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.)

 

Advertisements

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!

Epic update time….

Tomorrow we head to Spain for five days, and I thought it might be nice to write a blog about our travels. I went back to check when was the last time I updated this site, and my last blog post was OVER SIX MONTHS AGO. Apols. So I thought I’d catch it up before Spain, as quite a few things have happened since then… It’s going to be less words, more pictures. A highlights reel, if you will.

London – the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library! A two-day conference titled ‘Reformation on the Record’ at The National Archives in Kew. And finally, Keat’s House, Hampstead.

Oh yes, a wee jaunt back to Australia for eight weeks. Christmas, friends, family, new babies, beautiful Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, Adelaide, and surrounding South Australia. The weather, folks. The weather.

And back to bonnie Scotland – more jaunts to the Borders, including St. Mary’s Loch, my first foray to Dumfries & Galloway (Grey Mare’s Tail), the Christmas markets (technically back in 2017), two lots of cat-sitting, Stanza Poetry Festival in St. Andrews, numerous other wee events/festivals/fairs, lovely Cramond beach, and SNOW. Lots of snow.

I am a lucky woman.

September, October madness

WE HAVE MOVED HOUSE! And it’s a beautiful wee flat in the very trendy area of The Shore, in Leith. Some lovely friends were moving to Belfast and looking for tenants, and it’s worked out so well. It’s an extra few minutes on my commute every day, but it is more than made up for by the view of the water, the swans, the ducks, the gorgeous bars and restaurants and the extra space!

I’ve been very busy at work and with the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, so I have let my writing practice slide and have been procrastinating like a star with some fabulous television (Strike, The Crown, and brand new Outlander, Will & Grace, and Broad City!). I’ve also been reading up a storm, cat-sitting, studying Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, voting with a big fat YES online for that ridiculous Australian marriage law survey, attending a meeting of the Richard III society (for a fascinating discussion of Perkin Warbeck), going to an event at Waterstones with MARIAN KEYES (and managed not to cry all over her this time), rejoined the walking group (I used to be learning to run, but I prefer walking!!), and attending a friend’s baby shower (just in time – she went into labour three days later).

We’ve used the last of the ‘summer’ weather to have a BBQ at Leith Links, and two weeks ago we headed down to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. The Tempest Brewing Co. has an Oktoberfest event, and we were lucky to have a friend from Australia visiting as well. A good day was had by all, including an excellent selection of food trucks and stalls, quality cider and gin, and one of the best cover bands I’ve heard. We also said farewell to Sean’s sister after having her floating around Europe for two months. But we’re going to be in Australia in eight weeks, so it doesn’t feel quite as devastating as the last time we said goodbye!

Finally, the lovely Bec and I took a road trip down south. We stopped in Crosby to visit Belinda & Andrew, as always, lunched in Chester at a BEAUTIFUL restaurant called The Botanist, and then headed to an absolute utopia known as Gladstone’s Library.

My parents had bought me a voucher to stay the night – it is, I believe, the only residential library in the UK. It was clean and comfortable accommodation, but the library itself was simply magnificent. Historic, quiet, beautiful, and enormous. There is a lounge for residents with an open fire, lots of squashy armchairs, and an honesty bar, where you can read or chat or play board games. They have an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea – you can basically live there full-time and you would never need to leave. They offer scholarships and bursaries, a vibrant events program, and the friendliest staff. I think it’s a magic place and I can’t wait to get back there one day, hopefully for a longer stay!

The next morning after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove deep into Wales. We stopped for photos at Llyn Tegid and headed through the middle of Snowdonia National Park to the seaside town of Barmouth. This was a gorgeous little place, even while covered in mist and a light rain. We went into cosy gift shops, had lunch in a pub, and bought a banoffee pie milkshake for the road. After this, we headed back to Betws-y-coed, a picturesque village I had visited with Marnie and Mum several years ago. Drenched in rain, it was beautiful as ever. We drove back that evening to Belinda & Andrew’s place.

After brunch and a long walk along Crosby Beach to take pics of Antony Gormley’s Another Place, we jumped in the car and drove back to Scotland. It’s always a brilliant feeling crossing the border. It feels like home.

 

Oot and aboot

Newcastle – a spontaneous day trip to Seven Stories, Baltic, and The Quayside Market

Abbotsford House – home of Sir Walter Scott, nestled in the beautiful Scottish Borders

The Georgian House – an Edinburgh townhouse beautifully preserved in the heart of the New Town

I had a birthday. Edging ever closer to 30 doesn’t scare me quite as much as it used to. It was not a big celebration, but it was a fun one. And good things are happening in my life (like this) and it makes me excited for more of it.

I hope everyone is well and happy xxx

Nice things

St Andrews was grey and wintry and gorgeous. I went up for the Stanza Poetry Festival – only a fleeting visit where I wandered down the the shore and the ruins and had no time to see any events!

17103259_10154259317791269_4400028222441757562_n17103511_10154259317786269_4100706646968037146_n

I’ve been busy with work for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation – see my pride and joy, the Pride & Possibilities journal here. I’ve been to book clubs, wine nights, late nights at the National Museum of Scotland, lectures on the Bronze Age by Historic Scotland, and a gathering for lovely Sophie who has headed back to Aus. Basically, life has been full and wonderful. I went to another brilliant Jane Austen Society event in Dunfermline and I’m off to another tomorrow. I’ve been learning to run. It’s hard and awful but it’s doing me good and I can feel the benefit when I’m not swearing and gasping for air. I went to an event at Waterstones with Hannah Kent. She signed my copy of The Good People and I met Monica McInerney in the signing queue! I’ve been trying to read even more than usual, and my to-be-read list is growing longer every day. We’ve been tuning in every week for the new season of Broadchurch and re-watching Game of Thrones. I’ve seen two amazing pieces of theatre – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and 9 to 5 – and last night I saw the new Beauty and the Beast in all it’s gorgeous, cheesy, nostalgic glory.

How lucky we are to live in this city. How lucky I am to have a job, and a flat, and some money to travel. Here are some photos of beautiful Edinburgh.

I’m sorry this blog sounds braggy and disgusting, but honestly, it’s so easy to be dragged into melancholy and sadness by the state of the world these days. It feels nice to reflect on the nice things, when we can, instead.

 

 

2016 hurtles towards a close…

…taking all manner of celebrities with it. Not nice news to hear about Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Liz Smith, George Michael and Richard Adams, especially after everyone else who has gone this year. By the end of this blog, we’ll probably have lost someone else.

On a lighter note, I have had a busy but wonderful month. Since London, I have completed Nanowrimo (50,000 words written in the month of November), been to Maison de Moggy (Edinburgh’s cat cafe), been to an evening with Jodi Picoult at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, celebrated Sean’s birthday with our friend Sophie who is his birthday neighbour (at Under The Stairs), had Xmas drinks and catch ups with good friends old and new, helped run a poetry trivia night for our volunteers at the Scottish Poetry Library, seen the weird and wonderful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and headed to Dunfermline for a Jane Austen’s birthday do with the Scottish Branch of the Jane Austen Society (while there, I snuck in a quick but lovely visit to Dunfermline Abbey and Palace).

Oh, and Sean squeezed in a trip to Lisbon!

I finished work on the 21st, complete with some bubbles and pizza to send off the year, just in time for a well-earned break…but sleep is for the weak! My beloved parents and grandmother arrived that very evening to spend eight wonderful days with us. I haven’t seen these crazy kids since January 29, the day we left Australia, and after two minutes in their company, it was like no time had passed.

Edinburgh turned on her best weather for them, and by best weather I mean the stereotypically British cliche of sideways rain and wind bad enough to close Edinburgh Castle. Oh, we had fun. I can’t remember giggling quite this much since…ever! We traipsed up and down the Royal Mile and Princes St with our rain hoods up, braving the blustery Christmas Market, the slippery cobblestones, the sodden Greyfriars Kirkyard, and the very wet trek down Clerk Street to the delicious Carington Mouse’s Larder for lunch. I also took my guests to see the book sculptures, the Writers’ Museum (including the rare exhibition of J.K. Rowling’s annotated copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. We had approximately four hundred stops for coffee/tea/cake over the course of their visit and it was truly pleasurable. Scotland has some lovely places for refreshment, and Mum’s friend had given them a nice lunch at Eteaket for Christmas. Marnie and I even went to visit the sister of one of her church friends, who put on a beautiful spread for us with her husband. They were both so warm and generous with their hospitality despite having never met us before! We eventually got to Edinburgh Castle once the weather calmed down as well.

Christmas Day was spent at the AirBnb my parents had rented two streets away from our flat. Their AirBnb was a lot bigger and more comfortable than our flat, so we spent most of our time there actually! We took them to church on Christmas morning (the church I have been attending throughout the year – Pilrig St. Pauls) and then had our mates Sophie and Claire over to share all our food and Christmas cheer! Lots of food was consumed, laughter was had, television was watched, and plans were made.

Boxing Day was spent at the Royal Yacht Britannia (somewhere I had never been and had been on my list for months!) and the Princes St Waterstones store, before we awoke, FINALLY, to good weather for their final two days here.

15723471_10154057847861269_69740183630269187_o15740745_10211916509296839_8690592202733060095_n

We picked up our hire car and hit the road, over the Firth of Forth to a tiny little place called Bandrum, up near Dunfermline. Back when I was a wee lass, my parents bought me a plot of land for my 21st birthday. It was five square feet of Scottish soil that technically makes me a Lady, purchased through this nifty website: http://www.scottishlandsales.co.uk – We found out approximately where we assumed it would be, and then trekked up and across the beautiful countryside to see the views. When we got up the top, Mum produces a crown and a flag to mark my place and many photos were taken. I can’t believe how good the weather was!!

We went to Stirling Castle afterwards, another place I had not yet been, and managed to get some photos before the sun disappeared. I will definitely go back for a longer visit next time!

The next day we drove north, stopping at Auchterarder, then Aberfeldy, then Dunkeld for walks, shopping, and more refreshments. There’s a wonderful cafe in Aberfeldy called the Habitat Cafe that Sean had recommended, but none of our choices disappointed. We raced the sun for photos, and then drove back to Edinburgh, in time to have one more meal together of authentic Scottish fish and chips.

I only cried a tiny bit while saying goodbye. They are off to Windermere today, before they visit Flintshire, Hay-on-Wye, Winchcombe, and Salisbury before heading back to Australia. So I’m incredibly excited for them, but I also don’t want it to be another thirteen months before I see them! I know I’m lucky though. The fact that I am here, and the fact that they were all able to come and see us makes me blessed indeed. I’ve already started on the itinerary for their next visit…

15777005_10154057904216269_8592300278543757827_o