“There’s No Escaping It . . .

. . . It chases you in every direction.” A description of the endless rain from our Scottish waitress at a short-ceilinged pub in the tiny hamlet of Kilmartin. Make sure when you read the sentence to roll the Rs to properly hear the musical Scottish accent. (Leslie – do you have the accent down yet?)

Of course, she could have been talking about the passing of time — I can’t believe that we only have 3 weeks left in London! In some ways, I will be sad to leave, but in many more I will be so happy to get back to the States to see family and friends, stretch out in our big house, yard, and the Southern California sunshine, go to a Dodger game (way to go Lakers!), go shopping for fruit and veg at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, eat an In-N-Out burger (Europeans cannot seem to figure out how to cook a good burger), and take a paddle in Santa Monica Bay. It sounds like heaven! But Scotland, Paris, Finland, and the English countryside are also heavenly.

Scotland or Orange County?

In Scotland, the rain did chase us in every direction, even when we thought we were safe. I still feel damp after a couple weeks of dry 80-degree weather in London! On one sparkling sunny day we set off for a walk down to the ocean from Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull. On the way back, Mother Nature decided to teach us a lesson (how arrogant, no wellies, rain coats, or umbrellas) by pelting us with hail. The poor dogs cowered and ran. Niels and I were completely soaked and had to spend the rest of the day and night with wet underwear. But, we both agreed that the adventure was well worth the wet underwear.

Western Scotland and the Lower Hebrides are stunning, with crumbling old castles dotting every lonely precipice and lambs dotting every green space. Although not always easy to understand, the people were welcoming and happy to respond every time we had to ask them to repeat themselves. And the local seafood was incredible — mussels, lobster, sole, halibut, sea bass, monk fish, lagoustines . . . . One waitress, upon learning we were from California, enthusiastically responded “Orange County?” There’s no escaping it, American reality TV chases you in every direction. She was rather disappointed when we told her, no, we are from LA and are loving the Scottish weather. 

We stayed at a cozy cottage on the old Kilninver Estate, just 8 miles south of the town of Oban. This is where the dead kings of Scotland, in the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries, were laid out for their journey by boat to the holy Isle of Iona for burial. We had amazing views of Loch Feochan which rose and ebbed with the sea tides.

Ugh - Waiting for a New Tire

Arrgh - Waiting for a New Tire

Our trip didn’t start out too well – before we left London we got a flat tire! Luckily, our trusty sat nav (satellite navigation system) directed us to the nearest auto repair shop, which was right next door to a tire store. We didn’t arrive until 9 hours later, after 10 p.m. We all fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows, despite the midges swarming all over the cottage (horrible small flies, but they don’t bite).

The next day we went shopping for groceries in Oban, and took the dogs for a long walk up into the Highlands behind the cottage. A cuckoo wouldn’t stop cuckooing. Amazing views of lochs, hills, and ocean. Of course, we had to watch our step (sheep everywhere!). The rest of the week was amazing despite the mostly dour weather. All I can say is thank God for wellies. Here are some pictures:

View from Sheep Paddock Above Our Cottage

View from Sheep Paddock Above Our Cottage

View of Oban from the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry

View of Oban from the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry

Star Flowers Line the Trails (I have no idea if that is what they are actually called)

Star Flowers Line the Trails (I have no idea if that is what they are actually called)

Stella Figured Out How to Cross the Cattle Grate, Rocky was a Scaredy Dog

Stella Figured Out How to Cross the Cattle Grate, Rocky was a Scaredy Dog

Ba-a-a-ahhh!

Ba-a-a-ahhh!

Bluebells Before Standing Stones - Dating from 3000 BC - in Kilmartin

Bluebells and Standing Stones - Dating from 3000 BC - in Kilmartin

The Isle of Kerrera, from Oban

The Isle of Kerrera, from Oban

Rocky Eyeing the Sheep In Front of Cottage

Rocky Eyeing the Sheep In Front of Cottage

Mull It Over

We took the ferry over to Mull twice – the first day we drove to the Eastern side (Glengorm Castle and Tobermory) and the second day to the Western side, to take another ferry to Iona. Gorgeous island, scary driving!  Most of the road in both directions is single track – which means huge tour buses coming at you fast while you pray for a turn-out between you and the bus. So, although the scenery was spectacular (everywhere you looked, waterfalls off the mountainsides), Niels wasn’t able to do much rubbernecking.

Luckily, there were not too many tourists on Iona, so we experienced its tranquility. A monastic community was founded here in the 6th Century by Saint Columba. The famous Book of Kells, still intact because it was spirited away before the Viking invasions, was penned here, and Iona’s inhabitants carved hundreds of large ornate Celtic crosses, only three of which remain. 

The Frenzen-Smith Clan Before the Storm

The Frenzen-Smith Clan Before the Storm

Tobermory (After the Storm)

Tobermory (After the Storm)

Celtic Cross Before Iona's Hermitage

Celtic Cross Before Iona's Hermitage

Wildflowers Below Glengorm Castle

Wildflowers Below Glengorm Castle

Iona

Iona

Taking the Ferry Back to Oban

Taking the Ferry Back to Oban

View of Mull from the Ferry

View of Mull from the Ferry

Caravans in Cumbria

Rather than make a nine hour drive back to London, we decided to stop halfway for a couple nights in Cumbria, one of the most conservative parts of England (Cumbria just elected a fascist to the European Union Parliament). We didn’t notice the politics, but we did notice warnings on the freeway about horse drawn caravans blocking the roads. This was the weekend before the Appleby Horse Fair, an annual gypsy gathering that has been going on since the 16th Century. Everywhere we went, we saw horses and colorful wooden caravans, in parking lots, in fields, in parks, and trotting along the roads. (Did you know that trailer homes in England are called “static caravans”?)

During this whole trip, Stella’s and Rocky’s favorite activity was chasing and/or barking at sheep. Our neighbor in Scotland warned us that it was legal for sheep owners to shoot dogs that chased their sheep, so we were careful not to let that happen. We couldn’t stop them from barking, however, and often the barking caused a spreading cacophony of baahs and a mass exodus of sheep to the farthest corner of the paddock. Here is a video from Cumbria:

Our cottage was a converted barn, one wall of which served as a fence to the neighboring sheep paddock. Stella made us jump whenever she broke out into hysterical barking at the sight of a curious lamb looking into our windows. After the constant rain of Scotland, we were thrilled with the sunny 80-degree weather, and spent most of our time hanging out and taking walks in the rolling countryside. I love Cumbria’s Nordic geographical terms, such as the word “force” which means waterfall. What a perfect word to describe a waterfall.

Our Cumbrian Cottage

Our Cumbrian Cottage

Cemetery Near Cottage at Sunset

Cemetery Near Cottage at Sunset

The Cumbrian Countryside

The Pennines

Me and the Dogs

Me and the Dogs

Other News

Of course, we are spellbound by British politics (OK, Niels is more spellbound than I am) – watching the Labour Party crumble before our eyes has been quite interesting! Niels voted in the EU’s Parliamentary elections. And, of course, Waiting for Godot was amazing. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room as Sirs McKellen and Stewart. Our next outing will be As You Like It at the Shakespeare’s Globe this week.

Pictures from Paris and Finland coming soon.

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