Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The End of all Things

Since I arrived home exactly a week ago, you're probably all wondering why I've not been posting. Simply put, I've hardly been home. Two days after I arrived home in my deadened(and I do mean deadened) state I left for a weekend trip to Illinois, to call dances at Liberty Day.

But I should start where I left off. A week ago on Monday Mrs. W and I took the everlastingly long train to Edinburgh. We arrived and had a late lunch:

Art Nouveau and pizza in Edinburgh.
I had more ethnically diverse foods in Scotland than I've ever had in before: Indian, Italian, Asian. Not quite what one thinks of eating when traveling to Scotland, but it was all very tasty.

The Maiden from the Museum of Edinburgh

After lunch we walked up the Royal Mile looking for tartan ties for the men in my life. It took half a dozen stops in the myriads of woolen shops to find the tartan I was looking  for. Don't tell me that tartans are a Victorian tourist trap, because I don't need to know that. We finally found the right clan name and I went ahead and paid 12 pounds each. People ask me(Americans ask me) if I'm Scottish. What they really mean is, were your ancestors Scottish, in which case the answer is yes. But I technically, I am not Scottish and really my family hasn't been Scottish for two hundred years. God Bless America!

We walked on, leg muscles burning and feeling like a pack horse with my travel bag on my back. We stopped and bought some really great truffles for 60p each: I bought all mint dark chocolate while Mrs. W got six different flavors. Then we stopped at the Museum of Edinburgh. It was free- how could we pass it by? It was full of neat things like swords and a guillotine and even a few articles of clothing.

A padded jacket.

The most awesome part was the small section on the Scottish Covenanters.

Standing in front of some covenants signed by Scots Reformers

The museum closed at 5pm along with everything else, so we headed over to Greyfriars Churchyard across the way. Greyfriars has such a rich history, and I'm not talking about Greyfriars Bobby when I say that. What a thing for a cemetery to be remembered for, a dog. I prefer to remember it for it's part in the history of Scotland's Covenanters.

It was a very pretty cemetery, but not as isolated as I like cemeteries to be.

By the Covenanter's Prison, trying to look alert. I could have done without the fake flowers.

After the cemetery visit we had a great deal of time before our train left the station at 11:20pm. We went to see a movie, "The King's Speech," and had dinner(more Italian). The train we took was a sleeper, so we each had our own small cabin with a bed and small breakfast in the morning, though neither of us slept very well. Upon arrival in London we took a taxi to Heathrow(We passed Hyde Park of English Country Dance fame) and that cost 60 pounds. My flight didn't leave until the afternoon so I had quite a while to sit around. I had no trouble with customs and had shrimp as my last meal on UK soil.

The flight was long, sleepless, boring and I suppose thankfully uneventful. We flew over Ireland, so now I can say I've seen Ireland as well. The inflight movie was Megamind, same as on the way over, and they played it four times. I was a bit worried about the time I had in Chicago to get from the one terminal to the other: I have short legs and it takes me a long time to get anywhere. But again, thankfully, I had no trouble with customs and made it to my gate with ten minutes to spare.

What with the two hour flight to Omaha and the hour's drive home I fianlly arrived at midnight U.S. Central time and who knows what Scotland time. I was in a state of foggy exhaustion that made speaking or coherent thought nearly impossible. And then two days later I went to Illinois.

Monday, March 21, 2011


After church with the W ladies.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Today is my last day in Helmsdale. Tomorrow I'll be headed to Edinburgh and on to London Heathrow for my journey home.

All in all, five weeks turned out to be a good length of time. I'll be glad to get home to my family, who have had two family funerals in as many weeks. If I had some work to do, or if it had been summer and the weather had been nicer, perhaps a longer stay would be alright. As it is I am glad I was able to experience rural Scotland in the off-season. I mean really, how many visitors get to experience the end of a Scottish winter?

General Impressions of Scotland:

I was a bit thrown off guard by the general reserve in people I've met. Now, granted, I didn't truly get to know many Scots, and I admit I should be the last one to complain about people being reserved, but still. The Church here has certainly been very generous and hospitable, and in some cases very formal. But Americans seem to have very bad reputation here. I thought I was used to stereotypes (i.e., the French are rude and obnoxious, the Scots are cold and reserved, Americans are arrogant and loud); I was home schooled, for goodness' sake! I could be holding a intelligent conversation with someone and they would still ask me, what about socialization? Does anyone besides me see the irony in that?

I think the only conclusive statement that can be derived from my observations is that all people all over the world are fickle and naturally sinful.

What will I miss the Most?

The landscape. The hills especially, with the sea as a backdrop. I generally hate hiking, but walking here was a bit different than those forced walks we take every year on vacation. Why? A: this is Scotland, and as such it is infinitely more interesting to walk here than is it in the midwest. You have the very different topography plus the element of a history. B: in this case I could set my own pace, go as far as I wanted and go where I wanted. C: There's not a lot to do in Helmsdale, so as far as recreational activities go, this was it.

What am I Bringing Back with me?

To all those people back home who demand I return with a Scottish accent, really and truly I cannot do it. My ancestors have been in America for two hundred years, and there's no going back. As far as material purchases, everything's so expensive here, most of my purchases were small. Except I spent 30 pounds on Scottish-made wool to take home and sew into a skirt. I knew coming over that material would be the ideal souvenir, but I've never spent so much on one piece of material before! There's wool everywhere here, and I love it: wool yarn, unspun wool, wool material, wool on legs, 100% wool in every state you can think of. Yesterday the W ladies and I stopped at a textile fair and I got to try peg weaving and spinning(which I would love to do at Ft. A, but they guard the spinning wheel carefully). And other than wool I mostly bought books, which I will have to pay to ship home because they will not fit in my bag.

If I went Again, what Would I do?

I would have liked to visit the Banff area, where all my family place names seem to be, but the railway doesn't go to Banff so it wasn't accessible for me. Though if the Lowlands truly are more domestic and agricultural I think I would prefer to stay in the Highlands. The landscape is worth the isolation. If I came again I would like to go where there's an active dance group. I was very sorry not to be able to dance in Scotland.


I've had a wonderful vacation. The W family treat me like a queen, and I haven't cooked a single meal the whole time I've been here. No laundry and really no cleaning work to speak of. It's been amazing! I'm very grateful for the restful time I've had. I wasn't expecting that but it's made for a very nice break, and I feel ready to plunge back in to the fray once I get home.

A song I learned:
Psalms 23(Sing Psalms) to the tune of Tarwathie

Last Walk

I took one last walk up the hill yesterday evening. It was getting a bit dark so it was hard to take pictures. My poor old camera has held up very well, but night pictures are beyond it's capabilities. Anyway, I walked a ways on a trail to the west of Helmsdale. It was a public path but there were sheep on it, and I saw some deer as well. I get the feeling that deer are as much of a pestilence here as they are back home. Thankfully both deer and sheep are nonagressive. It's so quiet up in the hills that it's easy to get spooked.

Hopefully all this walking has prepared me for my upcoming mad rush through Chicago O'Hare.

And that was my last walk in Scotland.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

York, Day Two: York Museum

From the Minster we walked to the York Museum.

I was very glad there were no "Do not touch" signs, and when I got up enough courage to ask about taking pictures that was allowed as well.

We were all getting a bit footsore at this point. I'm sitting on a replica of a Roman mosaic.

I bought a thimble replica of this helmet, so now when I'm sitting at home sewing and quilting I can think of savage murdering Vikings and my trip to York.

Now that's what I call a wax seal.

World's largest spider? Notice how large it is in relation to the reflection of my head.

Such sentiment ought to be posted everywhere.

The Church ruins outside the York Museum.

Our train back to Inverness left York at 2pm, so all in all we had twenty four hours in York. I believe we used them well.

York, Day Two: York Minster

Our first stop on day two was the York Minster. How to describe it? Large, grand, and old.

One can't help but apreciate the amazing workmanship and detail, but to my Presbyterian mind it seems that as a place of worship the setting is vastly overdone and destracting.

Underneath the Minster one can view origional foundations dating back to the Norman and Roman eras. It's hard for me to grasp the age when I look at something 2000 years old.

Looking up.

The brother of the Black Prince.
And this memorial is supposed to what, endear us to decadent clergy past?
We had a good look around and then left as a German choir was organising around a grand piano.

 York Minster.

York, Day One

The W family and I made a foray into Viking country, and lived to tell the tale. We caught the 7:55 train(this time) for York and arrived around 2:15pm. It just amazes me how long it takes to get anywhere in such a small country, though first class seating makes it infinitely more bearable. 
Our first stop was the Jorvik museum. Jorvik was very interesting and gets five stars for being a great family museum. Besides viewing the many artifacts, visitors go on a(very slow) ride past moving wax figures with audio explanations. There were also a few costumed museum staff who I of course asked about the construction and authenticity of their clothing.

A wax figure at Jorvik

We had dinner at Betty's, which is apparently the place for refined dining(thus no pictures). I had salmon. I've really enjoyed the fresh seafood here; it's something we don't get much of in Nebraska. 

Of course all the shops close after 5pm so we went back to our B&B(I was horrified to learn they allow dogs) which was a large Victorian-era house. Our rooms were likely the servants quarters way back when. I had my own room, and even more amazing, my own bathroom- the height of luxury and privacy. The towel unto itself was a luxury. Back home we use Japanese towels, which are infinitely smaller but more practical than normal towels. The hotel towel was the size of a toga, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Haggis

Our dinner from Dingwall: the champion haggis(though it had MSG in it. Champion haggis shouldn't need MSG). My experience with the great chieftain of the pudding race was pleasant, and I think haggis is something I could eat again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Attempt for York, Part One

Moray Firth with hills in the background and broom in the foreground.

We arose earlier than usual this morning anticipating our special two-day trip to York. Long story short, we missed the 7:55 train, so we're going to try again tomorrow. Which means that for the second day in a row we'll all be getting up at 5am. Oh boy!

There's still quite a bit of snow on the hills, with a heavy frost and fog this morning.

On the way home by way of consolation we stopped to buy some Haggis, and not just any haggis: Champion haggis. Apparently there's good haggis and there's bad haggis.

The Haggis shop in Dingwall.

This is the Marchioness poo-pooing King George. Independence now and Independence forever!

After the Haggis shop we stopped at the Hector MacDonald Monument(and adjoining cemetery) to eat our enjoyable but very greasy pasties. There was a beautiful view and some very large cannon.

The cannon was actually cast in 1805.

 Here is the actual monument.

Ahhh, cemeteries. So picturesque. Got to love 'em.

One last picture; see the frost?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Last Week

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Clothing, Glorious Clothing

The Inverness Museum has two 18th century gowns on display, so I immediately started to discreetly take pictures. Miss W, very conscientious, admonished me. Museums are so snippety about allowing photography: if it's the flash that damages the materials, they really just ought to say no flash photography, which I never do in museums anyway.

This lovely embroidered saque-back gown above is from Inverness museum.

Seeing first-hand the type of clothing I've been trying to sew is really cool and such a help.

Also at the Inverness Museum was this tartan wedding dress from the late 18th century.

 A descendant of the original owner actually wore the dress a few years ago for her own wedding.

Eileen Donan also had two late 18th century gowns on display, but of course, no photography.

Moving on, at the Highlander museum in Stirling castle there were three military jackets and a drummer boy's coat from the mid 19th century. I took pictures until I was caught.

Just gorgeous! You can see replicas of this jacket in the Sharpe TV saga(As much as I adore the historical uniforms in the Sharpe chronicles, some of the content is decidedly mature)

Someday my brothers will have such jackets.

Only perhaps not with such nice buttons....