about writing and life and God

South, then turn left

It should have taken 4 hours whatever, but I’m supposed to take a break every hour and a half to ease and exercise the arthritic knee so that extends the journey. In this case delightfully. My first break was at Poppy’s in Golspie, an old favourite. Looks like they have a new chef and I arrived just as he was setting a tray of golden cheese scones  on a cooling tray on the counter. Yum!

Continuing south to Inverness then a sharp turn left onto the A96 took me almost to Forres in time for my lunch break at the wonderful Brodies Countryfare. As well as offering a delightful restaurant where I had quiche with some very inventive and delicious salads, it is stocked full of tempting Scottish gifts, clothes…

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Driving onwards to Aberdeen, I noticed the road was not a yellow brick road but a pink one: because the road chippings are of course made of local granite which is pink!

Aberdeen has vastly grown since my student days here in the late 1960s/early 70s but after I checked in at my hotel, I took myself off for a wander round notable places. The hotel is in Union Terrace and right at the end of the road is this wonderful statue of William Wallace, and His Majesty’s Theatre, home to so many great productions.

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Aberdeen University began as two different institutions: King’s College in Old Aberdeen, a Catholic establishment in 1495, and Marischal College, the Protestant establishment in 1593. The two merged in 1860. In my day, the Arts Faculty was mainly housed in the buildings of King’s College. Marischal’s buildings are generally accepted to be the very best examples of neo-gothic architecture in the UK and as the picture below shows, they are truly beautiful.

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While Marischal never fails to delight, I was taken aback to discover the old Students Union building has been taken over by Starbucks!

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But another very popular student haunt, Ma Cameron’s, appears to continue to thrive! Lang may her lum reek!

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I am here in Aberdeen to do some serious research, first in the hotel where I’m staying (I’ve had a nice tour of the ground floor and the conference rooms), and secondly in the library where a very helpful young woman took notes of what I need to discover and I’m booked to turn up tomorrow morning and see what she has managed to find for me.

After breakfast. I love hotel breakfasts!

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On the road again: day one

It’s been five months. And now, like a newborn wobbly calf,

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I am struggling to my feet and setting off back into some kind of a life again. The spring weather has encouraged me to spread my wings and I’m halfway to John O’Groats for the first Book Festival there. I have a ten-minute slot as a local author tomorrow night when I can promote the new book, Necklace of Lies, and then my sister and I can relax and enjoy all the other speakers on Saturday.

1st John O_ Groat Programme v2

I set off at 9.15 this morning and arrived at my chosen destination – the Day’s Inn hotel at Annandale Water – six and a quarter hours later and 351 miles into my journey.

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En route, I found good places for comfort breaks and lunch, and arrived at one of my favourites – Mainsgill Farm Shop and Cafe – in time for afternoon tea. And there to my delight the first things I saw were camels. Not what you expect in the north of England!

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I have a soft spot for camels so I had to go and talk to them. Two were busy grazing but one was prepared to pose for the camera. They paid absolutely no attention to the heavy lorries roaring past on the road above them

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I wondered had they ever been used as beasts of burden, Camel Logistics Inc., as used by the three wise men?

Now time for a peaceful walk round the lake and a quiet evening before I set off on the next leg of the journey.




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 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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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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Day Twenty-three: On the road again

I love my sat nav. In cities it is an absolute boon. So this morning it took me safely through Aberdeen to Bridge of Don for coffee with yet another lovely friend I haven’t seen for (whoops!) we think 47 years! But we recognised each other and it was great to catch up on the years with laughter and happy memories. And then it guided me through Aberdeen and out onto the road to Dundee.

A perfectly timed stop for a sandwich (and a chunky KitKat) gave me the energy for the last talk of the tour.

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In full flow!

Once more organised by my friend and fellow member of the Association of Christian Writers, Wendy Jones, at the Priory, I had an attentive and responsive audience drawn from the City Church Dundee.

Having sold out of copies of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, in Wick, we needed to call on Mark and Iain of the CLC Bookshop in Dundee for further supplies – which didn’t last long!

And so, a couple of hours later, I was drinking tea at my friends’ home in Tayport – the last talk of the tour over and the road for Halesworth and home beckoning. It’s been good. It’s been tiring. Time tomorrow maybe to reflect on lessons learnt. For next time?


Day Nineteen: On the road again

It’s an easy route, most of the way: down to Inverness and turn left. The only problem is distraction: the scenery is so beautiful especially on a sunny day when the sea is deep blue, the grass a sweet green against the blazing gold of the gorse and broom, and the horizon wreathes in veils of mist.

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Coffee break

Coffee break

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View from the petrol station

At Inverness I thought I remembered a good place to eat lunch and annoyed Emily, my sat nav voice, by turning off the official route. And discovered how Inverness has changed. And how coming in by train simply does not help with road navigation! The nice place was no longer there. And I was snarled up in town centre traffic. Till Emily came to the rescue again.Recalculating. And getting me back on the road I needed.

Just like God does. Each time we stray, we have a choice: keep doggedly on in the wrong direction, insist like a stubborn two-year-old with his shoelaces that we can manage on our own thank you very much, or take a quiet moment to admit to God that we’ve gone wrong and let Him recalculate and set us back on the right road.

So onwards I went, through towns with such familiar names: Nairn, Forres, Elgin. But I must confess they did not stir any old memories though I must have driven through them often enough in the past. Though not for a very long while. The Baxters factory at Fochabers is very much larger than I remember but it was good to see it still there!

And then I got lost again! I had turned off the A road onto a B road and then the sat nav suggested I take another smaller road and I jibbed. I decided it didn’t look right. So I went straight on – and on – and round bends and up hills – on and further on, down hills and round more bends, with forest to one side and a deep river valley on the other. I reckon I went round in a perfect half-circle, arriving at the other end of the road I needed. I checked the map, took a deep breath and let Emily guide me once again, and this time when I lost my nerve and wanted to detour, I made myself keep driving… till I got there.

So here I am, at the home of my nephew and his wife and his two daughters. And maybe I will finally learn: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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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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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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