"Thank you so much to everyone for your kind words of encouragement and support on the opening of my little online shop. I hope you will visit often and see what is going on, as I have lots of projects in the pipeline."
Meanwhile, I wanted to tell you about our road trip 'up north'. We have just come back from a short holiday in Scotland and I was so enamoured with it all and took some quite interesting photos, that I thought it would make a nice posting. It is many years since we last visited these 'faraway lands' and infact we had never visited the West Coast of Scotland at all, so it was a little road trip and an adventure too and it was full of surprises.
We began our trip with a couple of nights in Glasgow. This is a city that didn't have a very good reputation back in the days, and I wasn't sure what to expect, even though it has benefited from alot of investment in recent years. What we found was a city that had prospered and flourished in Georgian and Victorian times and the legacy left by the merchants and industrialists of the days of Empire was still very evident, despite years of decline, the usual 1960's and 70's disastrous town planning, followed by a splurge of modern investment. A grand university quarter is also home to a fabulous museum called the Kelvingrove, which has the feel and grandeur of the V&A in London. It has a wonderful mixture of paintings, history and exhibitions depicting Scotland and it's heritage and I especially loved the Rennie Mackintosh exhibit, which of course focuses on this unusual and innovative decorative form that is recognisable for his stylised interpretations of flowers, along with the clean lines of early 20th century design.
Glasgow city centre has some interesting new buildings, especially the striking 'armadillo' like Exhibition Centre which shines on the river bank with 'statement like' prowess. The cathedral is majestic and you can take a short walk from its grounds across a stone bridge to a large cemetery, which seems rather like a stage set for victorian ghost story. Elaborate gravestones, memorials and even family mausoleums, complete with italianate style cupolas, stand high on the hillside overlooking the city with panoramic views. It is testament to the brief glory days of the city and all it once stood for.
After our city weekend, we headed out into the highlands towards Fort William. It wasn't long before the city gave way to the countryside, which gave way to the highlands and we were spellbound in no time. This land that loomed ahead of us seemed to be entirely given over to mystic mountains and glorious lochs that are the stuff of legends. We were lucky with the weather - it was glorious and the clear skies, green forests and deep blue lochs were magical.
Fort William is a small town at the foot of Ben Nevis and a popular centre for walkers and sightseers alike. It is surrounded on all sides by glorious highlands filled with beauty at every twist and turn of the road. From our base there, we drove westwards and northwards to Glen Finnian, site of the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the jacobite uprising and, perhaps now, more famously the Harry Potter Bridge.
Scotland has an epic history, peppered with legendary characters such as Mary, Queen of Scots and the young pretender and was the site of many battles over the centuries for land, power and religion. On this day though, it was a peaceful, glorious place with endless panoramic views for the traveller. We drove on to Malaig and took the afternoon ferry over to the Isle of Skye. It takes about half an hour to cross the sea to the island and you feel surrounded by brooding headlands on either side as you glide across the waters. The gateway to the ocean seems uninviting as the shores of Skye loom before you.
I never imagined for a moment that I would ever find myself in such a northerly remote corner of the British Isles, but it was the most stunning place imaginable. We only crossed as foot passengers and had a few hours to explore the harbour area of Armandale. A ruined castle provided the perfect place to while away a few hours in the sunshine. A country seat of the McDonald Clan in the 19th century - the family had finally abandoned the place in the 1960's and it had been left to the elements ever since. Stabilised by the National Trust in the 1990's you can now wander around the glorious gardens and sit on the terrace over looking the sea and the mainland, in natural splendour. This doorway was once the grand entrance to the house and the sweeping staircase was once the centre piece of the house. Now entwined with pretty flowers it is a romantic image.
Driving back to Fort William the scenery was awe inspiring and there were spectacular views with every twist and turn of the road. We understood why this West Coast of Scotland is so revered by centuries of tourists.
We watched the sunset over the loch, tired from an amazing day and full of anticipation for the next part of our trip to Inverness.
Inverness lies on the northern coastline of Scotland and as we headed out of Fort William, we had superb views of the 'boulder-like' mountain Ben Nevis.
The drive northwards took us alongside Loch Ness and the Caledonian canal. It is a brooding, spartan landscape, shrouded in mist and myth and foreboding rocky hills that envelop the deep, mysterious waters. It is easy to see how legends grew up and monsters might seem at home in this vast and isolated land. We arrived at our hotel and I was surprised at what I had plucked from some internet booking site - a real gem. A warm welcome awaited us at the Bunchrew House Hotel, which is just totally wonderful and full of history too.
Situated in beautiful grounds on the waterfront, it turned out that this house had been owned by the Forbes family at the time of the Jacobite rising. In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie had returned from exile abroad and started a campaign to lay claim to the British Throne. Scotland was divided over this idea and Duncan Forbes, the current residence of the house, was not in favour of this rebellion and raised troops to support the British cause. In fact the final battle in April 1746 was a quick and brutal massacre and quelled the rebellion in less than an hour. A few miles outside of Inverness, you can visit the Culloden Battlefield, where a state of the art (award winning) visitor centre, tells the whole story magnificently. Even though I thought this might be a real 'guy' thing, I have to say it was rather cool and after visiting all of this and learning so much, it was a bit special to come back and have a beautiful dinner in the fabulous oak panelled Forbes dining room.
Heading south and east from Inverness, we then drove through the wonderful Cairngorms National Park to Balmoral.
This is the Queen's private residence and although you can wander around the beautiful grounds, you cannot go inside the house. The Ballroom extension at the side is open, featuring a small and interesting exhibition and an audio guide tells you the story of this charming palace and gardens, from when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased it in 1852. Albert demolished the existing residence shortly afterwards and designed this summer holiday home in a somewhat germanic and fairytale style. It is no wonder that the royal family love to spend their summers there.
Our final destination was Aberdeen, where we were visiting old friends and here was yet another surprise. They took us to the totally and utterly staggering 'Dunnottar Castle' in Stonehaven. As Castles go....this is the real deal. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It is truly the stuff of legends. If you ever get the chance...do visit this.
So after a glorious week, in which I have really enjoyed experimenting with my fledgling interest in photography, I find that my design notebook is overflowing with ideas for quilting and embroidery from these travels. I loved the colour mixes and geometric patterns of the tartans and the warm, cosy mixes of the traditional fairisle designs. The native plants and flowers of this harsh landscape are interesting subjects for embroideries because of their strong colours and fighting spirit and the castles and mountains of this awe-inspiring terrain offer all sorts of wild possibilities on the drawing board.
Back home in Yorkshire, our trip to Scotland seems a magical one and it will sit happily in my travel journal as one of most beautiful places I have ever been lucky enough to see. They might be called 'The Lo' lands' and 'The Highlands' but for me....I shall always think of this as a journey to the 'Faraway Lands'...
See you soon, Ruby x