Monday, 26 June 2017

Scotland #10 - Some Last Random Thoughts

Our twenty days in the Scottish Highlands are at an end. They were never disappointing. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the world.

A few last random thoughts as we leave:
·                     Red hair – I’ve never seen so many redheads in one concentrated geographical area in my life as we saw in and around Edinburgh.
·                     Road signs – In the Highlands all road signs are in Gaelic first with English under the Gaelic. Gaelic has more odd symbols over letters than any language I’ve ever seen. The minute you leave the Highlands, the signs are in English only, as if the Highlands and the rest of Scotland are two different countries. And perhaps, in a way, they are. The Highlanders are making a concerted effort to re-introduce and preserve their native language.
·                     The sparsity of the population in the north and west is astounding. Miles and miles of beautiful mountain scenery with scarcely anyone living on it.
·                     The scarcity of the Highland Cattle. These wonderful, furry, tough little beasts with their snout-like noses are featured on postcards everywhere, but just try to find a live one! The Queen has a herd at Balmoral, but cattle farmers are breeding only standard cattle such as we see in the U.S. or Canada. If the Scotts want to keep this unique animal as a symbol of Scotland, somebody better start breeding them again.
·                     Driving – I wasn’t driving, Jeanette, as always, was – but this time with a twist. She had to learn in a matter of minutes to drive on the wrong side of the road. Actually it wasn’t as hard as it sounds, because many of the roads we were on were only one lane wide anyway. Fun when you meet an on-coming car.
·                     There are vast remote areas in the highlands, with lots of wind, but we saw no wind towers, no evidence of solar power. Heat for houses comes from oil shipped in by tanker and is very expensive.  One has to wonder why. We needed heat in our rooms even in June.
·                     The Scotts print their own money. They’re pound notes equivalent to the British pound, but with Scottish scenes and heroes on them. It is rather as if the state of New York or the province of Ontario printed its own currency.
·                     The Scotts have their own Parliament. They write their own laws. And they voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of the EU in the recent Brexit vote. But if they remain a part of Great Britain, they will be forced to leave the EU.
·                     The divide between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland is more than geography. The last vote on Scottish independence failed by a small margin. If the same vote were to be held today, it might well pass.
·                     And finally, the Highlanders really do say “Aye” for yes, and “wee” for small, and “ye” for you and “bonnie” for pretty.

Scottish Money
This trip was taken ostensibly to find locales for the book I’m presently working on. I think I’ve come away with far more than just locales.   

************************ 
Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.


With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?



Praise for Fatal Charm:


"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris, ReadingReality.net

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B, Eyes2creviews.blogspot.ca

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson, Doodlesinkspot.blogspot.ca

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.



 The books of Blair McDowell

    

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Scotland #9 - Loch Lomond

View from the Corries B&B
We are in a charming, newly built B&B, the Corries, overlooking Loch Lomond. It is, once again, evidence that price is not always an indication of quality. We are paying less here than anyplace else on this trip, and yet our accommodation is all anyone could want; everything sparkling, beautifully maintained. Brodie, our host, is a professional photographer of the highest order. He has magnificently captured the beauty of the lake and the hills in his photographs hanging in the rooms and in the common room.

Loch Lomond
While Loch Lomond, the largest lake in this part of Scotland, is indisputably beautiful, it is to me something of a letdown. The surrounding green hills are lovely, but they can’t hold a candle to the magnificent highlands we have now left behind us. But most of all I suppose it is the tour buses, and the roadside “tourist attractions” clearly aimed at those buses, that makes me wish we had chosen a different area for our last two days in Scotland.

Perhaps the gray and drizzly day has something to do with my reaction to this place. And yet how could we not come here, to the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”, we who grew up singing about them. I remember my mother playing and singing that old Scottish song. It was written out in full on the wall of a place we stopped for lunch. I read the words of the second verse -- words I had never heard -- and discovered “Me and my true love will never meet again” because her true love was killed at Culloden. How many references in song and story there are to that one short battle that so defined Scotland.

Today I think we’ll head out to Inveraray in search of adventure or at least, lunch at the George Hotel.

****
Inverary
The road to Inveraray was long and twisting and narrow, but well worth the trouble as it meandered through lovely hills and beside Loch Long and Loch Fyne. Rounding a corner we had our first view of Inveraray. It looked like a fairy tale village, all white and shimmering across the water. But just before we came to the village, there was a sign off to the right for Inveraray Castle. At major tourist sites we’ve learned to ask if there is closer parking for those, like me, who walk with a cane. I’m not wheelchair bound, but a long walk to a site means I haven’t the energy left to see the site.


Inverary Castle
There seems to be a policy throughout Scotland that people with difficulty walking are parked very close to the site. At Inveraray Castle, the gatekeeper refused even to charge admission. “It’s our policy” he said, “You won’t be able to see anything but the main floor.”  True, but the main floor was magnificent with its state dining room and tapestry chairs and Adam fireplace. The incredible room, however, was a center circle room that was open to the ceiling three stories above as an exhibit of Scottish arms over the centuries from the long poles with wide shaped axes on their ends (1600’s and earlier) to rifles used by Scottish regiments in the 20th century.
Inverary Castle Dining Room

The family, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their children, still lives in the castle which has been continuously in their family since the 1400’s. The duke is head of the Clan Campbell, worldwide. This was one of the most impressive of the castles was saw, perhaps because of its continuity.

For lunch we went to the George, built in the sixteen hundreds, and an Inn since 1860.


We arrived back at the Corries, tired and a bit down, realizing this was our last day of sightseeing. Tomorrow, I’ll try to put together my last thoughts on this country which was the home of at least some of my ancestors and all of Jeanette’s.


*************************
Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.


With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?



Praise for Fatal Charm:


"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris, ReadingReality.net

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B, Eyes2creviews.blogspot.ca

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson, Doodlesinkspot.blogspot.ca

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.



 The books of Blair McDowell


    

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Scotland #8 - Back to the Mainland

Knipoch Hotel, Oban, Scotland
We somewhat reluctantly left Skye and headed down the mainland to Oban and a charming manor-house hotel called the Knipoch. This was the most elegant lodging we’ve had since the Royal Scotts Club in Edinburgh.

Wild Lavender Rhododendrons
All through the early part of our travels in Scotland our eyes were assaulted by brilliant yellow Broome, lining the roads, covering the hillsides. As we approached the west coast and the isles that changed. Now, the roadsides and hills are full of lavender colored Rhododendron. It grows wild, everyplace we look.

And, joy of joy, for the first time today, I saw Scottish Highland Cattle – a whole field if them – reddish brown, with long curly hair and snub noses and great wide horns. They look like no other cattle in the world. They are shown on post cards in every tourist shop, but few of them seem to be surviving in herds. We see more typical North American type cattle in most of the fields, and in fact we see few even of them. What we see everyplace is sheep.
Highland Cattle

Sheep were introduced wholesale into Scotland in the aftermath of Culloden. In something referred to as the “Highland Clearances” the British threw tenants off the lands they had farmed for generations, confiscating the land, knocking down the buildings and introducing sheep farming – a much more lucrative use of the land. What a history this small country has had!

As we neared Oban, huge dark clouds appeared on the horizon, followed by sheet lighting and then sharp spears of lightening and great rolling thunder. Dense rain and then hail hit the car, slowing us down considerably. If there had been anyplace to pull over and wait it out we would have. But the road merely narrowed.

The storm slowed to a drizzle just as we reached our hotel. Our large, warm, comfortable room and a blazing fire in the sitting room were very welcome.

The storm left as quickly as it had begun, and while the next day was cool with the odd shower, the worst of it was over. When we were packing for this trip all our friends told us to pack for cold and rainy. That isn’t the weather we’ve had. We’ve had more sunshine than rain and more warm than cold, although I must admit that this morning I’m sitting in a little B&B parlor wearing a sweater, a vest and a coat, and I’m still chilly.


Standing Stones at Kilmartin
But I’m ahead of myself. Back in the luxury of Knipoch we asked our hostess about the standing stones we had heard were in the area. She pulled out a map and showed us where they were. We made those our next day’s destination. Those of you who have read “Outlander” will know about these prehistoric circles – man made and probably of religious significance. The best known of them is Stonehenge in Great Britain, but in fact they may be found in many places. Last year we saw an ancient set of stones in France, in Brittany. Alas, these Scottish ones did not send me back in time to find a handsome Scottish warrior as they did Claire. 
*********************************************
Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.


With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?



Praise for Fatal Charm:


"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris, ReadingReality.net

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B, Eyes2creviews.blogspot.ca

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson, Doodlesinkspot.blogspot.ca

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.



 The books of Blair McDowell


    

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Scotland #7 - The Isle of Skye


Skye is simply amazing. It defies comparison to anything I’ve ever seen anyplace else in the world. Sparsely populated, it is a land of rugged peaks and deep green valleys and innumerable lochs and inlets.

And narrow, narrow roads. We have spent more time driving on single lane roads here than we ever imagined possible. Every so often there is a small area to the left of us to pull over if a vehicle is coming the other way. The drivers are (mostly) very polite.

Typical Isle of Skye House
The houses, in contrast to the grey stone of Edinburgh, or the old rose brick color of Nairn and Inverness, are all white. They have the appearance of cement slathered over stone and then whitewashed. The typical cottage is no more than two stories high, with dormer windows, two windows below the dormers, and a door right in the middle. Very symmetrical, the Scotts.   Here and there we see the ruin of old stone houses, probably dating from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. They are equally symmetrical.

The beauty of the Isle of Skye
Like the countryside through which we’ve traveled, our accommodation has varied wildly from one place to another. We are back on the mainland, just outside Oban now (having left the Isle of Skye) and staying in palatial luxury in the Knipoch Hotel, (The “K” is silent), a manor house in which the Thane of Cawdor was assassinated in 1592. More about that later. I mention it only in contrast to our accommodation on the island of Skye which was
Skeabost View B&B, Isle of Skye
certainly the most modest of this trip. It was a B&B, a very small room in a very small house. My first reaction was “Oh, no!” But I shall probably remember it long after the memory of our current luxury accommodation dims, because of the warmth and generosity of the owner, Hamish McPherson and his wife Josephine. He is a big man, as so many Scottish men seem to be. Not just tall, but solid. One almost gets the feeling they are rooted to the ground. I asked him a few questions – just practical information I need for the setting of the book I’m working on. He was generous with his time and helpful with his answers. Then he pulled out a map and told us what we “had to do tomorrow” to see the real Skye.  The route he mapped out was a step back hundreds of years in time, as well as spectacular from a
The wonderful Hamish with me
scenic point of view. The road was one lane much of the way. Jeanette has become very adept at driving on the left, but remembering what to do one a one lane road when a car is coming towards you is another whole level of skill. Still, we survived.

When we arrived back at our B&B, too tired to even think of trying to find a restaurant for dinner, Hamish made us ham and cheese sandwiches. God bless him.

We were sorry to leave Skye. I think we could have spent far more time there.


*********************************************

Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 
Coming in 2017

A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.


With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?



Praise for Fatal Charm:


"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris, ReadingReality.net

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B, Eyes2creviews.blogspot.ca

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson, Doodlesinkspot.blogspot.ca

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.


 The books of Blair McDowell


    

Monday, 12 June 2017

Scotland #6 - Nairn


We chose to stay in Nairn rather than in much more populous Inverness on the advice of one of Jeanette’s Scottish cousins. Nairn is a charming small, old town on the sea. It was a good point from which to visit two sites on our list.

On the first day we went to Cawdor Castle. This is a lovely, somewhat smaller castle than others we have seen in Scotland. It is still lived in by Lady Cawdor except for the 4 months a year (Spring to Fall) she opens it to the public and lives in a house down the road. It is clearly a home, not a museum for all that it has a drawbridge over the evidence of an old moat, priceless tapestries on the walls and antique 
Cawdor Castle Interior

furniture everywhere. There are two kitchens, a “New” one which is already perhaps 30 years old, and an old one, dating back perhaps 600 years. The old one has a huge brick fireplace with arms that swing in and over the fire, and a wonderful spit for cooking the roast. The fireplace heat causes the roast to turn as it cooks. When her ladyship informed her cook of her plans to install a modern kitchen in 1970, the cook gave notice on the spot.


Outside there are extensive and beautiful gardens that include a boxwood maze. Cawdor
Cawdor Castle Gardens
Castle is Shakespeare’s setting for Macbeth, although it is curious he should choose such a beautiful setting for surely one of the gloomiest of his plays.

The next day was brilliant, warm and sunny. Hardly the day for the excursion we planned... a visit to the bloodiest battlefield in all of Scotland, the scene of Scotland’s last fruitless quest to replace the Protestant Hanoverian King George with a Catholic Scottish Stuart one, King James II.

Culloden Battlefield
We went to Culloden, the scene of the battle that changed Scotland forever. Culloden Field is just that, the field where a horrendous battle took place, with occasional rough stone markers where men fell. But the information center is a marvel. With absolute impartiality, both sides of the conflict are presented in both written and pictorial form. Red for the British side, blue for the Jacobite Scottish side. It took us more than an hour and a half to see the exhibits and read the information. It took us longer to read the exhibits than it did the British troops, well fed and rested and armed with cannons, to defeat the exhausted, hungry Scots, armed with swords and knives. The battle lasted an hour.

Bonnie Prince Charlie seems to have been the only one who escaped...dressed as Flora MacDonald’s maid.

Moray Firth with tankers in the distance
That evening, we walked down the beach from our hotel to a wonderful seafood
restaurant, the Sun Dancer, where we had the best meal since coming to Scotland.
Like our Hotel, it overlooks the Moray Firth, a large body of water that leads out to the North Sea. We watched as an oil tanker and a cruise ship both headed out towards the North Sea.

Nairn Beach




It was still bright and sunny at seven p.m. and we watched in some disbelief as children and dogs romped in and out of the waves. We were both dressed in winter coats and I had my hood up against the cold north wind. Hardy folk these Scots.

Tomorrow we head across to the west coast of Scotland and to the Isle of Skye.





*********************************
Watch for Blair's newest thriller, Fatal Charm 

Coming in 2017

 Fatal Charm by Blair McDowell
A perilous scheme to thwart ruthless adversaries hurtles successful jewelry designer Caitlin Abernathy from her comfortable California studio to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Brittany as she attempts to return a priceless stolen heirloom to the Louvre.

Colin Stryker, the devastatingly handsome history professor from Ireland who has appointed himself her protector, fights to rescue her before her captors add murder to their crimes, while at the same time unraveling the torturous train of events that led to the original theft.


With every moment fraught with danger, can the chemistry already between the two ignite into passion?



Praise for Fatal Charm:


"If you love well-crafted romantic suspense where the mystery is every bit as mysterious as the romance is romantic, check out Blair McDowell's work.  I found her through a book tour 5 years ago, and she is one of my happiest discoveries."
-  Marlene Harris, ReadingReality.net

"The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama.... I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris -- the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix."
-  Heather B, Eyes2creviews.blogspot.ca

"Fatal Charm is well-written and engaging.  The book has a fast pace which makes it easy to read and enjoy.  Blair McDowell is an illustrative writer which allows readers to visualize the scenes in their head.  This brings the characters and story to life for  me.  I thought the mystery was complex and intriguing.  I enjoyed the many twists and turns."
-  Kristina Anderson, Doodlesinkspot.blogspot.ca

Click here to view and purchase all Blair's books.


 The books of Blair McDowell