Monday, February 28, 2011

Hie on the Hielands

Monday, Feb. 28th

I took a walk.

The scenery here rather warrants more exploration than back in Nebraska, and here you can actually walk places instead of having to drive. Places like the library, the shoreline, the post office, even Church. So I've certainly been doing more walking than usual.

This morning I walked up the hill to the south of Helmsdale, since the map said there was a path into the hills in that area. So I walked up and up and up. The view down to the sea and nearby hills was beautiful. We've had very nice weather so far. I did reach the footpath after a few twists and turns, and once I got past the gate I was truly in the hills.

I didn't want to come back the way I came, so to make things interesting I decided to walk off the path(taking comfort that there's only one poisonous snake native to Scotland and the monument for the last wolf killed is down the road) and down and around the hill to the highway that runs past the cemetery. Now, the hills are covered in bracken, which ranges from ankle to knee high. I also discovered that the hills are wet. Wet all over. There were miniature streams running down to a creek all over the face of the hills, but my boots held up pretty well. Anyway, it took me a long time to get to the other side of the hill and then down it once I got off the path, and when I got to the bottom I had to climb over a fence. Everything is fenced in here! Over the fence was the railway, and beyond that was the river, so I had to walk on the rail a ways(which is more risky here than in Nebraska) to get to the road which turned out to be the right one but still a long ways from the cemetery and thus the manse.

I'm not used to hills. I'm not used to walking long distances. I'm not used to walking up hills for long distances. No doubt tomorrow morning my legs will be stiff and unmovable. I won't be doing it again but I am glad I did it. Imagine two hundred and fifty years ago when my Scottish ancestors lived in this country and had to walk the hills like that. Completely quiet and solitary, and utterly brown. No wonder the Scots are famously dour.

Saturday, Feb. 26th

Mr. and Mrs. W and I took a walk along the coastline, looking for fossils and shells(the Helmsdale beach is supposedly famed for it's fossils). None of us found anything spectacular. The shore was made up of large rocks, and getting back to the road was quite the adventure. We climbed over heaps of rotting seaweed covered with gnats, halfway up a steep hill by a little waterfall and then back down, over muddy areas, past ruins of an old stone house, up a hill, past a farm and onto the highway. And we visited a little cemetery on the way too.

The stream down to the ocean had made the cemetery almost an island. I managed not to get too dirty, but I did get stuck and scratched by brambles. It was a very beautiful view, but sadly there was a great deal of trash along the trail and the shoreline.

It wore me out. We walked roughly three miles up an over and down.

Saturday evening we were scheduled to attend a ceilidh in Brora. Now, we learned about this event when asking the librarian about dance events, so naturally we all assumed there would be dancing. It turned out there was no dancing. We arrived at the Royal Marine Hotel to discover a packed room listening to a group of musicians.

To drown our sorrows, we decided to have dessert in the hotel. I had dark chocolate mousse, which was basically like two big truffles. As we were sitting there eating our disappointment away, the ceilidh ended and all the musicians, mostly high school students, poured into the hotel lobby and started an impromptu jam session right in front of us(literally, we could not get out). They were really good. There had to be nearly thirty musicians, and at least ten of those were on fiddle, all playing the same tune with no sheet music in sight.

Mr. W enjoying the music.
It was a neat bit of culture right in front of us, even if we didn't get to dance.

Inverness and Culloden

We left the manse around 8:15am for the hour and a half drive to Inverness, the closest “civilized” city. Helmsdale and Brora are all very well, but there's not much in them. The drive is mostly along the coastline and very curvy. Travel by boat used to be most common along the coast for that reason, and even now it would be faster to travel by boat, but these days everyone has a car so that isn't an option. When we climbed Helmsdale Rock the other day we could see the more southern coast of Scotland across the water.

Anyway, we got there. We first went to Culloden battlefield and museum on the outskirts of Inverness. The museum is well done and informative. The number of deaths in such a short timespan(an estimated 7,000 in 3 minutes) is staggering. It's very sobering- as are all battlefields. I'll admit I'm (slightly) biased on the part of the Scots, and I have to wonder, why were the Jacobites so badly defeated? As with all happenings there must be a providential reason. We came up with a few possibilities:

  • (My Catholic followers should skip this one) Bonnie Prince Charlie was Catholic. Would Scotland have become a Catholic nation under his rule and hindered the Presbyterian movement? And were the Jacobites truly a good representation for the Scottish people? (There were Scots fighting on both sides of the conflict.)

  • Would the Prince have been a competent leader? Obviously he must have had some sort of charisma, but he ended badly and showed poor strategic military judgment. English blockades stopped French supplies from reaching the Jacobite army. A night march and failed surprise attack in the rain exhausted the Jacobite forces right before the action at Culloden. It would be easy to view these happenings as tragic mishaps, but they're not. This is Providence in action. After the battle, Charles fled and after being disguised as a woman reached France, where he died an alcoholic. I think it's safe to say the the Bonnie Prince was not God's chosen model for Scottish leadership.

  • The sufferings imposed on the Scots following the battle caused many to immigrate to America. I am firmly convinced the Scots population of Colonial America contributed heavily to the victory of American Independence, not to mention the spread of Reformed Christianity throughout the new country.

After walking through the museum we stepped out onto the battlefield, where the positions of the government and Jacobite armies were marked with blue and red flags. It was WINDY. We took a picture and went back inside.


The Marchioness at Culloden Battlefield.

I thought the museum was well done. It did a good job of not being horribly prejudiced on either side. There were two re-enactors there, and I have to say I thought their clothes were not at all up to parr. No stays!


Old High Church

After lunch we drove into Inveress and made use of the public transportation system: our legs. We completely wore them out. We walked to the Old High Church and attached churchyard, where the remaining wounded Jacobites from Culloden had been shot.

We walked to the Art and history museum(FREE! Donations requested). It was a very family-friendly museum.

We then walked to a second-hand bookstore full to the top of old books(very tempting, but I didn't buy any). In desperation to find somewhere, anywhere with internet we walked another ten miles(well, maybe not quite that much) to a coffee shop which then closed at 6pm at which time we walked(crawled, staggered, hobbled) back to our car. Scotland has no nightlife.



 We had dinner that night at an Indian restaurant in Brora, a nice place. The W's aren't the type of people who patronize McDonald's, like a certain family who will remain unnamed. I'd ever had Indian food before: Nebraska isn't exactly known for it's Indian population except in the case of medical workers. It was good food. I ordered prawn in a cream sauce, and it turned out to be very sweet. The W's also ordered several appetizers so I got to try several different dishes. Apparently we weren't meant to take our leftovers home with us, so the staff got a bit huffy when we asked.
We finally have internet at the manse, so I've gone back added pictures to all the posts that didn't have any.

This is the Helmsdale Free Church. It used to be the Police station, so the local joke is that it went from law to grace. Mr. W will be preaching here for the next three weeks, morning and evening.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Days Past

Tuesday 22nd

There's been some difficulty with the Church's car insurance. Apparently the insurance company is absolutely convinced that Americans are only qualified to drive automatics, and never stick-shifts. So while we were supposed to get the car today, we still have the rental vehicle and I'm not sure when we'll get the car.

In the afternoon we drove twenty miles or so to a Broch, which is a ancient structure(or rather ruins of an ancient structure) that acted as fortification against the Vikings.

This particular broch had part of the circular wall remaining, high up on a hill overlooking an inlet in the sea. The weather was beautiful and we had fun imagining times past.

Yours truly in the Broch doorway. It was just my size.

Wednesday 23rd

Rain is in the forecast. A quiet day at home. We walked up “Helmsdale Rock”(i.e. Hill). It was a vigourous walk up a slippery slope and then down again on the other side. At the top there was a good view and a flagless flagpole.

Helmsdale from above.

The suburbs of Helmsdale.

Nearing sunset.

Thursday 24th

Still no car. The tide was out at 9:45 this morning, so I walked to the beach and viewed the waters. The shells here are very small due to being smashed against the rocks. The rocks themselves are very pretty and varied in color and pattern. I wasn't kidding when I said all my family members were getting rocks for souvenirs(Hey, I have a big family and not much money!).

In the afternoon we drove to Brora to see the town and try to get internet. There is no internet in Brora. I am frustrated with the internet situation. Trying not to be. We did stop in the Brora library, which is much nicer than the Helmsdale library of which we are members. We were able to check out some books(“Cranford,” “Scottish Kirkyards,” “The Elements of Drawing,” “I never knew that about Scotland.”) and get some info on local events. This Saturday there is a local ceilidh dance with a live band. We are tentatively planning on attending. SO EXCITED.

Tomorrow we are going to Inverness to see Culloden, the art museum, and hopefully a cemetery(joy!).

Braes of Dornoch

Bear in mind that until we get our internet set-up, my internet access is very erratic and I am not able to post pictures. Once we get wifi I'll come back to these posts and add in the appropriate photos.

Monday the 21st
The Miss W's started school while I tidied up my quarters and did a bit of reading myself. Then I walked to the Helmsdale railway station to see the departure times. The station here is unstaffed and fairly small, but there is, for a price, public transportation from Helmsdale.

In the afternoon we all drove down to Dunrobin castle, about thirty miles south along the coast. Dunrobin was an estate of the Duke of Sutherland, who was much disliked because of his part in the Higland Clearances. The castle itself is not open to visitors until April, so we walked around the gardens and the outside of the building. Standing on the portico surrounding the castle one can see out to sea. There are three fountains in the gardens, lots of hedges, fruit trees, and flower plants that weren't yet budding. There were quite a few snowdrops, however. Even without the flowers it was still very pretty.

The back view from below.

A garden from above.

The gate to the sea.

There were several garden ponds.

The clouds were cooperative.

Then we drove to Dornoch and stopped in Dornoch Cathedral. Dornoch Cathedral is a rather confusing mixture of old and new. The original building was built in 1239, but was burned down in 1570. The building was then restored throughout the years at various times starting in 1616.

I wanted to touch something from the earliest part of the church, but not knowing exactly what was what I settled for the sarcophagus of Sir Richard de Moravia(there wasn't a sign saying not to touch it), who was killed in battle around 1240.

Then we had tea at the Dornoch castle hotel, which used to be not a fortified castle but just a really nice house for a Bishop way back when. The young ladies I had hot chocolate(still not really getting into tea), and it was quality. We were served a mug of hot milk with a block of Belgian chocolate on a stick to melt in the milk. I also had a scone, which of course was served with butter, real whipped cream, and jam. Do you believe me now when I say I'm going to be fat when this is over?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Days Past


We discovered our car wouldn't be out of the shop until Wednesday, so Mr. W ordered a rental car to be delivered Saturday morning. We drove forty miles to the town of Wick and spent the afternoon at Tesco(the UK version of Wal-mart) buying staples for the barren manse cupboards. We bought Scottish made cheese, fresh fish, and Scottish honey, among other things.

After lunch I made my first purchase with British pounds: Walking boots. They were originally 50 pounds(bear in mind I exchanged my American dollars for 1 pound=$1.76), but were on sale for 17, which is still more than I've ever paid for footwear before. They seem sturdy and I'm sure I will put them to good use.

Saturday evening we had a church service to prepare for communion on Sunday. This church only takes communion twice a year, so it was nice we were able to be here for a communion Sunday. The speaker was a recent seminary graduate and associate pastor at Rosskeen. He was a very good speaker and other than being sleepy I enjoyed the sermon.


We woke up to find someone had planted half a dozen garden gnomes on our garden wall during the night. No one from church knew anything about them, so we surmised a inebriated rascal had filched them and left them on our wall as a joke. Some of the small gardens here have dozens of gnomes and ceramic animals in them. In the end Mr. James from church called the PC(police constable?) and he took them away to the lock-up. We hope they will find their way home.

We had one Church service at 11am and one at 5pm: a total of three services in twenty-four hours. They were all hour long services, though. I'm used to having all three services at once. The church here is fairly small, perhaps fifteen people, and all of them easily over forty. We sang psalms without accompaniment. We had wine for communion, which I expected, but it was quite a bit stronger than what I'm used to. The W's and I all managed not to allow strangled coughs to escape from our mouths. There aren't any children there, and the services are so quiet. Everyone can hear every little noise. There's certainly no ambiance. I missed the crying babies back home(and yes, of course I missed everyone else as well).

We had tea and biscuits after service on Saturday, lunch after service on Sunday(three courses: soup, salads, and desserts), and tea with cakes after Sunday evening service. I thought I might get thinner in Scotland because I'm not doing the baking, but apparently not. I'll have to fast before I leave so I can fit in the airplane seats on the way back.

We walked to the cemetery (I was wearing my new boots) and it was absolutely freezing. The temperatures here are above freezing, but there was a very strong wind and when it's not sunny it's easy to get chilled. We watched the weather and hopefully this week it will warm up. I found the forecast rather confusing: chance of rain, strong winds, possible clouds, hopefully sunny, may warm up, possible rain, more possible rain, more wind, chance of clouds, and on and on.


Day Four

I have been learning about jet-lag. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep for a long while, then woke up at 11am after having a dream about spanking someone else's child who really needed it. I've been rather foggy all day.

I exchanged my American dollars for British pounds at the local bank this afternoon, and got a library card for the teeny tiny library. We all visited the local coffee shop for internet service and met the very accommodating owners. We don't have internet yet, though we hope to have it sometime next week. It's sadly crippling not to have internet.

We don't have a car yet either. It's in the shop due to the mandated annual inspection, and apparently needed some welding done. I was told that the salty sea air makes rust an issue here. Helmsdale's a very pleasant place, but there's not much in the way of grocery shopping, so our menu has been limited to the local corner shop and restaurants. I had a scone today at the coffee shop. Very tasty.

Friday, February 18, 2011


The view from my ceiling window, if I stand on tiptoe. That's the front lawn.

The scene from my side window. That's the old church, which is now a private property now.

We walked down to the river yesterday, which is just below the manse. Across the river is the cemetery!

The Manse

The manse is probably not what you would think of when I say “Scottish manse.” It's not very old; really all of Helmsdale is not very old compared to other Scottish towns. The decorating is a kind of 1980's style, with turquoise carpets in some rooms, pink in others, and the living room painted green and rust. The light fixtures are an interesting type of pleated fabric covers that remind one of Chinese lanterns. The manse, when we arrived, was practically bare of any furniture. The bedrooms had a bed and a chair. The living room had a chair, a couch, and a TV. Most of the other rooms were completely empty. I gather this house hasn't been lived in for long periods for some years now.

This is me relaxing in my room.

After lunch Mrs. W discovered the garage, which had odds and ends of furniture in it: a few old chairs, one covered in red velvet; some small tables; and a large wooden wardrobe. Obviously it doesn't lead to Narnia, because I'm still here, posting for you all. So we all updated our rooms with various pieces of varied furniture. Now I have a bed, two chairs, and a table.

After re-arranging the furniture we walked down to the beach. It's a short walk, and we enjoyed picking up rocks and a few small seashells. Then we had fish and chips for dinner.

A Wee Bit of Travel

Starting with the plane ride: I was as comfortable as one can be in economy class breathing recycled air while turbulence shook the plane like jello on a card table. Really, it's painful to see how people have to squeeze themselves into the tiny airplane seats, and I don't think some of them could even fit into the miniscule cupboard they call a bathroom. Anyway, my flights went through without any problems, and after eight hours in the air I arrived at London Heathrow airport at 7am London time, 1am Nebraska time.

Customs also went smoothly, though the customs officer made me nervous, asking questions like I was out to destroy the UK. But they let me in in the end. Providentially I saw my bag going by as soon as I stepped out of customs. I am ashamed to say that from this point on even with only a backpack and thirty pound bag, walking was very painful. Then I had the adventure of figuring out I was in terminal 3, and I needed to get to terminal 5, and that was my first ride on the public transport system.

At Terminal 5 I met up with my hosts, the W family. At this point(3am NE time) things were getting a bit foggy for me, so I should have been relaxing, but I couldn't figure out if it was 9am or 10am and that made me worry about missing my friends and then what would I do? But it turned out it was 9am and they arrived right on time. We hauled our collective luggage back to the railway and zipped over to Paddington Station. We wrestled our bags to an authentic London taxi with an authentic London taxi driver(he looked like an action movie assassin, as all London taxi drivers should), and after being strategically crammed in subsequently drove backwards in the London way to King's Cross station. We dragged our bags inside and left on time at 12:30 London time.

Thus commenced our eight hour train ride to Inverness, Scotland. I am so very thankful we were in first class. We all dozed a bit. We arrived on time at the Inverness station to be picked up by friends of my friends for the almost two hour drive to Helmsdale. At this point we were all fried, and we went to bed promptly upon arrival(10pm-ish Scotland time, 3pm-ish Ne time) at our manse(i.e. Parsonage).
First sunset in Scotland, taken from the train.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Disclaimer: I am not absolutely saying I will finish reading these books while I'm away. I'm just taking them, that's all.

Well, I'm leaving today. For Scotland. My suitcase is full to the brim, mostly full of clothing. It's around thirty pounds, well under the fifty pound limit, but still plenty heavy for me to carry. I also had several last-minute purchases to squeeze in, such as a pink travel umbrella, an electric outlet adapter, and a bar of chocolate(70% cocoa!). 

Friends have been asking me, "So, what are you going to do in Scotland?" And I feel kind of bad that I'm not going to do anything. Do meaning, of course, something of a higher purpose like missionary work or a job or a training conference, etc. But I remind myself that this is perhaps my one chance to experience this different culture and see the sights, and how many people can just live in Scotland with few responsibilities(for example, children) for six weeks on $2000(dowries are wonderful things, ha ha!)? So, everyone, just know I am not going for any higher exalted purpose other than experiencing a different lifestyle, and if I can do that Coram Deo, that will be enough.

Monday, February 7, 2011

One week until Departure

I caught a cold last week, my first one this winter. Not at all pleasant, but I'm glad it came now and not any later, because I'm leaving for Scotland in a week.

I had a bit of a scare with my passport last week. I received a letter from the passport agency in New Hampshire that was handling my application, saying my signature as unacceptable since it was printed. This a little less than three weeks before I leave. And I don't write in cursive, so it was my natural signature. But I rushed to re-send my application papers and paid $14 to overnight my passport, because it was doubtful that my new application could be processed fast enough. But the net workday when I called the agency, they told me my passport had already been sent, the day after I received the letter telling me to re-apply! Glass half full: so glad I got my passport and can still go. Glass half empty: A weekend of worry and $14 down the drain because of government inefficiencies.

Our dog Calvin was hit by a car a few weeks ago. He had a bad habit of chasing cars, so even though it wasn't very nice of the person to come and tell us, Calvin was the one to blame. We had Calvin for a little over a year. I think we paid $20 for him because he was a lab-border collie mix, though you couldn't tell it: he looked like a border collie. We were all sad to lose him. The boys buried him with a brief eulogy: "He was a good dog." At least they understand the life span of  farm animals. People who treat their pets as children are a bit off-balance, it seems to me. I am vehemently against ever owning pets of my own, unless they serve some practical purpose.