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.