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).
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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].
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.
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!
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...
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.]
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.
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.
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.