Wednesday, June 17, 2015

the twists and turns of Wednesday

the roads of Dumfries and Galloway

The map says take A702 toward New Galloway, then A713 to Castle Douglas (which isn't really a castle -- it's the name of a town). Well okay, but I see a sign off of A702 that points directly to Castle Douglas, and it's not even close to A713. As in -- fools, ye who follow maps! Come, we'll show you a better way! 

I take this "short cut" and find myself again on a twisty narrow road. Back to third gear and straining my neck to see if anyone is about to head on collide with me. Pastureland borders the road (lane?) and aside from the cows and sheep I see no fewer than four pheasants, in the fields and running across the road.


Clouds come and go, rain drops appear on my windshield then stop the minute I turn on the wipers.

This is my drive in search of the coast.

Castle Douglas that's not really a castle

By the time I pull into Castle Douglas (population: 3900)...


...I am spent. The twists and turns do terrible things to my insides. It is time to sit down with a proper pot of English tea.

I pass any number of people, young and old, as I search out a place to plunk down and exhale.




I enter the Designs Gallery and Cafe, which is slightly less lovely than the artsy cafe in Thornhill, but nonetheless brimming with friendly, helpful servers. Most people are eating lunch, but I stick with the tea. Oh, and a scone with jam (otherwise it's not proper).


And I think back toward the morning...

the morning

I wake up to rain.


I expected it. I had plans for it. All week long, the weather maps showed rain on Wednesday. Well now, isn't it wonderful that weather maps can be trusted after all!

Greg prepares a breakfast of eggs (this is after I've already poked at the muesli, fruits and yogurts).


I tell him how ready I am for rain!

And then, not many minutes later, I look outside and I see this:


That is a game changer! The rains have passed us by once again!

I shall go to the coast!

But first, we have a planned visit to Neil and Mary's house. You remember perhaps that these are the people who actually own Three Glens (where I am staying) and plan to retire here. Someday. When he's done sheering sheep and growing his cattle count.

if I were a successful farmer...

Greg climbs into my beautifully cow-dunged Fiat 500 (driving toward the Striding Arches, I picked up the stuff off the road...) and we head toward the real farmstead -- the family home, the place where Neil's parents lived and now where they live, the older house up this driveway:


Mary, whom I meet for the first time, is not at all perturbed by the fact that this American woman barges in on her, camera in hand, questions flowing like candy on Halloween. She is so good at fashioning a welcome that I completely relax and take photos of stuff I would normally feel shy about. For instance, when she shows me the morning suit, laid out and ready for Neil to wear to the Ascot tomorrow. No, no: they're not really Ascot bound, but in Dumfries, they hold a special luncheon tomorrow, minutes before the Ascot race, for the invited few and it is expected that all will be properly attired in Ascot wear. Here's Neil's "morning suit:"


And here's Mary's outfit:


I get a full tour of their home. There are so many rooms! And so many mementos!


In fact, there are too many rooms and Mary has been letting some of them out as B&B's, of a different kind than Three Glen. When she shows the rooms to me, she explains -- frequently, my guests are hunters and fishermen. They're looking for comfortable rather than "smart."

There is a lot of history in the house. A lot! I dare not get it wrong, so let's move outside.


We walk the grounds along with their four dogs: sweet Stanley, the little guy who barks his head off wildly when he is with the other three. Then there are the two Border Collies. Awww... how charming, you say. Well, these collies mean business! They're not your lap dogs with a quaint pedigree. They work the herds and sleep outside. And when the fourth dog comes out -- the lab -- they corner her and stand in menacing fashion until the owner pushes them away and the lab is free again.

But do remember, I'm here mainly to see the house and, too, Mary's garden.

It's a woppingly huge garden -- they grow everything and they have exquisite fencing to keep out predators. I am impressed.

(Greg picks some broccoli and lemon balm for dinner... Mary looks on.)

I feel better when I find out that she has gardening help three times a week.

The grounds on this property are vast and they include a pond (the weeds have taken over! -- she tells me. One year we had us all go in and pull them out!) and a tennis court. This makes me a bit nostalgic for the tennis Ed and I play in our secret court back home. But I brush the thought aside.

by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

After my tea, I leave Douglas Castle and concentrate on finding the forest where I think I may enjoy a hike. It's hard to find: take  this windy road until you come across this one and after, turn onto this one even if on the map, it looks like you're going straight. Well, I find it.

I'm looking forward to the hike because 1. it offers views to the sea and 2. the forest has some of the tallest trees in Scotland: Douglas firs. You'd think they were Scottish, but they're not. It's a Canadian tree admired by Scottish settlers who then brought seeds back to their home country in the early 19th century, naming the tree after their own -- Douglas.


The forest is "closed." I find a sign by the place where I was to park my car: foresting work in progress. Come back after June 26.

Option number two: take the coastal walk already, damn it!

I'd been saving it for tomorrow -- a promised good weather day, but I'm here, the skies are fine (in their mixed bag fashion), let's go already!

More driving up and down winding roads, after which I swear to myself I will always always choose the super highway (meaning a road with actual room for two cars) over the quaint and narrow.

I leave the car at the edge of the sea.


(Yes, I know it looks threatening out there. Ignore it. You can never tell which way the winds will blow.)

(did you know that the Scottish people were this romantic?)

Oh, you could say I am not done yet: I still have my tribulations over finding the path I am to take for my hike: I went up the wrong road and now I'm parked near the end of the trail rather than the beginning, bla bla bla..

But the fact is, I find the trail.

It's forested and I take lots of deep breaths (that's what I've been taught to do since childhood -- breathe deeply! fresh forest air, take it in!) and I go up up up...


Mostly I am alone, but this is not the barren countryside of yesterday. I am on the coast and here and there I see homes along the estuary and the shore.


Up up up... The literature tells me this is a two out of three star challenge, but I don't buy it. Yesterday's hike convinced me that the British "challenge" is the French person's lazy stroll. What French people call "sportif" I call "impossible." What the British call "demanding" I call "relaxing."

But when I reach the hill's summit, I understand why this is a special spot on the planet.

(if you zoom in, you'll see the windmills out at sea)

(looking inland)

There are many ways to admire views. Ed likes to sit for a while and just look out. I'm not as calm. I jump around, take photos, make sure I have not missed a thing. I do sit, but only for a minute.


I don't think it'll ever change. Even if I didn't have a camera around my neck, or a computer back home, I would be always composing sentences in my head and framing photos with my eye. (This dates back to age 18, so no, it's not a function of blogging.)

a couple of miles up the road

Coming home from any larger excursion inevitably puts me on the road that links Dumfries with Thornhill. There, I make a turn due west and follow the road eight miles toward Moniaive. About half way, I pass the hamlet of Penpoint (population: 400). It's the closest settlement to Moniaive and when I pass it, I always know I'm almost home.

I mention Penpoint, because in fact, the village has been the home of Andy Goldsworthy for the past thirty years. Sure, he travels, but he always comes back to it. It's not surprising, therefore, that there is a Goldsworthy sculpture just outside the village. It's an egg -- made of the same sandstone as his Arches. It sits in the middle of a pasture where you'll sometimes see sheep or cows and when you first go by it, you do a double take: wait, did I just see an egg?


I finally pull over and take a picture of it. And so no matter what I do, coincidentally, each day has had a Goldsworthy encounter here (through his art).

dinner at home

Perhaps you haven't grasped this, but Three Glens is an unusual place to choose for your visit or vacation. You don't just get a lovely room and a breakfast cooked to order.

You get quiet. You get a warm floor (I cannot tell you how many places I will never go back to because the floors are cold and my feet get chilled). You get baby lambs lulling you to sleep each night with their gentle voices.

And you get the help of the house manager, who focuses his entire being on making your stay as you would want it. (Neil and Mary are lucky to have Greg, who may be a free spirit, but he comes with three years of professional training in hoteliering (is that a word?) and another two decades of hands on experience in the industry. He is not easily phased by demands placed on him. If I write that I liked dinners that had plenty of veggies and not too many fatty meats, gosh darn it, he will see to it that I will have just that.

Tonight, he cooks up a stuffed pepper, followed by a beef casserole, but one with broccoli which he snitched this morning from Mary's garden.



Just as I am finishing dinner, Greg tells me to look over my shoulder. Oh!


The skies here -- they always offer up a surprise! It is a glorious evening! And tomorrow? Well, they say it should be partly cloudy, which leads me to suspect that it will pour buckets of rain all day.