Sunshine in Surrey

We’re staying in Surrey with a lovely homeschooling family of 11 cheerful kids, mostly boys.  We needed to go about and let them do school.  We had about hit our saturation point for castles so we scratched Windsor Castle, not to mention the 11 pound admission (per person, not to put too fine a point on it, which translates to $45) is not covered with our Great British Heritage Pass.

We looked at the Pass booklet and found RHS Wisley Gardens. Cool.  We imagined a lovely little garden, a ten minute walk perhaps. The sun was shining and we wanted to be outside. It was the first day of sunshine since Iona. So we took off.

When we arrived at the car park and saw hundreds and hundreds of cars we were astounded.  This was no wee little garden!  We didn’t know that RHS meant the Royal Horticultural Society.  The place was astounding.  Gardening of every type.  We kept moaning that our daughter-in-law, Jessie, wasn’t with us.  Oh, she would have loved this place even more than we did.

Gardeners, official horticulturalists, were working away and available to ask questions, sort of garden docents.

A section on container gardening had this boot.  I couldn’t resist it.

Too early for the rose garden.

The model vegetable garden made me drool.

Curt looked this guy up when we got home : he’s a robin!  They look different here.

You can tell I am having a hard time limiting pictures. 
It was splendiforous!
Jess, we’re going on a Great Britian garden tour someday!


York Minster, Part Two

We walked in the rain-cleansed air on our way to the service Sunday morning.  The bells rang in the peculiar change-ringing fashion, called campanology, which we read about last year in Dorothy Sayer’s The Nine Tailors.
We joined the regular worshipers at the service in the nave. 

Funny-sad story.  I saw three men walk in together, obviously a son, father and grandfather.  I was touched by thought of generational unity and the fact of three men attending church together, and pointed them out to Curt. Look, how nice.  Sadly, when we came back from taking communion, the father and son were in the pew laughing and the son had ear buds and ipod going.  Sigh.

Again, the music was powerful.  I liked kneeling for prayer on the small pads that were provided to protect our knees from the stone floor.  Waiting in silence before worship was another good thing.  The sermon was folksy and anecdotal, not much to hang onto.  The service in the Book of Common Prayer was wonderful.  Reciting the Apostle’s Creed in one service and the Nicene Creed in the other was spine-tingling.

Full English Breakfast before the Minster.

Looking up at the central tower.

Morning service filled the front section of seats.

York Minster

It feels like we have been metaphorically hopping the Alps – going from one high point to another.

Nothing prepared me for the York Minster.  It was so beyond.  Beyond imagination. Beyond comprehension. Staggering.  First the dimensions.  The central tower goes up 197 feet.  The building is so massively tall.  Nothing fits in the camera’s view.  One of the stained glass windows is the size of a tennis court!

We arrived in time for the Evensong service Saturday evening.  The service itself was in the “choir” (a part of the cathedral) those wooden stalls which face each other. The Minster choir was on tour in Italy, so the visiting choir was the 16 part Liverpool Choral Scholars.  (That is a brilliant name as compared to a Boys Choir.  If you were an adolescent boy, you’d rather be part of the choral scholars than the boys’ choir, wouldn’t you?)  They sang through Psalms 65, 66, and 67, sang several responses.  Putting the words to music gave them a potency that bruised our hearts.

All in all, it was glorious.

Afterwards people filed out, but we stayed put listening to the organ until it stopped.  I love that about my husband.  He is willing to experience things up to the very end.  (We usually sit through the credits at the movies and soak in the darkness and quietness before we re-emerge into the bright light.)  The couple next to us also sat and listened.  Later they told us that the wife’s choir would be the visiting choir in August and they were scoping things out.

Still later, we stood across the street, admiring the view of the cathedral, reluctant to leave.  The boys from Liverpool came by in their street clothes.  We thanked them for their music and asked to take a picture of one group of four.

Younger members of the Liverpool Choral Scholars

Five Castles at a Glance

Here are the five Scottish castles we have visited.

Blair Castle in Perthshire
A man’s kind of castle, full of guns, pikes, narwhal tusks – all kinds of guy stuff.
The most opulent, extravagant castle inside.  Wow.

Edinburgh Castle
Layers of history; St. Margaret’s Chapel my favorite spot.

Stirling Castle
My reading has prejudiced me, but this castle was absorbing.
The Great Hall was truly great.

Glamis Palace
You would never guess, but Glamis was the most homey palace.
The warm, friendly guide made it a warm, friendly palace.
Current photos of the current Duke’s grandchildren abound.
Birthplace and childhood home of the Queen Mother.

Scone Palace
This was our first palace visit.  With a blank slate, the wow factor was enormous.
The library was cleared of books (except for the bottom shelf) and
used to display fine china, a bazillion patterns of fine china.
I like china, but I wanted to look at the books!

The Birks of Aberfeldy

You have to know one thing to understand this poem: birks = birch trees.  When we were in Iona talking to a stranger in the gift shop he asked where we were going next.  When we told him Aberfeldy, he immediately sang out, “The birks, the birks of Aberfeldy.”  Scots know their Burns, I tell you. 

Frankly, the birks of Aberfeldy aren’t so exciting at this time of year.  But we took a picture, nonetheless.

The Birks of Aberfeldy by Robert Burns

Now simmer blinks on flow’ry braes,
And o’er the crystal streamlet plays,
Come, let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldie!

Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
will ye go, will ye go,
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?

The little birdies blithely sing,
While o’er their heads the hazels hing;
Or lightly flit on wanton wing
In the birks of Aberfeldie!

The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foaming stream, deep-roaring, fa’s,
O’er-hung wi’fragrant spreading shaws,
The birks of Aberfeldie.

The hoary cliffs are crown’d wi’flowers,
White o’er the linns the burnie pours,
And, rising, weets wi’ misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldie.

Let Fortune’s gifts at random flee,
They ne’er shall draw a wish frae me,

Supremely blest wi’ love and thee

In the birks of Aberfeldie.

Village People

Curt and I have fallen in love with the folks of
Scotland, particularly those of the, ahem, older generation.  The people in the
village we have spoken with have a sweet mellow quality about them.  There are
no sharp edges with these people.  They are good-natured, comfortable, funny,
felicitous and all around delightful. I am twitterpated. 
My favorite store in Aberfeldy — shoot, in
all of Scotland — is called FarmFresh.  It is a combination
deli-market.  The selection of cheeses and meats is mouth-wateringly
attractive.  Everything is high quality and yet the people serving have a humble
dignity.  The shelves are full of simple, wholesome food.  There is an old-world
atmosphere which I find winsome and alluring.  We got one photo of their dry goods section.  We meant to take more pictures but conversations distracted
We were collecting ingredients for
lunch and dinner.  We were unable to decipher the sign pricinng the gorgeous,
plump tomatoes.  We asked an older gentleman to interpret for us and how
kilograms compared to pounds in weight.  Eventually it came down to this
question: “Can you estimate how many pounds (sterling) it will cost to buy this
tomato?”  He fumbled, stuttered, and delayed until I added, “We just want to
know how extravagant it would be to add a sliced tomato to our sandwiches.”  Oh
the jolly laughs that brought!  Curt said with a depreciating tone, “We
can travel to Scotland, but we’re not sure we can eat tomatoes.”  After all that
we threw caution aside and bought two tomatoes, one for today and one
for tomorrow.
The gentleman who sliced our pastrami and wrapped
our fish and cheese is, at the best estimate, on the back side of seventy
years.  With his bald head, white side hair, and clear glasses, he would fit
right in a Norman Rockwell painting.  His eyes twinkled, and he was patient with
our indecision.  He answered questions in that enticing Scottish brogue.  As he
wrapped our fish I had a irrepressible burst of enthusiasm.  “Oh, this
is my favorite store in Scotland!”  His smile was wide as he quietly replied,
“And I think you are wonderful!”  I wanted to ask him right there if he
would be my Grandpa. But I pulled it back in.
Walking home we soaked in the natural beauty: ducks
walking around, daffodils blooming and (rare) warm sunshine.  Two older woman
approached as we inspectged the flower garden and rock wall in front of a
house.  We asked the women to help us identify some plants.  Really obscure
plants like heather.  They gladly launched into a discussion of plants, local
color, grouse hunting and our plans for the day. They described the grouse
hiding in the heather and the community grouse hunt which takes place on August
12 every year.  They wanted to know where we were from, where we had visited so
far, what we still planned to see.  After they approved our agenda and there was
not much left to say, we parted with happy benedictions.  
We are thankful for two things in particular.
First, that we are here in the “low” season.  This area of Perthshire gets a
heavy load of tourist traffic in the high season.  At so many venues we have
been the only visitors or part of a very few number.  It has rained every day,
off and on; but we willingly trade sunny skies for crowds. Second, we are
grateful that home this week has been a small community full of gracious,
lovely folk.  Goodbye, Aberfeldy.  In wine-speak, your finish is excellent.  You
leave a wonderful aftertaste in our mouths.  What fragrant memories we have of
our time here.


Here is a picture of Neeps and Tatties on top of Haggis.  Neeps = bashed turnups, Tatties = mashed potatoes, and Haggis is haggis.  I think haggis is essentially lamb meatloaf.  It’s made of ground lamb, oats and spices.   In old times they made it in sheep guts, but just think of sausage and you get past that little bit of unpleasantness. 

At home I make my meatloaf with ground elk burger, some sort of grain (cornflakes, oats, bread crumbs) and egg and spices.  The truth is that we really like haggis.  If we were here longer and if we had more money we would have it again.  And again.  It was that tasty.  Who knew?  Come to Scotland and discover a new side of you.

Guided by a Stone Mason

All my assumptions had been wrong.  We had tacked
on a visit to the ruins of Dunkeld Cathedral to our busy palace-hopping (Scone
and Glamis) day.  I knew that there was a parish church at Dunkeld, but I
assumed the ruins of the cathedral would be separate and not subject to closing
times.  Dunkeld was on our way home and we would just pop in anytime and check
out the ruins.  So I thought.

We arrived at 6:15 and the sign on the gate to the
church/cathedral said they closed at 6:30.  When part of the roof of the
original cathedral collapsed, a new wall was built and the parish church
continues in the shortened space.  The entire building was gated and
locked overnight. 
We were enamored with the parish church.  St. Giles
in Edinburg with her huge dimensions, massive organ, and long history is
awe-inspiring, but it feels more like a museum than a house of worship.  Dunkeld
was delightful.  We both could imagine our home church meeting in a space like

A woman entered the back of the church and made
small noises to indicate that the area was closing.  Too bad!  We hadn’t even
begun to look at the ruins. 
We walked outside, shot rapid photographs like a
repeating rifle, and began the walk back to the car.  A kind gentleman saw our
disappointment and waved us back to the ruins.  It was clear that he knew this
site well.  He had a proprietary interest and started to give us a personal
tour.  Look up and see the feet of that pillar?  Come into this area. 
Imagine being tried by a church court in this room.  Do you see part of the
painting of Soloman judging the decision on the baby?
  We were drinking
large gulps of information that he was generously serving us.

He told us that he had been a stone mason working
on the church and the ruined cathedral for 27 years.  He pointed out different
projects he had been part of.  I never considered that even a ruined cathedral
requires maintenance for safety’s sake.  As we stood talking outside the
cathedral, he pointed to his feet.  See this? Water was puddling up here and
the powers that be decided we needed to drain the area and replace the stones. 
When we dug up these stones we found a mass grave. 
We would have loved to have two hours with
this kind gentleman. He was a primary source full of information.  We asked if
he worshiped here at the parish church.  Why, yes, I’m the beadle!  When I
retired I couldn’t leave the church after spending 27 years working on it.  I
became the beadle
We didn’t really know what a beadle was.  I don’t
even know about the spelling, but don’t have time on my internet purchase to
Google it.  So one of you will have to look it up for me (thank you).  We asked,
please, what does a beadle do?  Are you in charge of the property?  No, you
might say that I take care of the minister
.  Would that every church had a
Tonight at dinner we reviewed our time here in
Central Scotland.  The organ concert at St. Giles was magnificent.  The four
castles (Sone, Glamis, Stirling and Edinburgh) have been fascinating.  We’ve had
wonderful walks and exceptional drives.  But we agreed that the highlight so far
has been our visit to Dunkeld Cathedral and being guided by the stone mason. 

Little Lamb

The Lamb
William Blake

Little Lamb, who made thee

Does thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing woolly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice.

Making all the vales rejoice:

Little Lamb who made thee

Does thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee;

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by His name,

Little Lamb God bless thee,

Little Lamb God bless thee.