about writing and life and God

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 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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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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Day Twenty-two: An Aberdeen Sunday

Sunday morning I went with my eight-year-old great-niece to the nearby Church of Scotland. Those of my readers who are not Scots may find the name a bit of a tongue-twister: Auchaber and Auchterless. The first Sunday of the month is their joint service so the Auchaber church was full and a very tempting summer lunch of soup and sweets was on offer.

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We walked to church – a good mile or so – and there was plenty to see and talk about as the young one skipped along at my side, including the famous sheep.

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The famous sheep

They are famous, she explained, for being famous. I think she has a very clear grip of the modern concept of celebrity!

After lunch, I set off down the Inverurie road, through beautiful countryside – rich meadows and mountains.

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And arrived at Aberdeen, the city where I went to University for my first degree – and to the home of one of the friends I shared a flat with in second year. To my delight, one of our other flatmates had turned up to surprise me! After joyful reunions and catch-ups, we went down to Old Aberdeen and took a long amble round the places of our youth, remembering folk we had known and incidents from the past.

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Old Aberdeen

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King’s College Chapel, Aberden

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Day Twelve: John O’Groats

There is a certain mystique about far away places. In our own small island of Britain, Land’s End and John O’Groats entice with promise – something about extremes, a sense of the end of the known world. I’ve been to both Land’s End and John O’Groats, but for me, only John O’Groats fulfils that promise.

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A long narrow road winds between croft-scattered fields and peaty moorland where fluffy white bog cotton blows in the wind. And then, suddenly the road tops a rise. There is a straggle of houses, hotel, car park, tiny harbour – and the end of the British mainland. Cold and blue-grey the Pentland Firth laps on rocks and white sand.

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Close enough almost to touch is Stroma – the island in the stream – now populated only by sheep. And beyond, island upon island, rocky-coasted and hummocky. Orkney.

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My sister and I both love this place so even though it was very cold we wandered around so I could take photographs (and have mine taken).

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And then my day was brightened even more when the owner of two of the shops that serve the thriving tourist trade bought in copies of my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And even nicer, the teashop welcomed us into the warm with tea and a yummy chocolate brownie!

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It’s all about grace

I was invited to the christening of a friend’s baby, far away and many years ago. My friend’s name was Grace and I couldn’t believe that one of the hymns chosen was…. Amazing Grace!   It took all my self-control and love and respect for my friend not to get a severe attack of the giggles.

As we approach Valentine’s Day, it crosses my mind that you really can’t have love without grace. Graceless love is grabby and ugly – the teenage angst kind, the obsessive stalker kind, the possessive abuser kind, and their reciprocal: the ground-down stuck in the prison of those unloving and unhealthy relationships where the shackles are misnamed love.

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I’ve been reading Stephanie Cottam’s lovely book Ready or Not – He’s Coming! about the second coming of Jesus to bring His Bride home to the place He has prepared for her. Steph draws on her Jewish heritage to apply and explain the imagery and language of Jewish betrothal and marriage to this wonderful relationship we have with our Lord.

Filled with grace. Because God makes all the running.

He chooses us. He pursues us with love and grace – giving us full and real freedom to make our own choice about whether we’ll get involved with him or not. God offers us his love. No pushing, no manipulation, no emotional blackmail, no threats. Just love, in grace.

And he doesn’t turn from gentle lover to bully/tyrant or uninterested now the chase is over! He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow: full of love and grace.

We may mess up the relationship. It’s very likely that we will. We might get distracted, sidetracked, led astray, lose trust, forget… He won’t bully us back like a sheepdog nipping at our heels to bring us back into line. Jesus told the story of the loving Father waiting, longing for his prodigal, wandering son to come home. And when the lad crawls back in shame and despair, there are no recriminations – instead open arms. No questions – instead lavish welcome and celebrations. This is how God is. He longs to welcome us back into his love, and if we turn back to him, his welcome is unmistakable and undeniable. And gracious.

It’s not a word you hear a lot these days – apart from, maybe, at church. But do we find graciousness in our churches? If we are aiming to follow Jesus, to become more like him, then maybe grace is something we might do well to practice. (And yes, I know I preach to myself first!)

It’s not easy in a 24/7 world where everyone seems to be too busy to be gracious. So let’s treasure every little drop of grace that we encounter and maybe try to sprinkle some on our own behalf.

Love, with grace. It’s quite a challenge. And could make a huge difference.


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Sheepless in Suffolk

Woolly has returned to his home. I gave him one last cuddle then plonked him on the floor and left. Then I came home and ate two fruit scones with my coffee.

Comfort eating? For loss of a sheep that I didn’t even own? How sad is that!

Actually I think it was just an excuse. It was nice to have Woolly for the weekend. He was a very easy guest:

  • didn’t eat me out of house and home
  • didn’t insist on watching sport on tv
  • there were no sheets to change and wash

Of course it wasn’t all positive:

  • less than scintillating conversation
  • not interested in a nice walk or amble round the shops

Oh well, nobody’s perfect, not even a perfectly irresistible woolly sheep!

I’ve often felt prospective husbands should come with warranties from their mothers regarding how house-trained and civilised they are. However, I fear equality would demand that women should too and that might show up our clay feet a little  too soon for comfort.

When I left home for university at the ripe old age of 19, I had never used a washing machine and was so frightened of the monster in our hall of residence laundry that I hand-washed all my clothes (and I do mean all, with some dire results!).

I’m a bit better now but must confess to zero interest in housewifery and other ‘feminine’ pursuits, though I do have some basic standards of tidiness (so I can find things) and hygiene (I don’t want to cause myself illness or start an outbreak of  bubonic plague in the neighbourhood).

I cut my teeth on Shirley Conran’s Superwoman with its motto of ‘Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’. It was a revelation – instructions on how to do just about everything. But I look back at it now and wonder how I ever found time to do it all and hold down a demanding job as well.

I’m sure there were not any more hours in the day. I suppose I just had more energy in my twenties. At that age, there was a sense of forever stretching ahead, filled with wonderful possibilities.

Now, though, there seem to be fewer days left on the calendar than have already been torn off. But perhaps now it’s time for quality as a kind of defiance in the face of lack of quantity.

Shirley Conran’s approach to life was great in my twenties when I really rather fancied being Superwoman. Now, I reckon it’s time to make sure I’ve spent enough time being myself.

I never guessed I could have such fun spending a weekend with a sheep. I wonder what further delights await just a little way down the road?

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Yes, I got a sheep!

The good news is…. I got a sheep.

The not quite so good news is that he’s only on loan and has to go back home tomorrow! And I am not the only person to be sad about this.

He is gorgeous. About 18 inches to the top of his back, which is about 18 inches long – tail to back of head. He has sturdy cylindrical wooden legs and his head is beautifully carved wood, with two strong curved horns attached. His fleece is thick and soft and white.

He is irresistible.

I took him to the All Age service this morning and he was promptly claimed by the oldest teen. She began by stroking his soft wool, then sat on him for most of the rest of the service. I’m afraid Woolly, as she named him, will appear on her Christmas present list! (Though her Mum says she wants one too.)

After the service younger brother and a friend took over. Both of them sat on Woolly, proud bareback riders!

After I managed to persuade them to dismount, I took Woolly round to meet some of the other members of the congregation and everyone wanted to stroke him. Two ladies declared they’d love to have him at home as a footstool.

And I would too.

But he has to go back tomorrow when the shop opens. Because I only have him on loan. And Woolly is the only one they have.

But just for today, Woolly was my little woolly helper spreading a little bit of fun!

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