A month with Mum, Dad, and Marnie

My parents recently came to visit with my grandmother and messaged me a few days ago to say they were safely back in Australia. To say the last six weeks have been busy is an understatement, but they have also been some of the most joyous times of my life in Scotland – I was so pleased to show them the places I loved, and to discover new favourites with them that I hadn’t seen before. I am so lucky that they are adventurous and healthy enough to be able to come and see me – I know not all expats are as lucky as me. They arrived in Edinburgh on a Thursday, and the very next day we left, up through the Cairngorms on Friday night before breakfasting in Aviemore the next morning and heading to Culloden Battlefield. Then it was back in the car to drive north, stopping at the Coffee Bothy in Golspie for lunch before heading onto Thurso where we saw the Old St Peter’s Church. That night we took the ferry from Scrabster to Mainland Orkney, before driving to our (spacious, lovely) AirBnb in Twatt. The next morning, a Sunday, Marnie and I went to a church service in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. After lunch we dropped into the Sheila Fleet Kirk Gallery and then drove across the Churchill Barriers to the Italian Chapel, and onto St Margaret’s Hope. The next day was spent in Stromness, meeting an old friend of Marnie’s and poking around the shops (including the library and an amazing bookshop) and the following day we embarked into the heart of Neolithic Orkney – Skara Brae, Skaill House, Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Settlement, and the Ring of Brodgar. We stayed overnight on the boat back to Mainland Scotland, and waved to the Old Man of Hoy the next morning on our way.

We drove back down south via Wick (to see the shortest street in the world) and stopped off at the Whaligoe Steps (with bonus cat). After lunch in Dingwall we continued driving through the tempestuous Storm Ali to our accommodation in Kyle of Lochalsh. The next day we continued onto Skye, to see Sligachan, Talisker, the Fairy Pools (just to look, not to walk), and then to Portree for lunch and a visit to the Post Office dog. The next day we drove to BEAUTIFUL Plockton via Duirinish (we even saw a wee hedgehog while having our coffee), then down to Eilean Donan for photos. On our last day in Kyle of Lochalsh, we took a walking tour of Eilean Ban, home of the Gavin Maxwell Museum. The island has accommodation, a lighthouse, a wildlife hide, and a lovely history – but sadly we didn’t see any otters!

Then it was home to lovely Edinburgh, with a day trip to the Borders to see Melrose, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, Scott’s View, and Dryburgh Abbey. We wandered the Water of Leith (from Stockbridge to Dean Village), had dinner at Teuchtar’s Landing, met friends of mine that I wanted to introduce to Mum and Dad, and had a jaunt to Cramond Village and beach. I also took a lovely day trip to Glasgow with Marnie to see the Kelvingrove Museum and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh rooms. In the mean time, my guests got up to plenty without me while I was at work or resting, including a visit to the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle and a trip to North Berwick, as well as various shopping trips into the city!

Then it was back to the Highlands – Mum, Dad, Marnie and I were booked on a Great Rail Journeys trip that took us via Glasgow to Ballachulish, where we stayed for three nights. We journeyed up the West Highland Line, past Corrour, the most remote station in Britain, and found ourselves in a lovely hotel just up the road from Glencoe, with idyllic views of a loch beyond our window. The next morning took us to Oban (where I visited a lovely little museum), and then on the ferry to the Isle of Mull where we visited the beautiful Duart Castle. The next day was spent admiring Neptune’s Staircase before heading to Fort William for lunch and a very rainy cruise along Loch Linnhe! We even saw a couple of seals – it made the windy and wet conditions worth it. Afterwards we drove back past the hotel and into Glencoe for some photo stops and a history lesson – Glencoe is very atmospheric in the rain. The next day – HARRY POTTER TRAIN!! We took the Jacobite Express (first class!) to Mallaig, and even the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits. The route over the viaduct is truly gorgeous – and then we took the bus back and stopped at the viaduct to get photos of the train crossing back over!

That night we transferred to Inverness where we stayed for the next three nights, and headed off to Loch Ness first thing the next morning – another cruise, in beautiful sunshine this time, and a wee stomp around Urquhart Castle, before returning to Inverness for some free time (a rest for me!). The next day was the Kyle Line – I think even more scenic than the West Highland Line – all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh, and then onto Eilean Donan Castle. We actually got to go in this time, and it was wonderful – a really interesting history to explore and such good photo opportunities. The coach back took us via Glen Sheil and the grave of Roderick Mackenzie – a completely new area of Scotland for me, and one I am desperate to return to! The next day, alas, we were nearing the end of our trip, and headed back to Edinburgh. There was one final dinner to enjoy however, to top off a week of lovely food and accommodation. We had traditional Scottish food and a piper who told us some fantastic stories about Scottish history and culture. We even had a Highland dancer to entertain us! It was a very bizarre thing to stay in the luxury hotel and get up the next morning to walk to work!

Mum and Dad headed off for a few days in the Central Belt and Marnie stayed the night at our flat. The next morning I dropped her at the bus stop and she embarked on a journey to Lewis (yes, in the Outer Hebrides), where she had a fantastic few days in Stornaway. Sean and I had a relatively normal week before they all returned to us, and we spent a lovely Sunday at the Botanic Gardens before a teary goodbye that evening! They made their way down south and flew home from Heathrow. I spoke to Dad yesterday and their jet lag has worn off, thank goodness!

(Am I the luckiest woman in the world? I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world.)

 

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2018 has been mad and wonderful

I’m aware it’s not the end of the year yet, but I did realise how long it has been since an update, so I feel as though I should document it all before it grows even more unwieldy. I’ve thrown chronology out the window – it’s all already happened, so the order is not important (and I’m pretty sure about three people read this blog apart from myself, so it matters even less!)

New places I have seen in Scotland (and some I have revisited) include: North Berwick, Dunbar (and the fabulous CoastWord festival), my beloved Scottish Borders (especially Scott’s View and Dryburgh Abbey), my even more beloved Loch Ness and Glencoe, and the utterly fabulous Moniack Mhor writers retreat. We have also bought a CAR (huzzah!) which means we can take leisurely drives to lovely places (such as Dalgety Bay) whenever we fancy it. We have also had visitors, which has made some of this travel even better! The Moniack Mhor writers retreat has been long-awaited, and was even better than I imagined – brilliant people, feedback for my novel, interesting stories, wonderful food, and the most beautiful surroundings to write in. I must go back as soon as I am able!

Edinburgh has continued to delight us. We have moved house yet again, but hopefully for the last time in a decent while. Our new flat is gorgeous and very spacious, but I do miss living right by the Water of Leith (especially after brand new baby cygnets were born in May that we have watched grow up!). I was lucky enough to do more cat sitting, to see the beehives that my friend helps to looks after in Polwarth, and to take advantage of the enormous range of events taking place on a daily basis in Edinburgh – including a night with Caitlin Moran, the launch of my friend’s translation of German spoken word poetry, and the many glories of the Edinburgh International Book Festival! This year I saw Ruth Jones, Greg Wise, Alison Weir, the launch of the SPL’s new poetry anthology for teachers, and I was also lucky enough to run a Nothing But The Poem session on the poetry of Charles Hamilton Sorley.

Professional development has been a joy for me this year – I was accepted into the Knowledge Exchange Week 2018 run by the University of Edinburgh in June. This conference runs for a week, and I was one of two delegates from Scotland (the rest of the delegates were from Europe or Argentina). This also included my first ever conference presentation (just a wee one) and I presented on poetry indexing. I met some amazing people and saw some truly brilliant libraries in Edinburgh that I had not had the chance to see before. I have also tried to attend as many events as possible run by ELISA and CILIPS, including the Librarians Uncorked sessions, visits to local libraries and archives (again, several I have not seen before), and have enrolled in chartership. Exciting times!

Finally, I have had two brief but enjoyable jaunts down south. In June, Sean and I went down to Hampshire to meet up with some beloved colleagues (and special guests) from the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. Seeing Chawton House through the eyes of the family that once lived there was a brilliant experience, and I even got to meet Simon Langton and Susannah Harker (the director of the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, and the brilliant actress who played Jane Bennet in said production!) It was also a pleasure to meet my fellow JALF volunteers in person – wonderful women who I have corresponded with for months, but was not able to meet until now! Can’t wait to do it all again next year.

I also had a weekend in York, though did not get to see any of the city this time – because I was in a hotel all weekend taking part in the Bronte Society’s 2018 conference celebrating Emily’s bicentenary! What a treat – to hear some brilliant academics and speakers discuss Wuthering Heights, Emily’s poetry, and the various representations of Emily herself was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was lovely to reconnect with some delegates I had met two years previously for Charlotte’s bicentenary conference, as well as meet new people.

Well, thats’s all for now. I am currently in the midst of a fabulous holiday with my parents and grandmother which involves traipsing all about the Highlands and other places in Scotland, but I wanted that to be its own post – hence my tardy update to bring this blog up-to-date for the rest of the year so far.

Until then!

2017 has started well

Liverpool is a lovely city, but even lovelier are the people I know there. I had a lovely overnight trip of chatting, lots of tea, and a trip to the Liverpool Central Library.

Burns Night is an annual Scottish celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. We went to a friend’s place where we ate a traditional meal of haggis, neeps, tatties, whisky, wine and poetry. I’m also currently completing a short online course on Robert Burns, but the accent I have not yet perfected…

I’m learning to run. It’s slow and often painful, but it’s in a social group who don’t mind us slowpokes at the back. I can already feel the difference – it’s easier to stick to it when there are other people with you.

We watched Trainspotting 2 in a cinema with Leithers. There was an obnoxious drunk guy dragged out of there halfway through and the movie was brilliant, recognisable Edinburgh scenes popping up every second minute. A true Leith experience – I loved every second.

The Scottish Borders are beautiful. We have a wonderful friend who lives in Galashiels and she has a CAR. What a difference a car makes! Yesterday we drove to Melrose Abbey, rumoured burial site of the heart of Robert the Bruce. The ruins are brilliant in the winter sun, which was setting over the valleys as we drove back via Scott’s View. You could see the mist in the shadow of the hills. No wonder this was such a beloved view of Sir Walter Scott!

This morning we went to Dryburgh Abbey, burial place of the great man himself. Sir Walter Scott loved these ruins also, and it’s easy to see why. Today was more overcast and misty, and the rose-tinted stone walls looked like a painting. We saw the Dryburgh Yew, the book cupboard where the monk’s used to keep their library, and graves of Scott and Earl Haig.

The next stop was Kelso Abbey – these ruins are smaller and less impressive, but still worth a visit to marvel at their imposing height, especially if you’re a sucker for a well-preserved historic ruin like I am.

Lunch was at The Teviot Smokery, a gorgeous little restaurant. We didn’t get to see the water gardens because of time restrictions, but I would definitely stop past next time. We arrived at Jedburgh Abbey just in time for last admissions. This is the largest and most impressive of all the Borders abbeys, so I would recommend leaving longer than half an hour to do it, especially as they have an audio guide option as well. As it was though, we still had a good opportunity to walk around the whole site and get some good photos. Despite it being the most well-preserved abbey, it doesn’t have any specific features that draw in tourists (such as Sir Walter Scott’s grave or Robert the Bruce’s heart), so it tends to be overlooked a bit I think. It’s a shame because it is a truly awe-inspiring place – I definitely recommend it!

We had enough sun left to get down to Carter Bar, a point on the English-Scottish border with two large boundary stones. The views are brilliant.

We drove back to Galashiels through Hawick and caught a train back to Edinburgh. There is so much more to see, and we have less than a year to fit it in!