14 Sep 2009

Lucid Dream Real Estate: Near John O' Groats

Perhaps this view isn't for everyone, as the road nearing the northerly most settlement in Britain is surrounded by bleak, wind-swept countryside. But I am often drawn to dwellings that look like they could have been heaved from the pages of a historical novel. I imagine characters who attempt to hide dark, unspoken secrets while something mythical lurks in the cellar.

Due to the fact that I will be away until early October, I'm not able to undertake the "giving of treats" this month. Hopefully two lots of treat giving will follow next month, for October is not only the blissful beginning of the dark season, it also marks the time for the Scottish Storytelling Festival and the gloopy goodness of the annual World Porridge Making Championships.

12 Sep 2009

Cut that out! You're not going to do a song while I'm here...at Doune

When I think of the history of Doune Castle, I imagine the centuries being smudged together in a “Danielson: wax-on, wax-off” kind of way.

For example, when you stand at the entrance of Doune, you could say that you are thinking about how it was built in the fourteenth century by Robert, Duke of Albany and how it was later taken over by the Earl of Moray, the half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Or how centuries after that, Bonnie Prince Charlie used it as a prison following the battle of Falkirk.

But, really, we’re amongst friends here. Why lie? What you're really doing is waiting for a particular sound to break through the birdsong and clamour over the hills. In reality, your ears strain to hear the unmistakeable noise of halved coconut shells being banged together by grown men dressed in medieval garb and pretending to ride horses.
High above you, John Cleese’s helmeted head will pop out above the stone wall before beginning his spitting tirade to the “daffy English kaniggets.” And later as you gaze out from one of the high windows at the HUGE…tracks of land…that surround the River of Teith, all you know is that you’d rather…you’d rather…just…SING!
Day-to-day at this Historic Scotland site, the presence of the Monty Python classic is subdued. There is a small stack of coconut halves behind the desk in the shop (which also sells "Holy Grail" Ale), and one room that is bedecked in information boards about the Castle’s long history also includes tales from the making of the film.
Apparently one Monty Python-themed day was attempted, but the castle was so overrun with fans that a traffic jam of bodies occurred in the narrow spiral staircases, creating a safety issue.

More than the beauty of the countryside or the fascinating things about the castle, such as the remarkable thickness of the walls or the regal sight of the main hall, there is one thing that shines as a wonderful reason to visit Doune.
Most of the time in Britain when you see tourists wandering around historic places with those audio commentary machines pushed against their ears, they look a sombre bunch. But Doune Castle got it right, with Python’s own Terry Jones leading the lost through the various rooms, espousing on ancient history as well as outlining how and where the fake door was installed for the part in The Holy Grail with the guard who can’t seem to understand the simple instruction: “stay here, and make sure HE doesn’t leave.”

Vital in bringing history to life are the quality of the story as well as the confidence and talent of the storyteller, and in this case, both are brilliant. Although I reckon Jones could make the history of soup sound enthralling.

So there you have it. Doune Castle: stunning, sturdy, and very, very silly.

3 Sep 2009

Postcards from Sheigra

This is where the road ends, past Kinlochbervie and the tiny villages of Oldshoremore and Blairmore. You can ease your car over the rough single track, open the gate and drive over the shorn green fields to park within sight of the sea, the sandy beach dropping down to the water like a wide, inviting plank.

Not far back down the road is the start of the four-mile trail that would have led you to the spectacular Sandwood Bay, but if it is already early evening and the weather is promising to turn, this is the time to smile and stop for a little wild camping.
The wind pelts you as you try to spot the oyster catcher that is skulking the shoreline. The gusts drive into your ears as every third wave forgets to be tender and crashes up the beach. Everything about the place is divided between fragile beauty and raw, energetic destruction. A tower of sand stands like an ancient monument in miniature, as grain-by-grain the nearby stream pulls it down. Near the water, the tumbled beauty of a pile of seaweed is the result of a particularly violent surge from the sea.
It is all so perfect. You share your campsite with the sheep, who look like Kindergarten constructions of cotton balls and toothpicks. In cartoon fashion they run up and down the hills and head butt each other playfully before taking off again.
The chill makes the sky ache with blue, and the tender wisps of cloud that tear around the frame of the beach look like something a fairground candy maker would create. But you have been facing the sea for so long, you have forgotten that the horizon exists in every direction. You turn around…
…to see the storm bulging like an angry genie, its dark belly hunkered beneath mountainous shoulders, dwarfing the village beneath it.
Inside this monster is the magic that will stretch time, making the night last longer than any night before or since. It is the kind of storm that will wash everything clean, scrub the last remnants of life from old scattered shells.

But there are a few minutes yet. You turn your back on the aproaching gale and gaze out at the sun-drenched sea, making believe that summer really could last forever.

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