“Gosh, look at those cobwebs! Here, let me just knock those down and do a quick sweep up. Claire? Would you please wipe off the table, honey? And Quinny, prop that door open, will you? It smells a little musty in here.”
“That’s better. Now. I’ll just rinse out the basket and we can make ourselves some coffee. Cappuccino? Latte? Or was it double espresso macchiato? It’s been so long…”
I would apologize for going AWOL for six months, but that seems a little conceited– as if you were all hanging around waiting for my words and my figment-blend espresso (yes, figment of my imagination…) But I did miss writing to you over the last several months. You may not realize it, but when I write this blog, there’s a dialogue in my head between us– the author and the theoretical reader. (If you think that’s creepy, then maybe you could leave a real comment so the conversation is not all imaginary!) In any case, I do hope we can wash up the coffee mugs, clean the big window in front– so the sun shines in on the old round table again– and get back to meeting here to catch up every week or two.
Last weekend was a school holiday here– fall break for the American School kids– and we’ve just come back from a long weekend in Scotland. I know that sounds exotic, but from here it’s really not… just four hours on a train from King’s Cross, it’s a comparatively easy out-of-the-city getaway.
We were meant to be fishing and doing archery and such. But the country hotel had to drain the trout lake on account of some algae thing, so while Clay still did his salmon fishing on the river Tweed with the ghillie (Scottish fishing guide), the kids and I did not fish. This fly fishing on the river is actually kind of a big deal– the number and location of fishermen are regulated, with each fishable river having a certain number of “beats,” or stretches of river from which a person or a small party can fish. There are reservation systems for the various beats, and the Roxburghe sporting estate owns four beats on two rivers. The ghillie Clay worked with has an international reputation as one of the best, and he kind of reminded me of a Scottish Steve Irwin (you know, the Crocodile Hunter?).
The archery also fell through– for the simple logistical reason that it turned out to be 40 miles from the hotel rather than onsite. So we took long walks around the grounds, learned to play croquet on the front lawn (which the kids totally loved), and Clay and I got to try clay pigeon shooting (which we both loved!). And who knew? The clay pigeons do not look at all like pigeons! They are just clay discs that get shot up like frisbees from behind a little rise. I have to say that I did really well and hit the first several attempts, with the great coaching of the shooting instructor, Alastair, whom I could mostly understand (when I leaned back too far, he said, “dinna dae agin!” and then translated, ‘don’t do that again.’) My triumph only lessened ever so slightly when I realized that I was shooting buckshot rather than single small bullets. So my fantasy that I was a sharpshooter was maybe a little overblown, but still…
Anyway, on the more cultivated side of things, inside the house, Claire enjoyed having tea in the drawing room each afternoon; and the grownups enjoyed sampling a different whisky (or two) in the library before dinner each night. It was really like being in a grand country house for the weekend– all Downton Abbey-esque! We even got to know the staff by name; and if there was any drama going on there, we were as oblivious as the Lord and Lady Grantham.
On one of our walks, the kids and I met a really nice local lady and her dog, who was so like our Gus in the face and in his manner… I hardly know whether it was more pleasant or painful. He played with the kids, and then he came over and laid his head against my leg, and just like that my heart felt like a drippy little squeeze toy. After we said goodbye and walked back toward the house, the sound of bagpipes suddenly rose up from somewhere on grounds. Seriously– does everyone find that sound so stirring, or do I have more Scots blood in me veins than I thought? Turns out the piper was for a wedding taking place at the house, so the kids and I sat on a bench a ways out front by the croquet lawn and watched the gowns and kilts go in. Unfortunately, the hotel also forgot to communicate that they were not serving Saturday lunch because of the wedding. So we found ourselves in a cab headed for the village after Clay came in from the fishing.
That’s how we wound up at Floors Castle, which is the home of the Duke of Roxburghe (our hotel was one of his houses, too). It was the first time, I think, we’d been through a castle where people actually reside. Very strange to see all the modern family photographs sitting around on the shelves, right alongside fairly priceless antiques and art by the likes of Matisse. Apparently, when tourist season is over, they simply remove the ropes from the walk thru area and the family settles back in to the whole castle (after a summer of confinement in just one wing– quite a hardship, as you can see in the photo above). Incidently, a turn-of-the-century Duke of Roxburghe married an American heiress from New York, whose immense fortune and personal attention oversaw the refurbishment of the castle (and undoubtedly the topping up of the family coffers). More Downton Abbey, anyone?
After a quick tour, we walked across the grounds to the garden cafe for a late lunch. I insisted then on walking through the castle gardens, and we were rewarded with a gorgeous stroll and a really fun playground for the kids. Inside the walled garden, which led to other walled gardens, I really could put myself in one of my favorite childhood stories, The Secret Garden. Clay sat in the sun near the playground, while the kids played on the zip line and the climbing structure. I walked along the paths, taking pictures and imagining a little girl with her skipping rope, watching the robin near the ivy-covered wall… and fitting the key she found into the rusty door lock. Loved it!
It was also the weekend of the Kelso Horse Races in the local village, so we cabbed back in on Sunday for a really nice gastropub lunch and then to watch some races on the big turf track– steeplechase, like in Mary Poppins! It was neat that the jockeys and horses were right in among the crowds at times. And the Scots, like all Brits do fancy a flutter (like to place a bet, that is) when given the chance!
Quinn picked himself a cracking new Scottish tweed cap at the races, which is quite a change from the one he sported around Edinburgh and throughout the Highlands on our last trip to Scotland, back in May. That older hat, in fact, has acquired its own name and personality as my-other-son-Hamish (see photo below)! He travels with us sometimes– went to Ohio this summer, actually, and we left him behind… er, I mean, he got to stay a couple extra weeks with Grandma and Grandpa, eventually catching up with us via first-class on the US Postal Service. Quite the posh life that Hamish is living– none of us got to fly first-class!
In fact, I really must dredge up a few old pictures from the earlier trip to Scotland– the Highlands are so beautiful. Here is where the blog differs from real coffee with friends in an actual cafe: I would never carry on so long and show you all these pictures in person. But then again, the advantage of the blog for you is that, if you get bored and walk away, I will never know! My cappuccino has gone cold, and it’s time to load the dishwasher and get a few things accomplished. Have a wonderful day, friends. Meet you back here soon?