The Romance of Travel — Scotland (Part 2) The Highlands

Storr P image

(The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye — image from Pinterest, Anne McKinell Photography.)

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love.” –Robert Burns

Loch Ness castle

(Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness)

To the north of Edinburgh, beyond the Firth of Forth, lies the Scottish Highlands — mountains, valleys, glens, lochs, rugged coastlines, and islands: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and farther north, Shetland. (In all, Scotland has close to 800 islands)

The Highlands is a land filled with castles, history, legend, and lore: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the northern city of Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Iona. A two-week driving tour through Scotland was an eye-opening experience to the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands.

Tobermoy Mull

(The charming village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.)

The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, is famous for being the location of the Monastery of Iona. A short ferry ride from Mull takes you to the small windswept island of Iona.

“In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential center for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots.” (wikipedia)

Mull Iona

A seat of learning, the monastery is associated with the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells.  “It is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740.” (www.historyireland.com)

We chose to stay in the town of Oban because it’s one of the main places to catch the ferry to Mull. We were pleasantly surprised by its charm and lively harbor. It proved to be an unexpected find.

The port town has a waterside promenade lit by tiny lights, perfect for strolling after dining at one of the town’s wonderful restaurants.

Oban eve

Leaving Oban and driving north to Skye, you’ll be tempted to stop and admire the glens, castles, rivers, and lochs along the way. A few hours exploring the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle was well worth the detour.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic sites of the Highlands: the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing,

Skye Quairling 2

Neiss Lighthouse, and the Fairy Glen.

Stopping in the tiny hamlet of Dunvegan on our way to the lighthouse, we came across the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum and caught a glimpse of “Old Scotland.”  

Crossing the Highlands and driving north takes you to Inverness, “the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.” The River Ness runs through the middle of the town and is crossed by several bridges, one of which takes you from one side of the river to the other, crossing through a pretty wooded island on the way.

Inverness river walk

Day trips from Inverness include driving along Loch Ness and touring the battlefield of Culloden, site of the final Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing a few hours north takes you to the northernmost town on the British mainland — Thurso, located on the North Sea.

Thurso

It’s the perfect place for stopping over before taking the morning ferry to Orkney. A beach walk after dinner offers beautiful views of Thurso Bay.

Thurso 1

From its harbor at nearby Scrabster, you can take the ferry to the town of Stromness in Orkney. The 90-minute journey takes you past some stunning scenery.

Orkney Old Man 1

(The Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry to Orkney)

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On the ferry to Stromness, I was struck by the quotes by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), which prepare the traveler for the beauty of Orkney — a beauty both subtle and rugged.

“There was a fitful gleam of cold sunlight as we climbed aboard the Hamnavoe.”

“On the salt and tar steps, herring boats, puffing red sails, the tillers of cold horizons, leaned down the gull-gaunt tide.”

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”

Though Orkney has the jagged coastlines and rocky landscape of much of the Highlands,

it has a different feel to it. In part, due to the remnants of the deep layers of history found throughout Orkney — in Neolithic archaeological sites, such as Skara Brae; in the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness; in prehistoric mounds, and the remains of Viking settlements.

Orney ruins

Orkney ring 2

More recent history is found in other ruins throughout the islands,

and in WWII sites — reminders of the importance of this remote location during the war: Scapa Flow (home of the British Fleet during both world wars), the Italian Chapel (built by Italian POWs),

Orkney Italian chapel

(the Italian Chapel)

and the Churchill barriers (rocky man-made causeways), among others. There’s a museum in Stromness that is a trove of WWII and local history.

Stromness, the main seaport, embodies the essence of Orkney. Its buildings are solid and strong, built to stand against fierce North Sea storms. Its streets are rocky and steep and overlook the expanse of the sea. “Fitful gleam[s] of cold sunlight” cast the town in “marvelous rhythms of … darkness and light.”

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An evening stroll along the harbor anchors you in its maritime presence — with bracing winds, the smell of “salt and tar,” and the sound of gulls.

1 stromness

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With touches of charm and homey warmth found in its narrow streets.

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As we left the Highlands and drove back south, we spotted a rainbow over a pot-of-gold mustard field — it seemed the perfect image for the close of our Highland tour.

Highlands pot of gold and rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Color, Magnificent Color – Green

Emerald. Sage. Moss. Chartreuse. Kelly, pine, hunter, mint, lime. Juniper. Fern. Shamrock. Green signifies freshness, wholesomeness, simplicity or opulence — nature’s color in a multitude of shades.

green opera chairs

“No white nor red was ever seen, So amorous as this lovely green.” – Andrew Marvell

green books

“He recognized that Life itself is an art. He was keenly sensitive to the value of beautiful surroundings. He had that curious love of green, which in individuals is always the sign of a subtle artistic temperament.” – Oscar Wilde

“Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.” – Frederic Chopin

“For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green.” –  J. R. R. Tolkien

q green bridge

“Green how I want you green. Green wind. Green branches.”  – Federico Garcia Lorca

green shawl

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca

8 cottage green

Blossom time

blossom time

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

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“April… hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

Hood River Oregon

“There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.” – William Cullen Bryant

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“Break open A cherry tree And there are no flowers; But the spring breeze Brings forth myriad blossoms.” – Ikkyu Sojun

Ursula's table

“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” – Kobayashi Issa

 

April 2

“The April winds are magical.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

A blossoms table

“Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” – Byron Caldwell Smith

birdhouse sunset

April Glory

A scattering blossoms

 

April Glory

The winds were wild the day you died

Pear blossoms scattered like snow.

First green tipped the thin tree branches

And your redbud flowered in purple.

Cold wind and sunshine embraced us

As we crossed from house to house.

And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard

Shone in an emerald green.

*

I knew you had a hand in it –

Delighting in the April glory.

A day of beauty and laughter

When Heaven touched Earth in joy.

A redbud (2)

 

 

Early Spring

snowy quince

“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
― Anton Chekhov

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus

trees pink

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley

pansies

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day — John O’Donohue on Beauty and the Celtic imagination

rainbow

Images of Ireland and quotes from John O’Donohue’s book, “Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.”

“When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”

 

Ireland 2

“When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful.”

“Beauty calls us beyond ourselves and it encourages us to engage the dream that dwells in the soul.”

coastal road

“We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”

“The imagination creates a pathway of reverence for the visitations of beauty.”

Skellig stairs

“With swift, sheer grace, the Beautiful is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”

“Beauty is quietly woven through our days.”houses and green hills

“The imagination is the great friend of possibility…In a sense, that is what beauty is: possibility that enlarges and delights the heart.”

“Beauty does not linger, it only visits.”

Cliffs of Mohr

“To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged.”

“When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way.”

Ireland 3

“The earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.”

“Ultimate beauty is a profound illumination of presence, a stirring of the invisible in visible form.”

connemara

“When we awaken to the call of Beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.”

“The eye of the imagination will often be drawn to the edges of things where the visible and invisible worlds coalesce.”

lighthouse stars

“True beauty is from elsewhere, a pure gift.”

“Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty.”

window kettle flowers

“Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue was a native Irish speaker, a former priest, and author of books that provided sustenance for many souls hungering for connection.” (www.npr.org)

clover key

(Images from Pinterest)

Happy New Year!

In the Christmastime series, Lillian collects Victorian cards and displays them on her mantel for the holidays. Below are a few cards that might have been part of her collection, along with a few Victorian sentiments ushering in the New Year.

card crop

“Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow…”
― Alfred Tennyson

NYsnow

 

“Only a night from old to new! Only a night, and so much wrought!” ―Helen Hunt Jackson

NY2

 

“So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you!” ― Charles Dickens

NY9

NY5

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

NY1

 

The Romance of Travel: Carcassonne

Carcassonne distance

For many years I had longed to see the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne and recently I was able to make that dream come true. Carcassonne did not disappoint.

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Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, Carcassonne is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, the largest walled city in Europe, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. Languedoc is also famous for its wines and the hilltop city sits high above the surrounding vineyards.

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I arrived Carcassonne in the evening under a near-full moon. The hotel I stayed at was located at the foot of the hill, and I had a magnificent view of the fairytale city from my balcony.

Every day, I crossed the footbridge over the river Aude, climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the top of the hill, and entered the citadel through the lowered drawbridge. I spent hours wandering around the labyrinthine village, climbed the ramparts and spiral stairs of the towers, walked the walls which provided magnificent views of the valley below, and then rested and recharged at its many outdoor cafes.

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Carcassonne was occupied by the Romans and later the Visigoths. Its strategic hilltop location was fortified over the centuries with walls, towers, drawbridge and moat, a fortress, and a cathedral — the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Layers and layers of history pervade the stones and gargoyles, the slate roofs and worn steps.

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Today Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism and has several hotels, restaurants, and shops — even a small museum on the history of the French school system.

school museum crop (1)

The heraldic Occitan cross, which dates back to the 12th century, and the fleur-de-lis hearken back to its medieval history and can be seen throughout the city.

In the fall, Carcassonne has a particular beauty — pensive, tranquil, a bit wistful — and despite the tourists, a few quiet areas can always be found.

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It is at night when the magic of Carcassonne can most be felt — when the years of history fall away and you step into the past. The crenelated ramparts and rounded towers take on an architectural sharpness, accentuated by light and shadow.

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Crossing the drawbridge you can imagine the creak and clang of its chains, and you notice that the sounds inside the walled village are different — quieter, sometimes hushed. The interior of La Cité is softly lit by lampposts. Gold light pours onto the stone walls and archways and illuminates the curves of the cobblestone streets. It becomes a place of shadows and textures, mystery and beauty, drawing you further up into its heart.

Even in the off-season of late October, the hilltop is surprisingly alive at night and the sound of conversation and laughter fill the outdoor cafes that ring the small square at the center. Wandering through the narrow streets, you come across several restaurants and hotels that bid a warm welcome.

Carcassonne sets one to dreaming. Its deep history and beauty inspire, shift your perceptions, and bring about a silent exchange with the past. For many, it is representative of the unattainable — something actual, yet ever elusive. In 1887 Gustave Nadaud wrote a poem called “Carcassonne,” in which an old man dreams of seeing “fair Carcassonne” before he dies. To him, the city embodies the longing for an ideal, a place of profound meaning, an experience that could be his — yet it remains beyond his reach. The final line is “each man has his Carcassonne” — a beautiful distant dream.

Carcassonne dream (1)

Carcassonne — medieval city, hilltop fortress, fairytale village, a step back in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookstores

bookstore

The longer nights and cooler temperatures of autumn are perfect for browsing through a good bookstore — and leaving with an armful of books.

Bookshop 4

“There were fewer finer things in life … than spending time perusing the shelves of a good bookshop.” ― George Mann

bookstore

“The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.” ― C.S. Lewis

Bookshop 1

“To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore.”
―Lionel Barrymore

 

“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.” ― Jen Campbell

Bookshop 5 window

“Books are an escape route. A refuge…. a tunnel to the outside world. A glimmer of something beyond.”―Chloe Coles

 

“Reality doesn’t always give us the life that we desire, but we can always find what we desire between the pages of books.”― Adelise M. Cullens

porch books

Happy reading!