Monday, January 30, 2012

To the beautiful west and back again...

I am sorry it has been so long since my last post (not counting the Irresistibly Sweet Blog post). We have not done very much traveling. Add to that the new pains meds my doctor prescribed. Within 24 hours they had turned me into the walking dead. Forgetful…yes! Lethargic…yes! More painfree…no! So, without doctor’s consent or consultation, I have forthwith removed myself from said zombie-producing drug and hope to be my old self again. And, we have been on the road again with beautiful photos from Chris’ talented eye to accompany the words.

Back in December, we met a delightful woman at the Christmas Gairloch Market. A photographer with a free and easy approach to life, she piqued Chris’ curiosity and seeing her sell well at the market made him more determined to get back to taking more photographs and getting his website moving again. (It is down for maintenance right now as we have some adjusting of prices and sizing to do. It will be back up and running again very soon and I encourage you to check it out. You will find a link to the right of this blog.)

This past Thursday, Chris and I (lethargic and addle-brained) took a trip to Gairloch to meet up with Lizzii (the woman from the market) and to listen to her advice on selling photography. We went by way of Garve, taking the turn towards Achnasheen and the road that takes us beside Loch Maree once more. It was lovely – lots of snow on the hilltops and whispy clouds in the sky. It looked much different than last time – I suppose that is the magic of the Highlands; every day the light hits just a little differently and the hills take on new shapes and you notice furrows and hillocks you hadn’t noticed before. We met at The Sheiling (translation: shepherd's hut) and enjoyed coffee while reclining on huge leather sofas in a room with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the sea. Lizzii shared her philosophy about her art with us. Her attitude is amazing…and contagious. We so enjoyed our time with her, as much as we enjoyed the trip there and back.

The Torridon Hills from
 Loch Tollaidh
Upon leaving Gairloch, we decided to follow the northern route, toward Ullapool, for our journey back. We had not driven this road for over five years and we looked at it differently now. We had a greater appreciation for the beauty of the place – knowing that it is, for all intents and purposes, at our back door. For now. We really do want to move to this part of Scotland but know, as things have happened before, that the time and place will make itself known to us when it is time to make a final move to the place we will never want to leave.

Sunset near Fain
Our trip out of Gairloch took us to the road to Poolewe and through areas of barren land and lochs and amazing views of the snow-covered hills in the distance. We drove the narrow road that took us alongside Loch Tollaidh and were rendered almost breathless with the view of the Torridon hills. We passed by Gruinard Bay and stopped to breathe in the clean, cold air. We continued along, detouring quickly into Aultbea so we could see where the market is held (extra sweaters and scarves will be needed) and then back again onto the road that would lead us to Little Loch Broom, up to Braemore Station and on the road back to our home in the mill.

Snowfall at Loch Glascanoch
The hills, the light and the sudden appearance of snow – each and every vista was new and breathtaking. No matter how long we live here (and we will until it is time to scatter ashes in the hills), I don’t think we will ever look at the scenery and find ourselves complacent. How could you ever be complacent about seeing so much unspoiled scenery? I feel as if I can be anywhere in time when I look at these landscapes, for there is little evidence that man even exists.

The forecasts for the week ahead look good and I feel sure that a trip to Skye or the far northwest corner will be in our plans for the time ahead. I long to go up the road to Kinlochbervie and Oldshoremore. To cross the bridge at Kylesku and perhaps follow the coastal road that runs along the northern tip of Scotland. I want to see the sea from the Waternish peninsula on Skye, the fields of Highland cattle and the twinkling of the sea - to return to these places and to know that we will not be nor will ever be disappointed.

Our spring will include a return to the States for two weeks at the end of March, beginning of April. The homesickness we felt for Scotland while living in the States was far greater than what we will feel this spring, but we will be homesick. Never has a place beckoned me so…never has a place so felt like home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gosh, I'm irresistible!

A wonderful writer, who writes an equally wonderful blog, has passed on the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award! I don't think I've won an award since my school days and I thank Deborah Barker, she of Living Between the Lines, for this lovely honour. I am embarrassed it comes after many weeks of non-blogging. Truth is, the weather has not been fabulous for road trips or photographs. I am quite sure the blogs I have written that are not about the Hills and Heather of my blog's title would be of far less interest than those that talk about the beautiful world in which I live. But, in a way, I am glad the award has spurned me to write. I have been so busy with the administration of my little business (Ailleas Designs), I have had little time to do anything else. Indeed, the business is quickly taking up even more time as the new year of markets and fairs is already underway. I shall be participating in no fewer than four a month starting next month. Thank goodness my wonderful Chris is there to help with the physical part of the job. My strength lies in chatting with customers and fellow stallholders.
So, the rules of having received an irresistibly sweet blog award are as follows:
  1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
  3. Pass the Award on to some of your own deserving blog friends
  4. Contact those friends and let them know.

I have thanked and linked to Deborah (wouldn't even need to be told to do that - she is a wonderful writer and everyone, I mean everyone, should visit her blog and be enchanted by her writing). Now I have to share seven random facts about myself that you may not have known. This may be harder to do - I'm pretty much a "what you see is what you get" kinda gal. but I shall see what I come up with.

Just as Deborah shared in her blog her own irresistible charms, I shall start with mine. If there is a person who has, shall we say, social challenges (doesn't bathe, drinks too much, lives in a different reality, etc.) they do seem to single me out in the crowd. I'd like to think it's my friendly face, but it probably more my dumb luck. 

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in
"An American in Paris"
I love to watch dancing. When I was younger, I danced all the time. I watched movie musicals over and over again so I could learn the moves. I adored dancing and have been told that I was actually quite good at it. I credit Gene Kelly. When I was little, I was quite an energetic child and my mother found my energy exhausting (my sister and I are only 20 months apart and I still can't imagine the challenges that posed). I never sat still. So, my mother introduced me to musicals. I don't know if it was her hope that I would see dancing and decide to channel by energies that way, but that is what happened. I must have been five or six when I saw "Singing in the Rain" on TV for the first time. I fell in love with the dancing (I also fell in love with Gene Kelly - what a wonderful, smiling charming persona he emanated). After that, I would take all my excess energy and put it to use dancing for hours to my parents' records of classical or modern music or one of their many original Broadway cast albums. And I kept on dancing well into my twenties. When I decided to lose weight my freshman year in college, I would put on a leotard, grab my dinky little portable record-player, grab my "That's Entertainment" soundtrack and walk across campus to what was called the Mirror Room. A large empty room with mirrors making up two opposing walls, it was a room used for dancing and fencing. I would put on the album (side four was my favourite) and I would dance - for an hour or two, I would dance my feet off. I loved to dance to Judy Garland's rendition of "Get Happy" or "Gotta Dance" from "Singing in the Rain." It was wonderful and so liberating - I loved dancing so much and I feel very sad at times that the arthritis that has all but destroyed my right knee and makes my left knee and hips very painful has deprived me of the ability to dance. To this day, my all-time favourite movie is "An American in Paris." 

I want to learn to play the bodhrain (the Irish drum played with a wooden tipper). I have always tapped along to music and I feel sure this would be a way of allowing me to play along. You see, while I was blessed with an incredible sense of rhythm, I was not blessed with a voice that is pleasant to listen to when attempting to sing. In fact, my voice is awful and I often find myself straying far from the melody intended. Yes, a bodhrain will suit me nicely. Just have to find the right one. 

Stray animals always come to me. Years ago when I was living in rural Virginia, several dogs showed up at my house. None were owned, all had been abandoned and they all came to my house. My mother thinks there was a sign, visible only to homeless animals, that said "This Way for Food and Love" and an arrow pointing to my house. I am unapologetically guilty of anthropomorphising. 

Gardner McKay
I am an incurable romantic and have had crushes on handsome "movie stars" from a young age. The first crush I can remember was on Gardner McKay from "Adventures in Paradise." He played a sailor in Tahiti - his character's name was Adam Troy (what an early sixties name for a dreamy leading man). My great teenie bopper crush was on Sajid Khan who starred in the short-lived TV show "Maya" and was the first American teen idol who was Indian and Muslim (what would Homeland Security think of that now). He used to show up on the Saturday morning variety show "Happening" in the late 60s and then disappeared. I had his album - he couldn't sing, but in those days teen idols released albums whether they could sing or not. As an adult, I am very much charmed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Ian McShane. While my greatest knowledge of Patrick Stewart came from "Star Trek: The Next Generation", I had the privilege of seeing him on stage at Stratford-upon-Avon playing a very sexy Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I developed a huge crush on Ian McShane when I started watching "Lovejoy" on A&E back in the States. Love those bedroom eyes. But I am very lucky - as I am now married to my biggest crush of all - my husband, Chris. 

My sister has written of my father's sense of wonder. I think I inherited that from him. No matter how many times I see them, I still get very excited when I see an animal in its own habitat, or a shooting star or a full moon. I am also, like my father, a ridiculous softie who is moved to tears by lines in a movie, lyrics of song, the soft skin of a newborn baby or the sight of a humpback whale breaching (amongst others). Of all of my father's gifts, it is this sense of wonderment that I hold most dear. 

I love artichokes. Of all the vegetables on the planet, I would do nearly anything to have an artichoke. Unfortunately, they are not widely abundant in the UK. Once, years ago when I was living in Devon, I came across three artichokes at the green grocers. They had been ordered in specially for some sort of event. There were three left over. I took them to pay for them. The green grocer was apologetic when he told me they were £1 each. (Little did he know I would have paid £5 each if he had asked.) I took them home, steamed them, melted some butter with lemon juice and my daughter and I sat there eating them with the look of addicts who had just had a fix. 

So, there you are - my seven random facts. Possibly boring, but I hope somewhat amusing. Now, I have to pass on this award to other blogs. Trouble is, I don't know that many bloggers besides Deborah and my sister (to whom Deborah has passed the award, so I can't do that). But I will pass it on to the incomparable C.J. Schlottman, whose "The Red Sweater" is not only charming and beautifully written, but gives you links to her poetry (stunning) and newest blog about internet dating. I hope you will enjoy what she has written. I always do. I am also sharing this award with Bonnie Morrison, a talented actor who was a graduate of Mary Baldwin College, both undergrad and grad. She is an amazing young woman and I love her writing style. So, check out her blog 52 Plays in 52 Weeks. Most of the other blogs I know are related to marketing for transactional websites, so I will leave them as I wouldn't be able to stop if I started naming them. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

First Journey of the New Year

Happy 2012! Chris and I saw in the new year with a glass of Taliskers and wishes that the happiness we have felt over the last three months will continue into 2012 and beyond. Moving to the highlands has proved to be everything we could have wished for. A fabulous landlord and his wife, who are fast becoming favourite friends, and next-door neighbours who are just lovely. Who could ask for anything more? This first month of January sees us running a sale on my jewellery website, attending two markets at the end of the month, and giving Chris' photography business a big push after a year of so of allowing it to sit on the back burner - but no more. An order that came in Christmas Eve was a huge wake-up that we need to do more marketing of his work.

That being said, Chris is still happy to snap photos for me to use on the blog, and today I share some more photographs of our beautiful corner of the world. Having languished at home for several days, without a moment outside, we decided to take ourselves on a drive today and to go farther north on the A9 than we have previously. So, we headed up and made the decision to drive until the sunlight began to fade (this time of year, the sun sets around 4pm). Past the familiar sights of Dornoch and up to Golspie and Brora, we headed farther north with Dunbeath as our destination before turning around and coming back again.

North of Lothmore, looking to the North Sea
Our drive took us through three different counties - Ross & Cromarty (where we live) and then Sutherland and Caithness.  Neither of us had been to Caithness before and we found it to be quite lovely. The elevation appeared to climb as we wound our way along the curving and climbing road. To the right, the North Sea, with white caps and waves crashing onto the shore, looked almost deep violet in the winter light. The hills were a mixture of green and the rust of bracken and heather. Ruined croft houses dotted the landscapes, as did the wooly sheep and Highland cattle. This first photograph is looking toward the sea from just north of Lothmore. We aren't sure what the building in the distance is and we weren't able to get any closer. There were many look-outs built in this area during WWII and it may be that this is the purpose of this building. 

The ridge of Scaraben
As we drove along, we found ourselves closer to the sea, but to our left, the hills rose and rose sharply. Shortly after we entered Caithness, the barrier that closes the road when the snow is too deep appeared, pushed off to the side as the snow from earlier storms had melted. Despite the fact that they were not any taller than the hills around Moffat, where we lived in the south of Scotland, the snow and barren condition of the land nearby made them appeared far taller and foreboding. This is the ridge of Scaraben - with the Cadha a t'Sagairt (the Pass of the Priest) running between the two summits. We were driving along the road in Caithness, but this "hill" is actually located in Sutherland. While there wasn't time today, we are hopeful to get back as there is a narrow road that travels up to the hills. What a lovely hill and all the more lovely with the white of the snow along the ridge, like a backbone for the land.

The road down and into Berriesdale
There are few roads that frighten me. Having twice endured the drive of the Bealach na ba on the west coast  (once as a driver, the other as a passenger), I didn't think any road could make me a bit uneasy. But the A9 between Berriesdale and Dunbeath had some fairly twisty, high bits that appeared to drop straight into the sea. On our way back (with our car now on the side nearest the drop), I had to ask Chris to drive a bit more slowly. We descended the hills until we were once again in the flatter land of Sutherland, heading toward Ross & Cromarty and home.  Loch Fleet, just north of Dornoch, was swollen and the freshwater lagoon that sits just inland of the loch was full to brimming. We stopped to read about the area and hope to return sometime when we can enjoy the views and, hopefully, see some of the wildlife that are abundant in the area - ospreys and otters amongst them. 

The tide, which had been out on our outward part of the journey, leaving the sands and ancients tree stumps of the Dornoch Firth exposed, had come in again and as we drove over the bridge connecting Sutherland to Ross & Cromarty, we were reminded once more of the incredible beauty this area has to offer. While our hearts are in the west, for now, we will enjoy our time in the softer and gentler east. But we both feel that need to see the west coast again and are already planning our next car journey. Skye, Plockton, the Kyle of Lochalsh and Gairloch will soon be our destinations for a day or weekend's trip. We are so very, very lucky and blessed to be here.