Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Steve and Kate's Christmas Visit: Dunnottar, Part 1

Steve and Kate ( of Gourmet Knitting Disaster) and Bobbi and I have been waiting for their visit to the United Kingdom for almost a year- ever since we knew that Bobbi would be sent to London this year.

The visit has come and gone. We had a great time, but it's always a bit of a let down when something you've been waiting for a long time finally comes to pass. First it's imminent, then it's happing, and then, all too soon, it's over. Their trip was like that.

After they arrived, we boarded a train at King's Cross and began a day long trek to the Highlands of Scotland. With his family connection to Clan Keith, Steve had a hankering to see Castle Dunnottar. This magnificent ruined fortress played a role in William Wallace's revolt and withstood a siege by Republican forces in the English Civil War. The Castle was bombarded, but the Hounours of Scotland, that is to say, the crown jewels, were smuggled away from English hands.

The train trip was, in itself, a really amazing journey. Using his new Christmas camera, Steve experimented shooting photos of the English country side as we zipped through. (In fact, many of the photos in this post are his.) As we reached the north, the railway ran right along the shore line, leading to some really impressive views.

We spent the night at a wonderful little bed and breakfast, Beachgate House, in the seaside village of Stonehaven.

The grand thing about visiting Scotland just after Christmas is that, because it is so far north, getting up with the sun is not a difficult thing to do. It doesn't rise until after 8:00 am, even Bobbi and I can manage that. And so, just as the sun crested over the North Sea, we were already breakfasted and heading up the beach.
Gosh- it felt good. (And all before 10am!)

Our host treated us to a very robust breakfast of porridge, eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, toast, jam, coffee, juice and black pudding after which, we set out for the castle- just two miles up the coast.

Nothing really prepared me for Scotland's beauty- as Steve remarked, he had never really known what it meant to have one's breath taken away until he found he could not breath after saying: "wow", "wow", "wow", "wow" over and over.

The hike to the Castle runs along the high cliffs overlooking the rocky shores, and a little winter mud makes it interesting and slippery enough up there to feel as if you really are doing something slightly brave. Despite the fact that we were in the depths of winter, the grass was still quite green, and the hill sides were populated by rabbits.

About halfway to the Castle, we passed the town's memorial to the dead of the Great War. This amazing structure sits on the top of a rise overlooking the sea, and is visitable for quite some distance in every direction. It's setting and design evokes a vision of the mythical kingdoms of old. I am sure that this was done both as to effort to lend glory to the horrifying struggle and, perhaps, an effort to consign the recent pain to the realm of the past...how could they suspect, when they erected the memorial, that they would have to live through such a conflagration AGAIN in just a generation?

Perhaps it's just overly sentimental, but I found the experience of visiting Scotland to be an odd combination of the familiar and the exotic....the high areas reminded me of New England, the Cliffs over looking the North Sea were like nothing I'd ever seen before. But the odd thing is, it feels a little like home.

Next post: we reach the castle, and Alex continues to fall back upon hackneyed phrases and cliches in attempt to capture an amazing experience.


Ethan Slayton said...

Beautiful pictures! I just checked at work, so I havent had a chance to read the blog but I wanted to see the imagery. Ill post more comments after I read :)

Molly Patten said...

Amazing pictures! I am positively green with envy!