Friday, May 28th, 2010
Ok — I confess — I went to BEA as a booklover and an author and got to sign my April book at the Harlequin booth and my May book at the RWA booth. I even got to meet one of my favorite authors and picked up an ARC of this upcoming book, THE EMPEROR’S TOMB, due out in November. And I got to meet two of my favorite tv personalities from MSNBC (no, not Keith Olbermann, darn!) – Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough — who were there promoting Mika’s new book. But the highlight of the show….
I met RICK SPRINGFIELD!! Oh yes I did! He was there promoting his upcoming autobiography LATE,LATE AT NIGHT, and he spoke and signed some promo coverflats for attendees… Here’s proof—
Thanks to Liam R for taking and sending me the photo!
So, that, and attending the Harlequin party (and meeting actress/author Kathy Kinney) and the Kensington party and getting a bunch of books and staying in a hotel called The Pod Hotel and finding an Irish pub named the Pig and the Whistle 2, all added to make my first BEA very memorable!
PS — the honest to gosh best moment happened twice for me — in two different lines, waiting for someone else’s autograph, people recognized MY NAME and had read MY BOOKS! Huzzah for that — nothing better for an author to hear from a reader…..
Saturday, December 19th, 2009
It’s been at least a couple of years since my area of southern NJ had a really good snow storm, but we caught up today with a Nor’easter that’s still dumping snow here and up most of the MidAtlantic and New England coast. I’m like a 4 year old on Christmas eve….I’ve been watching it snow all day. And taking some photos, too.
This was taken at about noon: looking out through the wreath on my front door…
And the one on the left was taken at noon - the one on the right was taken at about 5:30 to show the accumulation:
Cool, huh?! And it’s still snowing with the heaviest snow expected to end around 10 pm tonight and all the snow to be over by Sunday morning…..
Anyone else in the storm’s path? Everyone doing okay? Stay warm….stay safe!
Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
The actual beginning of winter is coming up next week on December 21 — the winter solstice when the sun stops its southern journey and wobbles just a bit before heading back north. On my trip to Scotland, I visited Maes Howe, a Neolithic tomb in Orkney, where the solstice is marked in a special way.
At sunset on December 21, the rays of the setting sun enter the entrance tunnel of the tomb and strike the back wall. It actually happens for several days before and after the solstice and now there’s a live webcamera on their website, so you can check it out.
Visit www.maeshowe.co.uk and watch it happen live….each day until early January….I will be! I still can’t believe I was inside the tomb looking out just a few months ago. Maybe one day I’ll be there to watch the sun come in….
Sunday, September 20th, 2009
I’m all packed up and ready to drive back to Glasgow in the morning (to catch a plane first thing Tuesday morning) so this is the last time I’ll be able to post before I get home. The little guesthouse where I’m staying has a dial-up connection I may be able to use, which doesn’t sound promising, so I’m not planning on it. Anyway, I just can’t believe it’s almost over.
So, here’s my recap of the last couple of day –
Telford Bridge, Invermoriston
Invermoriston is a small village located when Glen Moriston meets Loch Ness, about half-way between Fort Augustus and Urquhart Castle. It has one of Telford’s (major British architect in the early 1800′s) bridges though the main A82 road goes over a much newer one. By small, I mean a collection of houses, a bike/kayak rental store, a small hotel (with a pub), a clog shop, a store/post office and a small cafe. Since I woke to the SUN!!, I walked from the apartment where I’m staying across the Telford Bridge (climbed out the other side since it ends in a huge ditch!) and then I visited Columba’s Well.
St. Columba's Well
Apparently, back in the late 6th century, the Irish monk was traveling through Scotland (from his monastery on Iona) trying to convert the heathen Picts and he visited the area. This well was known to be poisonous but he blessed it for all time and it was then safe to drink or touch. There’s also an old story that this spring became Loch Ness, but no one’s really sure about that! I walked on, crossing the main road and going through a gate towards Invermoriston Falls. The walk was great — along the river as it moved from under the bridges to empty into Loch Ness. And the next surprise is called the Summer House.
This is also called the Lady’s House because the laird’s wife would entertain friends there while the laird was hunting or doing other lairdly things. It has several windows that open to look over the river and falls below it.
The falls were nice, the sound was inspiring and, even better, I spied a cave on the other side of the river that gave me more ideas for my next book….
The walk took about 40 minutes and then I spent the afternoon writing a bit, catching up on email and then took a short drive down to Fort Augustus — where the locks make it possible for boats to travel from River Oich onto Loch Ness and farther north on the Caledonia Canal. And for the first time, I watched a boat moving through the locks. Unfortunately, I’d left the memory card out of my camera and had to take photos with my cell phone! LOL!
By the time the boat finished some storms moved through and then the sun was out again – creating the most lovely rainbows for my drive back to Invermoriston! I could actually see where this one ended as I drove under it…wild…simply wild! By the time I got to my apartment the rain was gone again.
This morning was gorgeous! Sunny, windy, cool (about 55-60 degrees) so I set off right after breakfast for my last castle visit — Urquhart. Which I’ve learned is pronounced ‘Er’ – ket’ not urk-hart as I’ve been saying all this time. I got there early and there were only about 6 other cars in the car park and only one bus. So, I flashed my Great British Heritage Pass (look into it if you’re visiting the UK – it’s only for sale to non-residents) and got right in. There’s now a movie about the castle’s history that ends very dramatically with the curtains opening to reveal the ruins in front of you!
Steps and More Steps!
Urquhart is built on many levels which means. . . steps!! All over the place — uphill in both directions again! But it was a beautiful morning and the breezes off the loch were cool so I just enjoyed it all. I didn’t climb the main tower – I’ve done that before – so I focused on the other areas of the castle where I hadn’t walked before and took lots of photos before several busloads of more tourists arrived and it became too crowded.
So, I’m going to leave you with one other photo which I got in trouble taking. . . There is a replica of a medieval trebuchet next to the walkway to the castle. I took some photos on the way out but then when walking back, I noticed the rest of the display. And, evil-minded romance reader/writer that I am, I began laughing outloud. An older man noticed me laughing and asked me what was so funny…. here’s the photo -
All I could think of was ‘my, what big balls they are’ !!!!!! I muttered something to the man about phallic symbols and he started laughing, too. Terrible what these things (and big swords) make me think and say, but this weapon could hurl those balls more than a football field and accurately, too! Okay, leaving that behind
A couple of last photos to post for you — apparently the river in Glen Moriston is perfect for kayaking and today must have been national kayaking day because there were dozens and dozens of people carrying them up to the dam to start down the river. It was colorful, hard work and fun from the looks of it –
Even the workers on duty at the dam today were watching. It was amazing to watch these people controlling these little boats with only one double-ended oar, body-twisting and arm-power. Once they got into position, they went down the rapids either by themselves or in small groups. So, if you like to kayak, this is a place to put on your wish-list!
Okay — I have a long day of driving in heavy rains (according to the latest weather guess) so I’m heading off now. It’s been wonderful sharing my trip with you all. Thanks for your comments – public and private. See you back in the States!
Saturday, September 19th, 2009
So, after walking for miles, crawling into caverns and tombs and chambers and absorbing the wild and sometimes stark beauty of Orkney, I boarded the overnight ferry on Monday night from Kirkwall to Aberdeen. . . and found the SUN!! Yes, it was hiding on the east coast of Scotland all this time. I didn’t get a cabin for the crossing so I relaxed and slept some in a recliner in a ‘quiet’ lounge. Well, quiet except for the crying two-year-old who didn’t quite understand the concept of sleeping on a ship!
I drove out of the ferry car park in Aberdeen on Tuesday morning and promptly got lost in the city! LOL — I think I was so stunned to see the sun I couldn’t remember the directions to the museum I wanted to see before heading to my next stop. So, I set the GPS for Banchory and drove off down the A93 towards the area known as Royal Deeside – royal because of Queen Victoria’s interest in the area (Balmoral, her Highland retreat as well as the current Royal family’s) is just down the road from Banchory and Deeside because the River Dee runs through it. I was able to get into my room at the Burnett Arms Hotel – a former coaching inn – and decided not to waste a moment of sunshine and headed off to my primary destination in the area – Dunnottar Castle!
There simply is nothing I can say to describe the dramatic approach to this castle. It sits out on a promontory into the North Sea which is separate from the mainland approach. Although these ruins are ‘new’, there has been a fort or castle here since Pictish times and it has been a religious and political stronghold through the ages. The walk from the car park is about 1/4 mile and the castle rises into view . . . and then you realize you must climb down one cliffside and up the other to get inside!
Which brings me to . . . . 180 steps down!
The 180 Steps Down!
Yeppers! I counted them – well, I counted them on the way back up because I wanted to keep focused and wanted to remember how many I’d climbed…if I survived! And I did! Once you reach the bottom it’s back up the other side which is steep but doesn’t have as many steps involved and you reach the entrance to the keep. In a nice twist, you don’t actually pay for admission until you get inside the keep – so if you don’t make it, at least they don’t charge you! LOL!
Oh, and once you’re inside, your climbing is not done yet! Several of the remaining buildings have several storeys and spiral staircases, all worth the effort because of the spectacular views from windows and between walls. Each turn in my path led to something wondrous…
View from the Keep
One of the reasons why Dunnottar was so difficult to capture was its location and structure. Attackers were themselves targets from inside since all entrance had to come from below. With the rough cliffs and rocky coast, an attack or entrance by sea was nearly or completely impossible. BTW – this is where the Honours of Scotland were hidden for months from Cromwell’s forces until they were smuggled out by a minister’s wife and buried in a local church. And, yes, I asked about the sword and how she could have done that when I saw the Honours at Edinburgh Castle — the sword is ceremonial, made of mostly gold and therefore malleable…er…bendable! It was probably bent in half and hidden under her cloak or skirts. The docent even pointed out the thin line and marking on the sword where they believe it was bent. Who’da thunk?
So, after spending more than an hour touring the keep and the other buildings (chapel, vaults, stables, Women’s Toilets!) I made the climb down and back up those 180 steps. Before returning to Banchory, I drove through (sigh…because I got lost again!) Stonehaven. It’s a lovely town with its harbor being one of the most photographed in the UK. Actually, it’s the photo for September on my calendar at home!
Then, I drove on those wildy-curving one-track roads back to Banchory. Wednesday, I awoke to more sun so off I went again — this time only a couple miles down the road, first to Drum Castle and then to Crathes Castle.
Drum Castle is made up of a medieval tower plus a more modern (16th Century) house. They offer a wonderful guides tour of the main house, with its more recent Georgian rooms and Victorian corridor and the day I toured the staff were all still atwitter because HRH Prince Edward had attended a dinner at the castle the evening before! A smallish affair for 50 people…and then he’d gone off down the road to spend time with his ‘mum’ — the Queen was in residence/on her summer holiday at Balmoral…
After touring the house, they let you tour the medieval tower on your own because. . . it’s a tower and there are lots of steps! LOL! As a matter of fact, once you climb into the main chamber, the great hall of the tower, you then climb a very narrow, very steep ladder-type of stairway up to the loft and then to the battlements overhead! The view of the surrounding area is spectacular, of course.
View from Guard Tower
If you’ve read any of my books set in medieval times, you know I always love to have my characters up on the battlements. Many times, interactions of an intense, personal nature (ahem!) take place up there! I have a certain bit of fear of heights, but I love walking around battlements, the winds blowing, and I make the climb for the chance to walk them myself. This tower’s battlements are not the largest I’ve walked (the Tower of London is bigger, Duart Castle and Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban are, too) but it was impressive nonetheless! And, of course, then came the climb down — accomplished by going backwards down those stairs after ducking down to miss the stone ledge above your head…fun!
With thanks to the National Trust of Scotland for the photo, this castle has been lived in by the same family for more than 350 years! As you walk through it, you go back and forth in the centuries as the castle was renovated for various generations and family needs. The family was originally granted the title of Royal Forester by Robert the Bruce.
The gardens surrounding the castle are fabulous and you could spend hours just wandering among the various parts and paths, beautiful even now in the autumn. And, for those hardy souls who can still walk, the castle is set in woodlands with several paths of varying challenge levels clearly marked. Needless to say, I was all walked out by then so I did not accept the challenge. . . LOL!
Once back in Banchory, I did walk though. The town’s High Street is lined with shops and cafes and hotels and BOOKSTORES, so I strolled along, window shopping and book shopping. Dan Brown’s new book, THE LOST SYMBOL, was prominently displayed and was selling well according to store clerks in both the independent and the chain store in town. (I pre-ordered a copy and it was delivered to the last place I’m staying! And it only cost 5 pounds including delivery! A bargain and a great airplane book)
Dee Street in Banchory
I finished off my evening with dinner in the hotel’s pub and a wee dram of Glenmorangie whisky, bought for me by a local man after discovering I was drinking, horrors!, water. . . It went down verra smoothly, but that’s a story for another time!
Spending my weekend in Invermoriston – on Loch Ness – taking a couple of days to R&R and to, hopefully, get some writing done. BUT — the sun keeps coming out and I may have to get into my little blue Nissan and drive around a bit — to appreciate the Highland scenery in the sunshine since I’ve seen it in the rain. . . Byeeeeee for now….
Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
I can’t believe I only have one week remaining in Scotland. It feels as though I just landed in the torrential rains in Glasgow and now I’m counting the days until I have to leave…. Waaaaaaa!
So, where have I been these last few days since posting?
Monday, I spent the day with an Orkney archeologist and it felt sooooo nice to have someone else doing the driving! And I felt like all I did was pick her brain – about history, about archeology, about Scotland, about everything — and it was wonderful.
The Earl's Bu?
We started out at a couple of the very Viking/Norse sites on the mainland, visiting Orphir and the Earl’s Bu — where it’s believed that Earl Thorfinn the Mighty has his great hall. The one mentioned in the Orkneyingasaga. You know the great history of the Earls of Orkney written down in Iceland in the 1200s? Yes, that Orkneyingasaga. (Break it into 3 words and it’s easier: Orkney-inga-saga.)
Actually, right next to the ruins of the Earl’s Bu and the Round Church, is the Orkneyingasaga Center — and they have a wonderful display of the genealogy of the Earls of Orkney and they’ve used faces we would recognize! I was reading across the chart and wait! That’s Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Bruce Willis, Sean Bean, Robert DeNiro and more! Too funny — but it makes following the Thorfinns, Magnuses, Haralds, Pauls, and Sveins much easier and fun. The archeologist also told me that the ruins in the photo are probably not the real drinking hall of the earl because they’re WAAAAY too small. They want to excavate the larger field next to it and think the real one is there…. Hey, these Vikings could drink!
Brough of Birsay
Next, because the tide was out, we walked across the tidal causeway to the Brough of Birsay, the original center of Viking power in Orkney. This causeway fills with water, separating the island from the mainland for half of each day and making planning of tours verrrrrry interesting! Lucky for me Caz both lives in the area and is very careful about that timing. Gotta say – it’s very strange walking across the sand and stones and then the algae-covered concrete walkway to get to the ruins of the Viking settlement and monastery. But, oh gosh, so worth it!
Monastery on Brough of Birsay
This monastery lasted until the Norse decided to make Kirkjuvagr or Kirkwall their new capitol and the then earl moved across to the other side of the Orkney mainland. So, the wonderful round tower planned as an addition to the chapel was never built and the earl and his family moved far away to the other side of the island. The church on the mainland side of the causeway is the location of St. Magnus’s original burial but his bones were moved to the cathedral named for him in Kirkwall. And because of some special foresight, his bones had been placed inside one of the pillars rather than before the altar (FYI – usually the place for burying saints when one buries a saint) sparing his bones from desecration and destruction during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
We walked back across the causeway (did I tell you it was about 1/4 mile each way?) and our next stop were Standing Stones — first Stenness and then the Ring of Brodgar.
Standing Stones of Stenness
Ring of Brodgar
These are two different stone rings — Stenness had about 12 stones originally (along with the famous Odin’s Stone) and Brodgar had about 60, along with its Comet Stone). They are both impressive as you walk around them, the size, the amount of work needed to raise them, and the importance of such sites all strikes you as you pass the stones.
BTW – the Odin’s Stone was known for its curative powers and it was the place to solemnify oaths, such as marriage! People traveled from all over Orkney to pass their newborns through the hole in it to protect them from illness and death.
Fresh from my experience at crawling on hands and knees to reach the inside of the Tomb of the Eagles, we next visited Maeshowe (after an unsuccessful attempt on my part to enter Unstan’s Tomb the same way!). Maeshowe is aligned so that the rays of the setting sun on the winter solstice enter and light up the back wall of the burial chamber! Many parts of the walls or roof is made of huge single slabs of cut stone — the worksmanship of it is stunning. BTW — if you’d like to watch the winter solstice event, they set up a webcame from both inside and out to televise it as it happens — www.maeshowe.co.uk — but it only runs for 20 days prior and after December 21. Mark your calendars!)
Oh!! Maeshowe has some of the best graffiti on record – in this case it’s in runes and has been dated to the 12th century, though the tomb has been used by several different populations throughout history. Claims about a woman’s beauty and who slept with whom (several men with a certain beautiful widow apparently) as well as a man boasting that he was the best rune carver in Orkney are included in the clearly-visible carvings on the walls inside the chamber.
Minehowe from the Bottom!
And to finish out the day in a spectacular way, Caz took me to Minehow, another burial mound with a chamber – if you can call it that!! First we donned hard-hats and she took out her ‘torch’ and unlocked the door leading to the steps. Okay – first, maybe I should mention that I am claustrophobic and can’t ride backwards? The steps – 29 in all – go almost steeply-down, curving around in one direction and then in the other and then end with a 3-foot drop to the bottom of the chamber. Luckily I just kept following Caz’s instructions or I would have been frozen in place! There is barely enough room to fit down the steps. . . and I had to keep my eyes on the steps beneath me while holding on to the rock ledge for balance! Oh yeah! Once down at the bottom, after I made myself breathe calmly, the chamber was spectacular! How and why anyone dug this out of the rock, then formed the chamber and the steps (along with 2 side chambers which I could see on the way up) is still unknown but it must have been important to do it. So I had to do it, too!
BTW — on my first trip to Scotland I bought a beautiful necklace from Sheila Fleet jewelry and it turns out it modeled after a brooch found in a burial mound next to Minehow. This is what it looks like!
Minehow Collection/Sheila Fleet
And yes, I bought myself a new necklace to mark this trip!!
Okay — the hotel pub is filling with locals and I need to pack up some books to ship home, so I have to stop now. . . but I’ll be back tomorrow….or really late tonight to tell you about the castles. . . .Dunottar, Drum and Crathes.
Oh!! I forgot the best news of all — the sun was out yesterday for a few hours (while I was at Dunottar) and then all day today while I toured Drum and Crathes and got lost (again) looking for a stone ring somewhere nearby . .. THE SUN!!
Sunday, September 13th, 2009
I spent Thursday morning at Culloden battlefields — walking the perimeter and visiting the new center where they even have an ‘immersion’ room. There, you are placed in the middle of the pitched battle — soldiers from both sides attacking, shooting, fighting, dying…. I found my throat tight and tears burning my eyes as the battle roared around me. Wow….
Once you visit the site, you know that Bonnie Prince Charlie was a fool for ordering a battle in such a place — expecting his exhausted forces to run across a boggy field in heavy rain against a well-rested, well-fed army. IMHO – of course….
After spending a couple of hours there, I ‘hit a wall’ and found that sleep was the thing I needed. Especially since I wanted to be awake for the Dougie MacLean concert that night. Which was. . . .
Fabulous! The show opened with more local young Gaelic performers who were awesome and then Dougie took the stage. He taught us new songs, urged us to sing along, explained his history and his inspirations and entertained us. And he told us that he’d been a guest of honor when hundreds of pipers played his song CALEDONIA – the anthem of the Homecoming Scotland year….
Hill o' Many Stanes near Wick
Friday found me back on the road — this time heading north to take the late ferry over to the Orkneys. Up the A9 along the northeast coast, past castles (Dunrobin), standing stones, cairns, dramatic scenery and twisting turning roads. I wanted to post photos but the ‘loader’ isn’t working now…. darn it!
I stopped in Wick at a Tesco’s and found my book on sale there! POSSESSED BY THE HIGHLANDER — I got a photo of it and with it which I’ll post when this darn thing works…. but it was very cool seeing it out in the world.
Possessed by the Highlander in Wick's Tesco!
I took the 7pm ferry from Scrabster over to Stromness and arrived at the guest house around 9:30…. The sun was setting to our left as we made our way across the Pentland Firth and past the Old Man of Hoy stacks to the harbor.
Yesterday — it rained again! The entire rest of Scotland was sunny and warm but the Orkneys were wet… So I drove all over — visited the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the best…the Sheila Fleet jewelry workshop in Tankerness and I met Sheila! I love her jewelry and bought my official trip souvenir necklace. It’s gorgeous….I’ll photo it and share it when the ‘loader thing’ begins to work again…. Ogham writing on a round silver disk, with amethyst enamel…
Today I drove down to the southern end of the ‘mainland’, across the Churchill barriers, past Scapa Flow, to visit the Tomb of the Eagles. This is a Bronze-age dwelling and a Stone-age tomb where they found human and sea eagle bones, hence the name. But, to get to this cliff-hugging site, you walk more than a mile across the hilly farmland to the rocky edge and then…. you crawl down a narrow passageway to the inside of the tomb. Yes, you read that correctly — crawl down!!
Tomb of the Eagles entrance!
They have a little wooden trolley cart that you can lie on and pull yourself inside along a rope, but I kept steering that into the walls!! So, with the help of some rubber knee cushions and the cheering of some other tourists, I crawled on in. It was eerie inside — they excavated dozens of human skulls (hundreds of bones), jewelry, tools, and sea eagle bones and talons, hence the name of the tomb. This tomb was in use for almost 1000 years before the people moved away…and all this happened about 4500 years ago! It was awesome.
So, I’m getting packed because tomorrow is busy — first I’ll spend the day with an archeologist touring all over the place and then I’ll be taking the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen, arriving there at 7:00am on Tuesday! Even though I’ve done it quite a bit, it is still unnerving to drive my car onto a ship….and to see huge busses and tractor-trailers and trucks doing it too! I just try not to think too much and focus on the scenery…. LOL!
So, I’ll probably post from Aberdeen on Tuesday evening…and hopefully I can post some pictures along with my blog…
Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
I know now that I picked the best day to go out on the ferry to Harris/Lewis yesterday/Monday — because today/Tuesday a strong low pressure system came off the north Atlantic bringing gale force winds to much of north and western Scotland. I left Skye during the worst of it and fought to keep the little car on the road all the way to Inverness!
I’m beginning to think it’s me bringing this to Scotland! By the time I crossed the bridge from Skye and approached Eilean Donan Castle (only going past it this time), here’s what the water looked like:
Waters of Loch Alsh!
These gales took down trees (right in front of me on A877 — the bus ahead stopped just in time and the guys on the bus managed to get most of the limbs off the road so traffic could pass!), caused a mudslide on A83 near Inverary (where I’d driven just days before!) and made driving even more of a challenge. But I made it to Inverness, passing Urquhart Castle on my way –
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Can you see the whitecaps in the background from the winds? Oh yeah!
But today dawned beautiful and clear and sunny and warm, so back in my car I climbed and headed for the remote NW corner of Scotland. Durness and Smoo Cave were my destinations, traveling out to Ullapool and then north through Scourie and up to Durness. The best part, THE VERY BEST PART, was actually traveling through the area where the heroine of my December book, A STORM OF PASSION, lived and where the book opens. Quinag is a 2300+ feet high mountain on the Assynt peninsula, very dramatic against the sky as I drove past on my way north — Moira would have seen this everyday –
Quinag in the distance!
I was heading to Smoo Cave to research a cave location for the second book in the Brava trilogy (A STORM OF PLEASURE, Oct. 2010) and wow was the cave impressive! They actually do boat tours back into the depths of the cave, but because of the high winds and heavy rains yesterday, it was too dangerous today. But I walked inside and got exactly the sensations of sounds and dampness and darkness that I needed to feel for the story…. Here’s a peek:
I have to walk down-where?! The path down to Smoo Cave!
Entrance to Smoo Cave
The cave was created by both the sea and by a river — the rushing water of the river enters by a waterfall, crashing into the back of the cave and through it, out to the North Atlantic Ocean. If you climb back up (and make it!) and cross the street you can see ‘blowholes’ in the field that open into the cave — like this one:
'Blow-hole' from Smoo Cave
I drove back to Inverness a different way — all along Loch Shin and through Lairgs and the views were very different. The road is lower, following the lochs through the glens and I drove for miles without seeing another car! Here’s one view of Loch Shin –
So, whew, I am tired tonight — it’s 10:30pm here and I am getting tired. Tomorrow? Culloden in the morning and a concert in the evening — Dougie MacLean, whose ‘Caledonia’ is a wonderful tribute to Scotland, is appearing here in Inverness and I got a ticket! I listen to much of his music while writing, so I am excited to be seeing him in person…
Gosh, this trip is turning out to be so much better than I ever hoped — I was getting panicky in the last days before I left about being on my own and driving and all kinds of worries about traveling solo, but so far, it’s been a wonderful experience…..I’m glad I tried it…!
Sunday, September 6th, 2009
I went driving yesterday and today on the isle of Mull and then down to Kilmartin Glen. . . and the good news is I survived! I have to say that it’s interesting driving here in Scotland — and driving on the wrong/left-hand side of the road is the least of it….
First — there’s the distance thing. Everytime I asked how long it would take for me to get from one place to another, I was told 30 minutes. Craignure to Tobermory? 30 minutes. Tobermory to Dervaig? 30 minutes. Oban to Kilmartin? 30 minutes. Obviously, we must use different measurements of time and distance in the US than here in the UK….30 minutes my arse!
The only way that can happen is if you’re not driving, but are flying your car overhead – as the crow flies because these roads are like your intestines — a short distance if you measure on the outside, but 30 feet if you stretch them out and measure from end to end. (sorry — it seemed the perfect explanation!)
FYI – Oban to Kilmartin? closer to an hour of break-neck turns and hills and wind and rain!
And these mean what....???!
When you see signs like these — it’s your first warning that: a)the road is narrowing, and b) it’s curving, too! But it’s still all good because at this point, there will still be two lanes – one for each direction of traffic. They may be small and curve wildly up or down the mountainside, but there are TWO of them.
And take a look at the two photos below — the one on the left (I hope) shows the width of my car and the width of the road – a single track road. Not a whole-lot-a extra road space there, huh? The second one shows a little place calling a PASSING Place – can you imagine two cars or a bus or truck edging over to their side and and easing past each other — uh, yeah. It’s how it all works and the very reason why I will need more help from my colorist when I get home to cover all my new gray hairs from the experience!
Look at the width of my car -- then the road? Which is bigger?
Next driving challenge :
So, if GREEN means go, and YELLOW means slow down and RED mean stop, what the heck do red AND yellow mean at the same time? This light (sorry for the wiper blade in the middle of the photo) is at a construction site on a single-track road on the way to Kilmartin. Apparently, in the UK, they use this signal to alert drivers that light will be changing to green next… Do you know what would happen in the US if they told us the green light was coming soon? LOL – I know, but here it seems to work.
The Back End of a Suicide Sheep!
Yes, this sheep decided not to die today and instead, wisely, meandered back off the road before I hit it with my cute little blue rental car! Out on Mull (and in many other places where they have single-track roads), sheep are free to range and graze, walking out on the road by themselves or in groups. They then stand and wait for a foreign driver to come over a hill and remain still – forcing said foreign driver to come to a screeching halt. I suspect that these suicide sheep know many curse words in many different languages. I also suspected them to be like cats, but cats would continue to stare you down and never move first. Sheep finally look at you and then walk away. Fun….
Well, I think I’m getting accustomed to these Scottish driving practices, but I have many miles ahead yet to drive. I’m sure there are still some surprises out there for me!
Check back in tomorrow — I’ll be attending a MacRae Clan Gathering at Eilean Donan Castle! Surely I’ll spot my first Scottish-man-in-a-kilt there? If not, there’s the MacLeod Clan Gathering at Dunvegan Castle on Skye Saturday night.
Sunday, September 6th, 2009
Oh, thank goodness!! I was getting depressed — almost a week here in Scotland and nary a man in a kilt to be seen….or appreciated…but last night at Eilean Donan Castle, these two greeted me at the door on my way to the Clan MacRae gathering –
Ossian and Alex at Eilean Donan Castle
I’d met Alex before — on my first trip to Scotland I toured the Highlands with Sue-ellen Welfonder and Lisa Trimbauer – Alex gave us a tour of Eilean Donan and drew us a wonderful map of medieval sites on Skye. But this is the first I’d met Ossian — so I got a photo with him. And, gentleman that he is, he let me hold his very big sword:
Ossian's Sword - Oh My!
Oh, c’mon!! You knew I had to say that sometime in this trip?! LOL!
The rest of the event was fabulous — first the ‘youngsters’ performed for us, singing songs in Gaelic and playing everything from bodhran to harp to guitars to accordions to fiddles. Then the ‘masters’ took over, with a narrator telling the story of the Clan MacRae and singers and musicians joining in with songs written by or about the MacRaes of Kintail. Being in Eilean Donan simply made it more special.
Tonight, after driving to Skye, I went to another gathering — this time the Clan MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle. This time, the piper played the big-sized bagpipes, a thrill he said because of his family background. I learned that the MacKinnons were the hereditary pipers for the Clan MacLeod, and this piper, Calum MacKinnon, is the latest in a line of pipers in his family. He told us that his father even texted him about the significance of him performing at Dunvegan! And the sound was almost too large for the room where we were.
It was pretty special — listening to him play and sitting right next to the Fairy Flag of the MacLeod’s….
The drive back to Uig where I’m staying was another interesting driving challenge — rains and winds and curving unlit roads….oh my! But I was still humming some of the music I’d heard all the way back…..
PS – Getting excited about my trip over to Lewis and Harris in the outer Hebrides on Monday. . . Leaving on a 5:30 AM ferry is not exciting though….