Scotland

Ardvreck Castle

 

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Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt, 2014

Ardvreck Castle in the Highlands of Scotland was the home of the MacLeods of Assynt.  The MacLeods were traditional Lairds of Assent and Sutherland.  The castle is a 15th-16th Century L-planned fortified tower house.  Battles came and went and the MacLeods of Ardvreck Castle was eventually overtaken by their bitter enemies the MacKenzies of Wester-Ross.  Lightning destroyed the bulk of the castle much later and the ruins sit majestically next to the A837.

Naturally, there are ghost stories – the favorite being this I read on British Express:  “Legends cling to the enigmatic ruins. It is said that the ghost of a MacLeod chieftain’s daughter wanders the beach, weeping. She married the Devil in an effort to save the castle from destruction, then she drowned in the loch. Another ghost, a mysterious man in grey, wanders about the castle ruins.”

Scotland is the perfect setting for ghost stories.  That, plus after touring the Highlands one gets the true sense of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for much of his inspiration was drawn from these mountains, lochs, brooding clouds and damp rains.  Scotland inspires.

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Ode to Scotland

 

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Scotland Saltire flying at Ullapool, Scotland, 2014

My feet are firmly planted in the USA and I love it here.  This is my home, my country.  However, I am unable to shake the profound, deep love that’s developed deep, deep within me for the beautiful country of Scotland since visiting in 2014.  Those ancient rocks and lochs, towering mountains and a thousand shades of green hugging a multitude of villages that house people I’m certain are ancestors.  They have to be.  I just feel it.  There is nothing like a malty Scottish ale from the tap, oh my the goodness.  Whiskey was never my thing until a tasting there and ever since a 14 year Oban is always in my cabinet for special times.

The photo above is Ullapool, Scotland.  Lying beside Loch Broom in the Northwest Highlands, Ullapool itself is said to be derived from the norse ‘Ulla-Bolstadr’ meaning ‘Ulla’s steading’.  The further north you go the more Norse connections you see.  Anchored by the fish and sea trade, Ullapool is one of the many fishing villages commissioned by the British Fisheries Society in the 1780’s to help create trade and grow Scotland.  Let’s just don’t talk about the clearances – makes me sad.

Whenever two contrails create a saltire in a blue sky I photograph it and send to my bestie, without whom I would never have gone.  She was chasing her roots; I was along for the ride simply to photograph a place I’d always wanted to visit.  I cannot wait to go back.  Haste ye back the airport sign said as I left, weeping.  I will, I will.

Speaks to me…

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The beauty of the trees,

the softness of the air,

the fragrance of the grass……speaks to me.

 ~

The summit of the mountain,

the thunder of the sky,

the rhythm of the sea…speaks to me.

~

The faintness of the stars,

the freshness of the morning,

the dewdrop on the flower…speaks to me.

~

The strength of fire,

the taste of salmon,

the trail of the sun,

and the life that never goes away,

they speak to me.

~

And my heart soars.

Poem:  Chief Dan George

Photo:  Nairn Beach, Scotland by moi

Yuletide Customs of Old Scotland

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Three Chairs (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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.

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Iona Abbey Window (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“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)

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Stained Glass (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“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)

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Door of St. Magnus (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

“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)

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Italian Chapel (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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)

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Celtic Cross at Iona (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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!)

John O’ Groats, Scotland

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John O’ Groats (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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.

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The Inn at John O’ Groats (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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)

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Bay of Duncansby (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

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.

Falconry at Dunrobin Castle

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Dunrobin Castle and Gardens (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Toward the end of our Scotland Adventure, we toured the amazing Dunrobin Castle, a majestic home in Sutherland in the Highland area of Scotland.  Dunrobin Castle is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland.  It is about 5 miles south of Brora on the east coast of Scotland, overlooking the Dornoch Firth.  There are 189 rooms within the castle, making it the largest in the northern Highlands. Externally, the castle has elements inspired by the work of the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, such as the pyramidal roof over the main entrance. The French influence extends into the gardens, completed in 1850, with Barry taking inspiration from the French formal style of the Gardens of Versailles. The total landscaped area is 1,379 acres.

 

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Gardens and Firth (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Dunrobin’s origins lie in the Middle Ages, but most of the present building and the gardens was added by Sir Charles Barry between 1835 and 1850. Some of the original building is visible in the interior courtyard, despite a number of expansions and alterations that made it the largest house in the north of Scotland. After being used as a boarding school for seven years, it is now open to the public.  (Wikipedia)  The view, above, was taken from a window in the castle and only shows about a quarter of the formal gardens at Dunrobin.  The castle may have been built on the site of an early medieval fort, but the oldest surviving portion, with an iron yett, is first mentioned in 1401.

 

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The Falconer and the Golden Eagle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

A visit to Dunrobin Castle now includes daily birds of prey flying demonstrations at 11.30am, and 2.00pm on the Castle lawnThese spectacular shows feature golden eagles and peregrine falcons, both resident birds in the Scottish Highlands. Shown here feeding the golden eagle when we first arrived.  Additionally, he had Harris hawks, steppe eagles and goshawks on display.  Our show included a goshawk, peregrine falcon and owl.

 

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The Falconer’s Son and Bongo (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The falconer’s son is in training and already handled many of the birds.  A film crew was there filming the falconer’s son and another young boy. I talked with them before and after the show. At first I thought they were doing a film on the falconer and his son, but it turns out they are doing a film on an egg collector and HIS son, both who were there. Egg collectors (never knew there was such a thing) helped track down the reason for sharp declines in hawk and falcon reproduction – DDT – making the shells fragile, breaking before they could hatch.

 

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Falconer and Goshawk (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Andy Hughes, Dunrobin’s professional resident Falconer demonstrates and explains the different hunting methods used by owls, hawks and falcons in a series of fascinating aerobatic displaysAndy took this hawk through the motions. It was fascinating. The hawk had a little bell on him so that Andy could tell his whereabouts. Apparently, the hawk likes to sneak up on him.

 

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Owl Games (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

We adored Bongo!  Andy had him skim over our heads many times so that we could hear (or not hear) just how quiet his flight is.  An owl is mostly feathers – his body is about a quarter of the size he appears.

 

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The Peregrine (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Falconry was originally developed as a means of hunting fast or difficult prey as food for the table, and is still practiced for this purpose in many parts of the world today.  This display of falconry was one of my favorite experiences in Scotland.  Not only was the setting breathtakingly beautiful, the display was more than I imagined.  Andy and his son were very personable, chatting with us all before and afterward, plus we were allowed to tour the area where the birds are kept.  It’s a humbling experience being around such graceful and intense birds.  Andy and his son treated the birds the highest respect.

 

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Falconry at Dunrobin Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

If you are ever in Scotland one of the tours you simply must do is the falconry exhibit at Dunrobin Castle.  Right after you see Eilean Donan Castle.  Well, it’s all good.  It’s all good.

Eilean Donan Castle

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Eilean Donan Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Eilean Donan Castle was my hands-down favorite castle throughout Scotland.  Picturesque beyond description, the castle is on a small tidal island located where three lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, in the western Highlands of Scotland.  The footbridge isn’t original architecture, but was constructed early in the 20th Century to connect the castle to the mainland.  Read more about the architecture, below.

 

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The Grand Entrance (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The castle, founded in the 13th century, is named after Donnan of Eigg, a Celtic saint, martyred in 617.  Eilean Donan, means simply “island of Donnán.” Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.

 

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Eilean Donan Portcullis (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle’s destruction by government ships. (Wikipedia)

 

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Inside Castle Walls (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

After lying in ruins for about 200 years, Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory.  The castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases.  After 20 years of toil and labor the castle was re-opened in 1932.

 

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View from the Top (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

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Lush Countryside and Loch (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

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Alex and Shonna, Castle Docents (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

I’ve never been more thoroughly entertained nor happily educated about Scottish lore, dress, warring, and All Things Eilean Donan Castle than I had on this day.  We shuffled into the grand entrance hall, where Alex entertained us with his witty monologue of how one enters castles, WHO can enter castles back in the day, castle secrets, castle defenses and a lot about the people who inhabited this place.  Once Alex gave us our leave we traveled upstairs to the dining hall where Shonna (A MacLeod, by the way) educated us as to the way of Scottish lassies and why they dressed as they did.  She also treated us to behind-the-scenes lore of castle life and named people in portraits, and explained about the decor.  These two people were wonderful additions to the castle tour!

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Low Tide (C) by Debi Bradford

As we left I turned to see this incredible view.  Sun lowering, mist rising, the grasses an impossible shade of green.  I did not want to leave this place.

Armadale Castle and Gardens

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Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Armadale Castle Gardens are a scant 3/4 of a mile from the terminal for the Mallaig ferry at Armadale on the Isle of Skye. The first item of notice is what looks to be a massive doorway facing the Sound of Sleat, looking back toward Mallaig.  This is an eleborate doorway and towering stonework which appears to have once housed a window.  This was the original entrance to a major Gothic extension to the castle built in 1815 to the design of architect James Gillespie Graham.

 

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Vine-covered Architecture of Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

You can enter what little is left of this part of the castle. In doing so you pass into what was once the grand hallway, and you are faced by what was once the equally grand Imperial Staircase. Today this all has the feel of an elaborate garden folly. The hallway is open to the sky and, apart from the doorway, has few standing walls. Here some of my new friends are taking their own photos of the Sound from atop the staircase.

 

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Stairway to Nowhere (C) by Debi Bradford

 

 

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Armadale Castle and bench (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

There is nothing to be seen inside the castle itself, which is nothing more than a shell.  In 1855 a fire destroyed much of the original mansion house, and in 1858, the “gap” in the frontage left by the fire was filled by the addition that today forms the most imposing part of the castle. In 1981 the ruinous Gothic wing was made safe, effectively by demolishing most of what was left of it, and the 1858 building was consolidated to allow for possible future restoration.  (Undiscovered Scotland)  Truly, the castle wasn’t the draw here, except for the Gothic portion.  What we enjoyed most were the gardens.

 

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My Tree (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

A mild climate due entirely to the “Mexican Gulf Stream,” as our guide insisted upon calling it, means lush gardens grew in abundance in the western Highlands and Isle of Skye.  Our brief time here wouldn’t allow all 40 acres to be explored, but we did our best.  Magnificent trees, some almost 200 years old, tower above stunning carpets of bluebells, orchids and wildflowers in spring and summer. Sheltered below the giants are the young firs which will eventually replace them, as well as the growing collections of elegant birch and beech trees.  (Clan Donald.com)

 

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Artist Palette (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Native azaleas, rhododendron, moountain laurel, daisies, ferns, bluebells, woodland plants and flowers that reminded me so much of home … because that’s where they also grow.  The Gulf Stream sweeps north past Scotland, bringing temperate climate that creates lush gardens.  This is only the first of many we visited.

 

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Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Part of their forty acres includes a series of nature trails through both woodlands and pasture, leading up a hill to the panoramic viewpoint at the top of Cnoc Armadail.  This is the territory of red deer and golden eagles with the opportunity of a rare glimpse of the sea eagle.  Our time did not allow that sort of stroll but it’s on my list for when I return to Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye.

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Garden Treasure (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Mallaig, Port to Skye

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Reliance II (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Mallaig, a bustling, thriving, incredibly beautiful port, is situated on the north west coast along the famous Road to the Isles.   Very much a working fish port, Mallaig is a fabulous central base by which to explore this area of Scotland.  The ferry to the Isle of Skye runs regularly and the isle is just a short hop across the Sound of Sleat.  Founded in the 1840s, Lord Lovat, owner of North Morar Estate, divided up the farm of Mallaigvaig into seventeen parcels of land and encouraged his tenants to move to the western part of the peninsula and turn to fishing as a way of life.  (UndiscoveredScotland.com)

 

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Mallaig, Scotland (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The well known Jacobite steam train (featured in the Harry Potter movies) follows the famous Road to the Isles and operates in the summer months from Fort William to Mallaig, calling at Glenfinnan Station where visitors can visit the museum, have a meal in one of the old dining cars and even stay in one of the restored carriages.

 

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The Jacobite Express aka Hogwarts Express (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The above photo of the Jacobite Express steam train was taken during a stop at Glenfinnan.  Our guide said he wasn’t certain but “heard” that the train might be making its way through Glenfinnan while we were there.  We were hopeful but doubtful.  Within ten minutes or so we began to hear the puff-puff-puff of the train coming through the mountains.  Finally, it came into view!  Hogwarts Express!

 

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Repairs (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Castles and gardens of Scotland were incredible experiences.  However, I found that, for me, the simple pockets of crofts and fishing villages and hamlets spoke to me maybe even more so.  This is real Scotland.  This, these small places teeming with Highlanders and “outlanders” filled my cup to overflowing.

 

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Fisherman and his granddaughter Sculpture, Port of Mallaig (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Here you see the statue in Mallaig Harbor of an 8 foot tall fisherman holding a young girl’s hand and pointing out to sea.  This sculpture was given to the port of Mallaig by its sculptor Mark Rogers of Airor in Knoydart.  Mr. Rogers originally used chicken wire base onto which he molded cement to make the figures.  But when he found out the sculptures were going to be erected on Mallaig Pier he cut off the legs and cast them again in concrete in order to withstand the gales.  (Road to the Isles.org)

 

The Magic of Scotland

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The Lonely House (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

I confess I’m a bit of a mess.  Since returning from Scotland it seems my sense of direction has grown faulty.  The processing of photos has come to a close and now I’m left with Not Having Pictures Of Scotland To Process.  Thousands of images of this magical kingdom sitting on my computer waiting for me to do something with them.  Thousands have been culled to hundreds and yet I sit.  What next?

 

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The Cuillen (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

The admission here is simple:  processing these photos was a chance to tour Scotland again.  A similar rush of AHA! and OH YEAH! and OH MY! as I remembered stops and places and experiences.  Frankly, I wasn’t ready to return and believe my soul is still wandering about in the Highlands.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be within me right now.  “That’s my soul up there.” (Sting)

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Inukshuks at The Cuillen (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Words are failing me, the urge to blog escapes me, my mind wanders – its corners collecting dust until I can find my way again.  Have you ever experienced anything like this?  And, if so, what did you do to jumpstart your creative back in the Real World?  I’m at a loss in more ways than one.

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Enchantment (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Quite simply, I’m obsessed with Scotland.  Its history and lovely people, the sights and smells, the food and drink, the Highlands and the wild, wild north.  Once in everyone’s life one should have a similar experience, falling in love with a country.  I’ve visited other countries and loved them all, but Scotland grabbed my soul and won’t let go.  Nor do I want it to.