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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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I’m spending the night at my parent’s house in the country tonight, and the stars are shining brilliantly in the inky black sky. While it’s dark and clear in Minnesota, it was so foggy I could hardly see to drive when I left Iowa. In both places, all I had to do was open a window to feel fresh air.

Sunset 1

A few evenings ago, I was at a conference in downtown Minneapolis, on the 14th floor of a Hilton Hotel, hemmed in by skyscrapers on four sides, fighting off waves of panic as I rode the elevator higher and higher and higher off the ground.

City - flags

The views from our permanently sealed windows were beautiful in a manmade sort of way, but I missed seeing the sun sink into the horizon at night. The small patch of sky directly overhead told me little of what the weather was doing.

City - night

My brief visit to the big city reminded me of the tale of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse. In the version I remember, a very proper, slightly haughty town mouse goes to visit her cousin in the country. The country mouse welcomes the city mouse with delicious, old-fashioned food and warm, heartfelt hospitality, but the visiting cousin is not impressed. She then adjusts her fancy hat and invites the country mouse to visit her in the city for a taste of the fine life.

City - clouds

When their decadent, uptown feast is interrupted by a pair of big city fat cats, they have to scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring the peace and quiet of the country to the opulence and excitement of the big city.

Sunset 2014 Grass

Once upon a time, I dated a big city boy. At first, he thought he might enjoy living in the county, but as time went by, he realized it was not the lifestyle for him. I wasn’t interested in residing among the steel and glass giants of the city, so that was the end of that.

Zion - bowed head

In the land of fictional relationships, a character may give up his or her chosen lifestyle to be with the one they love, but in real life, it’s hard to reconcile concrete differences that go to the core of what makes us unique. In my first book, Night and Day, it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark when Jensen and Anders meet. Since they both love their respective countries, they struggle as to whether she should leave her home, or he, his, or if they should pick somewhere halfway in between and both be homesick.

Night and Day (1)

In Golden Rod, my new release, Katelyn comes to Scotland from Minnesota to sell a castle she inherited. She doesn’t like international travel and has no intention of staying for more than a week or two. Rod is bound to MacKenzie land that’s been in his family for centuries. Their differences go even deeper than the ocean between their two homes. Katelyn lives in Minneapolis and works for a big company. She is mortified at the thought of losing her job and salary and is loyal to a boss she has always trusted and respected. Rod spends his time at sea or working in the walled garden at his family’s castle.  He’s a fiercely independent entrepreneur who controls his own destiny. Sink or swim, it’s all on him.

GR Blog - Kilt Rock

I worked for a boss in a big city before I moved back to Iowa to open the Blue Belle Inn B&B. It was a hard adjustment to go from a consistent salary to a haphazard income that fluctuated seasonally and at the whim of my customers. Gradually, I learned to trust myself and adapt to the variety of lean and leaner times. I had learned in Colorado Springs, as Katelyn eventually does, that bosses and bankers can be unreliable, and sometimes, even cities can be boom or bust fickle. But then, so can relationships, weather, and a million other things in this world. People accuse the Midwest of being boring, but to me, it feels reliable, secure, and stable.

BlueBelle 2016

Perhaps the ultimate comfort comes from staying near the places we grew up. For me, that’s the flatlands of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa – black dirt, farmland, bean and corn fields, big skies and unfettered horizons in all four directions.

Blog - Sunset

My dad and I were watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show last night. There are several episodes with Country Mouse, City Mouse themes. When I was young, there was a time I couldn’t wait to escape to the big city. Now, I see what a hold the country has on me. Much as I occasionally enjoy being wined and dined and courted while visiting the big city, I will never live in one again. For me, country is comfortable, easy, and filled with delights.

az-purples

The closest I typically come to cities these days is to fly in and out of airports in the world’s major hubs before taking the shortest route out of the city and heading to the nearest village, mountainside, or ocean-side drive. In recent years, I’ve bypassed London, Bucharest, Edinburg, Paris, Copenhagen, Milan, Denver, Phoenix, L.A., and Munich for more remote, secluded locations. Country mouse to the core.

Sunset 1-2015

But some real life stories do have happy endings. When I met my husband, I told him if he married a Minnesota farmer’s daughter, he’d be stuck in the alternately freezing cold or hot, humid Midwest for good. My roots grow deep. He grew up visiting Disneyland and surfing in southern California, and went to law school in downtown Los Angeles. Did he realize I was serious? If he didn’t then, he does now. Thankfully, he appreciates my farm family and loves them like this own. So, sometimes, love can overcome differences like Country Mouse, City Mouse. And for that, I’m very happy.

Sherrie and Mark 2013

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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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