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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Heaven Was in Our Eyes (Part 4)

Part 4 of 4.

Scottish Adventures and Beyond


Judith, Reba, and I waited several hours for our bus to Edinburgh, and when we got on we were all separated. I sat with a young woman factory worker who was very friendly and kind, and we enjoyed interesting conversation the whole way there.

Edinburgh was beautiful! That the day was warm and mostly clear added to the enchantment of the sunset vista. Our B&B host was Mr. Gallows, which we thought augured well, but which didn’t actually come to anything except in our imaginations.

Sunday, August 11.
After breakfast and checking out of our B&B, the three of us wended our way through quiet streets to Waverly Station. We sent Reba to check bus times as an alternative to taking the expensive train to Fort William. Meanwhile, Judith and I got ourselves another B&B and checked on the activities available during the Military Tattoo week. Reba never reappeared, and we waited a full hour before finding she had taken a bus leaving right away without bothering to let us know. Judith urged us to go—but as Reba was not a legal adult, I felt that I must make at least the appearance of effort to watch out for her.

It was my last shred of responsibility for this trip. From then on, Judith and I were just two friends touring together—no more troublesome sense of needing to be the leader.

We toured Edinburgh Castle, watched the parade with all the pipe bands, and went to the National Art Gallery. I was engrossed in JMW Turner paintings as usual, and took a full hour longer than Judith, whose feet were swelling and making her sit down a lot. Poor Judith! I must have tried her patience.

We ate dinner at Pizzaland, a Chicago-style place with music by a California rock group (the Eagles), rain pouring down outside, the Bank of Scotland across the street and Arthur’s Seat in the distance showing between buildings. Could anywhere be more contemporary and yet timeless? The pizza was absolutely the best I’d ever had. I thought the crust must have had ale or something cooked into it. I could have eaten it every day.

We were cold and soaked by the time we got back to Clarin House, where we’d moved in the morning. Remedy: hot herbal tea and sitting up in bed reading. Judith got after me for laughing out loud while reading Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse, which distracted her from her own book. Help! How could I not laugh?

Monday, August 12.
We took the train to Inverness, arriving mid-afternoon in the pouring rain. I left Judith with our bags at the Information Office where we’d arranged a B&B and made the rounds of car rentals until I got a little brown Ford Fiesta about the same size as my own car back home. The rain was letting up as I picked up Judith and our luggage. We found our B&B without too much trouble and I quickly discovered that a small car with right-hand controls was significantly easier to drive than a 15-passenger van on the left-hand side of the road.

We had a cup of hot chocolate to warm us up in our room, and then we decided we might as well drive the day into sunset, as the rain had stopped. We thought we’d go out and find Foulis Castle, the ancestral home of Clan Munro, my ancestors.

We soon discovered our little jaunt wasn’t easy, given our inadequate maps and map-reading skills and crazy routes. We drove clear around the Moray Firth through Dingwall and around the Firth of Cromarty, spending an hour and a half and many miles to go to a location that was directly only sixteen miles away. But we had a good time—with me braking whenever I saw a vista I wanted a photo of, such as trees silhouetted against a cloudy sky, the light on a field of grain, eye-high thistles, countryside that looked like Oregon to me—it was all wonderful to see. We were finally on the right road and whizzed past the little sign pointing to the drive, so I made a quick turn-around by the ancient pillars that must have marked a far older drive. We stopped at the castle gates, reading the sign that said, “Foulis Castle. Private property. This castle may be viewed by appointment 24 hours in advance” and giving an Evanton phone number. I wrote it all down.

Judith noticed a man in a tweed wool coat and cravat, smoking a fancy curved pipe, walking up and down the drive. After some discussion and encouragement by her to “screw your courage to the sticking place” and “it can’t hurt to ask”—we both advanced on him and I inquired about the castle.

“Are you a Munro?” he asked, somewhat to my surprise. I didn’t know then that Munros come from every part of the world to see this castle, and that the clan chief takes his role seriously.

“Yes, partly, my grandmother is,” I said. We introduced ourselves all around. He was Sir Patrick Munro, then the owner of the castle and the Clan Munro chief. He introduced us to his wife, Lady Eleanor, and invited us to come have a tour the next morning at 11. We thanked him very much and left, me agreeing with Judith that courage has its usefulness, while I thought to myself that he had been extremely kind not to throw us out.

Getting back to our B&B in Inverness took less than a half an hour, even with a stop or two for a photo. We had discovered the A9 road from Evanton to Inverness, with its bridges across both firths, that took us nearly directly from the castle to the city.

The evening had turned clear and warm, so we dawdled, getting fish and chips to eat by Inverness Castle just across the river from St. Andrews Cathedral, and watching a pipe band that marched and played from the castle gates at 8 pm to the city centre. We drove past a cemetery, chased after some LDS missionaries whom we passed going the other way but couldn’t find them on the way back. Inverness was lovely and easy to drive around. We could not get lost and other drivers were very courteous. We fell in love with the city.

Tuesday, August 13.
After a short shopping trip, we drove back out to Castle Foulis to keep our appointment. John Munro, one of the younger sons, showed us around a grand ballroom with portraits dating to the 18th century, the kitchens both modern and ancient, the dining room, two parlors, the cellars, the coal room where 14th century defense slits had been discovered, and the grounds. The castle was 1740 Dutch design, as the whole thing had burned before then—the clan motto, “Castle Foulis Is Ablaze!” gave a hint to a common thread through its history.

We spent some time with family trees, tartans, and reunion photographs of the clan. We found that Judith had been in Honduras the same time as John Munro and his wife were there. Everybody kept repeating what a small world it was. Judith and I wandered around the grounds taking pictures, thanked the family, and then left on a driving tour of the Highlands.

First we zipped down to Aviemore to buy Judith a special skirt there. I bought a swan from a local glassblower who fashioned it while we watched. Then we went northeast to the coast of the North Sea at Lossiemouth and strolled on the sand and among the tide pools for a bit, laughing at a Labrador retriever dog being dive-bombed by seagulls, and not minding the light rain very much.

We drove on to Burghead, where I nearly got us stuck on a pier and banged something in turning the car around. But though Judith got down on all fours to look under the car, we found no mark of anything! When I drove out on the other side of this stone pier, she exclaimed, “You don’t learn!” She told me that it scared her to back up, but she did have confidence in my driving skill, she said, although I suspect she was also sure I was crazy.

During the day she threatened to have a bumper sticker made for me: “I Brake For Ruins” which is what I kept doing all day. We stopped at old graveyards, ruined houses, walls, and for seascapes, and for the shifting light-and-shadows and rainbows on fields on our way back to Inverness. We sang all day as we drove along—Judith knew many more songs’ words than I did. Astonishing! It was a wonderful day.

Supper time found us at a Chinese restaurant in Inverness, eating a most delicious meal with chopsticks to the evident amusement of other patrons and discussing improvements we would make to our English Department, especially with regard to faculty indiscretions.

Wednesday, August 14.
I dropped Judith 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 Very Good, Jeeves by Wodehouse. Judith had been reading Scottish Ghosts aloud to me each night before bedtime and continued it on the train. Brr!

Back in Edinburgh we wandered hither and thither. I bought myself a kilt and a scarf and cardigan 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 another 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; American Punk culture (which we do not like); 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.

We went back to the B&B in the evening and curled up reading. It was raining and my feet were still cold.

Thursday, August 15.
The first order of business was to find me a Black Watch tie to match my kilt. Second order of business was to separate so that Judith 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. Judith 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 it closed and still as the shortbread melts on the tongue.

My romantic heart thrilled at the Abbey ruins behind the palace. We got to wander around in them to my 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, perhaps involving a curate at the next table.

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, Judith’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 of fog and tombstones, and I 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 the rusty old plate up, the perfect souvenir for a Romantic Heroine, and dropped it in my bag.

The concert at St Mary’s 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-SaĆ«ns’ The Carnival of the Animals. It was so good that the audience called for an encore.

After dinner in a deli, we walked back to our B&B to read. When I took the lock plate out of my bag and showed it, Judith was aghast.

“You robbed a tomb?” she cried. “She’s in that bed, over there!” she called out, pointing to my bed. “I don’t want to be haunted!” I laughed.

I read Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground, one of the autographed books I had bought that day.

Friday, August 16.

On the train to London I sat facing backwards, feeling very nostalgic and I-want-time-to-stop. I got to see the ocean breakers on the shore near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The sight of the ocean was always welcome to me. I read more of Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey.

We were late getting in to London and later still getting the City Link to Oxford—rush hour traffic and detours galore. Then I mistakenly had us get off the bus at Headington instead of at the top of Headington Hill, so the walk to my aunt and uncle’s house was much too long, especially for poor Judith’s feet. But instead of complaining, she enlivened things with anecdotes about her previous Oxford days.

At the James home we found Edith ready to put the tofu on—they had waited dinner until our arrival. Their next-door neighbor David was also a guest. He was writing a book on Wordsworth—his own personal reactions, I thought. Judith and I drew him out and got a kick out of his stories of teaching summer school and being head over heels in love with a student.

Saturday, August 17.
Judith and I slept late, so I barely had time to wash all those dishes before George, Judith, and I had to leave to pick up Edith and get to Meg and Amis Rutherford’s home for a luncheon honoring Meg’s second book publication—it was a children’s book series about a cat and teddy bear that she both wrote and illustrated. Meg spread an old Persian rug out on the lawn for us all to sit on, as the weather was gorgeous. I talked with Dorothy MacGuire from Ireland about travel and about vocabulary differences between American and British English, and between Irish and British English. The entire party consisted of congenial conversations and me taking photos, ostensibly of the cats, and surreptitiously of the people. The sunlight was glorious.

In the evening Edith and George went to dinner somewhere, so Judith and I went out. We ate at Burlington Bertie’s, which had a Bogart theme going. I had lamb with mint sauce—it was becoming a favorite English dish for me. We wondered about a woman at the corner table, sobbing. We made up stories about her and were embarrassed for her.

After dinner we walked around, getting back to Edith and George’s around 10 p.m. They weren’t home and had left us a door key, but neither of us could get the trick of how to unlock the door. So we two idiots had to sit hunched and growing into icy blocks of stiffness on the back step until we heard Edith and George coming home at 1 a.m. We had passed the time watching the various star constellations and naming all that we knew, talking some, and thinking. We pretended to them that we had been still out walking, but I doubt if we actually fooled them. And of course it turned out that the key trick was easy—if you knew how.

Sunday, August 18.
Neither of us awoke in time for church, so we read all morning. I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.

Edith and George took us on a driving tour of the Cotswolds, northwest to Blenheim Palace and Woodstock, southwest to Fairford, and east again to Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’s house on the Thames—and there we ran into Tom MacFarland. There Judith and I also ceremoniously ate our Last Cadbury dark chocolate bars. Finally we passed through Sunningwell, just south of Oxford. Although it was raining a lot, every time I wanted to take a picture of something, whoever was driving would stop—all I had to say was, “Here!” and we’d stop. It was a lovely, lovely day.

In the evening we had George’s delicious pasta dinner, and we had Edith and George’s stories, discussions of our careers, of U.S. politics, of our floods, of Judith’s father, the geology around our home, and a short lesson in How to Pick Mushrooms. Edith and George were heading to Norway the coming Wednesday to pick mushrooms on holiday.

Monday, August 19.
George took Judith and me to the bus stop for us to catch the City Link to London, and away we went. In London we had just barely time to rush into the Tate Gallery for a very quick and altogether unfair twenty minutes of gazing at Pre-Raphaelite paintings and buying prints of the same to take with us on the bus to Gatwick airport.

When we checked in at the airport, the ticket agent tightened his lips and muttered about latecomers. He said we were going to miss our flight, and I looked at Judith horrified. What would we do? It was my fault, of course.

And then the unthinkable happened. Instead of being bumped, we were upgraded to the Ambassador class section upstairs in the Boeing 747. Such luxury! We had large armchairs that reclined, our own personal tv sets, slippers for our feet, anything we wanted to eat, and attentive stewards.

But O! I already missed everything sharply and hated to see the trip coming to an end after all.

Would I ever get back to Britain? How would it be if I could get back?

This post will be updated with more pictures soon!

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