Category Archives: Other People

Scotland, Part The Fourth

Wednesday was our last full day at the castle, and it was BY FAR, my favorite day of them all.

I have to talk about breakfast because there was bacon involved. I am only a little bit sad that I never took pictures of the food, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m ill-mannered enough as it is, you see. But breakfast – I suppose if I had access to Scottish/English bacon of the sort I enjoyed at the castle, I would eat breakfast for every meal. American-style bacon is great, don’t get me wrong, but in the steel cage match of cured pork products, American bacon goes down like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago. There were eggs, bacon, smoked fish, bacon, more eggs, bacon, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, bacon, bacon, and bacon. Breakfast was awesome, is what I’m trying to say. I might not have mentioned that there was bacon there.

Breakfast was a great time to decide what everyone was planning to do that day. Ashley (the other woman in our group and I am surprised that I don’t have more photos of her) was so enamored by the previous day’s hunting adventure that she decided to go out again. She turned into a bloodthirsty warrior goddess once she was handed a gun. The rest of us decided to go out and shoot clay pigeons.

While I understand the need for the stag hunting and the culling of the herd and all that, I’m just not sure that I could shoot an actual living animal. But I will aim and fire at clay all day long because it’s fun to shoot things! THINGS, NOT ANIMALS. Ahem.

So after breakfast, we trooped over to the Picnic Room to make lunches and then to the Luggage Room to get wellies. It turns out that Ashley was wearing the one pair of wellies that would have fit me – all the rest were too small or waaaaay too big. Thus, no wellies for me. My hiking boots are waterproof but if I were to sink into the bog at any point, I would be fucked. Didn’t matter, because I am an occasional badass, so after a safety briefing and the signing of releases, we piled into the van to go shoot.

We actually had a “Trap Club” in middle school and I went out with the boys a few times, but that was 25 years ago and I hadn’t held a gun since. Turns out it doesn’t take much to remember what to do.

Occasional Badass

Apparently, I am a magnet for shotgun shells because no matter where I stood behind the shooter, whenever the gun was broken, the shells would fly out and land at my feet. I moved around, I moved back, didn’t matter. Shotgun shells like me, it seems.

It had been chilly and wet all morning, and then it started to rain on us. Even though I was supposed to be wearing the safety goggles, I had to abandon them because I couldn’t see out of them at all and I felt a lot safer when I could see what I was shooting at. It turns out that was the right decision because we all shot a few to warm up and I didn’t hit a damn thing. Then we decided to have a competition.

Reed shoots

Best of 10, and whoever won got a bottle of the house whisky. We ended with Frankie, Steve, and Jim (how do I not have that many photos of Ashley and Jim?) tied at 5. Jim was our eventual winner, and he shoots lefty so he was the only person who did not hit me with spent shells. I managed to hit 2 (even though Innes let me shoot at 18 or something instead of 10 because I’m a lady and I’m cute). I’m not going to say how many Freddie managed to hit, but that number rhymes with “hero.” [grin]

Freddie shoots

Once the shooting was done, we went back to the castle for a change of clothes because we were all dripping. I’m not sure what the other people did that afternoon, but Reed, Freddie, Steve, and I hopped in the car and went off in search of a pub or an adventure and we found both. We went first to Tarbert, the nearest thing to a town, and after a couple of laps around the main drag, we asked someone and were directed to the “pub.”

I put that in quotes because I’ve been in a number of UK pubs (that number stands at about 38, which is impressive considering the total time I’ve spent in the country is just over two weeks. Do the math) and this wasn’t one. It was a stylish hotel-style bar and while it was nice enough, it wasn’t what we wanted. We had a pint each anyway, then left to walk around the town a bit. Steve, being English, requires regular infusions of fish & chips or he has to renounce his citizenship or something.

Fish & Chips (but he was out of gravy).

I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t get any and while the boys were eating (standing in an alleyway with trash cans to avoid the wind, ew), I went into the shop opposite. You’d think that a place calling itself “The Harris Tweed Shop” would have more than this place did, but you’d be wrong. It was just a small shop with lots of weird things and a small-ish selection of tweed items. The boys joined me eventually (with their greasy fingers) and Freddie found a very nice jacket that he ended up getting. Reed bought a scarf (I think) and I got the coolest bag in the world – it’s made to look like a kilt and it’s an orange/grey tartan that clashes magnificently with every other article of clothing I own.

The Harris Tweed Shop

At one point, Freddie tried on what he thought was a hat (it is similar in shape to the knit wool caps he wears all winter) and it sent Steve into hysterics because what Freddie took to be a hat was actually a tea cozy. SO MUCH LAUGHING, and for the rest of the day, anytime anyone said “tea cozy” we’d all be off our heads again. Steve tried on every hat in the store and didn’t like any of them, so we decided to try our luck at the other Harris Tweed store.

This one was a little more what I had in mind, since it was ALL TWEED ALL THE TIME and the selection of items was mind-boggling. I made a complete spectacle of myself when I rounded a corner and saw a bin… full… of… YARN. OH MY GOD THE YARN. Of course I bought some. And Steve tried on every hat in this store but found one he liked, so we were able to get out of there eventually. There’s this stereotype about how women shop, but let me tell you – these boys shop like girls. It was pretty hilarious.

The Other Harris Tweed Shop

Once we’d been Tweeded-out, the gang decided to follow the road down the western coast to a place called Rodel which had a hotel with a pub. We had high hopes but (despite the amazing rainbow), those hopes were dashed when we arrived to find another clean, well-lit hotel bar. Is it too much to ask for a dirty, crusty old pub full of old fishermen? Apparently, yes.

Not quite a double rainbow

The road to Rodel was one of the twistest, turniest roads I have ever been on, and that includes that insane road I drove on in Idaho between Wallace and Murray. That one is still the SCARIEST but that might be because I was driving. The road on the Isle of Harris is twisty and full of blind curves and since it’s only one lane, you have to sort of slow down or stop at the apex of a curve to ensure that nobody is coming up the opposite direction.

Twisty and turny

It was interesting to me to note that the weather almost went unnoticed. It rained a little, the sun came out for a bit, it rained some more, the wind blew, and it all seemed normal. It all was normal. If the weather did that here at home, people would be freaking out about it.

30 seconds later, the sun came out

Around the corner from the Rodel Hotel and Disappointing Pub was St Clement’s Church. It’s a 15-century church built probably around 1520 by the MacLeod clan. It fell into disrepair after the Protestant Reformation and spent a great deal of time disintegrating (including a period of time when it was used as a cowshed) until it was restored by the Countess of Dunmore, Catherine Herbert in 1873.

St Clement’s Church

It sometimes feels a bit strange to go into an old church because there is a lingering sense of everything that happened there. The feeling is doubly strong in buildings that predate the Reformation as this one obviously does. It’s more than twice as old as the United States which should stop being so astonishing to me, but it never does.

The high altar

Via a set of extremely narrow stairs, it was possible to go up into the second level of the tower. Something about it weirded me out so I didn’t spend much time up there and instead took more pictures downstairs. These are grave slabs but it’s unclear if they were brought in from the churchyard or if they had once marked tombs inside the church.

Grave slabs

The 8th, 9th, and 10th chiefs of the MacLeod clan are entombed in St. Clements. I’m not sure which of the chiefs this one is (I think it’s the 10th chief, John MacLeod) but these wall tombs are among the best examples of medieval tombs in all of Scotland. I’m sure it helps that this is one of the most remote places on the planet, and you’d really have to have a serious grudge against the MacLeods to go all the way out there to vandalize the place.

Wall tomb

A 1549 history of the Western Isles claims that St. Clement’s isn’t the first church to be built on this site, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this is true. This same book also claims that the church is part of a monastery, but there is no indication of that, either. The info points in the church weren’t super-detailed, but Wikipedia and other sources all agree on these points. Still, the tower is lovely, and there’s a restful feeling to the place.


There were a few crypts in the churchyard, most of them overgrown with the text of the memorial markers all but worn away. The gravestones that were still intact were mostly made of granite and dated from the late 1870s when the church had been restored and presumably put back in service. It feels a little strange to be walking over graves but there’s nothing else for it in churches like this.

View from south-east corner of churchyard

The sun came out again and gave us another rainbow as we left the church. Instead of going back the way we’d come, we went onward and took the road up the west coast of the island. Some of the prettiest bits were fenced in so only the sheep could enjoy the view, but we found a place where we could go out on the rocks and watch the waves crash.

Freddie on the rocks

I picked my dainty way out there to join him (mindful of the fact that if I were to twist my ankle I’d be worse than fucked until we got home) and Steve offered to take a picture of Freddie and me together. After his own self-portrait, of course. I didn’t know he’d done it until later, and we laughed about that as we’d been laughing about pretty much everything all day long.

Steve’s self-portrait

Freddie and I are literally on the rocks here. Haha, geddit?

Rachel and Freddie on the rocks

Every time, I was surprised at how incredibly blue the water was. I’m sure a little bit of sleuthing would give me a good explanation for it, but I’m willing to bet that it’s that blue because that’s what color it’s supposed to be, and because it’s not full of pollution and greasy New Yorkers like the ocean on the Jersey shore.

All in all, it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had doing anything, anywhere, ever.

Waves crashing

We made it back to the castle in time for tea, then it was time to get ready for the final dinner. I didn’t have nearly enough time to dry my hair, so apologies must be made. Because the universe is tricky, my dress was being all gappy in the front, which sucked balls because the damn thing fit in the store when I tried it on with that exact same bra. In a fit of organization, I’d completely cleaned out my toiletry bag o’tricks before we left, and divested myself of my legendary safety pin collection, so there wasn’t an obvious solution to my problem.

However, as with most things in life, I solved this problem with a little help from my friends. I had my JGz button pinned to my little purse, and I used that to MacGuyver the shit out of my dress and bra and it looked just fine. We then made our way downstairs for pre-dinner drinks with the rest of the gang.

Innes was in full kilt, and he said it was the tartan of the Isle of Harris. The examples I’m finding online don’t jibe exactly with what he’s got there, though. The whole outfit was just freaking gorgeous.

Innes and me, all gussied up

Freddie and Innes

This is one of the only times we got a shot of the whole group. I wish we had gotten one on the first day to compare to this one, but aren’t we all adorable in our fancy gear?

Group photo!

I rarely consent to being photographed, but here I am chatting away with Reed and Mrs. Hall. I am still mad at my hair because it looked SO MUCH BETTER the previous night. Ugh, shut up, hair.

Proof that I can be released into polite society

The procession into dinner had bagpipes as the soundtrack. I know some people really hate the sound of the pipes, but I love them. I always have. I’d love to learn to play bagpipes at some point, because why not?


There are few things in life I love more than a well-dressed man. Here are two exceedingly fine examples.

Steve and Freddie

Michael is another one of the men who was on the trip with us. I only have a few pictures of him because he spent all of his available time fishing. He looks good in a kilt, though.

Michael and Innes, sharing a laugh

Alex and Freddie

Because it was our last night there, everyone was hanging out, playing snooker, drinking, chatting up a storm, and just having a good time. It was nearly impossible to get a really good shot of anyone at the snooker table because the lamp hanging above it was just enormous and fairly low.

Freddie takes a shot

Rachael is the daughter of the house, and she is a delight. She’s very into the hunting and fishing that goes on and is pretty good at both of them. She seemed very down-to-earth and genuine and I had a great time talking with her. We have exactly the same name (with the exception of that extra letter “a” that she has), which was a cute coincidence.


I did say I have a weakness for well-dressed men, so there are quite a few photos of this nature. There would have been MORE but I was doing the creepy paparazzo thing as it was and I didn’t want people to start running away in earnest.

Innes, Steve, and Freddie

This one was taken fairly late in the evening, obviously.

Innes comes close to answering an age-old question

Freddie again! I couldn’t get him to stand still long enough to get a really good photo of him, but I did try. And there’s Jim in the background! At one point, Jim wanted to bow out of the snooker so he could go to bed but he ended up winning the game, poor guy. He just wanted to sleep.

Handsome boy

On one of the previous days, I had been wearing my Editors t-shirt and Steve recognized it. I knew right then that we would hit it off and get along well. Add to that his English accent, and I’m surprised I managed to refrain from kidnapping him because all I want out of life is an English boy to follow me around and talk at me all day long. Honestly.

An Englishman who drinks rum. Shocking.

After the snooker was over, the last vestiges of the group trickled out and found themselves around the drinks cabinet. Michael pulled out a bottle of something blue, all “What’s this?” That turned out to be my cue to head to bed. I can’t remember the last time I had laughed so much in one day.

Yeah, like that.

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Scotland, Part The Third

By the second full day, it looked like weather and jet lag were catching up to me because I was not feeling super-great at breakfast. It didn’t help that the majority of the party were planning to go stalking all day, which would have been interesting to me on a dry day but with the wind the way it was, I knew I would be miserable doing that so I opted to stay in. My knees were giving me trouble just going up and down the stairs because I am a chubby geriatric sort of person who can tell what the weather is going to be based on what body parts ache. So after breakfast, I went back to bed for a few hours and it was the best decision I ever made.

Just across from the Picnic Room is the Luggage Room. It’s filled with things like life vests and Wellington boots and other bits and pieces one might need to add to her outfit if she were planning to go stomp around the hills all day. The hunting party started there, making sure everyone had Wellies and gear enough for their trek. Lunches were also made, and then they all gathered in the Fishing Room for a safety briefing. Or maybe that happened before they all gathered their gear. I don’t know for sure; I was napping.

Fishing Room

The Fishing Room has wonderful maps of the estate, showing the various lochs and roads, as well as relief map showing the hills and likely places to find stag. There’s a big table in the middle and smaller tables around the edges, for tying flies and all the other things that go along with fishing and hunting. The photographs around the room show various guests and groups with their trophies, and on one wall is a collection of fish sketches, noting the details of who caught it, where it was caught, and just how big it was.

Wall of Fish

I went back to bed, snuggling happily under the VERY fluffy down comforter and had myself the best nap I’ve had in decades. I woke up feeling so much better and refreshed. I took my journal and my book down to the Drawing Room and settled in on one of the incredibly comfortable sofas to read and write and look out the window. A few times I caught myself feeling a little guilty because I wasn’t taking full advantage of this amazing castle, but then I realized that being able to sit in a quiet room to read and write at leisure is something I never, ever get to do.

Once in awhile, I would get up to stretch and think “hm, maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit.” However, the very second I would stand up to go get my shoes, I’d glance out the window to see that it was raining. This happened at least six times, so eventually I gave up and figured that the universe wanted me to have a nice, relaxing day. So that’s what I had. At one point, I moved out of the Drawing Room and into the TV Room, where I found Reed doing exactly what I was doing – precisely nothing. We had a good time flipping channels and wondering what the hunting party was up to.

It turns out, they were up to braving the weather, mostly. After some shooting practice, they set out up the hill. Freddie reported that they didn’t follow any kind of path or do any kind of switchbacks in order to go up, they just clambered up after the ghillie as best they could (My Knees: “Oh, HELL NO”) and tried to keep pace.

Shotgun Freddie

Ready, Aim, Breathe…

From what I heard, the wind was astounding up on the top of the hill. It was amazing enough down at the castle, I can’t imagine what it would have been like without any windbreaks.

Freddie in the wind

Apparently, Steve nearly blew away.

Steve showing the wind who’s boss (or vice-versa)

Stalking the deer is an exercise in walking and patience. When they finally did get themselves in a good position to get a shot, Freddie reported that he was all set up, ready to shoot, and the stag… walked away. I’m not sure how excited I would have been had he returned to the castle with a deer head, but it was cute how excited he was.

Peeping over the ridge

Not to change the subject, but…

All the best country houses have resident ghosts, and Amhuinnsuidhe Castle is no exception. The rumor is that Lady Sophie Scott (whose remains lie with those of her husband in the cairn up the hill from the castle) still checks in from time to time. Over the years, various guests have reported feeling chills and seeing reflections of things that aren’t there in windows and mirrors.

At dinner that evening, I finally managed to get up and get some photos of that magnificent dining room. The following is a shot of the tapestry above the fireplace.

Lady Sophie is in the top left.

Occasionally, ghosts (or whatever you wish to believe they are) can be caught in photographs. They tend to show up as smears of light or bluish orbs, and are usually explained away by skeptics as smudges or dust on the camera lens. I grew up in a house that had at least three ghosts (so I’m in no way a skeptic), and I am certain that this is Lady Sophie. I took the photo below about three seconds after the other one – the hair on my arms was standing straight up, and my ears started ringing. Do with that what you will, but if it were dust on the lens, it would have shown up again, don’t you think?


My journal is utterly hysterical on the subject of meals. I had originally planned to transcribe it verbatim, but after reading it over, I decided against that because I tend to ramble and repeat myself a lot (not that I’m not doing that here). The first night, I described dinner in detail, discussing how amazing the meal was. Each meal was more amazing than the next, and by the time I got to the third dinner, the journal simply says “Dinner = OMG.” After dinner, drinks were happening and at least one necessary bottle needed to be replaced (I don’t even remember what), so Mrs. Hall invited Steve and me to join her on a trip to the wine cellar. I certainly don’t need to be asked twice, so away we went.

Wine Cellar

I could get through these in about a week.

I don’t know that I could ever be a wine collector. I’m an enthusiastic wine drinker, for sure, but to collect it? That’s just not my thing. I am, however, quite impressed with the collections of people who do it, because they do end up with some rare and interesting bottles. Mr. Hall has been collecting wine for about 40 years, and he’s got quite an array. His personal collection was housed on the top shelves of the cellar, so I didn’t get a chance to really peek at the labels. I’m sure Mrs. Hall would have produced a ladder out of thin air if I had asked, though. That lady is magic.

Mrs Hall in the wine cellar

Because the castle is also one of the Hall family’s homes, they have their own private kitchen and sitting room off to the one side. Mrs. Hall graciously allowed Steve and me to go in and look around and I have to say, it’s pretty much the best kitchen I have ever seen. I think the entirety of the downstairs of my house would fit in there comfortably. The room was beautifully laid out, painted a cheerful yellow, and featured a tiled backsplash that was just… right. There’s not really any other way to put it. That room is a wonderful example of harmony, and it reflects the personalities of its owners in that it is warm and welcoming and completely comfortable.

Frankie taking a shot

Yes, of course there was snooker after dinner. It became something of a joke whenever Frankie would play, because he would inevitably end up wanting to go to bed but still be in the game. At one point, he was begging people to let him lose.


Filed under Food, Freddie, Friends, Me Me Me, Musing, Other People

Scotland Adventure, Part The Second

Each day after breakfast, there would be a most amazing spread of sandwich materials in the Picnic Room. If we were going out for the day, we’d stop in there and pack up a lunch then head out. The second day, the weather was absolutely nuts, so instead of going out to hunt or fish, most of us decided to go visit a crofter and see how the Harris Tweed is manufactured.

This golden eagle presides over the Picnic Room, along with his friend the stag and more than a few racks of antlers. Another feature of the Picnic Room was the drying closet. This was essentially three or four racks that slid out of the wall and you’d put your wet gear there after coming in from stalking or fishing. Genius, and oh-so-necessary, because the wind and the rain were fairly constant and immense at times.

Golden Eagle in the Picnic Room

Stag and antlers in the picnic room

If you know anything about certain segments of fashionable clothing, you are aware of the Harris Tweed. It has been called “The Champagne of Fabrics” and is the only fabric in the world governed by its own Act of Parliament. Dan Brown name-checks it in The Da Vinci Code (and his other books featuring Robert Langdon) as the jacket of choice for his main character. Jasper Fforde (one of my favorite authors) even has a character named Harris Tweed who appears in the Thursday Next series. If you haven’t read them, you really should.

The tweed is hand-woven by individual artisans, and traditionally uses colors and dyes sourced from the island. It’s gorgeous, surprisingly soft, versatile, and incredibly durable. The Wikipedia entry is fairly detailed and mentions one Mr. Donald John Mackay, pictured below.

Donald John Mackay at the loom

Donald John welcomed 8 or so of us into his tiny (roughly 8 feet by 12 feet) crofter’s hut and we all braved amazingly strong wind and rain to get there (Innes drove us) and huddle around his loom. He showed us the threads and explained his process, then wove a few inches to show us how it’s done. It was utterly fascinating to a fiber nerd such as myself and I honestly could have sat and watched him all day long. He said it takes about a full day to set up the loom (something like 696 individually hand-tied knots) and then about a week to weave 90 meters or so. The amount of skill and care that goes into his work is really astounding.

A one-man company.

The other half of the crofter’s hut was a combination shop/storeroom (again, maybe 8 by 12 feet), and since this is about as close to ‘buying locally’ as I am ever likely to get when it comes to cloth, of course we all bought some. I mean, I literally bought this cloth from the hands that made it. Apparently, it’s 4 meters for a man’s jacket and 3 meters for trousers. Almost all the boys bought enough for a jacket, and in a weird (but not at all surprising) twist, they all bought the same pattern. Thus the Tweed Army was born. When everyone gets around to having their jackets made, we’re going to have a dinner and take hilarious pictures.

Rolls of finished Harris Tweed on the shelves

More Tweed!

I bought 3 meters of a captivating purple tweed, but I am not yet 100% sure what I’m going to do with it. I may have a skirt made, or I might do a shawl/wrap with 2 meters and I had an inspiration for the remaining meter, but I am loath to actually cut into the fabric myself. It would make me sad if I messed it up. We shall see what I end up doing with it.

Donald John measuring my tweed. Measure twice, cut once!

Cutting my tweed. Those shears were like two swords.

Once the tweed is woven, it is picked up by the Harris Tweed Authority for finishing and inspection to ensure it meets standards. Not just any tweed gets to be Harris Tweed, you see. If the roll meets specifications and standards, it is stamped with the Orb, which is one of the most recognized trademarks in fashion. British designer Vivienne Westwood’s brand logo is very similar to the Orb, which makes sense because she is a big fan of the Harris Tweed.

The Orb stamp on a finished roll of Harris Tweed.

Even Nike got in on the act at one point. They released a series of throwback sneakers made with Harris Tweed woven by none other than Donald John Mackay. A quick Google search tells me that various Harris Tweed Nikes are going for at least $80 on Ebay, if you want some.


Once everyone was satisfied with the miles of tweed they’d purchased, we left Donald John to his loom and headed back toward the castle. We’d decided earlier to have lunch at “The Hut” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a hut alongside a road that leads to three different lochs for fishing and more than a few different areas for stalking. I believe the hut predates the castle itself, and it’s nothing more than a rough stone building with a roof on it. There’s a small stove inside and a table with benches but as far as comfort goes, that’s about it.

Another view from the road. It looks like this every way you turn your head.

The Hut

Inside the hut

The road, if it can rightly be called that, was a one-lane, bumpy affair. In fact, the big van we’d been riding around it couldn’t handle the terrain so we had to switch to the vehicles that could handle it, namely a Mazda something-or-other and a Range Rover. We bumped and squelched our way along the road for a good ten minutes before coming in sight of the hut. Later, we looked at a map of the estate and the road goes on a fair way farther, each mile bumpier and squelchier than the last.

The road

You know this is my kind of trip when “packing a lunch” includes at least four bottles of wine. Mr. Hall appeared later on, carrying what looked like a fat briefcase but opened up to reveal two bottles of whisky and four glasses inside. That man is pretty much a walking party, it seems.


It’s evident that this is very much a man’s sort of estate, because restroom facilities were non-existent out there. I think so, anyway. I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone who might know.

The hut backs up to another “hill.”

After lunch, we all piled back in the vans and went back to the castle. Mr. Hall then gave us a most amazing tour of the castle, including lots of historical details and tidbits. It was built in 1865 for the 7th Earl of Dunmore, who owned the island at the time. The estate has kept records of the hunting and fishing done there, and some of the older Game Books were on display for us to look at. They kept records of who went out in the hunting party, who the ghillie was, what they hunted and what they managed to kill, along with notes such as “David’s first time stalking” or “Elizabeth’s first stag.” One of my favorite notes was from a day when they’d killed 6 stags and a number of birds – the note simply says “Shot at anything that moved.”

Game Book

The estate used to house a great number of dogs used in stalking the deer. This is one of the photos in the albums kept by Lady Sophie Scott, who was a resident of the castle around the turn of the 20th century. She was an avid sportswoman and photographer, and her albums give us a very intimate look into her life and loves.

A very large array of hunting dogs

This is my favorite of all the photos in Lady Sophie’s albums, and I don’t think it’s even from Amhuinnsuidhe. I just thought it was cute, with the caption “Chat!” That is precisely how I would have captioned it.


This is a display case in the Snooker Room (yes, we spent a great deal of time in there). The plaque inside reads “Weapons Taken From A Warrior In The Sudan” but unfortunately it’s not dated.


This one is also from The Sudan, but specifically says that these articles were taken from a “dervish.”

Weapons and regalia taken from a dervish.

The castle understandably requires a great deal of provisions to keep itself going. The nearest town is at least a half-hour away by car NOW, so imagine 150 years ago. The Order Book was a listing of all the things that were ordered by the castle, and gives a really interesting look at the things they needed through the years. The years between 1914 and 1918 are missing, presumably because Great Britain was enmeshed in World War I and needed all her men at the front, not rushing off to their country estates to shoot stag.

Order Book

This is an okay shot of the Drawing Room. Every day around 4, tea would be served. People would wander in from their various pursuits to have tea and chat. It was one of the few times each day that anyone really contacted the outside world. Some of the men were working here and there throughout the day, but teatime was really the only time someone would pull up Yahoo News or similar on the iPad and see what was going on, check baseball scores, etc. It’s a cozy room with comfy furniture, and I spent quite a few happy hours in there just reading and being quiet, which is something I never ever get to do at home. The light was fantastic and it had amazing views of the sea.

The Drawing Room

Again with the snooker. I am sorely tempted to jettison my dining room set and put in a pool table, but Freddie is against this plan. It was mostly the men who were playing, because I am actually terrible at it. I made a couple of really spectacular shots, though. One of them was even the shot I meant to make in the first place. Mostly, I watched and heckled and chatted with whomever else wasn’t playing. I wish these photos were bigger because there is nothing I love more in this life than hanging out with good-looking, well-dressed men, and I got to do that EVERY NIGHT. Alas, WordPress gives me “medium” and “freaking humungous” as photo sizes. Oh well.

Mark, Steve, Freddie

Freddie and Frankie

Reed and Freddie

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Filed under Freddie, Friends, Me Me Me, Musing, Other People, Real Estate

Scotland Adventure, Part The First

Overnight flights are not my favorite. Ideally, you’d get a little nap in, then sleep a bit on the plane and be more or less good to go whenever and wherever you land. I’d spent the day running around doing last-minute things and packing up so a nap was not in my plans. Plus, I was seriously excited and ready to get going – I wouldn’t have been able to nap even if I had gotten the opportunity. We [finally] left the house around 4:30 to drive to Newark where we were going to park the truck and ride to the airport with Reed and Steve, two of our travelling companions who work for the company responsible for this adventure in the first place. I knew they were my kind of guys when our first order of business after checking in at the airport was to find a bar.

At the airport!

We found a bar. And then we found another bar after discovering that our flight was delayed. In time, we boarded our plane and it was [mercifully] half-empty which meant we didn’t have to share our row with the weird man who was originally seated next to me. I’m not sure what his deal was, but he was one of those dudes whom you see in line to board the plane and you think to yourself “gosh, I hope he’s not sitting next to me.” Well, he was. But he was able to move to a different row so I got a window seat after all. Turns out, a window seat on an overnight trans-Atlantic flight is pretty useless. Who knew?

Sunrise, taken from the plane

We first landed in Edinburgh. During a three-hour layover, we gathered more people and I discovered that I was not the only woman in the party, hurrah! Not that it would have been a problem, exactly (I have never had trouble being just one of the guys), but it was nice to have another lady along. I fear I was not the most cheerful at this point, since I wasn’t able to sleep on the plane (I tried) and I was just really hanging on by a thread. The coffee we’d acquired at the beginning of the layover was having the wrong/opposite effect. Luckily, I was able to catch a quick nap on the short flight to Stornoway.


Some of the signs on the island were in English and Gaelic, but most of them were only Gaelic. It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Great Britain and her people, and my dearest wish (aside from just picking up and moving there) is to have a pet Englishman to hang out with me and talk at me all the time. My hearing difficulties do make it difficult to understand people, but once I tune into the music of the accent, it’s easier. The Scots accent was a little tougher to handle, and if we got two or more of them talking to one another, I was a goner.

Rather, Steornabhaigh

After we collected our baggage, we were introduced to Innes, who is the estate manager (or equivalent) who was going to be driving us from the airport to the castle. He does approximately 34098 other things around the estate as well.

The drive was twisty and turny and the majority of the road was one lane or less. I was able to get a very good look at the countryside and was surprised to see that there were very few trees. Lots of granite sticking out, but nary a tree in sight. There were a couple of areas with some scrubby pine trees and some things that looked like they might have wanted to be trees but were exhausted from the effort and decided to just be bushes instead.

From the car
The view from the road

We arrived. Words don’t really do justice to the fact that we were staying IN A FREAKING CASTLE. An actual CASTLE. The ridiculousness of this situation as it pertains to me cannot be overstated.

Amhuinnsuidhe Castle

A path around the seawall led out to a rocky outcropping that had a splendid view of the castle, which would make a lovely weekend retreat if getting there wasn’t such an adventure.

Our weekend retreat

The castle has 12 bedrooms, and we only saw a few but apparently each one is more amazing than the next. Our room was The Scarp, which featured a four-poster bed in the bedroom and a huge bathroom outfitted in marble, featuring a gigantic clawfoot tub. The bedding was completely insane, with the hugest, fluffiest down comforter I have ever seen. A person could lay underneath this thing and you wouldn’t even know it because it was that fluffy.

Our bedroom for the week

The number of things adorning the walls of this place is more or less incalculable. These spears were along the grand staircase, and became the center of many “hey, I’m looking for a weapon” jokes over the course of the week.

If you need a spear, I have some right here.

The day we arrived was really the clearest day we had, and this is one of the best photos I managed to get of the castle. Although the castle is quite large, there is a coziness to it that I didn’t expect. Obviously, the Hall family has amazing taste and the money to pull it off, but there was never a sense of it being just “for show.” They live there, it’s their home (well, one of them), and it didn’t have a hotel-ish feel to it at all.

Another angle

It was pretty windy out there on the rocks (though, compared to later on, that was just a pleasant breeze) but our friend Steve bravely took this shot of us.

Braving the wind to get the shot!

They call it “the hill” but it is definitely a mountain.

The castle with “the hill” behind it.

In the UK, they drive on the left side of the road, not the right. While we were in the van being driven to the castle, it wasn’t so strange to me (especially as I was in the very back of the van and busy looking out the window), but once we got in the car with Steve, it was like whoa. My brain was having trouble making sense of it, but luckily for us, Steve is from Manchester originally and is used to it. He was a good sport about doing all the driving while we were exploring.

He’s on the wrong side!

Honestly, if Freddie or I would have been in charge of driving at all, I would have been worried. Not only do you have to remember to be on the correct side of the road, but it’s one lane anyway (passing places!) and 90% of the time there are sheep or cows on the roadway, straight chillin’. There are way more sheep than people on the island, so we had to nudge them out of the way from time to time.

Sheep, wandering into the road whenever they like.

Whoever had the job of making the Passing Place signs was kept very busy for a time, because there are A LOT of them on the island. Every few meters, the road would balloon out in a half-moon, allowing cars to pass each other. There was a lot of waving and nodding going on, but on the whole, we didn’t see that many cars.

Passing Place!

A good thing, too – the road was very narrow, barely wide enough for the VW Passat we were riding in. Later in the week, we had a VERY close encounter with a full-size 18-wheeler, which put us all in hysterics, but for the most part, driving on the Isle of Harris is an exercise in politeness.

The slightly-less-than-one-lane-road.

The beach was amazing. Completely unexpected, and beyond gorgeous. In New Jersey, we are more or less resigned to grey water and coarse sand, so this was just a surprise. The sand was bright white and very fine, and the water was a blue that I was not expecting, not at all. It was very windy down by the water (which probably explains the sand), and the rock pools were gorgeous and the whole thing was just very stark and beautiful. I’d been thinking about what it would take to live in such a remote place, but once I saw the beach, I totally understood. I could have stood there for hours, had I not been worried about freezing to death and/or having all the skin on my face sandblasted off.

Huishinish Crofts

The beach. It literally looks like it’s at the end of the world.

The beach again. Surprisingly blue water.

More beach!

We didn’t swim. A plan was hatched at one point to do it, but it was mostly a joke. I think. Given better weather and enough of the estate’s whisky, who knows what kind of mischief we would have gotten up to?

Still more beach. It wasn’t exactly beach weather, though.

The sheep were everywhere, literally. I tried to get close enough to take some personality shots, but apparently the personality of an Outer Hebrides sheep is “nae.” They would pose quite prettily until I got close enough to take the photo, then they’d turn their heads, suddenly shy.

The sheep were being coy.

The landscape is so incredibly stark that the brilliantly-colored dyes on the sheep were startling. Amid a sea of browns and greens and greys, to suddenly see an electric blue or bright purple blot was a bit of a jolt.

The dye indicates the sheep’s owner.

Here’s another view of the castle through the entry arch. I wasn’t able (well, let’s be honest: given the weather, I wasn’t inclined) to walk up to the arch on the other side and get a picture of the sign. “Amhuinnsuidhe” translates to “house at the mouth of the river” and is pronounced “aven-suey” (yeah… um. That’s Gaelic for you).

View of the castle through one of the entry arches.

The estate is used primarily for hunting stag and fishing, which helps the conservation effort as well. They have to hunt at least a third of the stag every year to keep the population down, otherwise they start coming down from the mountain and eating people’s gardens and generally being a nuisance. The guests go out with guides (called “ghillies”) and climb the hill to stalk the stag. This particular photo was taken in the Great Hall, and there was a stag at either end, actually. Off the Great Hall was the Drawing Room (site of afternoon tea and post-dinner coffee), the TV room, and the dining room, which I did not get a decent photo of, to my lament.

One of the many mounted stag heads around the castle.

Looking through my photos, it appears that the majority of non-landscape shots are of the Snooker Room. The company all ended up there after dinner each night, and with free and easy access to the drinks cabinet, much fun was had. Some of the best laughs and best times were had there.

At first, it seemed like a very strange way to have a vacation. We’re used to doing our own thing, setting our own schedule. This was different – the schedule was set, yes, but it was very loose and you could join in or not as you chose. Breakfast and dinner were communal meals, and having everyone hanging out together after dinner was just the best thing. Instead of being a bunch of people who happened to be in the same castle for the week, we became friends.

Post-dinner shenanigans. That’s Innes on the left.

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Filed under Me Me Me, Musing, Other People, Real Estate

All of this just seems so stupid

I’ve been wanting to do an experiment for a couple of weeks now. I want to unplug a bit and get off Facebook and my boards and Twitter and the myriad other things online with which I waste my time. But I’ve been putting off a start date because I don’t want to miss anything or whatever it is that keeps me coming back online. And thank god, because I got a Facebook message today that let me know that one of my oldest friends passed away yesterday. I’m in shock, I’m in tears, and most of all, my heart feels broken. Geoff and I weren’t close in recent years, mostly because we’re both in our own orbits and we live on opposite coasts, but he is the kind of friend that you can go years without seeing but as soon as you start talking, you not only pick up where you left off, you don’t even need to start a new sentence. Just knowing that he was in the world, making people laugh was enough.
And now he’s gone. I am finding it hard to talk about him in the past tense, because Geoff was very much PRESENT TENSE. Everything he did was big and hilarious and so very unique. With a word, a phrase, a look – he could let you know that he got it.
I will miss him. I have missed him. I wish I were a better friend, better at staying in touch and telling the people who matter that they matter.

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Filed under Me Me Me, Other People

Oh, shut up

All this freaking out about the pediatric Tylenol et al recall is making me roll my eyes. People need to calm the fuck down.

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Filed under Other People

It’s a sitcom, it’s a horrorshow, it’s my life.

I originally posted this to Facebook last Saturday.

OMG, you guys. I just had the weirdest experience of my life, to date. And I have done some WEIRD shit.

Anyway. As you all know, I have a 4-month-old puppy. Puppies have small bladders, and thus need to pee pretty much every 14.6 minutes. I take Piper out, let her pee in the front yard (which she prefers for short trips), and bring her back in. 440 times a day.

So far, so normal, right?

This past week, I’ve been feeling pretty icky, which means I’ve been wandering out with the dog while wearing just my sweatpants and my grungy blue hoodie, with my [unwashed] hair bundled back into a haphazard ponytail. I seriously look like I’m about to be homeless.

Around 4PM, I took Piper out. My neighbor, who is an older, retired sort of guy was in his car getting ready to go somewhere. He waved at me, I waved at him, it’s what neighbors do. As soon as he pulled out, his wife comes STORMING out of the house, yelling “can you walk that dog somewhere else?”

Um, okay, fine – we were a bit close to the 2 feet of grass on the side of their driveway that borders our yard. Fine! Not a problem! I didn’t grow up with neighbors (my parents’ nearest neighbors are a quarter-mile away) so there are some neighborly sensitive things that don’t always occur to me…. but….

This is where it gets weird. She comes over and starts yelling at me. “Is your husband home?” Um, no, is there something I can help you with?

Her: I see what you’re doing. Every time my husband comes outside, you bring that dog out.
Me: Whuh? What? She’s a puppy! She’s outside ALL THE TIME.
Her: The whole neighborhood can see you running after my husband.

[note – her husband? NOT HOT. He’s at least 70 if he’s a day, and think about what Dwight Schrute will look like when he’s 70. You’re welcome.]


Me: Um…. Are you serious?
Her: You stay away from my husband.
Me: No problem!
Her: I’ll get a restraining order!

At this point, Piper was done peeing and I was about to laugh, so I took her in and decided to go over there and see if there was something that could be done.

I knocked on the door and she’s all “what do you want?”
Me: Can we talk about this? I don’t understand what’s going on.
Her: I’m calling the police. I’m getting a restraining order because you are after my husband.
Me: I think you’re being ridiculous. Please come over, we’ll have coffee and figure this out.
Her: Get off my property! [grabs the phone] He’s old enough to be your grandfather!
Me: You’re crazy!
Her: No, you’re crazy!

Well, duh.

At that point, I just threw up my hands and left because she was freaking DIALING THE POLICE. I put shoes and a jacket on Jillian and we took Piper for a LONG walk around the neighborhood. I was hoping my one friend would be home, because she’s lived in the ‘hood for a long time and knows my neighbor fairly well, but she was out. So we talked to some other people on our street and they were all “yeah, that lady is nuts.”

Is there anything I can do at this point to salvage this situation? My plan is to ignore ignore ignore ignore ignore but… MY GOD. I’m half-tempted to make it worse by watching for the husband and deliberately going out with the dog when he’s outside, but I’m concerned that she’ll poison us somehow. The previous owners of our house actually accused her of trying to poison their dogs at one point, so I’m thinking it’s not a ridiculous fear to have.

What should I do? Should I do anything at all? When Freddie gets home tomorrow I will tell him this whole thing and see what he thinks – he’s a fixer so I’m sure he’ll want to go over there to see what’s up but… I’m so confused and having a whole bunch of WTF moments all at once and I feel really weird, like the world has tilted or that I’ve been drugged without my knowledge. That’s how weird this is to me.

I’m so baffled by this, I barely have words to explain it. It really does call for an interpretive dance.

I know!

I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday feeling really weird and out-of-sorts. Uncomfortable. Uneasy. Discussed it with my Facebook peeps and my JGz family and between the jokes and the re-telling, I started to feel better. I even feel a bit sorry for Edna (the neighbor), not least because her name is Edna. I’m not sure how old she is, but they are the original owners of their house, which was built in 1960. So… she’s getting on in years a bit. There is doubtless something mental going on there.

I haven’t changed my behavior much since then. Well, I showered. It was necessary. And I keep Piper off of the 2-foot strip of their property, even though that is P’s most favorite place to poop in the whole wide world. The other evening, I was out with Piper for the 5234th time and Bob (the husband) was bringing his trash out to the street. We did the whole “what’s up” thing that one does to be neighborly, and that was that. So I’m even more convinced that Edna’s got some mental thing going on that has nothing to do with me. I’m 100% sure she didn’t mention the incident to Bob, even though I bet he’ll hear about it eventually because I talked to A LOT of people on our street.

For the time being, I’m going to treat this as an isolated incident. No harm, no foul. I’m thinking of planting some trees, since putting up a 15-foot razor-wire-topped fence is probably not an option. But if it happens again, we’re going to have problems. And if she calls me a whore again, we’re going to have REAL problems. I gave up being a whore over a decade ago.

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Filed under Me Me Me, Other People, Piper

I don’t belong here

Jillian, Piper, and I were at the park a few days ago. Piper was eating mulch, as is her hobby, and Jillian was climbing and singing and being three.

I was sitting on the bench, keeping an eye on The Jillian and eavesdropping on the two moms sitting next to me, who were watching their kids. One of the little boys started to sit down as if to go down the slide and the mom nearest me got up from the bench, saying “No, Evan! No slide!”

Which, okay, moms are weird sometimes, but the kid looked to be at least Jillian’s age, so I was feeling very “??”

The mom redirected poor Evan and came back down on the bench. By way of explanation, she said to the other mom “I don’t like him to get dirty because then I can’t take his clothes to the consignment. I buy him brand names only because he has to look good but I want my money back on those clothes.”

Yeah. The suburbs are a strange place.

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Life is a limited time offer

So I’ve been processing this whole Michael Jackson thing, and other people have said it better than I could. Basically, if you were born around 1975 or earlier, Michael Jackson was IT. He was EVERYTHING in the 80’s. Yeah, he turned into something so ‘other’ that it can barely be explained, but for me, in elementary school, MJ was MUSIC.

But today Billy Mays died. To me, that’s just a huge, huge shock. Sure, MJ dying at 50 was shocking, but with the way that dude was carrying on, it was really only a matter of time. With Billy Mays, well, we expected him to be on our TVs for a good long time, hawking OxiClean and Orange Glo and Slider Station and a hundred other things. Wonder Mop (I do want one of these).

When Jillian was a tiny tiny baby and we were having marathon breastfeeding sessions, Billy Mays was there for me. He was there at 3:30AM, shouting about Orange Glo or some other thing that I just HAD to have. Even though the TV in Jillian’s nursery was hooked to the cable, we didn’t have a converter box for it so I only got about 20 channels on it. We had to watch a lot of network dreck in those days. But Billy was always there. His yelly presence was the music to which we drowsed, in those late nights/early mornings.

And now he’s gone. Limited time offer, my friends.

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Filed under Other People


Farrah Fawcett’s death today was not a surprise. Everyone could see that she was on her way out, and it’s great that she’s not suffering anymore.

Michael Jackson, on the other hand… SHOCKING. Seriously shocking. Crazy! I’m going to sew sequins on all my clothes in tribute. And maybe schedule some plastic surgery.

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Filed under Other People