Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

There is something about a thatched roof cottage that stirs the cockles of my heart. Perhaps I’ve lived in one in some former life. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the sight of such a cottage in a guide book read about six months before this trip got me and Ruth to Chipping Camden, a village in the Cotswolds in central England. We arrived by bus from Stratford upon Avon, of Shakespeare fame, in a weather of on again, off again rain and sun, cold and crisp as a snowball, with a light that kept cascading as the sun dipped and dove behind giant rain clouds. As for thatched roofs, we were not disappointed. For those not in the know, a thatched roof was popular about 300 years ago as a way to ¬†reuse farm material as an insulator against the cold, heat, and rain. It worked well, lasting about five years. Only thing is during that time, rats, squirrels, birds, snakes and several other critters of farmland picked and gnawed and chewed through the thatching material for their own nesting supplies and made a bloody mess of the roof. This of course led to using other kinds of roofs until wire screening was invented in more modern times to protect the organic material from the same critters as before. Anyway, they are works of art, and very soothing to see a house that is nearly half straw. Chipping Camden had at least six such houses that I discovered and other towns we passed through like Broadway and Moreton on Marsh had a number of others. That which drew me to England was magnificently manifest to my eyes.We climbed Sheep Street (the Cotswolds thrived on sheep farming for wool and meat for many years until cotton became king) past the late author Graeme Green’s thatched roof cottage to lovely views of the town and surrounding fields bathed in a gorgeous after rain light where we met a lady from Toronto being shown around by her English friend. Then it was back down to town to visit the local silversmith who tapped out masterpieces as they did in William Morris’s day.
Our fill filled, we hopped the bus to Stratford and returned to Shakespeare’s origins, a town of Tudor antiquity and the Garrick Pub, serving drink and grub since 1406, one of the oldest in old England. We chatted with a few jolly locals, a fellow from Holland who was biking through Ireland and the UK, and Dave, a rock concert promoter whose accent labeled him a Scotsman from Glasgow, a great guy whose humor and insights and generosity took Ruth and I well into the night

Food: The King’s Hotel. Fantastic. Michelin star.

Silver: The Guild


Read Full Post »

I used to live in Inverness CA, a sleepy, out of the way village near Point Reyes National Seashore in the almost separate state of Northern California. It was named after Inverness in the almost separate country of Scotland. But believe me, they are very different places. ¬†Though we found charming places in the countryside, the Scottish city is somewhat rundown, with a rising crime rate and a lowering standard of maintenance to its buildings. I was expecting no more than a village, but apparently it took more than a village. Inverness CA will always remain in my heart and soul. Inverness UK, even as I sit watching the River Ness flowing by, is fading from memory. Now the outskirts are another matter. We took a tour with a local friend yesterday of Loch Ness, (right, the one with the 1500 year old monster) and charmed by its beauty. No Tahoe, still there is practically no development around it, as that which spoils the California beauty. And it’s not even a protected area. Surprising, since it’s only 30 minutes from the city, indicating Invernessians are not all that connected with nature, or that builders are a bit behind the curve. Anyway, we took a bus and boat trip to Urquhart Castle, at least its ruins. Europeans value their ancient ruins. Wars made them ruins, and Europeans certainly are good at making war. But then once razed and ruined, castles, churches, even ancient rocks and stones of mysterious origins are preserved and honored. In America, we preserve cemetaries, and a few houses here and there, if fought for. New England is the one exception for good wabi sabi subjects.

Inverness UK was also both a baptism and wake to English driving practices. Driving is on the left side. The driver sits on the right side, leaving drivers from continents to the west and east misjudging the curb to the left. This was extremely nerve wracking, and after getting lost twice, I finally decided to give up the car rental and abandon driving in the UK forever forward. We retreated to train, bus, and taxi, and stress levels returned to normal where they should be on vacation.

Our last day in the Highlands of Scotland, which still tries to achieve independence from England to this day, was spent driving through the rain, thanks to local friends who insisted on showing us around. A married couple, he was Scottish and she Brazilian, an odd combination but no less so than me and my own Brazilian wife. He was from Glasgow to the south and possessed an accent that was close to being indecernible. I never did fully get the hang of it, and spent most of the trip nodding my head in benign confusion.

Fortunately our destination was a tour at a malt whiskey distillery and I took the opportunity to defensively muddle my head even more. With whiskey, teenage is best behaved, unlike with people, and 15 years was most agreeable. A castle on the grounds ended the tour and by the time we reached it, I was completely razed but not ruined.

On the rainy ride home–thanks to the angels for getting me out of driving–we drove through Findhorn Community, a place I remember from the 60s when they grew miracle giant vegetables from apparently in-arable sandy soil, but then switched to growing people, with workshops on relationships and sustainable living practices. We missed the tour, but it was obvious that the community still thrives with unique private houses connected within common purpose and simple values. I don’t know if the people have grown that much, but Findhorn is celebrating its 50th year, and judging from all the solar panels and signs favoring people and bicycles over cars, I’d say they’re making progress. Findhorn is 29 miles from Inverness, along the Moray Firth (or bay) which funnels out to the North Sea.

Now back in town, where the rain has deepened the already deep grays of Inverness. Color is hard to find in this capital of the Highlands. Requires a bit of Scotch whiskey and water.

On the train to London, just finishing my breakfast, gazing out at snow on the high plains of Cairngorms National Park. It is May 10. Aye, I did say snow!

Read Full Post »