So titled because in ten days I will be returning to Scotland. I hope I will have adequate time and motivation to write consistently about the trip. I am starting now.
This is the first of three installments. Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here.
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It seems the intervals between my visits to the United Kingdom… Great Britain… the British Isles — whatever you want to call that archipelago with the common language and complicated history — are getting shorter. From 24 years to 6 years to… 6 months.
My first trip to England was in the spring of 1976. My then future ex-wife and I went to England for a total of five weeks. We both worked in the TeeVee industry in Hollywood and could take that much time off because it was during the “hiatus” season when all the shows we were working on were shut down, between production seasons. We had plenty of time – and enough money – so off we went, across the continent and across “the pond.” Five weeks was enough time to tour almost the entire country, from the Channel Islands to Cornwall to the Lake District and Wales, and with a brief, abortive foray into Scotland (another story for another time).
St. Mawes from Pendennis – one of the few photos from that 1976 trip that I still have in my catalog.
There’s another whole long story here about how we went to England to get married. Georja carried her custom silk-and-lace wedding dress all over the country with us, but we couldn’t quite pull it off because of a two-week residency requirement before a foreigner could get married. We could have established residency in one place and returned two weeks later, but we had no set itinerary and didn’t want to be obligated to be anywhere at any particular time. We were also informed that it would not be possible to stage a ceremony as we’d imagined — on the ramparts of an ancient castle ruin. Somebody told us we’d have to be married in the office of a justice of the peace, or a chapel or something. Not exactly what we’d flown halfway around the world for.
So we just wandered around the country, pulling the dress out from time to time and shooting photos in romantic locales, and then packing up and moving to the next destination. We even rented the honeymoon suite at Ruthin Castle in Wales. There are photos somewhere of Georja dancing about the honeymoon suite in her flowing white gown. Dunno if I’ll be able to find them, they are probably rotting in a closet in Hawaii, where we moved to and finally got married in 1980 (we divorced in 1994 after I moved – alone – to Nashville).
I didn’t get back to that part of the world for two-and-a-half decades. Moving to Hawaii for 14 years might have had something to do with that….
Fast forward to my second marriage. After our wedding in Nashville, Ann and I spent a week in England and a week in Bavaria. The England portion included 4 days in the Cotwsolds, near the town of Oswestry in Shropshire at a small hotel that stood literally across a stream from Wales. The stately ruin of Ludlow Castle was nearby, and Harlech Castle was the midpoint of day’s drive through Wales.
The view from our room at the Jaegerhaus in Hohenschangau, Bavaria.
We spent three days in London and then flew off to Munich — and more castles. We spent two or three nights in the village of Hohenschwangau, a village that had served the royal seat of Bavaria when it was its own little kingdom. From the bed in our room at a B&B near the center of the village we could look out the window directly up at the ramparts and spires of Neuschwanstein, the fairy-tale castle built in the 19th century by Ludwig II, the Mad King of Bavaria who squandered the nation’s treasure building the sort of edifice that Walt Disney would use as the model for his theme parks a century later.
Notice the recurring theme yet? I’ll give you a clue: it starts with “castles.”
A better look at Neuschwanstein, the “fairy tale” castle that inspired Walt Disney.
It was only six years before Ann and I returned to that part of the world, only this time we went to Ireland. As alluded to earlier, it’s difficult to know how exactly to include Ireland in a discussion of “that part of the world,” because, while Ireland may be, geographically one of the “British Isles,” if there is one thing the Irish struggled mightily for seven centuries NOT to be, it was “British.” Ireland and England may have shared a common language, but the English domination of Ireland was hardly a welcome reality for the entirety of its duration. The Irish still consider the English culpable for the famine that ravaged their island 150 years ago. Some grudges die hard.
We spent two fabulous weeks in Ireland, during which time I was reminded again of this odd affinity that I have for Great Stone Structures – particularly if they lie in some state of ruin.
Burrishoole Friary in County Mayo Ireland – October, 2006
I will state for the record here and now that I do not fully grasp the source of this attraction. I know only that it is a strong, recurring presence in my life. And, it would appear, providence is finally acting in such a way as to explore it.
Nevertheless, it was another six years before we returned to that part of the world. I tried a couple of times. I have several musician friends who conduct tours of Ireland every summer. I signed us up for one of those several years ago, but for whatever reason the prospect fell through.
Then, last summer, Ann and I started making plans for a trip the following fall (2012). I’d suggested at first a return to Ireland, to visit some of the counties like northern Donegal and Sligo that we didn’t quite get to the last time, when we managed to go through only six of the island’s thirty-two counties. Perhaps we’d go to Northern Ireland – the part of the island that the British refused to let go of, the part that still belongs to “The United Kingdom” and is thus separated politically from the Republic that comprises the rest of the island. Perhaps we’d get to see the amazing natural formation called “The Giants Causeway” that somebody told us about the first night that we were there in 2006. “It’s the one thing in Ireland you must see,” he said, but I knew at the time we were not going to make it there on that trip. So we started to think about including that in the itinerary if we went back…
But somewhere in the midst of ruminating about a trip in the fall of 2012, the destination changed. As much as we both wanted to return to Ireland, Ann wanted to go someplace where she’d never been. I think she really wanted to go to Greece, and we may yet make it there someday. It seems a bit odd in retrospect, but we somehow compromised on Scotland.
I have already documented our trip and posted the best of the more than 10,000 photo/files we shot with the nifty little cameras that we took with us. As a friend predicted, amid the other vagaries of life it took almost six months to make it through all those files.
And now I’m going back for more. My flight leaves on Sunday May 19, arriving in Edinburgh in the afternoon of Monday, May 20. I will be there for 2-1/2 weeks.
T-minus 10 days and counting…
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The seed for this upcoming trip was planted during the last one. It was late in the day on October 6, the day we drove from Inverness as far as we would go into the rugged outer reaches the Scottish Highlands known as Wester Ross (not to be confused with Westeros, the fictional world where “Game of Thrones” transpires, but maybe that’s where he got the name…?).
The day before we ventured into Wester Ross, we’d stopped into a bookstore in the town of Nairn, near Inverness, where we spent three nights at an elegant estate called Castle Stuart (seeing the theme yet?). I’d browsed through a book of photos of a peninsula near Inverness called “The Black Isle,” and seen some photos of a ruined abbey there called Beauly Priory. I made a mental note. And when it looked like we had time in the late afternoon after the Wester Ross tour to make it to Beauly before dinner at the castle, I steered the car in that direction.
As time and fate would have it, we reached the village of Beauly about thirty minutes before sunset — “Golden Time,” as the cinematographers in Hollywood like to call it. We found the priory ruins. I pulled out my camera, my cherished 12mm ultra-wide angle lens (the 35mm equivalent of 24mm, which is what I really cherish…) and tripod and started shooting “multi-frame “HDR” photos. Ann put the telephoto lens on her camera and shot close ups of the features.
Beauly Priory at Sunset October 6, 2012. Ann’s photo, with the telephoto lens.
Looking back at the photos, I’m still inclined to think that Ann got better shots than I did. Maybe we all look at other peoples’ photos that way? In any event, Ann satisfied her inclinations toward the site in fairly short order, while I was still wandering around looking for the definitive angle and moment.
And then there was… this moment (Ann will probably kill me when she reads this – but, then, I think she’s heard this already. If not I’m screwed…). The sun had not entirely set, I was looking for one more set-up for my camera and tripod. And I may be paraphrasing, or my memory may not be precise, but what I recall now was Ann saying something along the lines of, “Are you done yet? Can we go now?”
And whether or not that is exactly what Ann said, I do remember exactly the unspoken reply that went through my head at the time: “I’ve waited six years to get to this spot… and I can’t have 15 minutes??”
And this is what you get when you see it through an “ultra wide angle” lens.
In that moment, amid the sun setting behind the ruins of the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands, the seed for this impending trip was planted. I remember thinking as we drove away… “I need to come back here by myself…”
It seemed like an idle thought at the time. But submerged within that thought there was this undeniable…. longing.
Idle thought or not, that seed took root a few months later when I received an e-mail from another musician friend. At the bottom of the email, his calendar listed a concert at a very special venue near Edinburgh in May. I sent an email back.
I’ll tell the rest of that story next week.