I went a couple days early and stayed a day after the rest of the group (cheaper flight!) and took the opportunity to visit Inverness, look for the Loch Ness Monster (no sightings, sorry), see the Highlands a bit, and learn more about the 1745 Jacobite Uprising that culminated in the "battle" (read: massacre) at Culloden. I also took a moment to visit the first palace in Scotland at Linlithgow, to meet up with another RevGal and visit the Borders, and to eat plenty of delicious curries.
|the entry courtyard of Linlithgow Palace|
|the window into the king's presence chamber-it had colored glass so when light came in it created a double rainbow at the foot of the throne. cool.|
|Looking across the palace courtyard from the top of a tower|
|the entry to Linlithgow Palace|
|clan graves at Culloden|
|Urquhart Castle, as seen from a boat on Loch Ness|
|Looking down on part of the Urquhart Castle complex from a higher spot...with Loch Ness looking pretty!|
|this was the view for my entire Highland train journey. so gorgeous.|
|yes, that gargoyle is a bagpipe-playing pig|
|looking out at the Borders from the top of the Melrose Abbey tower|
|looking down into the sanctuary|
|Kelso Abbey...what's left of it|
|Floors Castle--a real live castle still lived in by a real live Duke-and-Duchess!|
|yeah, I took this from a weird angle, but still...the place is HUGE|
In between, I facilitated the travel and learning and conversation and delicious meals all over Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, Stirling, and Iona. We visited the classics, like Castles, the Wallace Monument, St. Giles Cathedral, and Holyrood Palace. We also went a bit off the beaten path with visits to Govan Old Parish Church (where we got a nice surprise--John Bell was there for morning prayer and to give a lecture to another group, which we hung around for!), Glasgow's Transportation Museum (surprisingly cool), and a behind-the-scenes tour and conversation with a Member of the Scottish Parliament. Not to mention that we spent a week on Iona, building community with people from around the world via song, worship, daily tasks, workshops, and a 7 mile walking pilgrimage.
|inside Edinburgh Castle|
|Holyrood Palace courtyard|
|St. Andrews Cathedral|
|the William Wallace Monument, Stirling (that column on the corner? The staircase.)|
|St. Giles Cathedral|
We ate entirely at restaurants recommended by friends. For the most part, it was local food, often slow-food, traditional and not-so-much. We enjoyed a chip shop, a curry house, scottish comfort food, homemade soups and breads, local produce (and meat, for those who eat that), and traditional desserts. Everyone was, in advance of the trip, worried about the food--between the combination of a vegetarian trip leader and the stereotype of British food, they were probably right to be worried! But now that they've traveled with me, they know how important food is...and how good I am at finding places that will be awesome and will cater to even the pickiest (or most allergen prone) among us. Even our most skittish eater had a wonderful food experience, and is still talking about the vegetarian restaurant!
|the clean plate club at the vegetarian restaurant!!|
|scottish comfort food: sausage and mash, fish and chips...|
One of the great things about being a small group (there were 8 of us) is that we were able to travel entirely by public transportation. That gave us yet another window into the Scottish life/culture/people that we wouldn't have had if we'd rented a minibus or gone on a big group tour. It was sometimes frustrating waiting for buses or trains, and sometimes crowded or hot or whatever, but it was also real life, not just the sanitized version of vacation many of us are used to. Yes, we were tourists, but we were tourists who did our best to get into the place as it is, rather than keeping ourselves separated from it by tour bus windows.
One of the things I learned on this trip is that leading a group can be very stressful! Part of that is because I always want things to be perfect when I'm showing people a place I love. I feel the same way about taking people to my favorite restaurants--I want them to love it, and I'm nervous the whole time that they won't! There's something vulnerable about inviting people into your favorite things, and I definitely had some anxiety about that on this trip. Not to mention that of course I want people to like and respect me, which meant I had to ensure that all the details would go smoothly (with only one or two notable exceptions, they did), and I needed to know everything and be able to answer every question (or bring in someone who could, which is much more my forte!). Umm...no pressure or anything! Every night when we got back to the hotel, I would spend time blogging the day for the church, reviewing the itinerary for the next day, the historical/religious/spiritual/cultural significance of any place we were visiting, and making sure I was certain of all the times and transit connections and restaurant locations and reservations. Then it was to sleep, then up early to have tea and biscuits and to try to get in a workout before meeting the group for another exciting day! Getting to Iona was a relief because at least we weren't going anywhere and I didn't have to plan meals, though of course there's still plenty of group-leadery-stuff to do there too.
Without fail, Iona always feels like home. I don't know what it is about that island, but basically within minutes I could feel that visceral settled-happy-love thing going on. It's not just mental or emotional but physical too. That place tugs at my heartstrings. A friend met on Iona many years ago asked, before I left, "is it weird that when I think of Iona I get positively homesick?" My answer was no...and still is. Because it happens to me too, no matter how happy I am in my current home, something about that island is home in a more basic way than where I live or where I came from. Strange but true, and beautiful too.
|looking across the garden and sound toward Mull|
|the bay at the back of the ocean|
|st. martin's and st. john's crosses outside the abbey|
|the sound and Mull|
|tea time in the garden!|