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.

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.

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