My Highland Fling

Because my domain registration is about to expire, my former blog My Highland Fling will soon disappear. WordPress sent me notification a couple of weeks ago, reminding me it has, indeed, been almost a year ago since Chris and I worked together setting up the blog. I hadn’t forgotten the blog existed, but I didn’t realize WordPress would delete it if I didn’t renew the .com.

Not everyone will know the back story. In late January 2017 my Scottish friend Chris invited me over to live with him, to possibly marry and spend life pursuing our loves of travel and writing. I sold everything, left home and family, and moved to Scotland. After a nightmarish first trip over on 24 April, I was deported from Ireland back to America. Unjustly, I might add. US nationals have the right to stay in the UK six months, no visa required. Border patrol in Ireland disagreed. The UK embassy told me go back, this time don’t go through Ireland…

I went back 1 May, flying straight into the UK, avoiding Ireland. I made it on the second attempt.

There were good times and bad. Ultimately, I flew home in August.

This was a huge part of my life. Chris was a huge part of my life. Though the experience was fraught, my heart still breaks at the loss. I’m storing the posts here to preserve them, because Bluestalking is my fixed identity. I’m opening the page for others to view because there’s obviously something worth sharing, a lesson about why you should always take chances.

I want to keep the memories, and I treasure the dream and all the good times Chris and I had. I say I’m not a romantic, but I really think I am a romantic about some things. Don’t always take what I say seriously, lesson one.

 

01 June 2017

 

Pictorial visit – St Giles Cathedral

In my last post, I promised photos of St Giles taken during my 19 May visit, my escape from the throngs of tourists that have already begun swarming the main thoroughfares. I’ve seen what it looks like in July and August, and though this is nothing compared with the upcoming festival season, I can see it’s gearing up to be another packed summer in the capital city.

 

Where to find the cathedral

 

The cathedral is the City Church of Edinburgh – also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh – standing on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

 

Stunning windows

 

St Giles was founded c.1124, either by King Alexander I (“The fierce” – ruled 1107 – 1124) or his brother King David I (ruled 1124 – 1153) – sons of Malcolm III (ruled 1058–1093). Malcolm’s father, Duncan I, was killed by Macbeth in 1040.

The royal founder of St Giles was only two generations removed from the history that inspired one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, and one of Scotland’s most notorious assassinations. Stumbling on such serendipitous historical associations – especially literary – is the sort of thing I find thrilling. I didn’t realize the connection the day I wandered through. This will make for an even more starry-eyed gawp next time.

 

The unicorn, National Animal of Scotland

 

A fictitious creature may seem an odd choice for a country’s national animal, but perhaps not for a country famed for its love for and long history of myth and legend, and the unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, when it was used on an early form of the Scottish coat of arms by William I.

  • The Scotsman, 5 Oct 2012

     

 

 

In memory of James M. Bryson – Preston Aisle, St. Giles

 

Window: Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit

Window of four trefoil-headed lights and one cinquefoiled central light with tracery.

This window depicts the moment of Pentecost, which was the coming of the Holy Spirit to man.

Inscription:
‘They were/all filled with the/ holy Ghost.’

Dedication:
In memory of/James M Bryson/ _____ (Optician?) Edinburgh/ born 21 February 1824/ died 26th January 1894.

From obituary:

James Mackay Bryson was born in 1824 in Buccleuch Place, and was educated at the Southern Academy, and afterwards the School of Arts, an institution founded in 1821 mainly by the efforts of three men – his father, Mr. Leonard Horner, and Mr. James Milne – which was unique in its time, and has been of incalculable benefit to the youth of Edinburgh.He inherited his father’s scientific proclivities, and about 1843 he went to Hamburg, where for some years he studied and worked under Repeold, the distinguished German instrument maker.Thence he proceeded to Munich, and studied, under the famous Mertz, of the firm of Mertz & Mabler, the construction of lenses for astronomical instruments, and other work of a like character.After seven years thus spent in Germany he returned to Edinburgh, and began business as an optician in Princes Street, where he carried on a successful business.

This window was installed at the end of the 19th Century.

 

James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose

 

 

James Graham’s tomb is one of several side chapels, and a popular one. I’ve seen sprigs of heather lying next to the carved body of the Marquess, and heard tell notes are sometimes left. Whether he’s revered for his bravery or the reputation of his poetry, another reason or both, I don’t know. His nickname “the great Montrose” should be a clue. You have to suspect that comes with a certain cachet. Spoiler: his poetry’s not all that great.

Romantic sidenote: Graham was executed with a collection of his poems tied around his neck. Notable or not, his work obviously meant a great deal to him.

 

James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (1612 – 21 May 1650) was a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed. From 1644 to 1646, and again in 1650, he fought a civil war in Scotland on behalf of the King and is generally referred to in Scotland as simply “the Great Montrose”.

His “spectacular” victories, which took his opponents by surprise, are remembered in military history for their tactical brilliance.

 

Heraldic banners and stained glass

 

Detail, window

 

The west window, by Icelandic artist Leifur Breidfjörd, celebrating the poetry of Robert Burns

 

I’ve never been a Burns fan, but then I’m not as keen on poetry as prose, and romanticism least of all. With due respect to his reputation and place in the Scottish literary canon, it’s only “Auld Lang Syne” I claim to enjoy – and that partly because it’s the weepy ending of one of my favorite films: It’s a Wonderful Life.

Admitting things like this could get me kicked out of the country.

I hasten to add, I do enjoy Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Boswell is as entertaining a character as they come – though, the jury’s still out on Sir Walter Scott.

I mean, I of course love Sir Walter Scott. Wonderful writer. Wonderful. Not overly romantic or sentimental at all.

 

“The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,

That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:

Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,

An honest man’s the noblest work of God.

  • Robert Burns

     

Detail, west window

 

 

“Fan vault” architecture

 

I can identify overall gothic and romanesque elements, but would love to know more about cathedral architecture, their overall history and specifics about the actual building of these soaring beauties. Along with castles, churches and abbeys draw me, ruins perhaps most of all.

Notre Dame de Paris is perhaps my favorite cathedral. More impressive to me than even the Vatican, it’s always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps it has something to do with visiting it more than any other, or its literary association with Victor Hugo. It’s so grand, comparing it with St Giles isn’t fair.

Each has a distinctive beauty.

 

Heraldic flags

 

Dramatic chandeliers – designed by Campbell & Arnott, architects

 

Thistle Chapel – the thistle flower is the symbol of Scotland

 

Thistle Chapel:

Between 1909 and 1911 the Thistle Chapel was added at the south-east corner.   Designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, this tiny chapel measures only 37 feet by 18.  It is richly decorated in neo-Gothic style to commemorate the holders of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s foremost Order of Chivalry which was introduced by James VII in 1687.

These wrought iron thistles are the sorts of details that catch my eye. I’m always looking for things others walk right past, sometimes to the exclusion of taking in the literal big picture. I unconsciously frame accents, less so now than when I was much more active with photography, but the tendency’s coming back to me.

Little details can have huge significance.

 

Looking out front entrance, as I leave

 

Only a fraction of the history, architectural and artistic details found in St Giles filled an entire post. Much more lies in wait. Each time I visit I see more and more I missed.

For this time, it’s enough.

19 May 2017

Lisa buys far too many books about Scotland – In praise of dessert before lunch – Steak pie! – On wandering – Bubbles and more bubbles – Even a unicorn

Livingston, West Lothian – Edinburgh – Livingston, West Lothian

 

Helping offset my more annoying habits (full list obtainable at minimal cost), my penchant for solitary wanders – i.e.: the ability to entertain myself out of the house for extended periods of time – makes me a tolerable house guest. Put me up a few days and it’s possible you won’t see me save meal times, glimpses skittering from bedroom to bath, and when something watchable is on the television. I strive not to be a bother.

Do I succeed? Invite me (include proposed menu) and let’s find out.

Edinburgh’s a 20 – 30 minute journey from the town of Livingston, where I’m currently staying. On this day, I was fortunate my amiable host Chris was more than willing to drop me far away from his home. Given the choice of any destination not too near access to commuter trains returning to Livingston, I chose Blackwell’s Bookshop, for reasons that are obvious  – i.e.: the words “book” and “shop.”

 

Where to find them

 

Blackwell’s, Edinburgh

 

Located near interesting shops – including several run by charities – restaurants and the Royal Mile, Blackwell’s is in an area conducive to wandering – not that most of Edinburgh isn’t, but, again, the words “book” and “shop.”

I remembered their impressive Scottish books section from my previous visit in 2015. In want of a good general history of the country, as well as Boswell & Johnson’s book about touring the Hebrides, I settled in with a lap-full of contenders and browsed blissfully a good, long time.

Just so happens, I found a couple of books. I know, it came as a surprise to me, as well.

A “couple” of books bought at Blackwell’s

 

I sorely regret I hadn’t done enough research beforehand to choose a novel or three by up and coming Scottish writers. While they had a nice section devoted to Scottish fiction, grabbing blindly didn’t net good results. Nothing really struck me. I’ve hunted up a few names since, which will help next time I’m there.

 

When in doubt, ask an expert

 

Meantime, my bank balance appreciates my previous ignorance.

I also bought a couple of literary periodicals (not pictured), before seeking sustenance. Book shopping is strenuous business. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

Merely staving off weakness – DON’T JUDGE ME

 

No, I hadn’t even had lunch yet, but one of the benefits of being an adult is making your own (often admittedly questionable) decisions. Not that I had too many questions about the validity of pairing mocha coffee with chocolate cake, because what question is valid save, “May I have?”

After insuring I wouldn’t faint of hunger like an orphan child in a Dickens novel, I had a bit of a wander.

Directly across the street from Blackwell’s – I should probably know what this is

 

Honestly, I don’t recall taking this photo

 

I wove in and out of shops over the course of a few blocks, my heavy backpack suggesting it was probably best I didn’t make any more purchases this day. Running out of energy, I stopped for lunch at a place called City Restaurant, very near Blackwell’s once again.

 

City Restaurant, Edinburgh

 

The steak pie was lovely, but dear God it was huge. I could have gone for the fish and chips, which looked awfully tempting, but I’ve had that a couple of times this trip. It’s also inadvisable having too much fish these days, what with all that inconvenient mercury stuff. So I went for the other British standby: meat stuffed into a pastry.

Food in the UK has the reputation of being, well, unimpressive. The stereotype is they boil everything to death. Ridiculous. They also fry anything they can fit into hot oil. As a native of the American South, it’s like a postcard from home. I can’t think of a thing that couldn’t be improved and made palatable when breaded and fried: fish, potatoes and other vegetables, old shoes, etc. If it doesn’t taste all that great in its natural state, fry the living hell out of it, add salt and possibly vinegar or a sauce to taste. All the cookbook you need.

In the South, the bottom of the food pyramid consists of foods captured at gunpoint or dragged out of the ol’ swimmin’ hole and thrown into a frying pan, followed closely by anything you can slap mayonnaise on and shove between two slices of bread (white) – preferably anything you’ve just retrieved from the frying pan (bologna a huge favorite), though tomatoes and even pineapple also make the cut. Raised by southerners, if it’s had mayonnaise applied, I’ve probably eaten it on bread at one point or another.

That region of the United States was settled largely by the English and Scots-Irish, and potatoes there are still referred to as “Irish potatoes” – which sounds a lot more like “Arsh pataytas,” but the provenance is clear.  This is the food of poor immigrants: cheap and calorie-dense, important if you aren’t guaranteed three meals a day and require as much starch and fat as you can afford, or labor in fields and need the energy. It’s carried over to a sedentary era because most of us were raised on it. It’s comforting and familiar. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of other things not so positive.

 

 

Holy mother of god

 

City Restaurant has a nice variety of traditional British food, as well as burgers and pizza, milkshakes and a dessert menu I came nowhere near requiring, though I saw enough loaded trays floating past to vouch for the fact the sweets looked impressive. Meals average 9 – 10 GBP, plus beverage. Currently, the dollar is sitting at about 1.30 against the pound, making it not cheap but not prohibitively expensive, either. Skip the bit I wrote about fat and starch above, and enjoy.

Sorry about that, by the way.

The place has a nice, diner-like atmosphere. Service was very good, and I was lucky it wasn’t too busy. It has the feel of a place that’s packed at prime meal times. The variety, pricing and atmosphere suggest it’s popular.

I wandered my way toward the Royal Mile after lunch.

The tourists are coming! The tourists are coming!

 

Approaching St. Giles, I came upon a bubble-making street performer. It made the street slippy as hell, but all the kids were loving it.

 

Bubbles! Bubbles!

 

Facing St. Giles, just past bubble man

 

Sliding past the performer’s hat, tossing in change and praying I didn’t land on my ass, I came across one of the lovely closes lining the street. I don’t recall which, but most of them are full of character and charm.

 

Close, Royal Mile

 

They’re basically alleyways, some more picturesque than others, very identifiable with Edinburgh. I always imagine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde slinking down a close, or one of Sherlock Holmes’s villains eluding Scotland Yard via a gallop down the cobblestones. They’re narrow, dark and exude history – very appealing to me.

The one above is particularly atmospheric. Normally so clogged with tourists I can’t get near it to take a photo, I was happy indeed to find it deserted.

Finally, there were unicorns.

Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn

 

Royal Coat of Arms – Scotland

 

The touristy part of the day ended with a long, thoughtful visit to St. Giles Cathedral. Aside from cemeteries, churches are my favorite places to sit and have a think, admire and take photos. They’re cool and shady places to sit after long, wearying city walks on packed streets, filled with brilliant color cast in dusty beams onto stone, wise and thoughtful words on tombs of the silent dead. I find inspiration there – not religious, but meditative. I think about the people who built the cathedral, those at the beginning who wouldn’t live to see it finished; loved ones interred and mourned, then forgotten; the solace, pleas and thanksgiving of the faithful.

Cemeteries and churches offer downtime to recharge, a sense of connection to the past that’s soothing. Exuding finality, pomp and seriousness, they’re reminders life is finite.

I took so many photos at the cathedral, I think I’ll give them a dedicated post.

So ended my day in Edinburgh. I took the train back to Livingston from Waverley Station, exhausted but content, arriving back to an empty, quiet house where I could admire my purchases and glance back through the pictures I took.

I do love my solitary rambles. Already looking forward to the next one.

 

23 May 2017

We learn how to Save Money while seeing Nice Things – Lisa indulges her History Lust – Nobles Behaving very Badly – Witches! – Chris & I hit the Charity Shops with Great Gusto, Little Success

Scottish weather being Scottish weather, Chris and I have made a pact: if it’s not pouring rain in sheets, it’s safe to venture out. Waking to only semi-threatening weather, Chris suggested we set off for East Lothian, roughly an hour away, where there’s more to see that’s pretty and historical than here in West Lothian.

Planning to explore a significant portion of Scotland, purchasing the Historic Scotland Membership seemed a natural choice. It allows entrance into hundreds of sites for what works out to be a minimal price. If you’ve visited castles and other historic sites in the UK, you’ll know admissions often run in the £ 10 – 15 range – sometimes per person. That adds up awfully quickly.

I’m old enough to remember when a lot of these sites were free, but free doesn’t pay upkeep on these treasures. Neither do “requested donations,” which, when you’re a student – which I was the first few times I went to Europe – is pretty pathetic. You can’t begrudge them the money, and this makes the pass all the more fiscally sensible.

It’s a win/win.

Well worth the money

 

Meandering along the Firth of Forth, as the fields of grazing sheep whizzed by my eyes were trained on finding any sign of rubble denoting History Happened Here. Chris spotted a sign for Dirleton Castle, figured it would put a twinkle in my eye, then set course.

Though Dirleton’s a small village, and you’d think something like a castle would stand out, the signage is poor. Turns out the damned thing is cheekily hidden in the middle of town. Eureka moment past, a rousing game of Find the Front Door commenced. While I reckon this was a good strategy in the Middle Ages, in 2017 hiding an entrance is just plain rude. Fortunately, there are locals well-trained in pointing.

If you’re wondering, the entrance is off a playground next to the castle. Are there signs telling you that? No. No, there aren’t.

 

Dirleton, Well-hidden entrance

 

Our immediate thought on entering was “let’s see how much our Historic Scotland Membership saved us!” The answer: £12.00. With the passes costing somewhere in the neighborhood of £80.00 for the two of us, we realized we’ll be in the black in no time.

Rejoicing, in through the gardens we went.

 

“Arts & Crafts Garden,” Dirleton Castle

 

Lisa’s Nerdy History Ramble

In its four hundred year history, Dirleton’s been home to some wealthy and influential families,  several of which had difficulty playing well with others while busily adding on to the old place:

13th centuryde Vaux family (Norman, originating in Rouen)

14 – 15th centuriesHaliburton (English, originating in Berwickshire, transfer by marriage when John Haliburton wed the de Vaux heiress)

16th Ruthven (Janet Haliburton married William Ruthven)

late 1600sNisbet (or Nesbitt) – Purchased by lawyer John Nisbet in 1663 – The Nisbets never lived at the castle, instead building a new home, Archerfield, nearby.

 

Archerfield House, home of Nisbet family

 

Dirleton also played a role in the Scottish Wars of Independence, as well as Oliver Cromwell‘s Third English Civil War (1650), when the castle was attacked by Royalist moss-troopers, several of them hanged off the castle walls.

 

Dirleton Castle, Exterior Stairs

 

Proper History of Dirleton:

Built: John de Vaux, Anglo-Norman knight, c. 1239

More than 100 servants, priests, bakers and butchers, gardeners, grooms, etc., were employed at the castle, producing most everything they required, surplus items sold to pay for luxuries every self-respecting nobleman needs.

The castle was built with ample storage for food and such, via huge vaults and cellars. It was in these cellars I discovered I’ve entirely forgotten how to use my camera, it’s been so long. It was also in these cellars Chris made inordinate fun of me for same.

 

Kitchen – apologies for the blurred photo

 

Cellar

 

Under Siege:

Primarily a nobleman’s residence, Dirleton was ordered to be captured by Edward I in 1298, on his way to meet William Wallace at Falkirk. The castle was taken in two days, once Bishop Bek of Durham was able to intercept supplies en route to Dirleton by sea.

The castle was recaptured by the Scots at an unknown point, then retaken by the English in 1306. Dirleton was again under Scottish hands by 1314, the year of Robert the Bruce‘s victory over Edward II at Bannockburn. Bruce ordered the castle destroyed, the stumps of the demolished towers currently visible on the north-east and south-east corners.

 

View from castle walls, looking inland

 

Haliburton Family

Whether the de Vaux family returned to Dirleton following the siege is unknown. Out of male heirs, the castle then passed to the Haliburtons by 1350.

Inheriting a castle badly damaged by the wars, the family continued the rebuilding process through the 15th century, inhabiting Dirleton for the next 200 years.

 

Winding stairway

 

The Haliburton family were squires of the earls of Black Douglas, who built nearby Tantallon Castle, on the east side of North Berwick from Dirleton. Chris and I plan to hit Tantallon in the near future. Actually, there’s lots of historical rubble in the area I can’t wait to explore.

 

North Berwick Law

 

North Berwick, beach

Ruthven Family

Upon the death of the last Haliburton heir, Patrick, the castle passed to his daughter Janet, when she married William, 2nd Lord Ruthven of Perthshire, in 1515.

The Ruthven family was involved in the notorious murder of David Riccio (or Rizzio), secretary and possible lover of Mary, Queen of Scots. Patrick, 3rd Lord Ruthven, led the band that hatched the plot. Riccio was murdered at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, in 1566.

The Ruthvens would go on to disgrace the family name, participating in other political coups. Read more about this cheeky family here.

 

Interior, Dirleton
Great Hall, Dirleton
Detail, Great Hall

Dirleton village itself has a connection with the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1649 – 1650 (which preceded the infamous American Salem Witch Trials by about 50 years), brought about after the 1648-1649 Second English Civil War, when the Kirk party:

… passed a new Witchcraft Act in 1649 and encouraged local presbyteries to seek out witches. The intense period of witch hunting began in 1649 and continued into 1650, being largely confined to the Lowlands, particularly Lothian and Fife, but spilled over into northern England, where Scottish witch prickers were active.

The unfortunate women were deemed guilty, hanged on the Dirleton village green.

N.B.: “Witch pricker” has become my new favorite occupation title ever.

Village of Dirleton, from castle

 

Dirleton’s checkered past was a pleasant surprise. I was glad Chris had sprung for the £3 brochure, which at first I’d thought an unnecesary expense, what with Wikipedia existing and all. Turns out, it’s much easier sniffing out historic detail if you have the basic outline in front of your face, plus, the map was an excellent self-guided tour.

Sometimes Chris has good ideas. Don’t tell him I said that; it may go to his head.

 

Gazing out the window

 

How to reach Dirleton:

The village of Dirleton is approximately 43 minutes (22.1 miles) from Edinburgh, via A1. It’s a lovely drive, skirting along the Firth of Forth. But, do keep in mind the castle itself is under an enchantment, and does not wish to be found.

After you’ve finished climbing narrow, winding stairs and gawping at rocks, if you’re feeling peckish there is a restaurant located across the street from the castle. It’s likely to be more expensive than running into nearby North Berwick, a lovely tourist destination to roam around, but if you’re near perishing the place is right there and looks all historic and such. Yes, this is what passes for a restaurant review: it looks nice.

We found a Gregg’s in North Berwick, a chain restaurant selling sandwiches and baked goods. We weren’t famished, so it sufficed. Even that was nearly £ 14, which is ridiculous for two pre-packaged sandwiches and drinks, but still half what we’d have paid at the restaurant across from the castle.

The UK has fabulous charity shops with interesting collections of everything from breakable dust collectors – figurines and crystal and such – clothing, books, and other stuff fun to look at. If you’re in North Berwick, have a stroll down the main street. In addition to resale, they have lots of quirky little shops, cafes, etc. And it’s just, plain pretty. A tourist town, sure. But one worth seeing for its genuine charm and history.

Lisa’s charity shop find

All in all, a pleasant day. I can’t remember Chris getting on my nerves once, though I may be blocking it out. We’ve had a couple outings since. It all blurs.

A General Guide to Finding Dirleton Castle:

Dirleton village is located approximately 43 miles from Edinburgh, via the A1. Watch the signs to find the town; good luck with the rest of it.

Opening hours:

1 April to 30 September:
Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 5.30pm

1 October to 31 March:
Monday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm

Fees:

Member/Explorer Pass holder: FREE
Adult: £6.00
Child aged 5–15: £3.60
Child under 5: FREE
Concession: £4.80

15 May 2017

 

Mapping our Grand Day Out – Numbers correspond to photographs on our walking tour.

 

Sunday was a lovely day, perfect for a wander around Edinburgh.

Scotland, as you may have heard, has a certain reputation for unpredictable weather, so when it’s fair you’d best take advantage. A very good thing we did, as today it’s been spitting rain off and on. One minute the sun’s out and glorious, the next it’s time to break out the umbrella. While you can see the sites between showers, brilliant sun makes for much more beautiful photos. We were very fortunate with yesterday’s weather.

 

Edinburgh Castle – Approach (1)

 

Arriving in the city, we parked near the western approach to the castle. It’s a natural starting point, located at the top of the main thoroughfare known popularly as the Royal Mile, a central part of Old Town Edinburgh. Being a Sunday, parking was free – another bonus. During the week it can be a bit pricey, as in any other city.

 

Edinburgh Castle – Looking back from top of the hill  (2)

 

Climbing the hill past the castle, this is the view looking back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no bad view of Edinburgh castle. Admittedly prejudiced, there’s no view I love more.

 

St. Giles Cathedral (3)

 

Walking down the Royal Mile from the castle, it’s a short, easy stroll to St. Giles Cathedral. From the castle it’s all downhill. That’s the good news. Just keep in mind what goes down must come back up. It’s no mean feat traipsing around Edinburgh, a hilly capital city. If you’re like me, used to most of your exercise consisting of getting up off the couch to find the remote, you may want to pace yourself. On the way back, I recommend stopping at the pubs conveniently dotting both sides of the street, throwing back a pint or two at each. It’ll still be a long way back, but the closer you get to the top the less of a damn you’ll give.

If whisky’s more your thing, feel free to substitute. Any old port in a storm.

 

 

Chris & Me (4)

 

In front of St. Giles.

 

Entrance – Holyrood Palace (5)

 

At the bottom of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace. This building, pictured, is just outside the gate. We’ll leave roaming the palace and grounds for another day. There’s a lot to see in and around Holyrood, and we still had quite a way to go getting back to where we’d parked.

 

Scottish Parliament

 

Facing Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament.

 

Scottish Parliament – Redux (7)

 

A very modern building, it’s a bit jarring, architecturally speaking. It’s designed so that from a distance it appears like an upturned boat. One day, when I’m brave enough to climb the path to Arthur’s Seat, I can look down and see it for myself. It may not be so bad from that angle. I’m just not a fan of modern buildings plopped down in the middle of lovely old cities.

 

Arthur’s Seat (8)

Arthur’s Seat itself. There are two paths up, one challenging and one for lazy wimps like myself. I’m told the views from the top are breathtaking. Yeah, so is the trek up. One day.

 

Dynamic Earth (9)

11 April 2017

I’ve gotten further in my thought process about the move to Scotland than the contents of my suitcase, though you may not know that from all my obsessive writing about the sometimes crippling stress and anxiety of moving out of the country. Right now my list is my bible; I’d be lost without it. Re-writing it every few days helps impress everything in my mind, taking the Master List and transferring it to the next clean page in my journal, whittling it down bit by bit, is extremely therapeutic. Crossing things off gives me such satisfaction I occasionally write in things I know I’ve already done just to strike them through and pat myself on the back. That may be a little weird, but whatever gets me over the rough spots and avoids a nervous breakdown is fine with me.

The constant, steady pressure to get things done has me wound up. When the cat woke me from a nap by touching me with his paw I bolted up, in my groggy state panicked thinking a stranger had broken into my apartment and was poking me in the stomach. Because that’s what burglars do, they announce themselves by giving you a good poke. The poor animal paused, paw in midair, staring at me with wide eyes, jumped down and stalked away. So out of character for me, because I’m anything but a nervous person, the incident made me realize I needed to take it down a notch and stop pressuring myself.

Not only is my cat menacing me, but I’m dreaming odd and surreal things about the wedding we haven’t even begun planning. Finding the patience to deal with frustrating clients at work is becoming increasingly difficult, and, worst of all, I’m having one hell of a time writing much of anything. I’ve circled this blog post so many times I’ve worn a rut in the carpeting, writing and re-writing, swearing, and re-writing again. I feel a strong impulse to shut my laptop and hurl it across the room. It has been a very long time since writing has been so difficult for me, and the accompanying guilt at producing nothing for more than a week has helped nothing. To get myself over this rough patch I’m concentrating on just getting something out there. It’s not my best writing, but it’s writing. The muse will come back, and my natural ability return. Confidence lies in completion.

At times like these I need to remember the end goal, what this is all about. These little nuisances are so unimportant and transient. They will soon pass, and I’ll wonder why I’d made such a big deal about everything. I need periodic reminding that all this is leading up to my new life, and of course there are a hundred things that need doing. If a few of them are late, so what? Eventually things will settle; nothing on my list is earth-shattering.

The support of family and friends buoys me; kind words and good wishes are magnified when I need reminding all this is a huge blessing. It’s especially sweet reading messages from Chris, even the most innocuous reminders he’s thinking about and looking forward to a future together. I feel like I’ve been the cheerleader for so long, that it’s been more my excitement than his, but now that it’s almost upon us and he’s mirroring back some measure of my own happiness, I can’t even describe how that makes me feel. All the cat burglars in all the world can keep poking away: as long as my Scot is happy, so am I.

What I’m most looking forward to is the two of us spending time together, in some ways making up for lost time. I don’t want to be grim and say neither of us is getting any younger, but neither of us is getting any younger. We’ve made plans that excite us both, and while it’s not a race against time, our lives are past mid-point. Unless medical science figures out how to achieve eternal youth, this time we’re still young and healthy enough to get out and about and be reasonably active isn’t limitless. It’s important to appreciate what we have while we have it, but isn’t that the truth in every stage of life.

We complement each other in lots of ways, and are scary similar. I’ve mentioned the bookishness, love of film and the arts,  as well as a strong desire to travel and write about our shared and separate interests. What I bring to the relationship are more than a dozen years spent writing freelance: reviewing and interviewing writers, forming contacts in the world of publishing, editing and working with publicists, marketing reps, etc. I’ve judged literary awards, written columns, and have a diverse writing track record. My focus is the reading and reviewing of literary fiction, with a smattering of various sorts of journalism and work with social media. In my heart I’m a writer, mostly of nonfiction, but I have fiction projects going which I hope to find time to develop. My contribution lies largely in technical aspects of writing, along with knowledge of how to reach out and build relationships with those further advanced in the field.

Chris has written as well, and his specialties are different enough he’ll bring a whole new world of interests into my life. His strength lies in the natural world, having written in the field of entomology, something I know as close to nothing about as it gets. I value what he does both because it’s important to him and for the sake of my enduring love of learning. I’m looking forward to what he can teach me, and hope what I know will help him, as well. I admit I’m squeamish about things that creep and crawl, but a lot of what he does involves lovely creatures like butterflies, moths, dragon and damselflies, all of which I’ve always appreciated for their delicate beauty. I don’t do arachnids, nor things with dozens of legs, but I can handle pretty much everything else. I think. Having said that practically begs Chris to find my limits. I should learn the art of having unexpressed thoughts, shouldn’t I.

Likewise, his great interest in the Inspector Morse world is something I’m aware of only peripherally, but haven’t had or made time to explore fully. Going to Oxford with him, helping him explore the haunts of Colin Dexter’s characters, will be lots of fun. There’ll be a learning curve as I watch the series and get up to speed on who’s who and what’s what, but as with his other interests it matters very much to me that I’m able to share in what he cares about.

As for him appreciating what I do, he’s more than game to head out to literary festivals, attend author events and hobnob. He’s not a complete stranger to that, having a strong interest in literature and once having written a book review blog, just not to the extent I’ve pursued it. I’ve let a lot slide, partly because I’m pulling up stakes here and preparing to move, but my contacts are still there and I’ll resume where I left off once we’ve settled into our new life. I’ll introduce him to new authors, share what I love, and let him into my world.

I can’t imagine a more ideal life, anything more wonderful and exciting. It’s seemed too good to be real, and I’ve told him that so many times it’s probably becoming a little tedious, but things like this are so rare most people will never find themselves presented with so much opportunity to pursue their passions. I can’t imagine not having passions. What’s the point of a life without them?

Fortunately for us, we don’t know any other life, have never lacked interests. Our values are the same, and though our personalities don’t mesh perfectly, how boring if they did. Without a bit of lively debate, and the occasional conflict, we may as well just sit in our separate homes and keep going as we have. I’m anticipating spending my remaining years doing what I love, sharing and learning from each other. I’ll support him, and he’ll support me. If that’s not as close to perfection as it gets, I don’t know the meaning of the word. Even allowing for inevitable difficult times, there’s more than enough to feel optimistic about.

It’s under two weeks until I arrive in Scotland and all of this takes off. I can’t wait to start.

18 March 2017

 

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there, if I dared tell the down and dirty story of my dating adventures over the course of the past two years, but first off it’s entertaining, and second highly relevant to everything this blog stands for. What happened between that day in 2015 when I left Edinburgh without my Impossible Scot, and the day Chris decided we’d give this thing a chance, is a crazy, weird and wild ride. It would be a crime not to tell it.

Are you sitting? Because you’re going to want to be sitting. This one’s all kinds of out of control.

I am really a hopeless romantic. That was all but killed by 26 years of a miserable marriage, but never totally extinguished. All I can say for certain is only one man in the course of my life has ever been so magnetically attractive to me as my Scot. And when it all looked dark and impossible, I gave forgetting him one hell of a try.

I met Chris for the first time in the summer of 2015, a couple of months after my divorce. Having known him around two years, I already knew how I felt about him. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t so easily persuaded. This whole story, every bit you’ve heard and will over the course of  everything I write on this blog, springs from this one fact: I flew to Edinburgh to tell him how I felt, and he sent me right back home.

The story could have ended there.

 

Partly as an experiment, and partly just because I could, I blew through seven relationships in the course of less than two years following my divorce. Yes, seven. It became a joke with my kids; every week they’d ask how many break ups I’d had since the last time they saw me. It got pretty ridiculous. I dated seven Perfectly Nice Men, each with wonderful qualities I never found in my ex, but no matter how nice or interesting or intriguing they were, I became restless and bored with every, single one of them. They were too nice, or too clingy, or, sometimes, just too goddamn weird.

Ironically, Chris and I were close enough friends that I talked with him about the men I dated – well, about some of them, on a censored basis. He’s always been someone who gives good advice, is never afraid to be brutally honest. But I’m not going to lie: part of the reason for my energetic dating was the hope it would get to him, that he’d care. Because this is my life, because I can never steer it the way I intend, it sent him the other way. He went so far as to encourage me to date, asking why on earth I didn’t appreciate how flattering it was to have several nice men trying very hard to be with me.

I had the answer to that one: it’s because I’d never moved on.

It all started with the farmer/welder. His charm was his simplicity. A man who owned a tractor, but lived in the Northwest suburbs, he was the polar opposite of any man I’d ever dated. It was a novelty. He didn’t read; hell, he barely had a grasp of the English language. What he had going for him was sweetness. He admired my intelligence, loved the fact I was a writer, complimented me constantly. I wasn’t under the delusion we were meant for each other, but for a couple of weeks I thought maybe. Just maybe, what I needed was an adoring but simple man.

Then it got weird. First, he texted a shirtless picture of himself, an unwelcome shirtless picture of himself. It was unsettling, but I thought okay, I’ll give it a pass. We all have moments of bad judgment, right? Then he called me late one evening saying he desperately needed to talk to someone. Being a good person, I called him back. Turned out what he needed to talk about was the fact he was flat broke. And needed a loan.

I lost his number that night. Weirdest thing.

Then, the weeper, the man who broke down in tears on our first date. Not over me, mind, but because he had such wonderful friends who cared so much for him, because when he was down they were always there. Because he’s a sensitive guy. A bit too sensitive.

We’d gone out for Spanish tapas, a great choice for a first date. If you haven’t had tapas, do. The food was phenomenal, and there was sangria. Mucho sangria. Four hours later, things had gone so far south even the waiter gave me pitying looks. The man never shut up. Ever. Once every half hour or so he’d take a breath, and it was then I’d interject something, anything, spitting it out quickly while I had the chance. He’d acknowledge it briefly with a weak smile, then vomit forth another solid half hour’s verbal autobiography. At the end of the evening, he declared it a success based on the fact it was a goddamn marathon, despite the fact I was so upset I was nearly weeping.

My ears rang for a week.

I shouldn’t have seen him again, but I did. Twice. Date two ended when I fled, after he fell asleep – don’t ask. By date three, I cut it short telling him I had to go home and watch Doctor Who with my kids. Mercifully, there was no date four, because I finally grew a pair.

Next, the writer and cabinet builder. A craftsman! Not just that, he was a nature writer. A writer! He had a manuscript, so of course I opened my mouth and said I’m not just a reviewer, but also an editor. Really, he said. Yes, I said. And if you want me to take a look at it… Before I could finish my sentence, the manuscript was in my face. I read it, marked it up honestly, sent it back when I was done. I heard nothing from him for weeks, until he sent me an email saying oh, sorry, my mother is sick and I can’t have a relationship right now, but how would you like to be friends?

Reader, I’d already moved on.

This time, a grieving widower – a poor man who’d suffered so much while caring for a wife with terminal cancer. He was in a barbershop quartet and a high school music teacher with a melty voice, the proud father of two kids around the age of my own. Knowing it could make a woman swoon, he left me singing voicemails. A very nice man, very funny, intelligent and all those lovely things. If only I hadn’t decided to check him out on Facebook. On Facebook, there were pictures of his family. His kids, a grandkid, his wife.

His wife.

Let me explain! She’s very ill; she has cancer. She’s not quite dead yet, but she will be!

Next.

An opera singer, number four had once been director of the Lyric Opera in Chicago. He was an Englishman, and drop dead gorgeous. And if the previous man had a phenomenal voice, this one blew him away like the Atlantic Ocean blows away a puddle. A tenor. A real, live professional tenor.

Before we dated, we talked for hours every day on the phone. I could never tire of his voice. He texted me all day long: first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and a kiss before bed. On the day I was hired for my current job, I texted to tell him. I hadn’t realized, but he was being interviewed by a radio station at that moment. He later sent me the audio link, in which I heard his phone go off while he was being interviewed. It was my text notification, in the middle of his interview. He was so suave, he didn’t miss a beat, brushing it off on the air. I was mortified; he was charmed.

There was wining, dining, and he introduced me to oysters. He flew me to Pittsburgh. A beautiful city, Pittsburgh, one where he owns a perfect little 1920s bungalow. An immaculate bungalow with stained glass, gleaming wood, exquisite charm. It was situated on a hill in a beautiful area where you could just smell old money. It was autumn, the trees were brilliant shades of red and orange. He was tired of being alone, he said. He wanted someone like me, someone who’d fly back and forth to England with him. Someone who appreciated the fact he loved cooking, had exquisite taste in wine and gourmet food, was six feet tall and did I mention gorgeous. And, ultimately, a total pompous ass who screamed like a little diva when he didn’t get his way.

I flew back to Chicago.

I let a few months go by before I stuck another toe in the dating pool. Because honestly, how do you follow opera man? But follow him I did, with the most nondescript of all the men I dated over the past two years. Honestly, I can hardly recall a thing about him. I was a total ass to him, standing him up on our first date. But he wasn’t deterred. He asked me out again on a day that turned into a huge snowstorm. I didn’t want to go, and nearly blew him off again, but I felt so guilty I went anyway. A Navy vet, he had stories about being in the Middle East. A reader of science fiction, he could hold his own talking about books. They were books I’d never read, but the authors were familiar. Like half the population, he’d thought about writing fiction. His ideas weren’t half bad, and I told him he should write. It intrigued him that I was a book reviewer.

Maybe I should have been interested, but I just wasn’t. When he left me a message a couple of days later, I ignored it.

Then, the last of  the Magnificent Seven. Another very nice man, very funny and warm and kind. He did everything right, treated me possibly better than I deserved. I was an ass to him, too, more than once. And maybe it could have been, but I didn’t want it. It felt exhausting and stifling. And he didn’t know it, but my head was too full of someone else.

 

I don’t believe we’re fated to be with one specific person. The odds are so tremendously stacked against that. I mean, bitch please. All I know is I couldn’t have tried harder, couldn’t have been more determined to test what I felt about my Impossible Scot in the space of two years. All this isn’t to say this is going to be perfect, that it won’t be challenging and there won’t be times we’ll get frustrated and have to retreat to our corners. But it is to say I’ve never had a relationship that’s been so effortless. I’ve never found it so easy to care, nor difficult to forget.

This is the prologue to My Highland Fling, a belated prologue, but there you have it. If nothing else, it should give you a good taste of what’s been, and what’s to come.

And to the men who fell into the mix without realizing it, well, it’s all a crap shoot at the best of times, now, isn’t it. Thanks for all the fish.

(To my friends who’ve heard all this before, and to my kids who’ve lived it, you were right. This really did make for one hell of a story, even without the edited bits.)

 

14 March 2017

 

Close off Royal Mile, Edinburgh

 

I love the questions I’ve been getting about my move to Scotland. Some I anticipated, others not so much, still others rude as hell. I’ve heard many of the same repeated over and over. My first favorite is “have you ever been there?” I’m adventurous, but I’m not sure even I would move somewhere I’d never even visited. Strike that. I probably would. I’m afflicted with wanderlust, first contracted age 16. Given the opportunity, and a reasonable belief I could make a happy life there, I’d pull up stakes and move pretty much anywhere.

But yes, I’ve been there. Four times to be exact: ages 16, 18, 23 and 49. Between ages 23 and 49 I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to travel abroad again. My then husband and I had three children spaced roughly two years apart, and between life obligations and the not insubstantial cost of taking five people to Europe, I’d pretty much given up any thought of making it back over. I told their father he could take each of the kids, one by one, to visit extended family in Italy, and I’d stay with the other two.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I had another opportunity to travel. My daughter had been studying in Swansea, Wales for a semester, and I decided the chance to meet her in Europe and travel around was too perfect to miss. So I flew into Dublin, we toured Ireland a few days, then headed back over to Wales, where I took her around areas of that country she hadn’t gotten to see. After leaving her back in Swansea, I crossed back over to Ireland, where I spent a few more solo days before flying back to the States.

I would have visited Scotland for the fifth time last summer, but urgent family circumstances brought me home from Paris roughly a week before I was due in Scotland. Frustrating, considering I’d have seen Chris again, and had the chance to introduce at least my older son – who was traveling with me – in person, rather than via Skype – which is how he’s meeting all three of them now, of necessity. But you can’t predict life, and can’t plan emergencies. Which is why they’re called “emergencies.”

My next favorite question is whether or not I’ve met Chris.

Answer:

Yes, but I’m planning to marry him, anyway.

Or:

Yes, and he didn’t scream and run away – at least not far enough I couldn’t catch him.

 

More favorites:

 

1). Do you golf?

No. And I don’t plan to.

2). Would you like to learn?

No. And I don’t plan to.

3). But Scotland has such beautiful golf courses…?

I think we covered the golf thing.

4). What’s it like there?

Beautiful, rugged… Here, let me show you about 1,000 pictures.

5). But the weather…

Yes, there’s weather.

6). Doesn’t it rain all the time? Isn’t it cold?

It rains frequently, yes, but the weather is less prone to the extremes we get here in the Chicago area.  My ancestry is overwhelmingly British, with a dash of Dutch. I’m predisposed to liking cooler weather. I’d perish anywhere it was hot and humid.

7). Won’t you miss the U.S.?

Sure, sometimes. I’m an American. I was born here, grew up here, and most of the people I know are from here. When I’m a UK citizen, I’ll still be an American. There will be a hell of a lot of things I won’t miss, but I won’t go into politics or negative subjects.

8). How do your kids feel about this?

My kids love me, and my kids have seen me struggle through a terrible marriage into a fairly amicable divorce… sort of. There have been worse divorces.

They’re seeing me genuinely happy for the first time in their lives. They’ll miss me, but they want me to be happy. They’re also adults who are, or will soon, be starting their own lives independent of me.

9). Will you come back to visit? Will they visit you?

This is the UK, not Mars. We’ll manage to see each other as often as possible and practical. My boys may study in Europe, and if they do, I’ll either meet them somewhere or bring them to Scotland for a visit. We’re not abandoning each other.

10). How did you two meet? How did you decide to get married?

How much time do you have? And for the same reasons anyone marries: affection, compatibility and a shot at happiness.

11). Do you have a wedding date set?

We’ll need to be granted permission to marry, something I’ll talk about more once I’m there and we’ve actually applied. How long it takes is up to the government officials. No, we don’t have anything set, and can’t until the official request to marry is granted. That’s when we’ll set the date and put things in motion.

12). Will it be a big wedding?

No. This is a second wedding for both of us. Chris doesn’t have a lot of family, and my own family – also small – will probably not be able to make it over. His children will be there, and if it’s at all possible I’ll try to arrange to have some or all of my own children attend. If not, we’ll use Skype or another method of recording the wedding for anyone not able to make it.

13). Will you become a UK citizen? How long will that take?

I plan to have dual US/UK citizenship. As far as the length of time, it varies. I’ll talk about that as it’s unfolding, as well, to help advise anyone else interested in moving to the UK.

14). Are you leaving because of Trump?

While he is a twat, no. My family lines have been in America since before the Revolutionary War. I have ancestors who held office in the original 13 colonies, were instrumental in the formation of settlements and American institutions, have fought and died in every war. I would not leave my country to this ape if I didn’t have other reasons.

15). Are you shipping a lot over there?

No. There’s no need. I’m starting over in a different country, not carrying baggage over with me. I’m very fortunate Chris is well set up. There’s not much I’ll need aside from personal belongings and a few mementos.

16). Will you be able to work there? What sort of work will you do?

I’ll need to be granted permission to work if I’d like to pursue traditional employment. But I’ve been a freelance writer for more than a dozen years; my aim is to make as much of my living through writing as possible. If other opportunities come up, and I’d like to pursue them, I will.

I’m a librarian by education, so that would be one logical avenue to try.

17). Can I come with you?

No, but if you’re ever in the area please look me up. I’d be happy to show you around.

And if you like to golf, I know a place.

 

 

11 March 2017

 

 

It isn’t finding beautiful places to visit in Scotland that’s difficult, it’s narrowing it down to a manageable number in the time you have available to spend. It’s a small country blessed with plentiful, unmatched natural and man-made destinations. You want to see as much as you can, but don’t want to rush past the beauty, nor skip opportunities to ditch the itinerary when something fascinating stops you in your tracks. In Scotland, that tends to happen a lot.

I’m very biased, but it really is the most beautiful country on earth. I’m so very lucky this is the place I plan to spend the rest of my life. Visitors don’t have that same luxury. Hopefully, what I write here about touring Scotland will be useful to those visiting for a more limited time. That’s my intent. Once we start touring, I’ll write much more about specifics of  all the places I talk about briefly in this post, plus everywhere else we wind up visiting.

Chris and I are in a unique situation, one easily romanticized out of proportion. The starry-eyed reactions I’ve been getting from people helping me get my life set up so I can leave the country have been sweetly amusing, absolutely priceless. I’ve loved every minute spent telling the story over and over. I don’t even have to embellish it. It really is that weird and wonderful, though I skip the bits about misunderstandings and times we’ve gotten irritated with each other, snapped, even stopped speaking for periods of time. Nobody needs to hear that; it would spoil the magic. I’m not in the business of spoiling other peoples’ magic.

The women I’ve told get far-away, misty expressions. In their minds they’re seeing half-naked, buff men in kilts, bellowing and clashing swords in a testosterone-fueled display of beefy manliness, while the ladies swoon on the sidelines. And honey, I’m with you on that. I understand the need to believe life can be that romantic, but real life isn’t Outlander.  I mean, don’t get me wrong. My Impossible Scot sometimes takes my breath away when he’s not even aware of it, and there are times I can’t believe this much happiness  is real, but we’re not kids. It’s a fine balance.

Our travels over this first summer will depend partly on weather, partly on serendipity. When we’re away we’ll make the most of it, but our freedom must be tempered by well-measured responsibility. We’ll return home at regular intervals, both to keep up with freelance writing projects and spend time with Chris’s mum and kids – not to mention deal with all the mundane stuff of everyday life. Even romantic adventurers have to pay rent and scrub the toilets.

I know: bummer.

This is where the men in kilts fade off the screen, ladies. Well, not totally – let’s not go crazy. Here’s a bit of gratutious hotness, just because I care:

 

Ho-ho-holy shit

 

Well. Now that that’s out of the way.

As for where we’ll go over our first few months, Chris asked I sit down and come up with a list of what sounds interesting to me. Since I’m the newbie, he’s giving me first crack. It’s all fluid, but I managed to come up with 10 places I’d love to see, in no particular order:

 

1 – Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park

The largest inland stretch of water in Great Britain, Loch Lomond contains islands including Inchmurrin, the largest freshwater island in the UK.

I actually saw Loch Lomond as a teenager, on my very first trip to Scotland as a a high school student ambassador representing the People to People program. I regret I don’t have a single picture from that day, not being as much a photographer then as now. I’d love to revisit, to see how it compares with my admittedly vague impression of its beauty. And to take some damn pictures.

 

Bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond

 

2 – Doune Castle

Famous partly for use as sets for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander, Doune  is a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland.

Dating back to the 13th Century, Doune has played a role in the Scottish Wars of Independence, Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Jacobite Risings. I’m hugely into history, but also really want to recreate the silliness of Holy Grail, yelling insults off the walls and hurling over farm animals. Maybe not the farm animals.

And yes, despite this Chris is still planning to marry me.

 

Doune Castle

 

3 – Stirling Castle

One of the largest castles in Scotland, most of the buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Mary, Queen of Scots is among the royalty crowned at Stirling. This is a place of magnificent historical importance. I’ll have to do loads of research before we visit.

 

Stirling Castle

 

4 – Melrose Abbey/Dryburgh Abbey/Greenknowe Tower

St Mary’s Abbey, Melrose is a partly ruined monastery located in the Scottish Borders. Founded in 1136, it was the chief house of the Cistercian order until the Reformation.

One thing you’ll learn about me is ruins are my thing. Ruins and cemeteries. They have a specific brand of romance unmatched by well-maintained or restored historical buildings. Maybe it’s the mystery of them, the wondering about what’s no longer there. I’m into the gothic, looming medieval homes and structures from spooky books and films. Melrose definitely fits the bill.

 

Melrose Abbey

 

Located on the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders, Dryburgh Abbey was founded in 1150. Burned twice in the 14th century, Dryburgh was ultimately destroyed in 1544. Poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott is among those buried on its grounds.

And, you’ll note, it’s another ruin.

 

Dryburgh Abbey

 

Greenknowe Tower is a 16th century tower house believed to have been built over the first castle of the Gordon clan. It’s just damn cool looking, plus in the neighborhood of the other two. As long as we’re there, what the hell.

 

Greenknowe Tower

 

5 – Head North into the Highlands, no agenda

Pretty much self-explanatory, now, isn’t it. I don’t think it’s a cop out not listing a specific destination. Remember the bit about serendipity, finding unexpected gems?

Well, here you go.

 

6 – Loch Awe

The third largest – and longest – lake in Scotland, Loch Awe contains several islands, a few featuring castle ruins. Kilchum Castle, the most photographed in Scotland, is among them.

And yes, Chris made the joke about looking at it in awe… I wasn’t going to go there, but, well, he did. He’s kind of a nerd that way. Kind of a nerd in many ways. We’ll get to that, too.

 

Loch Awe

 

7 – Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Not sure if Loch Ness is pushing our luck, as it’s getting a bit far north, but we may be able to swing it this year.

Actually, there’s no maybe about seeing Loch Ness. It’s just a matter of when. It’s also a matter of you must, at some point, stand on its shore yelling, “Oh my God, I see Nessie! It’s real!” Then you buy a stuffed, plaid representation of the monster to throw on the bed, and a few cheesy refrigerator magnets you mail to your kids back home.

See above, where I mention Chris knows how I am, yet still plans to marry me.

 

 

Lovely Loch Ness – Nessie nowhere to be found

 

8 – Glasgow’s Necropolis cemetery.

Cemeteries… I love them. I have loads of photos of old cemeteries in New England, parts of the American South, even some from the UK – specifically, Edinburgh. I find them comforting places to just sit and be, listen to music or write. Communing with the dead – not talking to them, because I’m not psychotic – is another somewhat off-beat, romantic thing about me.

Glasgow’s Necropolis is a famous Victorian example I’m very much looking forward to seeing.

 

Glasgow’s Necropolis

 

9 – Dundee. And the Howff cemetery.

Mary, Queen of Scots granted this land for use as a cemetery in 1564. It’s considered to hold some of the most important tombstones in Scotland.

Yeah, another cemetery. I may be pushing my luck, as I haven’t asked Chris about his thoughts on cemeteries. But as with any of these places, if he’d rather hang back that day and send me trotting off on my own, hey, that’s cool. I’ve done my share of solo traveling, and Dundee isn’t a far trip.

Bonus if he wants to come, though. I kind of like having him around.

 

The Howff

 

10 – Stonehaven/Dunnottar Castle

Best known as the place the Crown Jewels were hidden away from Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, Dunnottar is located two miles south of the charming village of Stonehaven.

And freaking look at it. Stunning.

 

Dunnottar Castle

 

 

Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

 

These are some of my suggestions, ideas to get us started. Though I’ve been to Scotland a few times, I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s all an open book to me. Chris has his own wish list, good spots for his butterfly hunting, among other things. So much more to be said about that, which he’ll be writing on his own blog and I’ll cover here, as well. There will also be festivals and events, films and museums, the Fringe… No end of it.

Wherever we wind up going, we’ll have stories to tell.

28 February 2017

 

fromtheplane

 

It’s not Donald Trump chasing me out – though God knows that’s a perk. Everyone desperately packing up, heading for Canada and parts beyond, has my full and complete sympathy.

I’ve “kidded” with my children, telling them they should consider their own move across our border to the North.What I really mean is please move across our border to the North, so I won’t have to worry about you. That way mom can bugger off to Scotland with a clean conscience, instead of with one eye looking backward, trained on that deranged orange bastard in the White House – the narcissistic twat one tiny finger away from totally annihilating the world.

At least you’re white and of European descent, kids; you’re welcome for the pasty British complexion and blue eyes.

I’d talked with my children about my leaving the area, though it was assumed I meant someplace a lot closer than the UK, like New England. As a pre-divorce family, we took annual summer trips – excrutiating forced marches we felt obligated to suffer experience, because people related by blood are expected to pack up every goddamn summer and pretend sitting sweatily next to your siblings, behind two adults passive-aggressively hating each other for two weeks and thousands of miles, was exactly where you wanted to be.

 

roadtripchicago

 

Relief came only when we headed East.The kids and I loved Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. Our fleeting happy vacation memories are contained in photos of lighthouses and the crashing of the Atlantic Ocean. Hauling out that direction was at the top of my five-year plan; it’s a veritable knee-slapper they complained that would be awfully far away.

Guess what, kids? The good news I’m not relocating to New England!

But thanks to a little something called the interwebs, once I’m gone I’ll have instant communication with everyone back in the States. A constant barrage of photos and video will be such a nuisance they’ll soon get sick of me from halfway around the world. It’ll be like I never left, only even more obnoxious.

And that is pretty damn obnoxious.

As for Chicago, I’ll miss some things about it. I’m as good as a native, having lived here for the past 33 years. It’s a beautiful city, full of history and architecture, deep-dish pizza and memories of how magical it looks at Christmas. It can’t be compared with the beauty of Europe, but it has a loveliness to it. More precious, it bears the imprint of decades’ worth of experiences.

 

chicago

 

Perhaps what I’ll miss most is the vastness of America, and impossibly long road trips on unending stretches of open highway. Not family vacations, oh Jesus, no. But trips solo and with the kids, pointing the car in one direction and just driving, filling the car with junk food and obnoxious pseudo-operatic narrative, free to act like complete idiots without my ex’s disapproving glare. Together we were toxic, but without the unbearable burden of the marriage there is a perfect ridiculousness, fun and joy and unconditional acceptance.

It’s wanderlust tugging at me, seducing me to leave – well, that and an impossible Scottish man so nearly as odd as myself I want to spend the rest of my life with him. But it’s not from lack of love of this country that I’m going, even if it can be annoying as fuck. When I squint I can see beyond that to the real America, the part not wearing pointy sheets on its head, not building walls or painting swastikas.

Believe it or not, this America is the vast majority; the idiots can just yell louder.

Once I’m gone, the things I miss will knock the breath out of me. I’m allowing for the missing to become a sharply exquisite pain before it settles into a sort of bittersweet acceptance. I’m looking forward to my new life with joy and anticipation. I can’t imagine what it will bring, but I’m old and wise enough to know not every moment will be what I signed up for.

 

kids2

 

There will be times, when the lights are out and the house is quiet, I’ll have to suffocate myself in my pillow so no one will hear me crying. Compatible as I believe we are, I’ll have moments when the charm of my Scot will wear thin. But isn’t that the case in all relationships, superficial giddiness aside. Everything worth doing is worth the sacrifice.

Scotland can’t take the place of where I’m from, and as much as I adore Chris, my children provide something he never can. What moves me toward my new life is a yearning for this particular partnership, as well as my inability to turn down anything that smells of adventure. My new life cannot replace the old, but I see in it the potential for life satisfaction of such great magnitude I’m powerless to turn it down.

How do I feel about leaving America? Like all immigrants before me: you’re never not of the country you were born, but our arms are big enough to embrace more than one life. There’s room for what was to move aside, and allow new life in.

 

thistle

 

23 February 2017

 

My "runaway box": a portable life
My “runaway box”: a portable life

 

In the wild, my decorating style could best be described as Early American Dump. I don’t leave dirty plates or desiccated food lying around, but while I’m no hoarder, I have far too many possessions. Thus far the wolf’s not been at my door, but this is changing rapidly as I start weeding my belongings in earnest, in preparation for the upcoming move.

Somewhat perversely, in a tidy environment I’m productive and happy; at work my desk is pristine. I’m not sure if it’s because I have witnesses who pay me and expect a certain degree of professionalism, or it’s a habit I’ve cultivated on the job that I don’t practice at home. I thrive in a minimalist environment, yet can’t be bothered to carry the habit back with me at night.

To avoid washing ashore with a bunch of detritus, very little will make the crossing with me. Clothing will be purpose-driven to fit most occasions – mostly galumphing through city and countryside. Add toiletries and electronics, important documents and paper copies of some of my writing, then a few keepsakes related to my children. I’ll ship a couple of boxes of books, and toss into my carry-on some journals and writing implements, plus my Kindle. Aside from that, precious few bits and fewer bobs.

 

23 February 2017

And then there were half.
And then there were half.

 

For a bachelor, Chris is impressively tidy – at least as far as he’s revealed. Maybe he has a stash out of range of our Skype sessions and photos he’s sent, but from what he’s shown me his house puts my apartment (flat, sorry) to shame. The last thing I want to do is clutter up the place. Besides, if my experience at work has taught me anything, it’s that cleanliness is one of the few things keeping me in line. Considering we’ll be living and working at home, at least to start, there’s not really any question about it: the crap must go.

It’s good timing that my daughter’s moving out next month, a few weeks before I leave. As much of my kitchen – and any decor or furnishings that will fit – will be shifted to her place. For the other stuff I can’t see her needing or wanting, there will be a massive delivery of unneeded and unloved items to Goodwill. While I probably could sell some of it, it’s too god-awful time-consuming for the amount of money it would bring. Not worth it for the little stuff.

The furniture, however, now that I’ll need to sell. Because I couldn’t manage to find a way to store it for my sons’ future use, I’ll donate the proceeds to their apartment fund. Ditto my car. It’s an obnoxious mini-van that would, as my son told me, destroy a dude’s street cred. I’ll sell it at CarMax, and give the money to my youngest. He’s the one of the three who drew the short straw when it comes to cars. Consider it an act of charity from mum.

Unless you’re really attached to your stuff, and don’t mind paying exorbitant money to ship it where you’re going, it makes little sense holding onto material things. If you’re going anywhere save the middle of nowhere, there will be things called stores. Stores that sell things. If it’s not a family heirloom, ditch it. If it is a family heirloom, but weights a metric crap ton, give it away. I have an expensive Wedgwood tea set, crystal I bought in the former Yugoslavia and lugged all around Europe when I was a teenager, and a wedding gift of real silverware. You couldn’t pay me to take any of it.

 

Next stop: Goodwill
Next stop: Goodwill

 

Sentimental items may be difficult to part with, but ask yourself this: if I had to strap this onto my back and carry it where I’m going, how many steps would I take before I started gnawing through the ropes with my teeth? There’s your answer.

If you, unlike me, own clothing of high quality and really feel you’ll wind up needing it, you’re still probably delusional. I halved my wardrobe, then divided it into two categories: stuff that’s going for sure, and the second tier I’ll wear before I go, then donate. From the stuff I think I’m taking, I’ll probably halve that again.

Since I’m moving to Scotland, where the weather’s shite 11.5 months out of the year, I’m packing with an eye toward layering, with something waterproof always between me and the elements. Ideally, everything will match with everything else. This gives me a good starting point, a method to my madness.

Because we’ll be traveling a lot, meaning lots of trekking along hill and dale, a really good pair of shoes is a must. These I may actually buy; I’m not sure I own anything suitable. And because I’m a boot gal, I’ll make sure there’s room for a couple of pairs of those, as well. And something a bit more dressy, because you just never know.

Not a whole lot to start with, which seems sensible to me. Enough, but not so much I’ll burst out of my allotted closet space. Better to arrive with less and have to add a piece or two here and there than trip over too many belongings. Because I’m not going to Scotland to carry the past with me; I’m going to Scotland to start over with a clean slate.

And exactly two months from today I’ll be on my way.

2 February 2017

scotland

 

Hello and welcome to this inaugural post for My Highland Fling, my story of taking a giant mid-life leap from my native United States to the United Kingdom to marry a Scottish man I’ve known almost exclusively online over the course of several years. Without the luxury of time to cultivate a traditional relationship, Chris and I are taking a huge leap of faith, banking on fondness for each other to build a life together. Our foundation is our friendship, cultivated through shared interests in travel and literature and film and a love of all things Scottish, coupled with a healthy dose of why the hell not. We’re not getting any younger. Who wants to live life regretting what you didn’t try?

Two years post-divorce, my three kids grown, I’m ready to uproot. A freelance writer and book reviewer/blogger for a dozen years or so, I’m laying down plans to focus my professional life on exploring my favorite country with a man I care very deeply about. My partner in this adventure, Chris Sullivan – a/k/a the Impossible Scot – has for more than a year been writing and blogging on the British TV  program(mes) Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, caring for his elderly mum, and occasionally finding small pockets of time to pursue his love of the natural world. Himself divorced and the father of two grown children, he’s an ecological scientist who’s written articles and given educational talks, mostly on the topics of butterflies and beetles.

My Highland Fling is the story of two people who’ve decided great risk is worth the potential for great reward, looking forward to working side by side, blogging and vlogging about what we love. Together we plan to create art, to write and travel and enjoy getting to know each other along the way. It’s also about our separate voyages of self-discovery, the chance to re-set our lives while supporting each other.

We hope you’ll ride along with us in real-time, as our lives blend and we make a home together living between Edinburgh and Glasgow. We’ll share Scotland with you, going on adventures and enjoying the beauty of our surroundings, while we pursue what we love.

And hopefully something wonderful will happen.