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It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

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We headed to the Highlands on the next jaunt of our Scottish journey. In some ways, driving into the Highlands reminds me of when I lived in Colorado Springs and occasionally ventured up to Breckenridge or Estes Park. The higher the altitude, the more pine trees and mountain peaks, the more athletic pursuits and other activities geared toward tourists, and the more cute mountain resort towns with large hotels. But as usual, we skipped all that and sought out a quiet, countryside location away from the crowds.

Scot - Aberfeldy cottage

We spent three nights in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. We could see J.K. Rowling’s summer house across the glen from where we were staying, which tells you there is something magical about the spot. The views were incredible, and we loved watching the sunset while walking down the lane with the owner’s English cocker spaniels in tow. There were plenty of flowers to smell and benches to sit on while scratching the dogs’ ears and rubbing their tummies. I felt right at home and loved hearing sheep baaing and a rushing stream while we laid in bed each night.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

Our cottage had its own little kitchen, and most of the eating establishments we had hoped to visit were closed for the holiday weekend, so we visited the grocery and stocked up on some goodies for breakfasts and picnic suppers. Mark makes great omelets which were wonderful with rashers and bangers (bacon and sausages).

Scot - bluebells

I was delighted to find the woods around Strathtay still abloom with bluebells.  Mark played a couple of holes of golf while I walked in the bluebell wood. Then, our excitement turned to disappointment when we wandered into town and found that the art gallery on the main square where I bought a painting of Menzies Castle by Artist Audrey Slowrance was now a real estate office.

Scot - Audrey Slorance

After looking wistfully at the listings and feeling more than a little tempted to invest in a piece of Scotland, we finally tracked Audrey down in her new studio in a garage and bought a couple of her lovely prints. It made my day to get to talk to her about painting and what inspires her. How I wished I’d had my paints and a couple of canvases tucked in my suitcase!

Scot - kilts

We also attended the Highland Games and Fair at Blair Atholl Castle, where once again, we had the thrill of seeing the Atholl Highlanders march to the tune of bagpipes and drums. Be still my heart! A walk through Diana’s Forest, which has some of the tallest trees in Great Britain, was restful and quiet after the boisterous sounds of the crowds cheering on the brawny competitors, graceful Highland dancers and talented bagpipers at the Highland Games.

Scot - Phone booth

Our last day in the Aberfeldy area, we followed a narrow, winding, mountainside road to Glenlyon, where there’s a tiny post office in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for its desserts. The waitress’ young daughter, who invited us to sit with her, entertained us while we had a bowl of leek and potato soup, crusty, homemade bread with butter, and pudding… well worth the slightly hair-raising drive along a single track road with too few passing places.

Scot - Kenmore Church

On the way home, we took a new road to Kenmore, a village along Loch Tay that we’d seen featured in several of Audrey’s paintings, and happened upon a delightful spot. We were looking for a loo when we overheard a desk clerk at the local hotel mentioning that Rick Steves’ tour bus would be arriving any minute. Being fans of his TV show, we waited around for a glimpse, took a photo, and gloated because we have such a keen knack for sniffing out desirable locations.

Scot - kenmore

The next day, it was time to head north to our next destination, Ben View House at Lentran Farm, in the countryside near Inverness, where we had two nights booked. On the way, we had two significant experiences. The living Highland Folk Museum had miles of wonderful examples of how the Highlanders lived and built their homes. We learned that several scenes from Outlander had been filmed in the blackhouse village, and I have to admit it was a thrill to walk where Jamie, Claire and Dugall had. The smell of a peat fire wafting in the air, hand woven linens and many authentic touches made history come to life.

Scot - highland folk village

After another bit of driving, we had a bit of trouble locating the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore, but our minor detours were rewarded with an enthusiastic greeting and our own personal tasting of over a dozen of their creamy, buttery fudge flavors. After stocking up on oodles of my favorite (Clootie Dumpling fudge, which is not too sweet, and packed with gingerbread spices and raisins), and a few new varieties like Rhubarb Cream, Salted Caramel and Millionaire’s Shortbread, we headed on through the mountains.

Scot - sunset

As we were coming into Aviemore, I spotted a sign that pointed to a Mountain Railway, which of course, made me think of my dad, whose favorite song was Life is Like a Mountain Railway. But then, these days, everything makes me think of him. Last year, when we left for Ireland and Wales, he was in the hospital with pneumonia, and we weren’t sure what would happen while we were gone, so we called him every night about midnight to tell him about our day. This year, over and over again, I found myself thinking, Dad would love this. I’ll have to tell him about it when we call him tonight. How I wish I could, but for that, I’d need a Railway to Heaven.

Scot - Daffodil

I’ll end on that note. Vacations are a wonderful way to relax and forget your troubles, but being free from a hectic routine also gives you more time to remember… and think…

Stay tuned for our trek northward and westward, ho…

When I shared the itinerary for our third trip to Scotland a few moths ago, I was snowed in by a February blizzard and dreaming of warmer days.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

It was probably fitting that last month, when we arrived in Scotland, we found ourselves in the middle of a heat wave. The wonderful side of the warm, sunny days was that we saw the sights under blue skies and never needed our umbrellas. The bad side was that the early heat brought out the dreaded midges, a tiny insect with a stinging bite that causes blisters on sensitive skin like mine. And several nights, we found ourselves sweating in sweltering hot guestrooms that came loaded with extra blankets and cozy warm duvets designed for the normally cool, highland weather conditions. Scots typically don’t need air conditioning or even fans, but this year, even the mountains were wrapped in stuffy, sultry air – and we didn’t dare open the windows unless we wanted a room full of midges. It was so hot that one of our destinations almost burned down a week before we arrived when the intense heat and dry conditions fueled wildfires in Wester Ross.

I guess that’s what I get for cursing February’s cold and trying to wish away winter!

Locals were delighted with the warm temperatures after enduring their own long winter, and repeatedly thanked us for bring the good weather with us. As it turned out, the whole time we were in Scotland, our cell phones kept buzzing with notifications of tornado, flood, high wind, and excessive heat index warnings – the weather in Iowa was horrible while we were away.

But enough about the weather. I’d like to try to share more than an itinerary in this blog, instead focusing on my reactions to the amazing sights we saw.

Scot - Kellie flowers

Our first three nights were spent at a B&B in the East Neuk of Fife countryside between Edinburgh and St. Andrews. We arrived exhausted from a long flight and a missed night of sleep as we traveled forward in time. We couldn’t have found a more restorative place to stay.

After strolling through the castle gardens at Falkland Palace, at the foot of the Lomond Hills, we wound our way to Colinsburg to check in to our first B&B.

Scot - Jane's House

The house was long and narrow, a renovated stable that was artistic and creatively decorated but comfortable and homey, with walls and walls of bookshelves and a million doors, each one different. There was a fireplace in our room and each morning, we could hear the birds singing through the chimney. Our host gave us herbal potions to ease our jet lag and boost our immune systems, and built us a fire in the library each night. (Those first few days were chilly.) We felt gloriously pampered.

Scot - Leven

The family we stayed with were descendants of the same Lorimer family who rescued and restored nearby Kellie Castle, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour and an afternoon tea in the castle gardens discussing art and architecture of Robert Lorimer. The legends surrounding the castle were fascinating and I had the most interesting conversation with a curator for the National Trust of Scotland.

When I shared with her that I have four houses filled with treasures and that I fear that soon-approaching time when I have to part with the wonders I have collected over the years, she recommended a succinct way to approach the task. The method she uses is to give each item a number between 1 and 4 based on its true worth after rating the objects according to their historical value, personal or emotional significance, monetary worth, and family importance. Those items that rank high in all categories should be saved for posterity, and those things that fall short in one or more categories should be released.

Baldners Dad

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad before he died when he was saddened by the fact that no one would probably want much of the beautiful wood he collected and never used for one of his many projects.

I started thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children, and that my nieces and nephews don’t share my tastes and wondering what would become of my beautiful artwork and pottery and china. As I listened to my dad talk, I thought about how much I paid for each of my paintings and asked myself if I had gotten my money’s worth out of the item based on how much enjoyment I’d gotten from each piece over the years. The answer in each case was yes. So, one day, if they get sold at a garage sale for $10 or carted away by a great niece for free or even thrown on somebody’s bonfire, it’s okay, because I’ve enjoyed them so thoroughly, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

Rose - houses

I think I was meant to have those conversations, one on the double recliner at the farm in Minnesota with my dad, and one in a castle in Fife with a stranger.

Scot - Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle was also a rare find in that the castle garden was adjacent to the castle. You can see the castle from every corner of the garden, and photograph its towers and gables and spires with flowers in the foreground. You don’t have to walk to the back forty to enjoy the garden’s beauty. The castle and the garden are one entity. It’s exactly how I pictured Lachlan, Rod’s family’s castle, in Golden Rod. I found myself wanting Kellie Castle to be on the cover of Golden Rod, and will put it there one day. Kellie is lesser known, and a better choice for an imaginary, fictional place known only to my novel, than is Craigievar, which is so easily recognized my anyone familiar with Aberdeenshire. Perhaps then, I can forgive myself for taking artistic license with the history of Lochcarron.

Scot - Culross house 2

The rest of our time in Fife was spent exploring the Neuk fishing villages of Fife, briefly visiting St. Andrews, and exploring the Firth of Forth, the waterway that cuts deep into Scotland from the East, separating Edinburg from the areas to the north. We took the time to explore a little village called Crail because we know Crails in St. Ansgar whose family come from there. Crail is an enchanting little seaside town, and I fell in love with Crail Pottery. We teased about the fact that we couldn’t imagine why the Crail family ever left. It made me wonder about those of us from America who love Europe, and feel strong ties to the area. Would the lure of the promise that America held have been so enticing that I would have left my home and country behind to seek my fortune in the new world? And is it some sort of homing instinct deep inside my soul that makes me want to go back, after almost a century and a half and five generations?

Scot - Colross

We visited the medieval village of Culross where parts of Outlander were filmed and climbed a million steps to look down over the rooftops rimming the sea. When we got lost looking for the city center, I was so exhausted after all those steps that I thought perhaps I might have to be buried right there under the wandering cobblestones.

Scot - Culross square

And as usual, when it was all said and done, we gained less enjoyment from the famous Culross, billed as one of the most picturesque and oldest medieval villages in Scotland, than we did watching the sunset from an old church, and then, a deserted windmill by the sea. No surprise there – time and time again, we are drawn to unpopular, out-of-the-way places.

Scot - Windmill

Cambo Gardens was a disappointment and a relief. The gardens I loved so much 11 years had been dug up and redesigned. The flowers might be as pretty as they once were in another decade or so – more proof that you can’t go back. I must be a true optimist, because I always expect things to keep improving with time, to be better than I remember, not worse. I was pacified by the fact that the barely navigable, half washed out path to the sea I hiked 11 years ago had also been redesigned, and was quite pleasant. The woods were filled with fragrant wild garlic blossoms, bluebells and tiny fairy flowers. The midges were organizing, fluttering their tiny wings in sunny spots in the glen, but not yet biting.

Scot - Peat Inn

But the absolute best experience we had in the Kingdom of Fife and by far the favorite meal of our vacation was lunch at the Peat Inn, in the tiny town of Peat Inn. Indescribable. Every morsel more wonderful than the last. The kind of food artistry and flavorful food I aspire to. Impeccable presentation and heartfelt service. I loved every bite, every second.

Scot - Culross house

Our three days in Fife flew by, and now, it seems like a dream. No wonder, as I was so tired and jet lagged for those first three days. It always takes me a few days to remember what it means to be a relaxed person, free from responsibility, ready to enjoy being served by others instead of serving. I couldn’t have had a better place to put the trip in perspective and set the scene for the days ahead.  NEXT:  From the Lowlands to the Highlands…

There’s something very exciting about seeing familiar characters in new situations. I love it when I get to experience my favorites things from days past paired with a handful of brand new adventures to shine a light on things and places that are fresh and exciting. My upcoming release, Daybreak, a sequel to Night and Day, will give readers a chance to reminisce and reacquaint themselves with some of their favorite characters. At the same time, it has to be realized that this second glimpse at Jensen and Anders, Ed, and the Christiansen family begins at a time when everything has changed, some things for the better, and some for the worse. Familiar characters (something old), different situations (something new).

Night and Day (1)Daybreak in Denmark (3)

That’s how I’m looking at our third trip to Scotland this coming May and June. We’ll be revisiting some of our most loved spots, interspersed with a few new adventures and never before seen destinations.  Familiar sights, new experiences. Hopefully, it will be the perfect mix!

We’ll be starting out at a new B&B in a new village, halfway between Edinburgh and St. Andrews, both of which we’ve already seen. We have a beautiful room lined up in Colinsburgh, Scotland, where we’ll be our first three nights in country.

2018- Collinsburg

On our first trip to Scotland, I fell in love with Cambo Garden Estates in Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife. This will be Mark’s first time, and I can’t wait to show him around, hopefully this time, not in the rain – although the raindrops and overcast haze made for some lovely photos in 2007.

181 Scotland - Cambo gardens4

Some newly discovered treasures we hope to see while we’re in the area include Kellie Castle, with its fairytale stone towers, and an Arts & Crafts garden with herbaceous borders and old rose gardens, and Culross, Scotland’s most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. Envision white-harled houses with red-tiled roofs lining steep, cobbled streets running from market cross to the hilltop abbey. In the centre is an ochre-coloured palace with a beautifully reconstructed herb garden, complete with rare Scots Dumpy hens. We’re told it’s one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland.

2018 - Aberfeldy Cottage

On next few nights will be spent in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. When we’re not enjoying our cozy abode, we hope to visit some new spots – Ailean Chraggan Hotel, where we’re told you can meet the locals, and the food is good. The Breadlabane Bakery is on my list, and a highly recommended Deli-ght, a great delicatessen with very good home cooked ready meals we can enjoy at our home away from home.

Aberfeldy - Inside

Our trip to Aberfeldy will include a visit to a favorite art gallery belonging to Artist Audrey Slowrance

And – a return visit to nearby Blair Atholl Castle where we will once again see the Atholl Highlanders marching in review, and the famed highland games

SW 57

From there, we’re off to Inverness, or the countryside near Inverness, where we’ll spend two days at Ben View House Lentran Farm, which looks lovely inside and out.

2018 - Inverness inside2018 - Inverness

Inverness - view

While we’re in the highlands, we plan to visit the living Highland Folk Museum. Visitors to this living history Museum can learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, built their homes, tilled the soil and dressed. We can’t wait to see the restored buildings and witness Highland history coming to life.

SW 67

The Kilted Fudge Company is next on my list. I first tasted their handmade cream and butter fudge at the highland games in 2016. Located in Aviemore, Scotland, they feature mouth-watering Scottish favourites such as Irn Bru, Crannachan, Clootie Dumpling (my absolute fave), Millionaire’s Shortbread, Turkish Delight and Parma Violet.

On our last visit, we couldn’t quite squeeze in Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. After watching two seasons of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria, we’re intrigued by the history of Balmoral Castle, which dates from the 15th century, but was considered too small when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the region and people during a visit to the Scottish Highlands. Prince Albert set about organising the design of the current castle and grounds when the Royal Family purchased the estate in 1852. Construction of the new castle started during the summer 0f 1853, on a site just 100 yards from the original building. The couple spent many weeks each year relaxing at their new home in Highlands, and after Albert’s death, Victoria spent up to 4 months each year at Balmoral.  If we have time, we’ll also explore Braemar Castle, a largely restored 17th century castle originally built in 1628.

From there, we head to Ullapool…

2018 - Ullapool deck2018 - Ullapool room2018 - Ullapool view

Our host will be Fair Morn Bed & Breakfast, in a room with a view, at Morefield Brae.  This will be another first for us, as will the lovely Achmelvich Beach, and the award-winning Inverewe Garden, where we’re promised we can lose ourselves in the lush setting and enjoy a riot of colours and scents.

We’ll start out June with a three hour long CalMac Ferry Ride on hopefully calm seas!

2018 - Isle of Lewis outside2018 - Isle of Lewis view

While on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, we’ll stay at Keepers House, Uig Beach, Tinsgarry, Isle of Lewis. Although it was tempting to head back to the Isle of Mull, where Blue Belle is set, or Isle of Arran, which we enjoyed so much in 2016, we decided to strike out and try something new…

The mysterious, and now famous standing stones seen in Outlander will no doubt be our first stop.  We’re also hoping to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We’re told Scalpay’s North Harbour Bistro is the place for a tasty meal and that we need to browse the beautiful Harris Tweed products at the Pink Sheep Studio. We want to see Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with its restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs. Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old. on the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, Luskentyre Beach, and St. Clement’s Church in the tiny town of Rodel are also on the list.

2018 - Skye view

After another ferry ride to Uig, Isle of Skye, we hope to take in a sunset like this one.

B&W ViewIMG_20160605_114838

We’ll definitely revisit our favorite scenic overlook on Skye, and the much loved Eilean Donan Castle featured in my books Shy Violet and Sweet William. One spot that we previously missed is Caisteal Maol (Castle Bare) near Kyle of Lochalsh. We hope to include it on this trip… something old, something new…

2018 - Lochcarron room2018 - Lochcarron view

Staying in Lochcarron, setting of Golden Rod, will be a new experience, (Castle Cottage looks wonderful!) but we’ll also enjoy some of our favorite spots while we’re there.

GR Blog - Waterside Cafe

And then, it’s off to Fort William on our way south toward Glasgow.

2018 - Fort William

After one night at Loch View Estate, Fort William, we’re very excited to get to explore a new corner of western Scotland, where we get to stay in a B&B that looks absolutely delightful.

2018 - Kilmartin chairs2018 - Kilmartin living room2018 - kilmartin room2018 - Kilmartin sheep2018 - Kilmartin view

Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, surrounding the village of Kilmartin, on the west of Scotland. The area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

And then, it’s off to Paisley to repack our suitcases and catch an early morning flight back to the U.S.

2018 - Paisley fireplace2018 - Paisley room

If we have time, I’d love to see House for an Art Lover in Glasgow. It’s situated in Bellahouston Park, about 10 minutes from the flat where we’ll be staying. It’s a wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh building with a fantastic restaurant and art collection.

Maybe now you have a sense of why I keep revisiting Scotland in my books, my travels, and my dreams. And although I took a detour back to Denmark and Minnesota in my new book, Daybreak, the concept is the same. Something old and familiar, something new and exciting, something borrowed (aren’t all stories?) and something blue… always Blue. It’s the stuff the best stories are made of.

BlueBelle 2016

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers - Stripes

(Disclaimer:  I use my own photos except for those of places I have never been, which I obviously couldn’t have taken – yet.)

With everyone so worked up about rumors of fake news, I’m glad I’m not a news writer. But yesterday, I more or less got accused of writing fake fiction. I was telling people about my book, Night and Day, and that it was loosely based on the story of why my great-great grandparents emigrated from Denmark.

Night and Day (1)

I told them the reputed true part of the story (my great, great grandma was a very beautiful woman, who my great, great grandfather brought to America to get away from another man who was in love with her). I then said that the rest of the book was a product of my wild imagination – one possible explanation of what might have happened in Denmark all those decades ago.

Night and Day - Maren Jensen Grave

I went on to describe Golden Rod, my most recent release, including the legends and castles that inspired the book. And then I mentioned ghosts.

Golden Rod

“So this book isn’t true,” said one of the ladies.

“None of them are true,” I said. “They’re fiction.”

“But if there are ghosts, Golden Rod can’t be based on a true story.”

“But it is,” I said. “We toured a castle in Scotland that has been under a curse for over 500 years. A traveling minister offered to bless the castle, and when his offer was rejected because the owners preferred to wait for the priest, he cursed the castle, promising that no eldest son would ever inherit. In all these years, none has.”

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

“But if there are ghosts in the story…”

Golden Rod front cover- final

“Fictional ghosts. All of my novels are fiction.” I told them about a second castle we toured, and the legend of a woman who fell from a fourth story window, and the upside down writing carved into the castle wall, 3 ½ stories up where no one but a ghost could reach. “It’s fiction based on a true story,” I tried to explain. “Just like Night and Day. And another of my books, Blue Belle, which was inspired by the tale of a Spanish galleon that went down in Tobermory Bay in 1588, fully loaded with gold that has never been recovered.”

Blue Belle - Jump Canva

“But if it happened that long ago, no one knows what really happened.”

“Right. That’s why it’s fiction.”

Perhaps the real truth is that there’s a nugget of something that really happened in all my books – or very probably happened – or at least, very probably happened in some similar form, or in a slightly different way, or in a different time.

Wild Rose - Photo

The truth – altered just enough to protect the not so innocent, which in some cases might be me, and to throw family members, acquaintances, and any others who might judge me off the scent.  The truth – transformed just enough to convince the reader that this is a work of fiction, that the characters, incidents, and dialogs are products of the author’s imagination and not, under any circumstances, to be construed as real.

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Because the truth is, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. They’re all fiction, people. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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I write fiction. Still, everything that filters through my brain is based on the reality of my life, my experiences, and my beliefs. I’m a complex person, and so are my books. Real life occurrences inspire fictional stories. Imaginary tales spring from a nugget of truth, either learned or observed.

Fake fiction? You be the judge.

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Although my Wildflowers of Scotland books are contemporary, I always find a way to weave in a wee bit of history… an old kirk with architectural and religious artifacts gone missing, a sunken Spanish galleon filled with gold that was never recovered, a castle with a melancholy history all its own, or the Isle of Skye’s magical Fairy Glen. In GOLDEN ROD, I incorporated a touch of history via a 500-year-old castle that was cursed by a traveling minister when the owners refused his blessing, preferring to wait for the prayers of a Catholic priest.  At least, that’s what legend holds, and it would seem the legends are true, since no eldest son has ever inherited Lachlan Castle – not once in 500 years.

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From GOLDEN ROD:

A traveling Protestant minister who liked to speak in rhymes leveled the curse when the MacKenzie clan refused his blessing, preferring to wait until a Catholic priest could dedicate the newly built edifice.

Oh Lachlan, ye’re on shifting sand.

Nae eldest son shall have a hand

In furth’ring hist’ry on this land.

In the history of the castle, no eldest son has succeeded his father as heir of Lachlan Castle.

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All kinds of tragedies have transpired as a result of the minister’s curse, including ghosts Laird Valan MacKenzie and Lady Rosemary being stranded at Lachlan for over 500 years.

A ghost dressed in full Highland attire roams the castle and grounds at Lachlan, on the shores of Loch Carron. A favorite of locals, Laird Valan MacKenzie so desperately wanted a son to pass the castle on to that he may have taken his wife’s life when she bore him nothing but daughters. Laird Valan’s version of the event was that his wife tripped and fell to her death despite his best efforts to save her. Many a guest has seen Laird Valan’s kilt, plaid, and sporran. Legend has it that Valan will haunt the castle until an ancient curse is broken.

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I won’t ask if you believe in ghosts because it doesn’t matter. GOLDEN ROD is a work of fiction, so all I’m asking you to do is to suspend your disbelief while you’re reading the book. But whatever our beliefs, I think we all have thoughts on the subject of ghosts. Some of us are afraid of them, or would be afraid to stay in a place that’s haunted by ghosts. Others are fascinated or even intrigued by ghostly happenings and seek out places that are reputedly haunted. What about you? Maybe you’ve had your hair stand on end when you’ve been seated around a campfire listening to ghost stories. How do you react to the subject of ghosts?

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A ghost, known as the “Blue Lady” also frequents Lachlan Castle, on Loch Carron. She is thought to be the wife of Laird Valan MacKenzie, and mother to their five daughters. Her husband allegedly pushed her from a fourth floor window so he could take a new wife who might bear him a son. The ghost of Lady Rosemary MacKenzie, who ironically, was discovered to have been pregnant with a son at the time of her death, is said to have scratched the words, The Son You Always Wanted, upside down on the window sill outside the bedroom window where she fell. The inscription can still be seen there today. It is reported that the “Blue Lady” leaves the scent of rosemary and bluebells wherever she goes. Because her own life ended so tragically, legend holds that the “Blue Lady” will haunt the castle until a Lachlan love story ends with a happily-ever-after ending. Unfortunately, due to an old curse, the dreams of many a castle resident have ended tragically, perpetuating the haunting of the castle by Lady Rosemary.

BlueBelle 2016 I grew up watching tales of Casper the Friendly Ghost,  the classic Christmas Carol, and even Ghostbusters, so I’ve always been comfortable with the concept of ghosts. In church, we heard about the Holy Ghost, a comforting presence who was always with us. When I bought a house in St. Ansgar, Iowa and turned it into a B&B and tea house, locals told me about a friendly ghost who rescued the century old floor plans from the dump and returned them to the house when they were accidentally thrown away, among other adventures. So in one form or another, I’ve always accepted that ghosts are real.

In GOLDEN ROD, Rod MacKenzie has felt the presence of Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary since he was young, but never had a direct encounter with them – until Katelyn O’Neal arrives from America and stirs things up.

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Katelyn thinks the whole thing is a crock, and is convinced there has to be some sort of logical, scientific explanation for the odd things that are happening to her.

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Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary, the ghostly duo from GOLDEN ROD, have very distinctive personalities and a sometimes quirky sense of humor. As Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary get more and more desperate to break the 500 year old curse so they can finally rest in peace, the stakes grow higher.

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Once Rod discovers what they’re up to, he’s more than happy to comply, or at least humor them, except that Katelyn’s niece is dying, and if he has to choose who to help, a dying twelve year old or a pair of ghosts who’ve already been dead for five hundred years, the choice is clear. Except that nothing is clear – and Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary will do anything to change history and break the curse that binds them.

Golden Rod

You’ll have to read GOLDEN ROD to learn how the story ends. Here are the Buy Links for GOLDEN ROD at Amazon:
Kindle: http://a.co/3zRGCpF
Paperback: http://a.co/8oJpv4Q

In the meantime, I hope the ghosts that may haunt you are friendly ones.                                                                                                                                                                     Ghosts - blur of blue

What started it all was a stretch of wind-swept, treeless terrain and a bright blue cottage built from timber washed ashore after a shipwreck. I’ve always loved the notion of “if these walls could speak”. And building a house out of second-hand lumber sounds just like something a Hansen would do.

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How many men died aboard the ship this cottage used to be, trying to navigate the churning waters of the Atlantic, I’ll never know, but these much-treasured, repurposed boards live on as part of their legacy.

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Have I made my case? Writing a book set in Ireland is a perfectly fine thing to do. Still, I felt like I was cheating on Scotland the whole time we were in Ireland, Wales and southern England. Everyone who reads my blog knows that my love affair with Scotland has taken me through over five weeks of exploration of the bonnie country (in both 2007 and 2016) and five Wildflowers of Scotland novels – WILD ROSE and THISTLE DOWN, a prequel novella, set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, BLUE BELLE, in and around Tobermory’s rainbow tinted harbor and cottages, castles and white sand beaches on the Isle of Mull, SHY VIOLET, set in Dornie at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle, SWEET WILLIAM, in the nearby highlands and on the Isle of Skye, and now, GOLDEN ROD, set against the backdrop of Wester-Ross and lovely Lochcarron’s wooded shores.

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GOLDEN ROD is almost ready for the press. I’m very excited to know that soon, people will be holding freshly printed copies in their hands and reading the story of  Katelyn O’Neal, a well-intentioned but naïve American who inherits a castle in Scotland. Katelyn is thrilled to have an opportunity to sell Lachlan Castle to a wealthy bidder who is a client at the PR firm where she words because her twelve-year-old niece is dying and needs a very expensive, specialized treatment. Then she meets the “rightful” heir, Rod MacKenzie. As the “legal” heir, she has every right to cast Rod out of his home, and to destroy the beloved garden that is his legacy. She has no other choice if she wants to save Kacie’s life. But when a desperate pair of 500-year-old ghosts intervene, the whole course of history could change.  GOLDEN ROD is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that I think you’ll find both amusing and uplifting.

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But now, even as GOLDEN ROD is being birthed, a lass named SEASIDE DAISY is calling out to me. She hails from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in a town named Dingle. My fickle heart has already fallen in love with the people and places of Ireland’s western-most peninsula.

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Sea caves and standing stones dotting the shoreline, pale lavender and white seaside daisies with yellow centers bent almost flat from the pounding rain and wind – but still blossoming, and even thriving – tell a story of perseverance and determination that captivates my imagination.

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Colourful shoppes filled with driftwood sculptures, fuchsia fairies dangling from lacy branches, and sea glass and beach pottery made into jewelry, call out to me.

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Constantly changing, ever dramatic skies and rainbows appearing and disappearing in the mist stoke my curiosity until I know I cannot NOT tell this story.

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Bicycles. Black-faced sheep with curly horns. Hidden beaches, abandoned bothies, and crumbling battlements… The Wild Atlantic Way. Wild in what way?

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Overgrown rose gardens, fuchsia hedgerows, quirky hat hires, seafood chowder and Irish stew…  It may be a bunch of blarney, but it’s all so exciting and new!

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Scotland, it’s been swell. You know I’ll be back. There’s Aberfeldy, Dornoch, St. Andrews and Portree – and many more amazing castles waiting to be explored.

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But I need to find out about this new place and its wild, wonderful ways.

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Read GOLDEN ROD. You’ll agree with me when I say that after all they’ve been through, Rod and Katelyn need a vacation – or might it be a honeymoon? Perhaps they’ll find themselves on a ferry boat traveling across the Irish Sea? Michael and Isabelle from BLUE BELLE might be there, too, on a bicycle built for two, because Isabelle loves to pedal and Michael needs to know if Daisy will give Cavan Donaghue her answer true. Don’t you?  Only eight pages in and I’m already crazy over the likes of these two.

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An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

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As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

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Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

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The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

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A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

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The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

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Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

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“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

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 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

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Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

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They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

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A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

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The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

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“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

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Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

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Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

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Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

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Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

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I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

If Prince Rod of Lachlan sounds like something straight from the pages of a fairy tale, you’re right.

Golden Rod painting

When Katelyn O’Neal, a reluctant “princess” from Minnesota, inherits a castle from a great uncle she met only once, she views the whole ordeal as a huge bother, except that selling the castle to a rich developer will pay for a very expensive, experimental cancer treatment for her 12 year old niece, Kacie.

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Rod MacKenzie, the illegitimate but rightful heir to Lachlan, has used his own time and money to take care of the castle and its magnificent gardens for years – despite the fact that his grandfather wrote him out of his will. Rod would love to live happily ever after in the land of his ancestors even though he’s always known it was an impossibility.

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Add Laird Valan MacKenzie and the lovely Lady Rosemary, a pair of 500 year old ghosts who are bound to the castle by age-old curses, and would do anything to escape the place, and you have GOLDEN ROD, a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that turns everything upside down.

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Lachlan – a centuries old castle on Loch Carron in Scotland. Kacie – a twelve year old girl whose dying wish is to see it. Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary – 500 year old ghosts who desperately want to escape it. Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod MacKenzie – the rightful heir who loves Lachlan and its gardens even though he will never inherit.  Katelyn O’Neal – the legal heir who unwitting sold the castle to a low life scum at a high price.

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GOLDEN ROD, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen – coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

 

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There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

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Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

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Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

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In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

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This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

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We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

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From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the moth. Perfect timing!

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Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

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On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

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Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

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Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

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Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

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It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

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I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat. 

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Golden Rod – New Release!

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