dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

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Day Nine: Serious snow, and evening sunshine

On the road again – and by 5.30p.m. I had clocked up 330 miles – and I’m not out of Scotland yet!

It’s been an interesting and challenging drive. I left Wick in sunshine but by the time I reached Berriedale, it was clear that there had been significant snow, and it was still falling.

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Looking back towards Berriedale

And the snow continued all the way, varying from white-out to pretty fluffy showers.

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Temperature dipped to 1 degree Centigrade

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At least the sheep have warm fleeces!

Even the hills of Perthshire were topped with snow, but down in the sunshine the temperature managed a balmy 9 degrees – very briefly!

I was glad to arrive at Annandale Water in sunshine and had a relaxing walk around the lake before tea.

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The prettiest service station in the UK?

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The terrace will be brilliant in the summer

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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 Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.

 

 

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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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Day One: On the Road Again

It’s been a long day. I left home just after 9 a.m. and I arrived here at 5.30 ish. Yes, I had three stops (to rest the ancient arthritic knee!) but I have covered 346 miles. And I’m only half-way. This little island is bigger than it looks!

It’s a long haul to get out of East Anglia but once past King’s Lynn, there are fields of daffodils to alleviate the boredom of the flatness and heavy traffic – blocks of different yellows from vivid egg-yolk to creamy-white.

My sat-nav took me up the A1 – horrid from start to finish. I will not come home this way! I had to resort to McDonald’s for my first stop – still the coffee was hot and the loos clean! My second stop was a Little Chef at Markham Moor with delightful young staff.

But once I turned off the A1 at Scotch Corner onto the A66, the first opportunity to stop was at the wonderful Mainsgill Farm – an  amazing farm-shop emporium with more cake than I have ever seen in one place, and a roomy cafe/restaurant with friendly cheerful staff.

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entrance

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tea and scone!

The drive along the A66 was spectacular – rank upon rank of craggy hills darkening into blue in the distance. And the fields close to the road were lush soft green velvet with mummy sheep and lots of little lambs. Real aaah! factor!

And at last, as I was tiring, into Scotland and the last twenty or so miles to Annandale Water service station and the Day’s Inn hotel where I’d booked myself in for the night. Delightful friendly lady manager welcomed me and sorted out breakfast for tomorrow. Then she gave me two keys: one for my door – the other for my balcony! And yes, I have a little blacony overlooking Annandale Water itself – and it is lovely!

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view from my room

So now I can relax and watch tv and have a good night’s sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s 340 miles drive!

 

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Planning a book trip

I’m off on the road again in a few days. Only ten days this time – a weekend at either end mainly taken up with travelling – but I’m booked to give three talks on the new book, The Mizpah Ring, up in my home town of Wick.

Today I’m at that lose-endish stage – too soon to pack, too close to launch into anything much. The excitement/anticipation is building nicely and I’m wondering should I do a daily trip blog like last time? It helped me process the experiences of each day and I printed it out when I got home so I had a lovely record of the places I’d been and the people I’d spent time with.

There were so many highlights last time – from spectacular scenery, hunting haggis in the rain, reunions with friends after far too many years… I’m hoping this time will be just as good. I’m planning to check out some of the locations I’m using in the new book. Wick was a very interesting place during the second world war with a large air base for Coastal Command and the war in Norway. My sister and I are planning some recce trips for authentic background.

I shall be driving (665 miles each way) because I need to bring books with me for sale. Last time I had sold out before the end of my trip so this time I’ll take more than I think I’ll need. I have a solid order for both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring from one rather special retail outlet: the last shop on the mainland of the UK- right at the end of the road at John O’Groats! If you’re ever there, do drop in for a browse. Their range of Scots-interest books is second to none.

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Harbour at John O’Groats

I’m hoping the weather will be reasonable – especially for the drive. But I was horrified to overhear a snippet of conversation this morning which concluded: ‘Oh yes,snow. The mountains are full of it.’ I hope they were talking about Switzerland!

Anyway, planning. The packing list looks like:

  • Smart outfit for talks
  • Comfortable,warm clothes and walking shoes for trips out with my sister
  • Books – to sell – and promotional postcards to give away – and a decent ‘signing’ pen!
  • Books – to read at all those solo stops along the road!
  • Notebooks and pens
  • iPad and charger for Facebook and soothing sudoku etc
  • Camera and usb cable
  • Laptop for emails and blog
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Kindle and charger – in case I run out of reading material
  • Diary, and address book (for sending post cards)

and much more besides!

I’ll pack tomorrow!

 

 

 

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Waiting time

It looked like snow. 6 o’clock in the morning and I was on my way back to bed but a chance-caught glimpse out of the back window drew me in a for a better look.

My house sits on a hill above the town and the view from the back bedroom(aka my study) stretches out to encompass the countryside beyond the town. Suffolk is really quite flat so that view takes in several miles.

And this morning, as well as a pleasing vista of white-frosted roofs, there was a a dark cloud-curtain hanging over the edge of town,  blurring into palest grey chiffon as the snow fell from it.

My central heating comes on early because I like to wake and read for an hour or two before I get up, so the room was warm enough for me to savour the view – and hope that the snow would come nearer!

Sitting now at my desk in the self-same study, there is no trace of snow and the late afternoon sun is sinking in a blaze of gold. A morning that began with a tantalising hope of snow comes to a gentle golden end.

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Taken a few minutes ago – maybe left it a little late!

 

I always used to wonder about the hymn which had the lines ‘Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness.’ I thought it was miserable, meaning: if you start the day cheerful, it will all end in tears. Now that may sometimes be true, but I’ve learnt that I misread it. It encourages us that we may have evenings of tearfulness, but God delights in providing mornings of joy… after those evenings, if we’ll just hold on.

Let’s hold on – and look for the joy He has prepared for us!

 

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Day Twenty-five: Home

So here I am, back home. One thousand, five hundred and forty miles all told. The last lap was hard work with heavy traffic and squally rain showers. But the cat is pleased to see me. And I am pleased to be home.

The trip was enormously worthwhile – in so many ways. I met lots of lovely people – new friends and old. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain.

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I ate some of the best shortbread!

Coffee break

I sang God’s praises alone in the car, in a beautiful Edinburgh cathedral, a quayside mission hall, two churches of Scotland and one precentor-led Scottish Free church.

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Wick Harbour Mission

And everywhere I spoke about my novel, I was received with warmth and appreciation.

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And the books sold out.

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I’d love to do it again! But not just yet! Now I’m glad to be home…

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