.  Good thinking, Batman.  They were going to just stay at the airport and take taxis back and forward. No no no! I moved quick and got them a great deal on the George Hotel in the centre of the New Town, Edn., as it's nice to look after my guests and get them the little extra.  (Polishing the medal on my chest gesture.  Erm.)

We have begun the discussion as to what the name of this tour should be.  The roses are looking gorgeous at the moment, so that might be a contender – The Rose Tour – with hints of Jacobite reference there.


Mare (Marilyn) : “First treat was to meet Sam and Scot, our delightful and brilliant tour guides. First stop, the Holyrood Palace, before the Queen makes an appearance next week (and closes the place). How smart was that? The ruins of the chapel are actually stunningly beautiful and reminiscent of the visit Claire made there to discuss business with Black Randall.”

Sam, in the car as we drive along:  “We should get another bodhran [drum] so that you could teach the guests how to play while we tour.”
Scot “It's an idea.  It's definitely an idea.  It's no a hellish good one, but it's an idea.”

Carolyn: “Scot and Samantha, what wonderful new friends! After much excited anticipation for our Jamie and Claire tour, it finally began! Already making connections of places and events in our Outlander books, which is the whole idea!  I am greatly looking forward to the next days, seeing Scotland, learning about this beautiful country, and becoming fast friends with Scot and Sam.”

Scot: “We've been hearing some of the things that the sisters have noticed as a bit odd, coming from America.  Which way to look when crossing the roads?  Both ways.  Roundabouts.  Then there was the long discussion of cultural reference points – TV, food, sayings – which mean not much to me, but it's interesting to see my lassie so at home.  Ahh, the American Abroad.  Alfalfa and Pankie, Crispy Creams and Boston Beans.


DAY 2
As followers of the tour will know, we like to do the tour in roughly chronological order, as close to the way Claire found Scotland.  This morning, we make our passage through the stones.  The Special Place.  We have a fine day to climb the hill.  We too are spotting herbs as we walk the “1000 yards to the top”.  We have what might be Wild Mountain Thyme  (a quick burst of song to celebrate).  We have Blood Root, Bog Cotton, Thistle and tiny Orchids.

Mare: “This morning we hiked up the hill at breakneck speed (well, okay, some of us slogged along, but up we went). We found the standing stone and touched it, but we're still here to tell of it. Truly an awesome sight! Along the road we were met by a welcoming committee of kine and a few sheep. They were curious but not a bit impressed by the two-legged intruders.”

And from Carolyn:  “Who can imagine the beauty and serenity of a summer morning climbing, climbing up the “wee hill” to the clefted stone, such like the stone Claire stepped through. We had interrupted the cows along the path, stepped through sheep traces, and enjoyed the Scottish breezes on this sunny summer day.” 

Those who have been to the stones with us will remember the special atmosphere of this place.  As we sat at the stones, each in our own quietness, I had Scot make a Brigit's cross from Luachar for the lasses, to confer the protection of Our Lady upon their homes. Our descent involved the now ritual finding of sheep parts – a thigh bone this time (blog followers will recall Donas the skull from May2009 tour and the spine and innards from Grain tour.   It may be a Make Your Own Sheep kit and we have yet to yet the message.  PIC: Cross and Bones.  Possibly the name for the tour, or perhaps a new Outlander novel.

Carolyn:” How lucky we are with this weather, and with our lovely guides who patiently give us so much attention (and stories!) in response to all our questions.  We are having such a wonderful time, seeing scenes, places, and images that will give new life to rereading our Outlander stories. This tour is a fantastic way to really “live” the history of these Outlander books.”

Mare: “The beautiful scenery is a close second to group singing in the car!”

This evening, it was Free Night.  The Ladies are amusing themselves.  Scot and I drove high up into the hills to a remote place he wanted to visit,  Truidh.  A single stone marks the site where the Marquis of Montrose raised the King's Standard in 1644 to call the Royalist clans to the cause of the Civil War.  Oh, my hubby is so romantic in where he takes me for a date!  Still, the view was pretty fantastic.

PIC: What is that?  I am offering a prize of 50 pounds off the next tour to the first person who can identify this thing.




DAY 3 
We began our day with a visit to Ardsmuir, or at least a place very like the small prison that Jamie spent a few years in. PIC: Ardsmuir No More.


PIC: Escaping Ardsmuir.




Carolyn:  “Another sunny day, so off we went to visit a cottar's house in the Highlands. 
One of the best parts of touring like this is that you can see not only the beauty of the landscapes as we roll along, but also the tree-lined narrow back roads, not to mention the music Sam plays to add to the ambience!  Having lunch in a local coffee house – real Scotland with very sweet service people. We have found that the waitresses here in Scotland have all been very cordial and kind.  Sam and Scot continue to be very patient with all our questions, mercifully! We are so enjoying their company.”

We also came across the rare Scottish Wildcat, proudly wearing his tartan.  PIC: Wildcat in his usual haunt.



PIC: a really wild cat.

Along the way, we met Mrs Fitzgibbons.  Stalwart as ever. PIC Mrs Fitz.

Mare: “Just when I think there is nothing more beautiful to see, voila, there it is. The countryside is magnificent and still green in spite of the drought here.

DAY 4
Over breakfast this morning The Sisters are reading.  Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie and the '45.  They are becoming knowledgeable and will be critiquing Ms Gabaldon's works later today.

Mare: “Reading more about the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie just made me feel as sad as ever about the whole situation in the Highlands in the 1700s.”

Today the Ladies have a choice as to what they will do.  Onto Loch Ness in a wee wee boat, or off to Wentworth for a jolly romp around the prison.  Hard choice.   What is it to be?
It's to be the boat.  We'll send them off with a Binocular and a wee net on a stick.

Mare: “It WAS a hard choice,  but the search for Nessie won out this morning. A wee boat ride with Cap'n Gordon at the wheel giving us the scoop on where we should find the sweet beast swimming around was informative, but Nessie was paying no mind. Maybe next time.

This afternoon Scot escorted us to a burial cairn of – guess who? Sorry, can't tell, otherwise it would be a spoiler.  We then went on to a vigorous hike and a picnic lunch by the water. Last night's leftovers made terrific sandwiches, plus toffee yoghurt, mature cheddar crisps (with a picture of three old cronies on the front!) and a bit of ale – yum!”

We spent a peaceful afternoon in the hot stillness of the pine woods like those found across the Highlands for hundred of years.  While we did indeed read passages from book one where Jamie and Claire rode, sat, walked, ate picnics and made love in places that have not changed from then till now, we mostly just sat, looked, contemplated and ate our picnic of roast beef sandwiches.  I've noticed that the essence of a place like this comes back to you in those remote times, far away.  The power of the Scots Pine and Heather is subtle and not fully realised until long after you're back at home or in the office.  Scott on the last trip said something similar.  The gift arrived early for him.  He was blessed to be in the moment.

Scot: “Following a story I heard from a man I met a year back, I pulled the steering wheel hard left for a wee detour and unscheduled stop this afternoon. We were soon hunting around a wee village for a church.  Having found this beautiful, ancient Kirk, we knocked on doors around the village until we finally found the key to the church and to the great heavy oak door in the floor that led down to the crypt.  PICS.





It took two of us to lift the door (echoes of Hector Cameron's Mausoleum). There they lay, in their lead coffins, bones visible through the tears in the lead, Lord Lovat, The Old Fox, and his son, Simon Fraser.  Wow!

Of course, The Old Fox is short by one head, which is still in the Tower of London, but his body lies here, in a quiet village church, forgotten by all but the locals who guard the place.  You'll notice that I've not mentioned where this Kirk is.  It's verra beautiful and verra fragile.  Wouldn't do too well to have a lot of visitors here, drying the air of the crypt out and the like.  The same applies to quite a few places we visit on the Jamie and Claire Tour, so we don't like to publicise them too much."

The tour finally has its name CROSS, BONES & ISLAND STONES TOUR

Goto the next post from this tour

End

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

THE JAMIE & CLAIRE "GRAIN TOUR" - MAY 2010



We have duly named this adventure “The Grain Tour” because of the well versed, educated and appreciative pallets of our Outlandish Spirits on this trip.  Some of them had even been to serious whisky tastings prior to the arrival in Scotland.  As well, there was a great appreciation of the incredible ales brewed all over this country.  Ah, the two combined would have made James Fraser a proud man indeed of this group!  We had guys and girls; some who've read through one book and some through all the books in the series.  Each person taking in their surroundings in simple and awe inspiring moments.

The weather on the May Tour was lovely....as always!

Following is a synopsis of different experiences of our traveling companions as we followed the trail into the Highlands of Scotland in the first three books of the Outlander Series and trace the steps of Jamie & Claire.  Our next adventure in June will be taking us on a extended 4 day tour of the islands and we have two of our guests, Carolyn & Marily eagerly waiting in the wings and counting the days.

For clarity, we have nicknamed my husband, “Highland Scot” and Erin's husband, “Badlands Scott” since they both have the same name (different spelling).

DAY1

AVEN speaks of the “pilgrimage to the stone”:
    It started with a drizzle, but soon enough the sun was out and we were shedding our layers.   I really enjoyed going off the path to walk along the many rocks that jut out from the ground. 
    After reading a passage from Outlander, we walked up a hill and were met by stones with a large stone, complete with a cleft. The view was breathtaking; every cloud that passed overhead gave new shades of green and brown.  My only wish is that I'd been in better shape for the walk.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), we had plenty of resting stops due to two orthopaedic issues, one bronchitis, and one blister. 
    On our way back down, we stumbled upon a lamb carcass.  Only bones and a little fur left, but too fresh to take along as a mascot.  Donas (the skull) may be disappointed that we couldn't find him a companion. [Ed: Donas was the sheep skull that Hannah found on this trip last year.  It now protects our greenhouse.]

Brenda:
The peacefulness was all around as we walked up the steep slope.  The serenity of the Scotland land side was all around us.  The tranquillity of it all was awe inspiring to me as I felt the hustle and bustle of my normal life fall away.  Scotland was not as I expected...it is more than I expected.  Having only read Outlander and most of Dragonfly in Amber I am behind the power curve of knowing what to expect from some of the comments made by my travelling companions but I am sure to catch up quickly after this inspiring trip.  It was a rare moment as one by one each of us laid our hand upon the stone in hopes of being swept back in time to an era where individuals such as Jamie and Claire and the others that Diana wrote about existed if only in our hopes.  I myself have envisioned the world created by Diana many times but to have this experience on our first day that we did was awe inspiring and breathtaking all in one.


DAY 2
Jennifer didn't know she was coming to Scotland until she and Brenda arrived at their departure airport.  Jenn:
The winding roads of Scotland lead to a hilly climb up to a small stone church overlooking a valley.  After reading a passage, from Outlander, we see the steeple peeking over the rise.  We entered and the peace of the old church embraced us.  We listened to another passage from Outlander, in which, Jamie and Claire were married.  It was so easy to picture our favorite Highlander and Sassenach standing at the front, all nerves, clutching hands, and giving each other the strength to make it through the moment.  The small chapel seemed to come to life with each word.  Putting a picture to a place, until now only imagined, was wonderful.
Leaving the church, after seeing the historic village, the view from the Church afforded a view of a ruined croft across the valley.  My mind's eye filled in the pieces that time had erased.  What a peaceful, serene, and powerful place. 

Brenda:
The township was an extremely eye opening experience.  We were brought back in time to what would resemble an authentic Scottish village with true homes made of sod, wood and thatch roofs made traditionally of heather.  The fires in the middle of the home expressed a great deal of peat smoke that we smelled for the remainder of our day on our clothing.  Aven related it to the smell of a good Islay whisky [as Aven would...:)] The most unique thing to me was the fact the homes had coble areas for the cattle to reside within and they were used as a source of heat for the families through the winter as well.  The “modern” plumbing installed for removing the cattle waste was identified as a the best way for the families to utilize as well.  I finally got to learn how raw wool is spun into yarn for use in the looms.  All in all...it really brought the view of a standard village in Diana's books. 


DAY 3
Highland Scot on a night of whisky sampling:
Last night I think there were 18 malts.  Yes, 16 at least, and one was Japanese malt.  I really liked Brenda's Scapa malt choice and Aven's Bowmore, but what was that nasty wee concoction that Jon tried to get us to drink? Mr. Muscle?  Mr. Clean? Oh mo chreach!  A Jamie Fraser Special Reserve that one; barely old enough to be allowed out of its baby cot.  It was only 3 months and still in nappies. The food was good too, I think.”

Jenn:
While most of the group went adventuring on horses, Sam and I took the opportunity to go for a walk.  We parked at a home that we've dubbed Lallybroch.  And ventured down the hill to a  ruin of a manse.  The imagination could quickly erase the damage caused by time.  A walk around the manse showed fireplaces still in tact and slats still clinging to the walls.  A bit down the path is the manse's stable which has been converted into a home.  Again the imagination could easily undo the current renovation.  When Sam and I made it back to the farm we got a quick tour from our Highland lad, Iain.  What a lovely, peaceful place.  Again Scotland does not disappoint.  We were blessed with the most beautiful Spring day, as well!

Aven:
The pony trekking was followed by a picnic lunch.  Our hike to the river was beautiful with plenty of photo opportunities (which gave us time to catch our breath).  Our “Jamie and Claire” style lunch consisted of a variety of meats, cheeses, crackers, fruit, and of course ale.  There was a perfectly placed flat rock that served as our table, and another slightly slanted rock off to the side that provided a sun lounge.  After stuffing our faces and washing it down with ale (Goliath for John, Erin, Scott, and myself) we beached ourselves like silkies in the sun.  I think we're the first tourists to get sunburned in Scotland.  [May has some of the best weather here].

Brenda:
Pony trekking was an adventure in Scotland.  We began our day by travelling to a Highland farm (referred to as a small croft) where our Highland ponies were gathered.  With our ponies saddled we headed out with both Aven and Erin's ponies vying for the lead.  The dense forests of trees had been felled to allow repopulation by Scots Pine.  As we headed up the road we continued to hear our Highland host yell out “move on Rogie...move on” and “Bru!” loudly as the shepphard dog that tagged along ran under the pony bellies.  We moved along in a slow moving gaggle until we reached a small creek.  As we came up to the creek we noticed a small bridge made of two 2x6s laid side by side just wide enough for a small vehicle to cross.  Easily looking as if the pony's hooves would fall through the cracks or at best the pony would easily veer into the water some two – three feet below.  As Aven called back over her shoulder “Which way?”, she was assured that the ponies know the way... and sure enough they veered into the water just before we got to the bridge.  Prior to our turn around spot at the top of the summit, we took a hard right turn and climbed a small rocky area to overlook the landscape.  It was a very peaceful and meditative place to be at that moment.  My crowning moment came when I had to dismount my “beast” for the first time at this spot and was told to take both feet out of the stirrups.  For someone who only rides Western style saddles I had a rather shocked look on my face and slid off my pony in a very un-ladylike fashion!  I was much more ready for the dismount when I got back to the barn at the end of our ride.  Still not ladylike at all but I didn't end up in the dirt.  All in all the pony trekking was another lovely experience in the visit to Scotland. 

DAY 4
Erin:
After a hearty Scottish breakfast (one of many) at our B&B, complete with black pudding, we headed out for a day of castles.  The first castle was the one Scot and Sam felt most accurately represented Castle Leoch from Outlander.  Scot guided us through the castle while we discussed the intracasies of Outlander along the way.  The rooms were spectacular.  Decorated with a mixture of antique furniture, portraits and tapestries to more modern pieces added by the Owner.  A walk through the gardens finished the tour before many £ were spent in the gift shop.  I will definitely be using the extra empty bag we packed in our suitcase for purchases!
Our next journey was to Castle Leod, which Diana Gabaldon proclaimed to be most like Castle Leoch.  We were given a personal private tour by the Laird of the castle, Lord John.  He was a witty guide who gave us the history of Clan MacKenzie as well as the castle from the time of the Jacobite rebellion to more recent history, with a few unexpected interruptions from the talking sporran!  [modern technology has reached the Highlands and the Earl has a mobile phone – though reception is not guaranteed!] With a shrug of the shoulders each of his stories ended with an amusing statement resembling “Hundreds of people died, but whatever” or “He was quite important to the Jacobite cause, but whatever.”  As the Laird was careful not to go too deep into the past and lose his guests – obviously an excellent orator.
On now to the Black Isle brewery for a sampling of ales to keep us  entertained tonight.  I hope  the B&B is ready for us!  Each day of this  trip has been  more incredible than the last.  I can't  wait to see  what  tomorrow brings.  Walk on Rogey!!
PIC: The hills are alive... with the sound of Tulloch Ard!

DAY 5

When asked about how they found the battlefield of Drumossy Muir, a pensive silence descends.  “It had a weird feel to it,” suggests John.  “Yes, but peaceful too,” adds Aven.  Skylarks sang in the sun-warmed air above the heather this day.
Highland Scot: We finally have a name for our tour: “The Jamie and Claire Grain Tour, 2010”.  Why? In honour of the Hebridean quantities of Ales and Uisge Beatha that The Outlandish Spirits have consumed on this adventure.  All except Jenn who's a sober lass of principles and responsible behaviour.  Badlands Scott and John were found to be carrying their “cary oot” boxes of ales around upon their arrival at The Castle accommodation as we were toured aboot, having left non-essential baggage.....ahem........ (everything else) in the stairwell.  They were persuaded to leave the carry-oot in the withdrawing room for later.  Sensible Jenn shares a full tower with the others in The Castle tonight.  They have it to themselves.  The only constraint on their behaviour after the staff have gone home are the Ghosts. 
It was good to see Caroline (keeper of the castle) again.  As ever, she shows the guests around the place upon arrival.  They are soon lost, looking for hidden doors and trying to keep up with Caroline who dashes ahead like some mischievous kin of the Wee Folk.  She seems real enough, but I have to wonder how long Caroline has been charmingly haunting the castle herself...

Aven:
We strolled through the grounds and met a small herd of curious cattle.  Lucky for Erin that I was able to charm them away from her.  After our interlude with the feral cows, we walked on to the Moray firth to see the tide slowly come in.  This is such a beautiful country, and I fear our photos won't do it justice.
Upon returning to the castle, we enjoyed our ales which had been cooling to room temperature in this warm May weather, while we walked through the cemetery.  Dinner was in the dining hall, and we stuffed ourselves to the point of bursting.  After we drank all their wine we adjourned to the Drawing room for a story about the Stuarts and MacGregors from Scot. To our delight, the boys got a lesson in proper kilt wearing. 
After Sam and Highland Scot retired for the evening we moved on to the Billiards room for a game of Snooker (Jenn & Brenda versus John & Badlands Scott).  Erin and I tried our hand at darts, but quickly realized we were out of practice.  All the while, I wore a blonde braided wig, crow feather, and a pink cone-shaped hat which transformed me into Sacagewea the Viking Princess.  Our night finally ended around two o'clock in the morning.  We had a royally good time that night, and I doubt any of us will forget it.   [Neither will the other castle guests, Ed.]

DAY 6
We head south today, winding our gentle way out of the Highlands by tomorrow.  The weather is still hot and today it is humid.  Our Outlandish Spirits are in good fettle, despite the depravities of the night before.  Even “good girl Jenn”  darkened her reputation last night and partook in the blessings of the white grape.  I blame Aven and Erin for their Fergus-esque influence.  In her own words she “did some damage to a grape”.  Still, all good things must pass, even a good reputation.

A new visit for this tour was a site very like Ardsmuir prison (we already included Wentworth – euch!).  A small, garrison fort built at the same time as Ardsmuir and quite similar in feel. 

We also had the chance to include a distillery today – a very beautiful one.  A long walk through the woods to the inn finished the day's adventures.  As the guests took their evening meal it actually rained for the first time on our adventure and was quite welcome. 
Back at our accommodation Scot spun tales of the Silkies in the drawing room as the sun went down, the sleepy-strings of the harp working their way into the minds and hearts of the listeners.

DAY 7
Lallybroch and into Edinburgh today.  Perhaps our group will describe how Lallybroch matched up to their own personal visions of the house, because we have had no time to blog along the way, it's as if the pace is intensifiying.  We all have our own vision of the house of Lallybroch, do we not?  Even when we have a copy of the Companion, with a line drawing in it.
We met the laird of “Lallybroch” (an old friend of ours) and he stopped mowing his grass and gave us an impromptu history of the place.  It is amazing how the modern version, so closely matches the book.
Today we have been doing some serious listening in the van to CDs.  John and Highland Scot have been comparing mutual recommendations on singer-songwriters.  Off-book, but still a memorable part of the tour.

DAY 8
Highland Scot:  “Claire returns to Edinburgh”.  Another hot day as we meet our guests at the Palace of Holyrood.  We had booked in for a tour of the palace so that we could call to mind visions of Bonnie Prince Charlie shmoozing the “High Heid Yins” at a celebration ball and remember Jamie and Dougal sparring in the courtyard to the entertainment of the guests.  We HAD planned all this, but yon Lizzie Windsor (aka Queen) made an unannounced visit to “her royal residence”, so it was closed to the public.  [The group caught a quick glimpse of her being driven out of Holyrood Palace as they stood by the gates.  I swear I saw her walking along the street in Leith just before we came to the palace.  Leith?  Haunt of smugglers, loose women and dockers?  But we did see her cars drive by us as we drove to meet our group.
Cò-dhùi, anyway.  We walked the Royal Mile as planned, looking into the closes and wynds of the book.
Erin said something lovely and touching as we walked the secret places of the book.  She was so pleased and impressed at how much research and effort we had put into finding just the right places, be they the actual ones in Voyager or good facsimiles of Diana's fictional places, like Carfax Close. Nice to be appreciated!  Sam and I checked 500 very dry government monument records, traveled throughout Scotland and looked up numerous web sites to locate brochs and stone circles suitable for the tour, only to find there was nothing better than the places we already knew.  Still, it was worth it just to see the look in Erin's eyes as the book came alive for her.
We did not have the guests write the blog today as we are on foot and without the laptop.  They have promised to add “comments” to the blog when it is posted live.  Look at the “Comments” link over the next couple weeks below.

Also in the tour today was some Ale (verra nice), some shopping for Harris Tweed bags and purses (verra cute), some Cask Ale (verra verra nice) and lots of noisy traders, hawkers and performers on the Royal Mile.  OK, so none of that was actually IN the book as such, but we diverted from our serious purpose of tracking down A. Malcolm every now and again.  We tried to find him in a third dram hoose, but we only found more Ale, oddly enough.

It was a tearful farewell after our final meal together.  We shall miss our friends from the US, but we have new music to listen to, ridiculous quotes about Norse Princesses to use at inappropriate times, memories of laughter, smiles and more in-jokes than is even remotely healthy.   Aven will have her new tattoo, courtesy of an Edinburgh ink-needler.  I picture Brenda's quirky smiles, Scott's patient, rolling eyes, John's quiet pensivity, Jenn's bright, youthful and expectant smile - I think Jenn still thinks she's going to Germany... sorry Jenn, no men in kilts there and lederhosen with shorts just don't have the same affect.

Sam:  I think between everyone we have taken over 4000 photos, had several bottles of wine, 20 different whiskies, as many different ales, one portion of haggis and more sunshine than is allowed even in Camelot. 
Aye fond farewell to our Outlandish Spirits of May 2010.