dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Day Seven: To the end of the earth

That’s what it feels like – standing on the northernmost edge of the mainland of Britain, gazing out over island upon island studding the cold blue sea all the way to the horizon.

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View from the beach

John O’Groats. A tiny hamlet with hotel, harbour and a few shops – one of which has the best stock of Scottish-related books I’ve ever seen.

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Books and more lovely books!

And I’m delighted to say, they requested stocks of both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring so my sister and I went out there today to gaze at the view, deliver the books, buy some others and some gifts for the kind folk who have been feeding my cat Lucy while I’ve been away.

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This is the shop where you’ll find those fabulous books

And have lunch – with glorious views over the Pentland Firth across to Orkney.

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The Storehouse, John O’Groats

We also went exploring, round an old mill built in 1901 and fitted out by our great-grandfather, millwright Donald Miller.

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At Huna, near John O’Groats 

All useful background for the next book!

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Day Five: I love research!

I’ve had a wonderful day – and that’s just the weather! Yes, seriously, my sister and I have come back sunburnt after a great day exploring the very special places we knew as children, down the coast at Berriedale and on the Duke of Portland’s estate at Langwell.

Our grandfather was the last blacksmith there

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Smithy and blacksmith’s cottage, Berriedale

and our aunt married the son of the head gardener – yes, there is an amazing formal walled garden this far north, and the current gardeners have come from a famous National Trust property in the south of England to look after it.

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Winter beds, a blaze of colour in summer

As young children – aged up to about 5 and 6 – we ran free on the estate and in the gardens, and today we retraced our memories – and did some very useful research for Book 2 of The Mizpah Ring. Late in World War Two, Number 9 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps were based at Langwell, tasked with cutting down the forest and supplying the war effort with essential wood. Some traces of their stay can still be discerned:

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Recreation hall

We had a lot of fun scouting out the various buildings and checking things out with people we encountered.then we went over the swing bridge

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You need to choose your company carefully on these things – not people who delight in bouncing!

to the beach:

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And then came home via Dunbeath’s Bay Owl Restaurant where we had a cup of tea with one of the finest views in Britain!

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Day Two: North!

Another long’s day drive. I set off in sunshine from lovely Annandale Water at 8.30,

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Swan on Annandale Water

and hove to at my destination in Wick, Caithness, Scotland at nearly 5 o’clock. Whew!

And yes, I’d forgotten Scotland has a different climate from the south of England! There is still plenty of snow on the hill-tops so I was glad I’d decided at the last minute to pack a vest!

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A9 south of Inverness

Then once I’d got north of the tree-line, the cloud came down and it was a challenging drive with full-beam headlights all the rest of the way on switchback roads. But within moments of arrival I was comfortably ensconced at my sister’s with a mug of tea in hand.

Who said it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive?Nonsense!

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Beloved voices

My mother smoked. Dad had been one of those soldiers introduced to cigarettes during the war and he had duly brought the habit home. In those early days, folk thought it was glamorous, little knowing the horrendous damage it would do to skin and lungs and other organs.

Mum had been a glamorous young woman with dark hair falling provocatively over one eye like a movie star. And she was talented. From an early age she had been in demand as a singer and I recall her beautiful voice.

But the cigarettes took their toll and her voice deepened and deepened till her beautiful voice was completely destroyed and she could barely manage to reach any notes. For someone who had loved to sing, this was purgatory indeed.

On Monday night at Bible study group, a friend gave us a very lovely gift. Instead of us reading round the group, she invited us to relax and close our eyes and listen as she read the complete passage in her lovely soft Scottish voice.

I joke that my accent strengthens after a phone conversation with my sister, then I have to tame it so folk down here in Sassenachland can understand me! Maybe it’s my accent that makes my voice recognisable – so I hardly need to say who I am when I ring friends.

And I wonder does that come across on the page? One of the delights of opening a new book in a well-loved series is that sense of familiarity with the author’s voice, like the voice of a friend.

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Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice (John chapter 10, verses 1-16). The voice of a loved one is very special. I remember once missing my beloved so much I kept ringing his office number when he was away so I could hear his voice on the answermachine message! Afterwards he commented on the number of calls where the caller had left no message!

Having given up Facebook for Lent, maybe I’ll have more time to just sit and listen out for Jesus and see if I can recognise His voice.

 

 

 

 

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Day Fourteen: Caithness: Visiting the ancestors

The sun came out today! And it was so warm I took my jacket off!

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Proof positive!

My sister is a family history enthusiast so this afternoon we went out for a drive to some special places. First we went to Thrumster where my maternal grandmother lived for around the last ten years of her life. We visited her there regularly and both have happy memories of the place. From there we went to Sarclet. The name derives from Norse words for a bad wet slope and there is a very bad slippery path down to the harbour.

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Next we went to Ulbster and climbed over a gate to walk through the ruins of Ulbster Mains and down to the Ulbster Burial Ground and the Sinclair Mausoleum.

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Ulbster burial ground

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Sinclair Mausoleum

The mausoleum was built in 1700. Broad stone steps lead up to the first-floor main room with its wonderful roof interior.

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There’s a trapdoor which gives onto a D-shaped vaulted burial chamber underneath. (We got into the first-floor bit but not the vault!)

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Trapdoor?

Walking back up past the ruined mill, the old mill-race is filled with flag irises, bordered in frothy cow parsley.

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Last we took ourselves to Thrumster cemetery where my sister showed me the gravestone of my great-great-grandparents Donald and Helen Miller.

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And tonight? Ah, serious stuff: a pudding tasting – for charity!

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Day Nine: Wick: Recognising what matters

Today has been a day of meeting up with friends and family that I haven’t seen for a while. In one case since 1968! It’s great to see them. And it’s delightful that so many of them are instantly recognisable and to my eye barely different from when I went away. Some have recognised me instantly. Others have said I look even more like my sister than when we were young. But some have said they wouldn’t have recognised me.

People do change though it doesn’t always show on the outside. I think I’ve changed. I hope I’ve changed. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, a lot of good and quite a lot of not-so-good, and I hope it’s made a difference – a good difference.

Coming back after so long, and thinking back from where I am now – in life and theology – I can feel pieces of the jigsaw slot into place in a new way. New pieces of information, things I just wasn’t interested in at that age, people I maybe didn’t see very clearly…

Walking with my sister and her friends yesterday, my experience was enriched by the way they noticed and recognised so many plants that I might have overlooked. And they knew the names of the plants too.

Pink purslane

Pink purslane

Water avens

Water avens

Heath spotted orchid

Heath spotted orchid

Maybe I always knew this but now I realise how important it is to really see the people in our lives, to notice them, to recognise them for who they really are, to know their names – and to stay in touch!

PS

The foodie bit! Not cake today or chocolate brownie but mackerel, fresh-caught out of the sea today and brought round to my sister’s for my brother-in-law to fillet for our supper by my friend Anne’s husband Francis. Thank you!

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