Sand, waves, wind and minerals create abstracts on the beach.
I’ve been away, embroiled in family issues since well before Christmas. First, a dark issue in Alabama, dealing with death of my beloved stepmother and helping my father who has health issues of his own. I was gone entirely too long, but it was a necessary chapter in the book of my life. Most of us have been there in some capacity. It’s not easy but I was grateful for the assistance and love of my siblings. I returned home Sunday night to learn of another imminent family issue, but this was a much more joyous one – the birth of a grandchild. This meant another trip when I was needing nothing but rest. However, there was no way I was going to miss out on an event we’ve been anticipating with glee. So off we went for a week to welcome Emma Kathryn Cargol Bradford into the world! Although weary, being around palpable happiness, cradling this new life in my arms and kissing her head, inhaling the pleasant aromas that arrive with babies, gave my soul a much needed boost of Joy and Vitality.
Returning to the beach last night I’ve decided to allow my body and soul the gift of TIME to simply rest. There is comfort in cleaning and routine, and peace in bringing order back into daily living. There’s also time, now, to properly mourn and properly rejoice each occasion deeply. In doing so, I’m likening this gentle time to the coming Spring. A rebirth. An opening up. A celebration of simple pleasures. Nature has a way of soothing like nothing else. I’ve not yet made it down to the beach but tomorrow promises sunshine. Today, I celebrate Life with the beautiful, simply spiderwort that is blooming within the undergrowth of our lane. There are deep purple spiderwort, lavender spiderwort and this luscious white spiderwort. All wild and free, planted by Mother Nature. I suspect birds had something to do with it as well.
Almost blue spiderwort
We leave soon, traveling to spend the holidays with family elsewhere. I won’t be blogging while gone, of course, but want to leave with a Scotland holiday theme. The above photo was used on my Christmas cards and I thought it perfect to begin this post. Seeking Christmas customs in Scotland I found a website called “The Christmas Archives” by countess Maria Hubert von Staufer. Here, I found a delightful page titled Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland. I’ll share some of the passages with photos from some Scotland abbeys and cathedrals as my Christmas gift to you.
“The name “Yuletide” comes from the Scandinavians, for whom ‘Yultid’ was the festival celebrated at the twelfth month, being the twelfth name of Odin, who was supposed to come to earth in December, disguised in a hooded cloak. He would sit awhile at the firesides listening to the people, and where there was want he left a gift of bread or coins. (Strains of Father Christmas here!)
Christmas was often known as Nollaig Beag , Little Christmas. The custom was to celebrate the Birth of Christ with all solemnity, the festivities began a few days later, and spilled into New Year and Twelfth Night, which was known as ‘Little Christmas’. However, the French often called Christmas colloquially, ‘Homme est né’ (Man is Born) which is thought by some scholars to be the origin of the word, ‘Hogmanay’, steaming from the time of the ‘Auld Alliance’.” (The Christmas Archives)
“All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle at Christmastime to light the way of a stranger.
In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a ‘Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you’.” (The Christmas Archives)
“It was and still is the custom for a stranger to enter the house after midnight on New Years Eve/Day. There were taboos about the luck such a stranger would bring, especially in the days of hospitality to travelling strangers. A fair haired visitor was considered bad luck in most areas, partly due to the in-fighting between the dark scots and the fair Norse invaders. However, in Christian times, a fair haired man was considered very lucky providing his name was Andrew! Because St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland. A woman is considered taboo still in many areas!
The Firstfooter must make an offering, a HANDSEL. This can be food, drink or fuel for the fire. The ritual which have grown up around this custom are many. An offering of food or drink must be accepted by sharing it with everyone present, including the visitor. Fuel, must be placed onto the fire by the visitor with the words ‘A Good New Year to one and all and many may you see’. In todays often fireless society the fuel is usually presented as a polished piece of coal, or wood which can be preserved for the year as an ornament.” (The Christmas Archives)
“Black Bun. Originally Twelfth Night Cake. It is a very rich fruit cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients are bound together with plenty of Whiskey. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.
This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy from Scotland’s close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the center and symmetrical lines around, representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on the modern Scottish Shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked onto the shortbread!” (The Christmas Archives)
I wish each and every one of you a blessed and peaceful Christmas and send hope for the New Year. As they say in Scottish Gaelic, Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)
You’ve likely seen this castle in countless images of Loch Ness and the hunt for the illusive Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. From its perch high above Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is now a ruin of what was once an imposing and important castle. Urquhart witnessed considerable conflict throughout its 500 years as a medieval fortress and its history from the 13th to 17th centuries was particularly bloody. Following Edward I’s invasion, it fell into English hands and was then reclaimed and lost again. In the 14th century, it figured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots. (Historic Scotland)
Before touring the castle itself we were treated to an excellent dramatic film of its bloody history in the new visitor center. When the film was done the screen lifted and a wall opened to reveal a large glass window through which the castle was seen. It was so well done, with such feeling and mood, we were fully prepared to see the castle and feel the horrors it felt.
Urquhart’s history begins around 580AD when St. Columba stopped through on his journey from Iona to Inverness. As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household. (Historic Scotland) We had already visited Iona and learned about St. Columba so this tie-in to history created another wrinkle in my brain.
Like most castles, Urquhart was built in sections and changed many times over its thousand year history. The section toward the top of the image is the oldest and the section where you see the people walking was the newer wing. As you can see, the castle was completely destroyed, leaving only a few stone walls.
Traveling to ancient lands is a humbling experience. Standing in a place such as Urquhart Castle, imagining the people who walked here, lived here, worked here and died here over a thousand years puts Life into perspective. Wincing at the media’s outpouring of rubbish each day and worrying about this bill or that crazy senator or Wall Street nonsense, I’m reminded while writing this blog, inserting photos of these incredibly old places that older countries and ancient peoples have seen much, much more. I’m humbly reminded that our day-to-day is just that. Life will go on. Today’s castles will fall, too.
Most history: From the 13th century, until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English.
Soon after the English threat evaporated the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst. The Islesmen got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats. (Historic Scotland)
When the last soldiers marched out in 1692, they blew it up. The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 19th century the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles. (Historic Scotland)
I cannot describe the feeling in my soul when I think about my trip to Scotland. This trip changed me forever in a very, very good way. I can’t find any Scottish roots in my history, but I’m convinced this is where I began.
3,100 miles from New York City, John O’ Groats is the second northernmost point in Scotland. Yes, they’ll say they are the most northern point, but that honor actually goes to Dunnet Head a few miles east of this point.
The Inn at John O’Groats is the an imitation of the iconic former John O’Groats hotel that was originally built in 1875. This hotel is part of Natural Retreats’ multi-million pound regeneration of this picturesque natural wilderness in Caithness in the North of Scotland. After extensive renovations and additions, the hotel re-opened in September of 2013. Over the last two years the hotel has been restored and a new Norse style rental flats added which provides a dramatic splash of color against the coastal landscape. (From John O’ Groats official website)
There isn’t much to John O’ Groats, which is part of the appeal. One of Scotland’s main walking trails, which criss-cross the better part of the UK, go through the town and continue eastward along the waterway. Stroma, and island between John O’ Groats and the Orkney Islands. Our guide invited one of the local businessmen to come aboard our coach and give us a talk about the town so we could hear the distinctive dialect of the area. Our guide, a scholar from Edinburgh who was born in west Highlands, said he could only listen to this dialect for a short amount of time before holding his ears. In jest, of course. There is tremendous pride in Scotland – district as well as for the country overall. Intense pride. The Scottish people are as delightful as the countryside. I’m in enamored with Scotland.
There is something about a beach that is everlasting. The ocean is always moving. Currents and winds and swimming beasties and the moon and tides and our beautiful planet revolving on its axis and a myriad of actions serve to create the moment you see above.
Crashing waves, swirling eddies, and gentle foamy water washes deposit shells, bits of flotsam, fossils, minerals, coral and the debris of the eons creating nature’s abstracts.
Clouds fight for the eye’s attentions as the sunrise wakens the beach and pelicans begin their morning foraging.