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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…

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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…

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Daybreak – New Release! (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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