25 Jun 2009

Lucid Dream Real Estate: A Turret in Glasgow

Continuing with our desire to wish for ourselves the perfect Scottish dwelling (for what do we often have but dreams?), we are stumbling through the streets of the country's biggest city, the heart of Scotland's music scene and a Mecca for shopping. Glasgow is a vibrant, edgy city that can intimidate the weak of heart. This is why you must go. Pluck up your courage, face the crowds, and go.

Your vantage point is from this turret, right in the middle of the city centre. Below you the people are rushing around, arms laden with bags or children or both. You hear the mingling murmur of the pigeons and of hundreds of moving voices, talking and walking, asking questions, giving answers. Then the random boisterous yell of a teenager floats up at you like the scent of chip fat: hideous and alluring in equal measure, with the ability to invade every space.

For the most part, you are removed, tucked away like a chess piece that decided it wasn't enough to play the board, that it was time to see the world. It's the place where you can watch the pinball universe at work and play, and build up the reservoir of your wonder.

20 Jun 2009

Solstice spaces: Achnahaird Beach

This could start as one of Ruth’s odes to turquoise, the way the sun churns up liquid jewels from the dark northern waters. Because this is summer, the time when our latitude becomes an uncoiled spring. For now the days are so long, there is room to hang up all the pieces of our lives, to let our memories breathe and gather the sweetness that seems to come from spaces between the air. We long for it the same way our mothers would haul down the sheets from the line and press the clean cotton into their smiling faces, recalling their own maternal ghosts.

We know these are the things that we will pull in close to us when the winter comes. And it will come. But when it does we will be holding a vast collection of molecules, the rapid-fire procession of all our days, stretched out through the summer of our youth.

15 Jun 2009

Whisky treat winner! Eeeee!

We have a winner! Yessir, yessir! After our first false draw, in which JP managed to draw his own name (strange, since I never put his name in the hat), the Scotsman placed his hand in the magic fancy hat and pulled out the name ... Marcheline!

The fantastic parcel of Whisky goodness will now be sent across the sea. Thanks to those happy few who put their hand up. Remember I'm doing one of these a month and so your chances are pretty good.

Big love from Scotland,


14 Jun 2009

Haunted Scotland: So it's Death you want?

It has been a dark, stormy afternoon. The thunder has skidded across the heavens and the gloom is pouring into my living room. It has nothing to do with the drum roll for the whisky treats draw tomorrow. No, it is because Scotland is simply one of the best places in the world for deep shadows and whispered mysteries.

In the world of Google searches, the post in my first blog that most people land on is this one, about Greyfriars Kirk. I conclude therefore that many people yearn for the macabre, for the things that will make them shiver with just enough fear to get their heart thumping.

I have a small collection of graveyard photos, and since there is bound to be one among you who loves nothing more than walk between the headstones, reading the names aloud like they are pieces from a long lost incantation, I thought I would share them. The solemn angel comes to us from Rosslyn churchyard.

Then the popular Gothic beauty of Greyfriars Kirkyard, my personal favourite in Edinburgh:

Head to the coast and North Berwick, where the scalped remains of the old church presides over a showcase of worn headstones:
But if you visit no other graveyard in the country, make it the Victorian glory of the old Stirling cemetery, where the weathered stones seem to beg for someone to tell the stories of those buried beneath. For those from the USA, Stirling graveyard is also the final resting place of Butch Cassidy's grandfather.

Throughout the graveyard there are many stones featuring skulls and crossbones (which I love for their grisly drama), but the one that most clutches at my spirit is this one, massive and with no name, just the words "wee sister."

Not on any of the tourist maps, but this site near the Water of Leith trail in Edinburgh has an aura of calm that I always enjoy.
Next, the stern-looking monuments of the Glasgow Necropolis. It may seem a bit creepy to some, but this massive space, on a beautiful green hill behind Glasgow Cathedral, is a great place to pass a sunny afternoon with a picnic and a book. And should you start to hear voices from the tombs...well then you know it's time to pack up and head home.

Finally, another Edinburgh gem - the Dean Cemetery, not far from the Gallery of Modern Art. What makes this cemetery special is the claw-like limbs of the trees, but also the myriad of personalized headstones. It seems as if the dead are stuck, oozing between one world another. Below is painter Samuel Bough.

Do you have a love for the morbid that just won't let go? One of my favourite blogs for exploring Scotland's shady past is Edinburgh's Dark Side. If you are a story teller, it can be a great source of inspiration and character material.

The winner of the parcel of whisky treats will be announced tomorrow. Until then, sleep well (queue maniacal laughter).

13 Jun 2009

Let the parade of madness begin

The Fringe Festival programme is out, and so is the Edinburgh Book Festival's. The annual summer buzz in Scotland's Capital has officially started. Not that the world's most pierced woman only shows up at this time of year; you'll see her around the Royal Mile most days, except when the weather is really bad.

Last chance for folks to throw their name in the hat for a little parcel of treats to do with Scotch Whisky! If you fancy something sensual from the country that makes the water of life, email me at scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com. I'll be drawing a name on Monday!

9 Jun 2009

Lucid Dream Real Estate: Isle of Skye

Something has become vividly clear to me since starting this blog. Simply put, there are many people in the world who ache for Scotland. Even for those who have no ancestral connection to the place, there are mysteries in this wee country that can rise up like the mist from the sea and weave any history together with this "land of brown heath and shaggy wood." And just like that, you're stuck, not able to leave (like me) or forever wishing yourself back.

It is to this yearning that I dedicate a periodic series of photos of wholly impractical yet swoon-worthy dwellings around Scotland. The idea came about during a recent visit to the Isle of Skye, near Dunvegan, where I stood looking out towards the mountains known as MacLeod's Tables. I took several photos of the scene, enchanted by this small, sturdy house in the shadow of the flat-topped monster.

In my mind I have called this series "House Hunting for Marcheline," after one of my bloggy friends whose longing for Scotland sinks right down into her bones.

For those dreamers and storytellers, the ones who can lift themselves out of the everyday and into a world where magik sits humming behind the spinning wheel, then for the next timeless moment, here is where you live:
(click to expand - you know you want to)

6 Jun 2009

Slàinte mhath! Whisky Treats!

I’m sitting in a giant whisky barrel, being wheeled through a cloud of scent that makes me think the sea has been set on fire and is being smothered with centuries-old garden mulch.

“That’s the smell of burning peat!” bellows the tour guide, a mustachioed ghost who appears and disappears from a series of screens as the barrel inches ever onward.

I know that the men in the barrel ahead of us are listening to their tour in Japanese, but I can’t hear it. I am enveloped in my own wee world, where the mulching machine is now threatening to puree my thoughts.

We go through the entire process, rounding the corner into the land of popcorn lights that are meant to represent the power of yeast. Then past the copper stills and onto the silent store of casks, where time is the lone employee.

Following the barrel ride, a real-life guide takes over and leads us upstairs to a room where we are taught the various olfactory tones that are present in the single malts around Scotland. We are told that only whisky that is distilled and matured in Scotland can be called Scotch Whisky

We hold our noses over a series little jars, and are told to try to catch a whiff of one or another flavour, like flowers or fruit. There is a jar containing a smoky aroma that is strong enough to make us cough. I fall in love with the jar that holds the scent of warm oat biscuits.

They are broken down for us thus:

Lowlands - warm and malty (my favourite)

Highlands - spicy, floral

Speyside -fruity (think pears with a hint of nail polish remover)

Islay - deep smoke and earthy

The one that was missing was the tiny whisky region of Campbeltown, which I have read carries a scent of nutmeg and light smoke.

We choose which we liked best and are poured a sample from that region. But we don’t drink them straight away. Instead we are asked to carry our glasses through to a neighbouring room, where we will be taught advanced whisky swirling, sniffing and tasting skills.

I will pause here to mention that this entire revamped story of the “Water of Life” is part of the
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre’s recent £2 million investment. They have done a spectacular job, but as wonderful a sensual experience as it is, it just wouldn’t have been the same without this new addition:
This is the moment you walk into a specially designed vault that holds the world’s largest whisky collection. Gathered together over 35 years by Brazilian Claive Vidiz, the collection has been purchased by the whisky manufacturer Diageo, who have loaned it to the Whisky Centre in Edinburgh.

All 3,384 bottles are on display, with glass, mirrors and carefully planned lighting working together to compliment the amber glow generated from such a gathering.

It is in this room that our noses begin a synchronized descent into our glasses, and where those of us whose palates and bodies can tolerate alcohol (mine, sadly, cannot), tip the glass to send the golden rivulets streaming onto our tongues.

For the momentous effort the Whisky Centre has put into involving all the senses in their new visitor experience, I ply them with my child-like way of applauding when I’m really excited, combined with a special I’m-ever-so-delighted squeaky noise that I sometimes make. Even for those who, like me, have never been fond of alcohol, if you’re a sensual creature, then this is for you.

Because I was so deeply impressed by everything, and because whisky is one of the big things for which Scotland is undeniably known, I thought this would be a great sojourn into my monthly GIVING OF TREATS.

I had it in mind that I would gather together a wee sample bottle from each of the regions around Scotland, and send them to one lucky, interested person. However I then did some research on sending alcohol in the post and found that overall, it is not a good idea. Most customs departments would just nab the parcel and I would be dubbed very naughty indeed.

I was sad for awhile, but then I put on my creative hat (I have one now) and thought of ways I could still bring the idea and delight of whisky to someone, without actually sending whisky. And I’ve come up with a collection of great little treats.

First of all there is this DVD, which is all about whisky is Scotland. However I thought that a DVD alone would just focus on sight and hearing, and I wanted to involve the other senses more fully. The other treats that shall join the DVD in the whisky parcel are here:

1. The Story of Scotland: Home of Whisky from The Chocolate Library. Learn about the history of whisky and eat chocolate at the same time!
2. A Glencairn Whisky Glass
3. A stack of wee dram containers from
Dewar’s Whisky in Aberfeldy (these would be perfect for camping)
4. A wee sachet of Whisky toddy sugary goodness

My rules for my gift giving are very simple. First of all, please don’t be shy. I think that sometimes people don’t want to put their hand up because they don’t want to seem greedy or cause inconvenience. But let it be known: I REALLY LIKE GIVING THINGS AWAY. It makes me happy (what with the clapping and the squeaky noise and everything). And yes, I ship overseas (or at least try, customs being what it is).

Having said that, the most important thing is that you have to be genuinely interested in the items involved. If the
world of whisky isn’t for you, just hold off putting your name in the hat until you see something that really takes your fancy. That way I can feel good about sending a parcel to someone who will glean real, giggle-inducing pleasure from it.

The only person who will not be eligible for a prize is the person who won the month before. However, the introductory tablet giveaway does not count! I was just testing out my parcelling skills. Besides, if I discounted the tablet, I probably wouldn’t have any applicants.

Raise your cyber hand by emailing me at
scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com. Write “Whisky Parcel -Eeee!” or something similar in the subject line and in the email let me know your name and your blog link if you’ve got one.

The deadline to apply for this present is Sunday, 14 June. On the 15th I shall put all the names in my
fancy new hat and get JP to draw the name, because he’s a Scotsman and has magic hands.

I shall announce the winner and email to get your address (that is, if I don’t already have it from the tablet adventure).

And that’s it! Long post - I know. But does anyone want some whisky treats?


p.s. Slàinte mhath is Gaelic for "good health", and is a traditional toast

3 Jun 2009

A deeply grey day in Glencoe

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