I may not have a picture handy, but one summer many years ago my friend and I were in Scotland traveling around, and I was photographing all things Romantic—“romantic” as in the poetic definition of ruins and ancient things.
We had gone to Inverness for a few days and had driven around the countryside in the rain, mostly, while my friend threatened to have a special bumper sticker made for me reading “I Brake for Ruins” as I had been doing just that, including graveyards, houses, walls, light & shadows on fields, seascapes, and anything else that caught my fancy.
Supper time found us at a Chinese restaurant in Inverness, demonstrating our proficiency with chopsticks and discussing improvements we would make in our university’s English department, especially concerning faculty indiscretions.
The next morning I dropped my friend off at the train station with our bags while I took the little car back to the rental (a last drive along that wonderful river!) and paid the bill. I ran to the station, and we read on the train back to Edinburgh. I finished Joy in the Morning and Very Good, Jeeves by Wodehouse. My friend had been reading Scottish Ghosts aloud to me each night before bedtime and finished it herself on the train. Brr!
Back in Edinburgh we wandered hither and thither. I bought myself a kilt and a scarf and sweater to match. We walked around in the pouring rain, umbrellas doing a little to keep our heads dry. It was a two-pair-of-wool-socks-at-once day.
We had dinner at Pizzaland, sharing a table with two retired schoolteachers on holiday from York and Ayr. We four discussed the problem of teaching Robert Burns and trying to read his poetry aloud when we weren’t Scottish; also the terrible realities of world economics, and how all U.S. presidents thus far elected in a 10-divisible year all died in office—Harrison, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Roosevelt, Kennedy—and we wondered if Reagan would be next. [That dates this story!]
We went back to the B&B run by Mr. Gallows (could any name be more apropos!) and my friend told me more ghost stories.
The next day the first order of business was to find me a tie to match my kilt. Second order of business was to separate so that my friend could buy some Scottish music while I photographed the changing of the guard at Edinburgh Castle.
We walked the Royal Mile down to the Palace of Holyrood where we were given a tour by a beautiful auburn-haired woman with an infectious smile. My friend stayed near her and I stayed behind the crowd, the better to sneak butter shortbread biscuits out of my bag every so often. I was hungry and irreverent enough to risk dropping a crumb on 300-year-old carpets. But I don’t think I did. It does help to cram the entire thing in the mouth at once and keep closed and still as the shortbread melts on your tongue.
My romantic heart thrilled at the Abbey ruins behind the palace. We got to wander around in them to my heart’s delight.
When we stopped for lunch there was a mix-up in the orders of open-faced sandwich and salad. We discussed how Barbara Pym might have handled the scene, had it been in one of her novels. She would have made a witty and ironical minor irritation out of it, we decided. It might have included a curate.
We stopped in a bookshop and bought second-hand books. I found some Mary Stewart novels that had been signed by the author and bought them.
We were to attend a concert after that, but there was still time for one more adventure before it was to start. However, my friend’s feet were hurting badly, so I left her on a bench and climbed the hill to an old cemetery where I photographed lovely spooky scenes in the fog and mist and found an old lock plate on the ground beside the path near a tomb with an iron fence. The gate in the fence had a new lock plate on it, I noticed. I scooped it up, the perfect souvenir, and dropped it in my bag.
The concert, at a school featuring student musicians conducted by Yehudi Menuhin, was wonderful—such talented students. They played William Walton’s Music for Henry V and Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals. It was so good that the audience called for an encore.
Dinner in a deli was followed by reading away the evening in our B&B. When I took the lock plate out of my bag and showed it to my friend, she was aghast.
“You robbed a tomb?” she cried. “She’s in that bed, over there!” she called out to any ghosts that might be hovering, waiting for us to put out the lights. “I had nothing to do with it, at all!”
The incident has haunted me ever since.