Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The last entry of the year...

This shall be my last blog of 2011. My goodness, what a year it has been! It has seen us go from flu-ridden and then homeless to happily settled in the Highlands in a lovely home with a couple of cats, a business that is doing fairly well for less than a year "out there" and being sincerely happy.  So many blessings this year and we are so grateful for all of them.

Tomorrow we head down to Edinburgh to meet my stepson and his girlfriend who are there for a quick pre-Christmas holiday. It will be wonderful seeing Olly again and I can't wait to meet Natalie. We have made lunch reservations at The Hard Rock Cafe, so looking forward to that. I must admit I've not been to one before, so this will be a first time.

Our travels will take us through the Cairngorms, but, as time will not be a our friend, we won't be able to stop and get photos along the way. However, we are planning some road trips over the next couple of weeks - our Christmas presents to ourselves, and I will report all once we have seen in the New Year. We may even venture into Tain for Hogmanay and raise a dram to 2012. We are so excited about the year to come. Ailleas Designs will go from strength to strength, I am sure, and we are going to start working on Chris' photography business as well. Watch out world, here we come.

In the meantime, may I take this opportunity to thank you all for my reading my little blogs and letting me know how much you enjoy them. It is so lovely to hear. I just write what is in my heart.

So, until 2012 then, Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath UrI don't think I need to translate that...




Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding our way...

This past weekend found us traveling for a Christmas fair in Gairloch on Scotland’s west coast. The weather was wintry, but not so wintry as to impede our trip. We did, however, take it slowly.  But what a breathtaking and stunning drive it was.

As we left the civilisation of Dingwall and Strathpeffer, we entered the area where houses are few and far between. Arriving just east of Garve, the snow started to fall with great purpose. The road was rising higher and higher through hills and winding through the countryside of woods and lochans and falls. As we traveled alongside Loch Garve, the road began to disappear under a layer of white. We slowed our progress and, looking at the evergreens frosted with snow, started to feel very, very Christmassy.

The sun trying to peek through over Loch a' Chorsig
The snowfall was heavier still as we reached the turnoff to the A832. The tops of the hills were covered in white now and from time to time, I would see the figure of a deer on the hills beside the road - a lovely doe at one point, a majestic stag at the next, with his antlers seeming far too big for his head to bear. It was only mid-afternoon, but the snowfall gave the area that ethereal feeling of an indeterminate time of day. As we approached the roundabout at Achnasheen the blizzard seemed to lift a little. As we headed down Glen Docherty, we glimpsed the sun trying to appear through the clouds over the hills bordering Loch a’ Chrosig.

Loch Maree and Slioch
The pass required slow and steady driving, with the snow beginning to lift as we reached Kinlochewe and the shores of Loch Maree.  Such glorious landscapes. Loch Maree is the last freshwater loch in Scotland unaffected by any industry, farm fishing, forestry, etc.  It was the home of the 7th century Irish monk, St Maelrubha, who came to “Christianise” the area. His monastery was at Applecross, some 40 or so miles away, but as Loch Maree was a centre of paganism, he felt his direction was clear. Loch Maree, therefore, has great significance for both Christians and pagans.  St Maelrubha’s followers would come see him at the small island on the loch that became his home and where you can still see the ruins of his cell. Those who were sick would immerse themselves in the water three times in hopes of being cured of their maladies. It was no wonder, looking at the loch and the hills beyond – notably Slioch, which means “spear” and rises at the other side of the loch – why this had been, and still is, a sacred and spiritual site. We loved it so very much – with the snow falling softly and no sign of anyone in the area, it was a place that felt peaceful and very spiritual indeed. The bare trees, with gnarled branches reaching upward, seemed to become living spirits in this place. I believe they are and need only be in a place like this to feel their presence.  John Whittier, the poet, must have felt this as well, as after a visit to the Loch, he wrote, “And whoso bathes therein his brow/With care or madness burning/Feels once again his healthful thought/And sense of peace returning.”

We continued along Loch Maree until we reached more wooded areas and then found ourselves once more beside a loch – Loch Bad an Sgalaid. Behind it we saw the high hills, covered with snow and appearing as Christmas pudding iced with sugar. Our travels took us north now, as we traveled along the River Kerry and the great gorge through which the river travels. We looked ahead to find ourselves now traveling along the sea with the hills of Skye’s most northern tip visible across the water. The snow-covered hills of Torridon were behind us and we were left speechless by the natural beauty around us.

We followed the directions to our B&B, a modern eco-house run by a charming couple – Isabell and Graeme. The house was amazing – so similar to the “dream house” I have had in my mind for probably 20 years. We were so warmly welcomed. We drove back to the village for dinner and, after dinner, as we drove back, we had to stop for the cattle that suddenly appeared in the middle of the narrow road – the biggest among them had a horn span that must have been nearly three feet. We are used to seeing sheep in the road at any given time of day, but this was a first. Needless to say, for the remainder of the drive we were very vigilant.

Our evening concluded by joining Isabell and Graeme and chatting until nearly midnight before going off to our room to sleep until 7am. Up to shower, dress and have a delicious breakfast before heading to the community hall for the Christmas fair. What a wonderful time we had! We recognised one couple from other fairs we have attended and will attend with them once more this coming Saturday at Inverness. We are enjoying this artisan’s life. Our neighbouring table was occupied by a wonderful lady called Lizzii who became a dear friend by the fair’s end. We will see her again in the spring when the fairs recommence as we hope to attend twice a month.

The fair was a successful one, but so much more valuable than my takings were the experience, the new friends and the sense of wonder we felt in such a beautiful place. We look so forward to returning in March.

Snow-covered hills beyond Loch Bad an Sgalaid
Our trip back home on Saturday afternoon was as magical. Snow had fallen overnight, making the hills look even lovelier. We stopped along the way to enjoy the scenery - although the temperature was often below freezing, it still was worth a short delay in our trip home. The deer were plentiful - lovely does in heavy winter coats, their breath visible in the cold air. Where water had gathered in low-lying areas, frozen ponds appeared and I felt all that was missing from the scene were children with their ice skates, bundled up against the cold. We saw a man on the side of the road cutting down his perfect and natural Christmas tree, possibly as had his ancestors for generations. On the long stretch of road between Achnasheen and Garve the few deer we had spotted on our way up seemed to have multiplied many times over. The snow made the deer, in their dark coats, stand out even more and there were possibly three or four separate herds grazing in the fields. The snow was falling once again as we approached Milton, arriving home to find the snow deeper than when we had left, but we were so filled with joy from our time in Gairloch, it did nothing but add to our feeling of great happiness.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Sunrise Monday morning
We've had four days of intermittent snow now, and I don't mind. We have plenty of tinned goods to make several batches of chili and when Chris gets to the store next, we will do the same with ingredients for curry and some stews. Warm, stick to your ribs, winter comfort food (with minimal preparation).

When we ventured out on Monday, we found the scenery enchanting, as if someone had gone along with a sieve and sprinkled icing sugar on the trees and fields. The sheep (looking less white against the pure whiteness of the snow) were keeping warm in their wooly coats and the birds of prey that live in the area were seen congregating on power cables and bales of hay, puffed out and trying to keep in the warm. It will be on my to-do list for the next time we are out to get a bird feeder for the garden. I am already aware of the birds in the front garden looking for food - made doubly aware by the chattering of the cats as they peer out the front window.

Today the postman arrived with the hardback copy of Rosamunde Pilcher's book "Winter Solstice." I have read this book half a dozen times, but knew that I couldn't spend my first snowy winter in the highlands without it. It is the book equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate or a warm bowl of porridge. I look forward to opening it this evening and starting the tale of Elfrida and friends once again.

The old mill wheel

We are supposed to go to the west coast this weekend for the last of the Christmas fairs. I do hope the weather will allow us to do so. We are booked into a B&B the night before the fair and it sounds lovely. The blurb for Solas B&B reads, "Modern ecohouse by the sea in the crofting community of Big Sand by Gairloch...amazing views across Loch Gairloch to the Torridon mountains and out to Skye." Sigh. I do hope the weather behaves itself. It sounds so lovely. Solas is Scottish Gaelic for "comfort", "contentment" or "joy." Sounds good to me.

Other than sitting and looking out at the beautiful snow-covered scenery, I am, as always, working on my business. I relaunched the website (yet again) last week - new host, new design. I am thinking a great deal about how I am going to promote the business next year and where I am going to place the emphasis. I have some ideas and will have to cultivate them before I have a definitive vision, but I'm getting there.

So, from the snow-covered mill in the highlands of Scotland, beannach leibh (byon-uhchk layv), or blessings to you, until next week. 


Monday, November 28, 2011

Joyful Season

I have now participated in three fairs in the Highlands. One was held in the primary school of a village on the Black Isle, one in a castle east of Inverness, the last in a cosy, very Scottish hotel on the road to the Isle of Skye. I loved them all. The people I met, both traders and customers, were delightful. The warmth, the camaraderie, the generous and welcoming heart and soul that seems to permeate this part of the world - how we enjoyed it. Chris had the best time visiting other stalls and chatting with people, while I manned the table, ready to tell folks the story of Ailleas Designs and share my creations. From each event, I came away a richer person. Not in terms of sales, but in terms of finding so many like-minded people. There was snow, Father Christmas, and smiles all round - just as it should be this time of year.

While I have not a shred of scientific data to back this, I feel that perhaps the welcoming hospitality of Virginia and much of the south is a trait inherited from our Scottish ancestors. What I experience here is so much like the sense of community I felt when I was growing up in Virginia in the 1960s. Such sharing and fellowship. I feel so much joy in seeing so many smiles and acts of kindness.

At the fair this past Saturday, held at Ledgowan Lodge Hotel, it was both a surprise and pleasure to discover that the gentleman at the table next to us was more than just a neighbour at the event, but a neighbour here in Milton, as well. Mark and his wife Elaine (who wasn't with him on Saturday) live around the corner from the mill and we hope we will get to see Mark again and meet Elaine. More wonderful than that, though, is the affirmation Mark gave me about my feelings living here in the Highlands. I told him the way I feel here, the immense joy I feel, the emotional reaction I so often have to places in Scotland. He informed me that we all have what are called genetic markers. Some people feel them more strongly than others. These are the same sort of markers than cause animals to migrate, sometimes over thousands of miles and against incredible odds, to be in the one place they know they ought to and have to be. I told Mark that my first visit to Glencoe brought sobs from the very depth of my soul and that I was overwhelmed with a need to lie down on the ground there. His eyes twinkled as he told me that this was a marker that I had tuned into. For no doubt, when I discovered from a distant cousin, that two of my ancestors had escaped the massacre in 1692, this marker must have somehow told me that my ancestors may have laid down and feigned death in order to escape, first to Ireland and then to Boston. This may be why my uncle loved Ireland so and has written to me that he wants to come visit, "an old man coming home." I hope he does. For I am without doubt that he will feel the same agonisingly joyful waves of familiarity and home that I do. Even as I write the words here, my eyes fill with tears. I love it here, but more than that, I belong here.

What should not surprise me is that everyone I speak to who lives here but is not from here has felt the same pull I feel. One customer on Saturday was a woman who lives in Switzerland but is originally from Germany. We spoke about our love for Scotland and the sense of needing desperately to be here. I, of course, can trace my heritage back to Scotland without any real difficulty. This woman was unaware of her possible genetic connection. But she comes from Hamburg, a port that has always been a port. Who can say that her ancestors didn't once sail from Hamburg across the sea to Scotland and settle here? Germanic and Scandinavian tribes filled much of the present-day UK hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It may be that the Scottish homing instinct was passed down to her from some distant ancestor who came over the water to the land of heather and hills.

After many busy days, Chris and I are having a week of rest. A final Christmas fair will take us to Gairloch on the western coast, just north of the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel in Achnasheen. An early start means we will spend the night before at a B&B. We have booked into the Solas B&B; the description is lovely - with views toward Skye and Torridon. We are so looking forward to it. We loved the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel so much, we are going to take advantage of their mid-week break prices and stay there sometime before the 22nd. Our Christmas present to ourselves.

I am looking forward to our first Christmas in the Highlands. I've been informed we can expect snow. I shall have to buy some mulled wine for the day, snuggle up with Chris and watch some Christmas movies. It is going to be wonderful.




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mist and Sunshine...

It is after midnight; in fact, it is after 1am. I'm not really sleepy yet. Maybe I'm just nervous - tomorrow is my first Christmas Fair and I am hoping the jewellery loving crowd is there. I've been working hard to get to this point in my career. So, maybe it's just nerves. Or maybe it is the quietness and the time I can reflect on a wonderful day. A day, sadly, unaccompanied by photos. The title of this blog tells you why. Chris was unable to get any decent shots today because of the extraordinary weather.

We had a late start to the day. Chris has been feeling a bit under the weather and when he was still asleep well past 9am, I let him sleep. Bless him, he works so hard taking care of our home and me. He deserved a lie-in, something he rarely gives himself. But today he had one and was better for it.

So, at just past noon, we hit the road. Chris had discovered that there was an abbey nearby, founded in the mid-13th century. So, with a general idea of where it was, we took off. There was a heavy mist as far as we could see. I love mist and fog, something very ethereal about it. Possibly one of the contributing factors to my love for this country.

We drove along the main road until we saw the turn-off for Fearne. The mist had disappeared (or so we thought) and we found ourselves traveling down a narrow tree-lined road, the autumn sunshine sparkling off golden and russet leaves, some heavy still with the dew of the mist that had rolled on. I took out our scruffy and well-loved atlas and found that just beyond the turn-off for the abbey was another road that would lead us to Loch Eye and then along another road that would take us to Portmahomock (doesn't that sound like a town in New England with a name from the native Americans?). As we turned onto the road, we noticed the mist was with us once more, but it almost formed an arc, like a rainbow, and, like a rainbow, no matter how much farther we traveled, it always stayed ahead of us. To see the sheep grazing with a mist on top of them, but only reaching a little way above them, was incredible. We drove down the road, stopping at one point to watch a large bird of prey (we believe it was a juvenile eagle) and enjoying the afternoon of peacefully gazing at the passing countryside. Loch Eye finally appeared to our left, but there didn't appear to be a road to get to it, so we passed it, with the mist making the bare trees appear in silhouette. We reached an intersection and turned toward the road that would bring us to the end of this small peninsula. 

Farms and wide expanses of land surrounded us. To the left, we could see a small inlet of the Dornoch Firth, with little beaches that boasted waves with white crests. It was simply lovely. It reminded me, a bit, of my childhood summers on Cape Cod. That same sense of great space with little evidence of mankind (if JFK did nothing else, at least he made most of the Cape national seashore). We looked at the views and the golden fields and the grazing sheep and were once more filled with great happiness that this is all in our backyard.

As we continued along the narrow road, we could see the harbour village of Portmahomock. The waterfront formed a small crescent and cottages and pebble-dashed houses standing beside the narrow main street. We drove as far as we could. The Dornoch Firth in front of us, the hills of the northwest across the water, and still a bit of mist in the air. 

From Portmahomack, we took the road north until we reached Tarbet Ness lighthouse. Tall and thin with red stripes, it stands where the North Sea divides itself into the Dornoch and Moray Firths. There wasn't a soul around and as we made our way just a few feet up the little drive (Chris walking, me hobbling), we saw that the lane was lined in gorse and that small birds and rabbits, with their fur thickening in preparation for the coming winter, made their homes among the gnarled stems. The sky was so blue, the air so still. So very peaceful and beautiful. We stood quietly, breathing in deeply the cold air and enjoying the silence, save for the birds twittering and the rabbit scampering about. We knew the day would be closing in soon, the sun is setting just the other side of 4pm now, and so we reluctantly walked/hobbled back to the car.

We traveled in the only direction we could, south again with our goal of reaching Fearne Abbey, some seven or so miles away. What we saw as we traveled south amazed us. The mist hadn't lifted, we had simply driven out of it. In front of us, we saw the mist, appearing more like low-lying clouds, hugging the contours of the land. In some parts, it was as if we were looking down out of an airplane window, or perhaps looking forward from a very high altitude. But we weren't; we were most assuredly on solid ground, but the clouds lying on the surface of the fields and hills remained close. Chris attempted a photograph, but above the low clouds, the November afternoon sun was bright and made it difficult to get a decent photograph. You shall have to take my word for it. It was, truly, amazing. Everything that stood between us and the mist was silhouetted by the sun. The bell in the distant church tower was clearly outlined, as were the bare trees and farm silos.

We traveled to Fearne, now entering the mist, and drove to the abbey. While founded in the 13th century, most of it was rebuilt in the 18th century. But there was still a feel of great antiquity to it. It is a church that is used every Sunday, despite some areas off the main building missing their roofs and a churchyard with ancient stone slabs covered with bright green moss. Chris went off to explore the churchyard, while I hobbled back to sit in the car. The radio was playing classical music and I looked as before me the sun was lying low behind the perfect branches of a bare tree. It was so lovely, so peaceful. But the mist was cold and we needed to run some errands, but I know that we will go back there soon. Chris loves photographing old abbeys and churches and he looked so happy when he returned to the car.

So that was our day of mist and sunshine, sea and fields, sheep and eagles. In other words, another day in our beautiful home in Scotland.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The best of feelings...

I'm afraid I have no travels to share with you this week. The past five days have been spent being full-time Mum and Nana. We put my daughter and granddaughter on a train home a couple of hours ago and, while I am appreciating the quiet and getting the house back to "normal", I am missing their presence already.

When my daughter was very little, I remember picking her up at the sitter's one late afternoon after work. She wasn't more than 6 or 7 months old, but on this particular day, she did something she had never done before. When the sitter answered the door, she was holding Caroline, who was looking in the opposite direction. I softly said her name, she turned around, saw me, gave me the biggest toothless grin and leaned toward me with a hand outstretched. I never thought I would ever feel that same overwhelming wave of love again. But I have. On several occasions over the weekend, Catherine would run to me, put her arms around my knees and utter those beautiful words, "My Nana." Joy, love, warmth...there are no words to describe the feeling of those little arms squeezing and the huge smile on her face. She is my dearest joy, plain and simple.

As she is two, the huge grins and loving cuddles can often turn to stamping feet and pouts. I have done with her what I did with her mother. I ignore the tantrums and when the lower lip sticks out, I tell her to put it back. It becomes a game and she smiles and then laughs and the tantrum is over. As I said to my daughter, with toddlers, you choose your battles. If it isn't life-threatening or dangerous in any way, you just laugh it off.

Catherine apparently likes "the water." During our trips out, we are almost always going to drive by or over the water. "Mummy, ook! Water!" This is followed by, "Nana, ook! Water!" The ritual is not complete until she has finished with "Abba, ook! Water!" Then we are all very sure we have looked at the water, acknowledged the same to Catherine and the trip can continue. 

Perhaps the funniest part of the visit was Catherine's insistence that she "find" our cats. She calls both of them by one of the names, "Fluff." Catherine would catch sight of one of the cats (who was, no doubt, thinking that they have appeared at just the wrong time) and would run down the hall. As quickly, she would return again and grab a hand of a willing participant with the words, "Quick! I find Fluff." Caroline or Chris would follow along (since I can't be "quick") and find the cat looking less than pleased and letting out a little hiss here and there. I have a feeling these cats have never been around small children. Needless to say, the cats spent most of the five days on our bed and hoping that Catherine would leave them alone. I think they would have been happier if Catherine had left them undiscovered.

Thanks to my granddaughter, I am now familiar with "Dora the Explorer" and the movie "Tangled." I know that a chameleon in the film "Tangled" is referred to as "frog" and that bouncing is what you do, even if you are, in fact, jumping. 

It has been a wonderful five days, and we look forward to many more visits. But, for now, I am going to allow the cats to chill and Chris and I will reclaim our home as our own. Until next time and until I once again feel the warmth of those little arms around my knees, I can just remember what it's like to be so unconditionally loved by a very sweet little girl.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lovely sojourns…

A friend from the States came to visit this past week and it was so enjoyable having her here. Not only was her company most welcomed, but it gave us an excuse to show her some of the incredible sights here on our Highlands doorstep.

Light on the hills
at Assynt
We were lucky to have the weather cooperate beyond what had been forecast. Our first trip was up to Lochinver. What a joy to see the twin peaks of Suiliven rise out of the landscape before us. The hills were flooded with diffused sunlight and the variation in the heights of the hills gave them such dimension. We stopped in Inchnadamph so that Chris and Salle could get some photos of the hills. I love the way the light hits the hill behind and not the one in front. As we watched the hills, we heard strange bellowing sounds. It is the rutting season, and no doubt these were the sounds of lonely stags trying to entice does to join them.

We traveled on to Lochinver and had a lovely lunch at the Lochinver Larder. Sounds much less appetising than it is. The food and atmosphere were terrific and we enjoyed speaking with our waiter, who has always lived in Lochinver. He told us of the morning his then 7-year old son came running into the bedroom shouting that Suilven was on fire. Apparently the morning light was hitting the “hill” in such a way that it was bathed in purple and red light. How I would love to see that. I am sorry I have no photograph of Suilven, but despite the sunshine, there were no good views of it as the sky at the top was quite hazy.

Tree island on Assynt
We drove back along Loch Assynt and Chris captured this image of one of the tree islands on the upper end of the loch. Here the loch spreads out across the landscape, with the hills of Sutherland offering the perfect backdrop. Just as the loch itself seems larger here than at the lower end, so the tree islands are larger and taller. This one is far larger than the one that was photographed before. While many of Scotland's lochs feature these tree islands, for some reason, the islands here on Loch Assynt touch me more than any others. They are so filled with a sense of earthly spirituality and ancient wisdom.


Sunset
We continued down from Loch Assynt, along the road to Ullapool just as the sun was setting. Chris captured this incredible image from along the A82. It is here that the views are so incredible, with the munros in the distance. To the south is lovely Ardmair Bay. Chris has THE photograph of Ardmair Bay on his website. It was too dark now to even try to get a photograph. But, as my friend said, it was a picture that will live in our minds' eyes always. To Ullapool and back to Inverness and home. I was so excited, because I knew that we would be visiting Skye the next day.

Eilean Donan at low tide
We awoke to grey skies, with occasional patches of blue, but were happy to see the skies clearing as we traveled west. We first headed south to Eilean Donan Castle. This iconic castle that stands on its own little island was not standing alone – for the tide was out and the vegetation that usually sits beneath the waters was visible – with golds and browns that complemented the colours of the trees. Eliean Donan may be one of the most photographed castles in Scotland and we watched as cars pulled into the parking lot, the occupants getting out to capture and image and move on. Chris came back from taking pictures chuckling at a phone conversation he heard while walking back to the car. An elderly gentleman, no doubt from Yorkshire, was on the phone muttering, "This isn't a castle. You call this a castle? Pshaw, this isn't a castle." Made me laugh. If ever there was a castle, Eilean Donan is it. (He also complained of a poor mobile signal because of all the "bloody" hills. You're in the highlands, sir, what do you expect?)


The ruined church on
the road to Elgol
We left Eilean Donan and, as we approached the Skye Bridge, we could see the sun hitting the sides of the Cuillens. We headed to Portree first, to have lunch at the Aros Centre. Then we took the road south again until we reached Broadford and the road to Elgol. How I had missed this drive. The old church, standing in ruins, where sheep often graze amongst the headstones was our first stop on the road. Such a peaceful place – I have dreamed of being here for the past three years and here we were again. Nothing had changed, but it was as if I were seeing it with new eyes. I think I just appreciate it so much more having been away. As I watched the sheep grazing on the hills across from the ruined church, a hooded crow touched down on the top of a farm gate just feet from our car. Of course, by the time Chris returned from photographing this gnarled tree growing by and into the church walls, the crow had flown away. One day I will get a photograph of one to post here. I love to watch them. Their plummage of black and pewter is enchanting.

The Black Cuillens across
Loch Scavaig
We drove the long, single-track road slowly, taking in the sights, until we reached Elgol and the peerless view it offers of the Black Cuillens across Loch Scavaig.  The autumn sky was pink in places and the sun was starting its decline, so we made the journey back along the narrow road and took the turn down to the south  so as to drive by the Five Sisters of Kintail. We could see the peaks this time, and the setting sun would hit in patches here and there. In the fading light of dusk, we caught sight of several stags grazing in the fields that appear beside the road, with small lochs, or lochans, appearing dark and deep. The darkness fell quite quickly and we made our way home, having had a lovely day of sharing our favourite places.

On Wednesday, we took our friend to Glasgow so that she could see Glencoe and Rannoch Moor. She was impressed by Ossian’s Cave and all the other glories of this melancholy place. I told her the story of the massacre and the Campbells and MacDonalds. Once more the weather complemented the landscapes, with just plumes of clouds at the top of the hills. It was, as always, so very beautiful.

I don’t think I will ever grow bored with this beautiful country. Each trip out and about is such a joy for me. I love this country more and more each day and it was with great happiness that we told our friend that our ashes would be scattered in the Lost Valley of Glencoe and that we would live out the rest of our days in this country that touches our souls.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Musings on an October afternoon...

The one comment I hear more than any other, since we moved here, is that I should be hailed as some sort of positive example because I did what I had to do to get us to where we wanted to be. Don’t think so. I’m just a dreamer who knows that dreams only come true if you make them come true.

This afternoon we had a drive out. Not a huge drive – we had some things that needed to be mailed and we needed to get some stuff from the grocery store. As I sat in the car waiting for Chris to come back, I had the radio tuned to BBC Scotland. I sat there, listening to the voices, looking at the sky full of autumn afternoon sunlight, taking in the colours of the leaves and the white clouds mixed with grey and all I do could was smile. Sometimes, because being here feels so right, so natural, I find myself slipping into that mindset of everything becoming just part of everyday life. And that is what I must never allow myself to do. Being here is a blessing, finding the way to get here was and is a blessing, living the life we dreamed of is a blessing.

I sat there and reflected on our present, but also thought about my past. I am a great believer that everything that happens to us happens for a reason – either to teach us something we need to know or to place us one step closer to where we should be. I look back and see that even the worst negatives ended up leading to something positive. My first very unfortunate marriage gave me my daughter, my disastrous second (I blush that I’ve been married three times, I really do) brought me to the UK, a brief relationship after that marriage introduced the adult me to Scotland. The single life that followed allowed me to discover the great joy of learning to love myself, thereby giving me the self-confidence that allowed me to follow my heart to find Chris, who is the greatest love I’ve ever known. My increasingly crippling arthritis gave me the option of semi-retirement after so many years of hard work. My 23 months back in the States gave me a wonderful new friend and a change of view with which I could look and see and know that it is here in Scotland that I need to be. And along the story that is my life, there have been great wells of sadness along with the peaks of delight. But it has been a road that has brought me here – the place where I find the greatest joy and where I feel a sense of belonging that I never felt before.

This afternoon, after the post office and grocery store, we took the short drive to Bonar Bridge – up by way of the northeastern shore of the Dornoch Firth and back by way of the southwestern shore. The light on the hills was amazing and in the far distance we could see very high hills with a touch of white snow at the top. There is such a sense of open space here. The hills that are covered with trees are wearing their autumn colours; the hills that are covered with bracken and heather have that deep rusty bronze colour. They take my breath away. I think they always will. And then, driving back, I noticed great flashes of white in one of the little inlets of the firth. With trees between the road and the water, I had to wait until there was a clearing. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that these numerous lumps of pristine white were swans. A flock of wild hooper swans had come in to settle in this area for the winter. Throughout the winter, they will be here until they go back to Iceland and areas farther north in the spring. It was magical to see so many in one place.  (Of course, Chris didn’t have his camera – he really needs to remember to take it out every time we leave the house – there is never any way to tell what the day may bring!)

We have a friend coming from the States on Sunday evening, staying with us until Wednesday. We are saving our petrol for her visit. Our plans are to visit Skye for a day (yes!) and then, the next day, take her to Ullapool and north to Lochinver and Assynt. I can’t wait to show her these beautiful places. I am quite sure they will enchant her as they have enchanted us.  I long to see Suilven’s majestic silhouette against the wide highland skies, the munros that populate the northwest and the beautiful hills and waters of Skye. It will probably be our last trip to these places until after the first of the year. If we get the weather predicted, we may find it hard to get to these out of the way places.  Our two occasions for travel will be those for Christmas fairs so I can show my jewellery. But our little adventures may have to stop for the season. We shall see. But no matter the weather, I sleep at night with a smile on my face because I know that outside my front door is the land I have longed to inhabit for a long time. Longer, I think, than even I have known. My soul is happy here, at peace, where it should be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Incredible Journey...

Today we decided to take another drive. The day, while starting out damp and overcast, had turned into one of those gorgeous autumn days of blue skies and soft sunlight. While there were, and always are, grey skies in one direction or the other, it felt as if the afternoon might be best spent in the car, exploring more of the beautiful country around us. We had already been to Bonar Bridge, following the route south of the Dornock Firth, but we had not yet traveled the road north of the firth. So, that, we decided, would be today’s route of exploration.

As we left the dappled sunlight of our driveway and made our way out to the main road and then to the A9, we could look around us and see that rain was falling here and there. Little cloudbursts were everywhere. A moment in the rain and then we would emerge back into the autumn sunshine. We crossed the Dornock Firth and took the road leading to Bonar Bridge, to find what sights might be found on the way. 

There were very few places to stop along the way, and there was little reason to stop. The road was narrow, sometimes an ancient stone wall would appear beside us, only to return back to ferns growing golden in the cooler temperatures. It was very bucolic along this road – farms and old farms houses, rolled bales of hay and sheep and cows in fields, pleasantly munching away the time. As we rounded one corner at Spinningdale, I could see just the other side of the roadside and down a gentle grade was a ruin of some kind; research once I returned home revealed that the ruins are those of an old mill. The ruins were very tall, ancient grey stone upon ancient grey stone, with a tumbled down pile here and there. Once we got to the first left turn, we drove down a narrow lane, only to find a sign that said all access to this particular site was through private land. Alas, there would be no photograph to accompany my words. But, we drove on. As we drove, I consulted our very worn atlas and discovered an unnamed and unnumbered road that rose up from Bonar Bridge and would take us on a circular route, depositing us back at Loch Fleet. And so, when we arrived at Bonar Bridge, we took the turn. What a fortuitous decision it was. What isolated and barren beauty awaited us.

Loch an Lagain
The drive took us by old farms and fields of sheep and cows and then suddenly opened up into moorlands. The colour of the vast openness was one of deep golden yellows and bronze-like browns – the colours of old grass and heather no longer in bloom. The sky was so blue, but the constant drizzles made for rainbows – so bright and colourful. We climbed higher and higher until we leveled off, only to find a beautiful loch within view. This was Loch an Lagain. You can see the deep blueness of the water and the brown and gold of the hill behind it.  The loch is fed by the River Evelix, a river we pass over when driving from Dornoch back to Tain. It was bitterly cold, but the sun was shining brightly and the only sounds were those of the wind and water.


Rainbow on Loch Buidhe
We continued on, spying another rainbow before us. As we turned yet another bend in the narrow road, we came to the next loch – Loch Buidhe. The wind was whipping up the water into waves and, again, the air was bitterly cold. The rainbow ahead began to lose its colour, but as Chris stepped out of the car to capture this scene, it brightened up again, as if putting on its best colours for the photographer. The rain was spitting down here and there and the road, while paved, was damp. The road is so little traveled upon that the centre of the road is clump after clump of grass. In other words, just the sort of road we enjoy traveling. The rainbow, now having been caught by the camera, continued to shimmer, as if beckoning us further and further along the road. As we traveled on, a river wound its way along the road with us – the Abhainn an t’Sratha Charnaig. I’ve looked up the words and all I can get is Abhainn is river, an is the, t’sratha is wide. Charnaig doesn’t appear to have a translation. Name or not, it was so wild and wonderful – deep blue almost black water, winding and curling around the landscape.

Brae Cottage
As we moved along, with the Abhainn an t’Sratha Charnaig and several sheep as traveling companions, we came upon an isolated little cottage. It appeared to be uninhabited, but I am unsure of this. It may serve as a bothy for walkers. While there were no signs, research revealed that is called Brae Cottage – brae meaning steep bank or hillside. As you can see from this beautiful image Chris captured, while its human occupants may or may not exist, it is certainly not without the four-footed, wooly inhabitants. I was so glad Chris captured the sheep in the photograph.

Abhainn an t'Sratha Charnaig
Still the rainbow beckoned us forward, and soon we saw the hill, appropriately named “The Mound”, that sits on the banks of Loch Fleet. We were nearing the end of our drive. But we would continue to enjoy the babbling of Abhainn an t’Sratha Charnaig for several miles still. The river ran deeper and deeper into the earth as the road rose higher and higher, until the river was at the bottom of a deep gorge beside the road. Ancient trees, some moss covered and all reaching amongst themselves like the gnarled fingers of an ancient sage, grew wildly on the banks of the river. There was such a strong sense of the earth’s spirit here. I feel such a connection to the earth in these places – as if my very existence is just like that of a small insect in the great scheme of things. These old trees stood long before I existed and will stand long after I am gone. How many generations have these trees witnessed, walking and driving through this incredibly unspoilt wilderness?


We drove on and began to notice the widening of the road and the occasional house here and there and then, before we knew it, we were at the side of the A9, ready to turn back to the bridge over the Dornock and back home again. But what a stunning landscape we had seen – what an incredibly wild and uplifting environment we had become part of, even if just for a moment in time. This is why I love Scotland and why I love the Highlands so much – because they put everything into perspective for me. It is here that I can appreciate and understand how little significance there is to my life or anyone else’s when you look at the big picture. We are guests in this world – we are visitors who must regard and revere the beauty that has nothing at all to do with us. The beauty we cannot create and should not destroy.


Ancient moss-covered branches over the Abhainn an t'Sratha Charnaig

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another Friday, another road*

Friday was a fairly nice day – soft sunlight sparkling through the clouds (and the occasional rainfall). We thought it might be nice to get out on the road and head in yet another direction. Chris wanted to head southwest of Inverness, to drool over some camera lens at a shop called Ffordes just outside Beauly and I knew that on the first floor of the small building is a café and gallery.  So, we got on the road about 1ish and headed south.

We passed by the span of beach where the seals usually congregate and we were not disappointed to see a large group on the beach. Unfortunately, they congregate too far from a parking area so we weren’t able to get any photos. We also saw several herons on the beach – beautiful birds standing on long thin legs above the gathered seaweed, stone and driftwood. (Chris has since been informed by the salesman at Ffordes that there is a place from which the seals are very visible and photograph-able, so we will try that another time).  We looked at the hills and saw that the tallest were wearing a layer of snow on their peaks. Winter is coming and this early snowfall on the hills was both predicted and expected.

We continued on our way, through Dingwall, Maryburgh and Muir of Ord. The areas are very green and leafy – lots of trees lining the roads and some remarkable old Victorian buildings scattered among the new builds that have popped up as Inverness has grown. We soon found ourselves on that familiar stretch of tree-lined road and saw the houses of Beauly ahead. Ffordes is located on the other side of Beauly, towards Cannick, and so we slowly drove through the town, admiring, as always, the quaint buildings and the large centre called House of Beauly. While we didn’t stop there this time, we have in the past and it is wonderful place full of little shops that offer everything from kilts to whisky glasses. While somewhat aimed at the tourist, it is high-end merchandise and very nice.

As we drove out of Beauly, we soon came to the old church that houses Ffordes and the gallery/café. Called the Kirk, it is a charming place and we have been there many times before for Chris’ fix of what I laughingly refer to as “camera porn.” He went upstairs and I settled into a comfortable sofa downstairs after attempting to walk around and see the offerings in the gallery. Chris appeared, eyes glazed with that look of having seen lovely camera bits and pieces, and we had a cream tea and a chat with the waitress.

We returned to our car to check the maps and decided to continue south to Cannick. This route took us along a beautiful narrow road, canopied by ancient trees. While some of the trees are wearing their autumn colours, many remain green as the weather has been completely unpredictable and the leaves are not changing as much as might be expected by this time of year. A river running by the road bubbled over stones from time to time, creating that gentle sound, so audible in the quiet stillness of the countryside. When we arrived at Cannick, we took the high road back to Beauly – climbing higher and higher until we could see the hills of the Great Glen in the distance. The sun was beginning its afternoon descent and the colour of the sky and the light on the hills were stunning.

Our trip ended with the necessary stop at the grocery store and petrol station and then home again. (I apologise for the lack of photographs, but Chris discovered that he had not reset his camera after a photo shoot of my jewellery. But I promise more photographs next week.)

So, another Friday of exploring our surroundings, discovering new places, reacquainting ourselves with places we know. When I spoke to my dear mother-in-law this morning, she was relieved when I said that this would probably be it as far as addresses go. No more wandering from place to place. We have found our home.


*With apologies to Cole Porter – now I have that song “Another Opening, Another Show” from "Kiss Me Kate" stuck in my head!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Friday outing...


Moss-covered walls in the woods
On Friday afternoon, we decided to take advantage of the relatively fine weather (some sun and little rain) and go for a drive north. (A friend commented, "How much farther north can you go?" Answer: 90 miles to John O' Groats.) So we got on the A9, after checking out the local petrol station, and headed north. We crossed the bridge at the Dornoch Firth (lovely view normally, but a bit bland on Friday) and headed up towards the town of Golspie. That was going to be the point at which we would turn around, but I found a lovely little backroad circuit we could drive that would put us back on the A9 just about 5 miles or so north of Golspie. The drive from the Dornoch Firth to Golspie was lovely - leafy and green, for the most part, but with some of the trees beginning to show their autumn colours. Once we were beyond Dornoch, Loch Fleet appeared to the east. It is lovely tidal loch with active estuaries during low tide - we often see seals or herons in the muddy flats left behind by the receding sea. (And I promise we will get a photo of the seals on one of our next ventures out.) As we approached Golspie, we saw the usual mix of stone buldings and Victorian architecture. A huge building on the west side of the A9 was signposted as a Highland Council office - we were no longer in our country of Ross-shire or Ross and Cromarty and had now passed into Sutherland.


The woods and green fields opened to a wide glen

 
As we passed through the northern part of Golspie, I saw a sign that directed us to "Backies" - this would be the road we would take us around the back of the A9 for what appeared on the map as about 9 miles. The first part of the road was bordered by trees - thick green, aged. The road was lined by a moss-covered stone wall. There is something about woods that moves me. I feel that trees are living, breathing spirits and no one convince me otherwise. Chris stopped the car to get some photographs and I enjoyed sitting in the car with the window open so I could hear the sounds of the woods - the birds, the insects, the breeze rustling through the trees. The leaves, some falling to the ground, made that lovely autumnal sound of dying leaves caught up on the breeze. And there was that wonderful smell of leaves, lying in the road, colourful and crisp.  When Chris returned, we went forward to see a fairly green and wooded area, dotted here and there by cottages. But as we progressed, the road opened up to more hilly landscapes, covered with bracken and heather. The sheep were grazing in the fields as the sky, cloudy and deep, began to send down gentle drops of rain. Chris was able to get this lovely shot as we entered the barren area. Slowly, we drove along the single-track road, wary of sheep and other cars. It seemed as if we were driving forever. The turbines of wind farm appeared to our right and as we rounded a bend in the road, we were greeted with the vision of a small loch just catching the sun as it set lower in the early evening sky. The water of the little stream leading to the loch seemed to be liquid sunlight and tender green reeds peeked through the surface of the loch. The loch was called Farlory and the area has many hut circles and mounds from the ancient peoples who lived there. The gentle drizzle continued, but could not affect our delight at the landscapes before us. Driving farther still, we came to a bend in the road where our view looking north west was stunning. A line of trees in autumnal dress opened up to a glen that reached forever - hills upon hills rising up from the centre and the sun showing low in the sky. There were no sounds and no people to be seen. Just this beautiful, very Scottish scene.



Liquid sunshine at Loch Farlory
Still we drove on, thinking the map to be misleading or the roads to have changed since the map was published. Soon, beside the road, the River Brora appeared, snaking through the countryside, through glens and along hillsides, opening up into wide areas of even terrain, with stream-smoothed stones on the banks. The River Brora gave way to Loch Brora and we saw many anglers on its banks and in small canoes in the midst of the loch bordered on one side by a high hill with a rockface. The light was so beautiful, but we saw that the time was marching on and we didn't want to be in such unfamiliar surroundings if the night fell. Onward to Brora and back onto the A9 for the return journey home. From Brora to Golspie, our route took us along the coast of the North Sea, hazy and blue grey. As we approached Golspie once more, we saw the spires and turrets of Dunrobin Castle on the sea's banks. Once more the land became more agricultural - fields of hay and sheep and cows. Back across the Dornoch Firth and down the road to Tain and then home. As Chris said, this may be our new "recharge" route - the drive we like to take when it is time to get away from people and buildings and just commune with the wild and barren countryside. It was magical and I know we will drive this way again and again.

Beautiful glen looking north on the final leg of our journey

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A long-awaited journey...

Salmon jumping at the Falls of Shinn
Yesterday, despite the somewhat cloudy skies, we decided to take a drive north. Not far – we only intended to go to the Falls of Shinn (about 25 miles north). Unfortunately, my knees prevented me from seeing the falls themselves, but I could hear them and share in the fun with Chris’ photographs. It was so lovely seeing him appear from the walkway (when I get myself a wheelchair, I will be able to see them, as it is disabled accessible). He had that wonderful grin I haven’t seen in such a long time. As he walked toward the car, I could see the smile get wider and wider. He told me how the falls were amazing in and of themselves, but it just happened that we were there when the salmon were jumping! I’m not sure if you can make out the lone determined salmon on this photograph (just up and slightly left of the centre of the photograph), but Chris was in awe of the whole process. He said that several of them would jump the falls, only to be washed down again where they were try once again and again and until they succeeded. Isn’t nature fantastic? We shall be going back again and it will be on the list of places to take any guests (along with the trips to whisky distilleries, of course). We are so blessed to be an area of such unspoiled beauty and as our trip continued, we realised that we are such a short distance from all the places we love.

From the Falls of Shinn, we decided to head northwest. This would take us back to our beloved Assynt. This was the place I dreamed of seeing again - a place that touches me nearly as deeply as Glencoe. There is such beauty there - with the loch and the wild landscapes that surround it. To get there, we traveled along a road we had not traveled on before (and those roads we have not driven are few and far between). We traveled on a single track road for most of the journey, watching the Shinn, Casslley, and the Oykel rivers meander through the landscapes, keeping pace with the car. The heavily wooded area slowly gave way to more barren landscapes. A small lochan would appear through the mist from time to time and I would use it to chart our place on the map.

We finally made it to the intersection at Elphin – Assynt was so close now. The sign gave us the option of following straight to Lochinver or to the left and Ullapool.  How many times we have come to stop at this intersection, deciding which way to travel. The rain and mist had become much worse, but nothing could dampen our spirits as we made our way west. The old hotel at Inchnadamph, at the base of a hill and surrounded by moors and fields on which we have often seen deer, appeared and we knew we were close. Then, as we rounded a small curve in the road, there was Castle Ardvreck before us, looking grey and mysterious, standing alone, because the high mountains bordering the loch couldn’t be seen for the mist. I could do nothing more than just look and be grateful that we were here again. There was a time that I feared our memories of Castle Ardvreck and the loch and the highlands would have to be a dream or memory. But we made it back. We are here and it is more than wonderful. We stopped the car and I opened my window. The rain came in but I wanted to see Ardvreck without the droplets that appeared on the car window. I took a deep breath and felt the pure air fill my lungs. Grateful, just so very, very grateful.


Tree island in Loch Assynt

The weather meant it was not a day for capturing Ardvreck in a photograph - the grey and mist would not capture the magic of the castle. Instead, I asked Chris to please take a photograph of one of Loch Assynt’s several tree islands. With the mist and rain, they looked more lonely than usual and we stopped to capture the image. My heart was just so full of happiness. It was all as we had left it and it was such a very welcome sight. These tree islands are so magical. I can't wait until a bright winter day to make the journey and capture them as we have before. The trunks of the trees go white in the winter, with knarled branches, like crooked fingers, reaching out and up.

Stac Pollaidh through the mist
With the weather becoming more misty and grey, we decided to return home by traveling first to Ullapool and then the road to Inverness – two lanes for most of the journey. We returned to that familiar junction and started our way south though some of the most spectacular landscapes in the area. As the mist and fog thickened and the mist gave way to steady rain, the magnificence of the area was not at its best. The sense of overwhelming space was not there, crowded, as it was, by the mist. But it was still so lovely to see. We stopped along the way to just take it in. Stac Pollaidh could just be scene through the mist, her peak being the only one not obscured by the fog. We looked south to see one of the island ferries making its way to Ullapool. We drove the winding road down to Ardmair Bay - a lovely spot in any weather. A short stop to gaze at the bay with its islands before us and the hills behind us and we moved on once more, toward the town of Ullapool, hugging the natural port on Loch Broom. It was quiet with few people out and about - a far cry from Ullapool in summer - with crowds of tourists and campers. But even in this quiet state, it was so good to see.


We headed out of Ullapool, up and up through thick woods and countryside dotted with cottages and farms. The hills were tall beside us and before us. Plentiful falls cascaded down the hills and the fertile green gave way to the barren land, decorated only with lochans and tufts of purple blooming heather.  At one point, we passed a parking area to the left and Chris immediately recognised the caravans there as belonging to some friends of ours. Thank goodness no one was behind us, as Chris made a sudden stop and then backed the car the 100 or so feet until we got to the parking area. How wonderful to see our friends again. They live such a wonderful life – so very free and at one with nature. He is a Scotsman and proud of his country and the life he and his wife have made for themselves. He is a blogger and film-maker. You can read about his adventures at http://theblackbuscompany.blogspot.com. We hope to hook up with them again very soon. (We also saw another friend this past week. Andy, Mel and Carrie all became our friends through a wonderful forum here in the UK – it’s so nice when virtual friends become real friends!)

The wild countryside soon gave way to civilisation and our final leg home included a stop at the grocery store to lay in some food for the coming week.

It’s good here – it’s very good. I can never think of ever wanting to live anywhere else, ever. We’re home.  Alba ghu braich!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Buileach sonas (Scottish Gaelic for “absolute contentment”)…

I am not sure even how to start this blog. We are in our new home and it is wonderful. (The only thing missing is a cat, but we will be adding a feline member to the family by mid-October.) I am still pinching myself that this is all real.  The apartment is perfect, the setting is perfect, I seriously haven’t found one thing to complain about. It is exactly where we should be.

The trip up here proved that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Despite my having to hold an empty stew pot the whole way, everything else somehow found a place. The car was not in imminent danger of scraping the road, but it was close. We drove up, taking our time and enjoying the scenery through the Cairngorms, and arrived in Inverness in the afternoon and stopped for a late lunch around 4pm. We then made our way to the apartment, where we met our landlord and got the keys from him; he gave us the tour and a briefing on all the little idiosyncrasies of the place. Chris unpacked a bit and we made our way to the B&B at Dornoch. Having been greeted by our hosts, we went to our room and had a lovely, relaxing evening watching the television and eating leftover pizza from lunch in preparation for our official move-in day. Thursday we got up at 8:30 and had our lovely full Scottish breakfast at the B&B (I love haggis – I just don’t think about what it is). We drove here, opened the door, Chris unpacked and we started on the relatively simple task of putting stuff away.

The place is perfect for us. The living room, with the opening to the kitchen and the dining area sitting beneath the opening, is wonderful. One of the things we bought for the new place was an Ikea lamp I fell in love with years ago. It is a large floor lamp that arcs over with a large paper lantern shade. It is now sitting in the corner, with the light above the dining table. It looks perfect. Our little study/studio is darling. Our landlord had a bookshelf for us and it is in the study now, holding the boxes of my completed pieces. I have a little desk (the landlord gave us all the furniture, with the exception of two pieces he would like back). Our casement windows are deep (more than one foot) with the eight separate lights in each half of the window. I went into the study to make some jewellery and opened the window. So peaceful – just the sounds of the birds in the woods opposite. I will get Chris to take some photos to include in next week’s blog.

Saturday morning a lady from Gairloch came over to see my jewellery and picked out a beautiful pendant for her daughter’s 40th birthday. She was so kind and very encouraging. She is going to email me information about the craft fairs they do where she lives (basically the other side of this area – we are in what is called Easter Ross and she is in Wester Ross). There are going to be so many opportunities for Chris and me to make a real living with our arts. 

Saturday afternoon, we did a 21-mile drive north of here. How wonderful to see road signs leading to our favourite places. And the area here is lovely, too. We are on the Cromarty Firth and as we drive south, through Invergordon, even the industry on the firth looks nice. The skies here are so huge and blue. We’ve seen a rainbow nearly every day since we’ve been here. Magical.

On Sunday morning, our bed was delivered. We had been sleeping in the guest room, which was quite comfy, but we were anxious to get our bed and it was worth the wait. We slept it in it that night and discovered that the room was actually too dark. We have a small light from a charger now and that seems adequate to give the room enough light so we don’t feel disoriented if we get up during the night.

We’ve now registered with the doctors and will be going into town to speak with someone at the council office about some forms we need to fill in. But the bottom line, we are just so happy to be here. To be home, because it most certainly is. We feel that we are where we should be. Peaceful, quiet, inspiring with everything we could ever hope for or need (other than all our children moving to the immediate area, of course). 

It is hard to put how I feel into words. It truly is. I just feel that after 55 years and nearly thirty addresses in the course of my adult years, I am finally where I should be. I am still in somewhat of daze, just trying to take it all in. We are meeting lovely people and feeling very welcomed. It is going to be good here. It is going to be the home we have sought for so long.  Happiness and, as the title says, buileach sonas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tomorrow...

Tomorrow we pack the car (hopefully everything will fit in), lock up this place and head north. We have been dreaming this dream for so long, it is almost as if everything is in this ethereal haze right now. I still can’t believe it is happening. Tomorrow we get on the road and open the first page to the next chapter of our lives. The signs are good. On Saturday I will be welcoming our first visitor to our new place – a woman who contacted me about my jewellery and would like to see it in “real life” before purchasing for a very special occasion. Note to self: unpack the jewellery before Saturday.

So, anticipating that the next week will be busy, I thought it best to write this week’s blog today. Chris is at an appointment right now, but will make his way back after stopping at one of the hardware superstores to buy an hexagonal key set. Our only furniture consists of two Ikea bedside tables which require an allen key in order to take them apart so we can fit them (and everything else) in the back of the car. Once he is back here, we are hoping our tenancy support officer is able to stop by to say goodbye to us. She’s been lovely – so helpful and she even commissioned me to make a bangle for her daughter. I think that was providing support above and beyond the call of duty. We are grateful to her for all her help and support over the last three months. She made what could have been such a demoralising situation less so. Along with her colleagues in the housing department of the local council, our situation since May has been one of little trouble or worry.

Tonight we take Caroline, Andy and Catherine to dinner to say farewell. As I wrote in my last blog, I am going to miss them so much. But we will see them frequently as I am sure they will come see us as often as they can. The guestroom will be ready for them and for anyone else who would care to visit.

The next week will be all about settling in, stocking up cupboards and the fridge, getting to know our new home and the local environs. Our first trip to the far northwest? I predict it happens before we have been in the new place 10 days – possibly even well before that. I can’t imagine we will be able to stay away when it is right there – within an hour’s drive. The skies are that lovely autumnal blue now and the light is soft and golden. The photographs that will come from our drives will be amazing. I am looking forward to stopping at that viewpoint on the B869 that allows us to the see the munros across the horizon. I can't wait to see Suilven and Stac Pollaidh, to visit Ullapool and Torridon, to see the sheep on the hills, dwarfed by the magnitude of the surrounding landscapes, to feel once again so closely connected with the earth and the elements. As I said to a friend, if this is a dream, please just let me keep on sleeping.

So, my dear ones, wish us luck as we pack up tomorrow (I really am quite nervous about the size of our combined belongings in comparison to the size of the back of the car) and get on the road that leads to our realising a goal we set for ourselves five years ago.

Until next week, a h-uile la sona dhuibh ‘s gun la idir dona dhuibh!  (May all your days be happy days.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Living the dream - one week to go

The run-up to the dream has not been without detours. Last week Chris had three teeth extracted. He was sent home without antibiotics to take (they put some topical antibiotics on the sockets) and this resulted in two out of the three becoming infected. A trip to the emergency dentist on Saturday resulted in the infection continuing (still no antibiotics), but a trip to our own dentist on Monday resulted in a prescription for antibiotics and the resulting improvement of Chris’ oral health. It has been a real roller coaster for both of us. Happily, he is on the mend and we are moving forward with our preparations for the move.

The extra bedroom – which used to feature Disney princess bed linens for Catherine – is now the storage room and we are hoping the volume of items in there equals the available volume in the back of our car. Fortunately, the Honda Jazz has a very sizeable hatch/boot and, with the backseats down, we should be all right. As I’ve said before, we are experts at moving!

The bed is now scheduled to be delivered on the 18th (Sunday). As there is a small double bed in the apartment already, we will make do until our new superking bed arrives. We have purchased the other items necessary with the exception of some small kitchen appliances and a freezer, but those will be picked up once we are in the apartment.

So, our schedule until we move is now just a short list of tasks. We must finish packing, have our doctor here provide us with repeats on our prescriptions to hold us until we secure at doctor up north, and then say our goodbyes. We are taking Caroline, Andy, and Catherine to dinner the night before we leave. We have discovered a fairly good Mexican restaurant in nearby Dunfermline, so we will say our goodbyes over enchiladas and bottles of Corona.

Catherine asleep on her
comfy Nana
Yesterday, we took care of Catherine for the last time. She hadn’t had a nap prior to coming to us, so we fed her some lunch and watched some DVDs of her favourite cartoons (Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Magic Kingdom). There was some fussing as tiredness set in and she fell asleep with her head on Chris’ shoulder as he stood with her in his arms, gently rocking her. He then transferred her to me, where she continued to sleep for about a half hour. It was heaven. It was a lovely day - we picked up Caroline from the bus at Leven and brought her back here and we fed both of them supper since Andy was working late. Catherine wanted to play games, including her version of Hide 'n Seek, which includes her covering her eyes (with fingers splayed to defeat the purpose of covering her eyes) and counting. Her counting is so funny; she says, "One...two....four...chicken."  We are sure "chicken" is actually "six", but it sounds like chicken and Caroline, Chris and I were nearly breathless with laughter. The more we laughed, the more she laughed. It was priceless. I shall miss both my girls so much, but at least we are all in the same country and a visit to or from them involves a reasonably short trip of only about 240 miles roundtrip. We hope visits will be frequent and happy.

Today, we are getting last bits and bobs (still need a set of pillowcases) and tomorrow I have my hair cut.  Women who read this blog will understand it when I say that finding the perfect hairdresser once we are settled is imperative! Before we know it , the weekend will be here – our last weekend in Buckhaven. Elated may be the correct word to use.

So, think of us as we finish our packing and praying that it all fits; smile for us as we prepare for the journey we have dreamed of; and feel the bittersweet goodbye we will have when saying “see you later” to Caroline, Andy and precious Catherine.

The moment we have dreamed of is so close now. We can reach out and touch it if we try. The brass ring is within our grasp and in one week’s time we will be on the road north to our new home. A home we have dreamed of and wished for since we first knew that we would be together and marry not only each other but our dreams of life in the Highlands. Business opportunities are already making themselves known and we are sure that this is the move of a lifetime.

My blog will be short and sweet next Wednesday, as I will not have time to write more than a paragraph. But stand by for the blog on 21 September – for surely that will be one full of joy and fulfilled hopes and dreams.