Communion Of Dreams


Scotland 2018: 6) More Magical Movie Moments!

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Wednesday, May 9.

This was going to be another driving day, going back across Scotland, but further north. We had a nice breakfast at the B&B, and got on the road. The rain started just as we got on the road.

But it kindly paused, so that we could make a stop once we were back on the mainland: Eilean Donan Castle. This 13th century castle is extremely photogenic, being on a small island at the juncture of three major lochs. See for yourself:

It’s the traditional home to Clan Mackenzie, but you may recognize it as the home of Clan MacLeod from a certain well-known film:

Yeah, that’s the same causeway. Which was actually added just last century. But looks cool.

Still, it’s a very cool place. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the castle. But there’s plenty more to see at their website.

Just as we got back to the car to leave, the rain started back up. I gotta say, the Scottish weather was most considerate for us this trip.

We headed east on the A87 to the A82, stopping at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. Yes, that Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle is a ruin, dating back to the 13th – 16th centuries, but it is a *very* picturesque ruin:

We had a light lunch in the cafe, and got back on the road towards Inverness. Well, towards Tain, actually, on the coast north of Inverness, where we had accommodations for the night. But first we stopped here, to make arrangements to take a tour the next morning:

It may not look like much, but it’s the home of one of my favorite whisky lines: the Glenmorangie Distillery.

And this is where we had accommodations for the next two nights:

The Mansfield Castle Hotel. It was perfect — stylish, a bit old & stuffy, with just enough of a hint of having seen better days to give it a certain seedy charm. Hey, that same description applies to me, so I don’t mean anything negative by it.

We collected some items for a light dinner and enjoyed them in our room.

 

Thursday, May 10.

A really excellent breakfast at the hotel the next morning, with both Martha and I enjoying traditional kippers and eggs, in addition to all the other goodies. Then we popped back over to the Glenmorangie Distillery for our tour, and concluded with a bit of shopping there.  As it turned out, at each of the distilleries we stopped at on this trip, the very same whiskys were available for purchase back in the States (well, except for some absurdly high priced — I’m talking $3k and up — selections), so I didn’t get too carried away, and only brought home a few bottles as keepsakes.

It was still quite early, and we had decided to take a trip to the far north, all the way up to John o’Groats and the nearby Castle of Mey, just across from the Orkney Islands. I would have liked to spend some time in the Orkneys, but the logistics for this trip were just too difficult to arrange. Perhaps another time.

But the drive up was wonderful! We stopped in the small town of Wick to check out the Old Pulteney Distillery and Old Wick Castle (which was closed for work). We did get some great pics of the seashore there. Here’s one:

And then on to John o’Groats and Mey. Even though we arrived there mid-afternoon, it felt early because the sun was still so high in the sky. That’s because that part of Scotland is so far north that there was more than 18 hours of daylight in early May. We had a nice lunch in the Castle cafe, then enjoyed a guided tour through the Castle itself. Spending time in the Castle of Mey and the attached gardens was a delight.

Orkney Islands in the distance.

 

Castle of Mey

 

Walled gardens. Wall is about 4m tall.

 

As you can see, the gardens are extensive.

 

Looking north to the Orkneys.

 

We started back to Tain, taking our time to enjoy the land- and seascapes. We hit some pockets of rain, which didn’t last, but gave us some great scenes:

Somewhere, over the North Sea …

 

The gorse was gorgeous.

 

For my otter-loving friends, look close at the sign.

Again, we decided to take dinner in our room, just relax and unwind a bit after all the driving.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

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Scotland 2018: 4) In another reality …

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Monday, May 7.

We had a lovely early breakfast at the B&B, then popped down to the railway station. We were early because we wanted to queue up for non-reserved tickets for The Jacobite, a steam train that runs out to the coast and then up to the charming little fishing village of Mallaig. But in another reality, the train is known as the Hogwarts Express, and yes, it does cross over the wonderful curving Glenfinnan viaduct:

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We were lucky, and got tickets. They even had a Harry Potter giftshop on the train. And served HP-themed snacks from the food trolley. Seriously.

Mallaig was a small, but pleasant place. The weather this day was cold and wet, so first thing we opted for was a hot lunch at The Fishmarket Restaurant, then we walked about a bit looking at the town and harbor before it was time to head back to Fort William.

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It was a pleasant two-hour ride up, and then back, with wonderful views all along the route. I could have done without the idiots who had their windows open while the train went through a couple of tunnels, which brought in loads of coal smoke into our car and liked to asphyxiate us all, but otherwise it was a delight.

It was still early in the day when we got back to Fort William, so we decided to jump in the car and do some more exploring. As it turned out, there was a very nice castle ruin there: Old Inverlochy Castle.

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These are the kinds of ruins you can find all over Wales. But they were relatively rare in Scotland. Because it seems that through Scottish history, there had been a tendency to keep rebuilding and updating castles and other strongholds at least well into the 1600s, subsuming the earlier structures into the new in whole or part.

From the castle we went to look over Neptune’s Staircase:

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This does it much better justice:

Driving back from the Locks, we passed a Marks & Spencer, and stopped in to pick up some salads and nibbles for dinner — while the food we’d had all along the trip so far was generally quite good, both Martha and I were feeling like we really had to make an extra effort to get as much fresh fruit and veg as we were used to.

 

Jim Downey



Scotland 2018: 3) It’s more than a famous film location, but … pass the coconuts.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Sunday, May 6th.

We had a lovely breakfast at the B&B, and for the first time I had real, actual, haggis … and discovered that I quite liked it. It was our host’s own home-made, and the slice I had with breakfast was buttery, crunchy, full of flavor. Yum. The haggis I had a couple of additional times during the trip was similar, and likewise quite tasty.

Following that, we packed up, then went up to Stirling Castle, just up the hill. Stirling is a very substantial royal castle, on the order of such Edward I castles in Wales as Caernarfon or Conwy. But as with a number of additional castles in Scotland, Stirling had been renovated and updated repeatedly after the medieval period, serving different functions both personal and military up until almost the current time.

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The Great Battery.

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Nothing quite like commanding the heights.

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The Great Hall.

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Hmm … feels oddly familiar …

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Royal Chambers.

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King’s and Queen’s Knots, seen from the walls of the castle.

It was good that we were able to get there first thing, because by the time we had enjoyed our tour of the castle, the crowds were starting to get thick. We headed off on our way.

To Doune Castle. Doesn’t sound familiar? Maybe this will help:

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I love that they sell coconut halves there.

Yeah, Doune was used for multiple different ‘castles’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As Wikipedia outlines:

  • At the start of the film, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and Patsy (Terry Gilliam) approach the east wall of Doune Castle and argue with soldiers of the garrison.
  • The song and dance routine “Knights of the Round Table” at “Camelot” was filmed in the Great Hall.
  • The servery and kitchen appear as “Castle Anthrax”, where Sir Galahad the Chaste (Michael Palin) is chased by seductive girls.
  • The wedding disrupted by Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) was filmed in the courtyard and Great Hall.
  • The Duchess’ hall was used for filming the Swamp Castle scene where the prince is being held in a tower by very dumb guards.
  • The Trojan Rabbit scene was filmed in the entryway and into the courtyard.

As well as also having served in other films and television shows, including Game of Thrones and Outlander.

Recognize any of these shots from the castle?

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Sir Galahad almost slept here.

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“You must spank her well, and after you are done with her, you may deal with her as you like… and then… spank me.”

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We’re knights of the Round Table, we dance whene’er we’re able. We do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impec-cable.

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In his own particular idiom.

And some other pics:

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From Doune we headed northwest through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Driving through the beautiful Trossachs was wonderful, and reminded me very much of the area around Snowdon in Wales or parts of the American West in the Northern Rockies.

We had a very substantial lunch at a nice pub along the way, so weren’t very hungry that evening. We popped into a grocery store and got some snacks and cold cuts to make a light dinner. I was amused by the selection of decent scotches (at absurdly low prices) there in the little store:

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Mmmmmmmmm …

Jim Downey

 

 



Three weeks in Wales, Part 5: water and old stone.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

“Water and old stone” pretty much sums up Wales, for me, I think. But I have an admittedly biased perspective.

We started the next morning with a trip to Pennant Melangell, a small pilgrimage church in the Tanat valley in north Wales. Here’s the preamble I use in the first chapter of St Cybi’s Well, which is titled ‘Pennant Melangell’:

Melangell was a female saint of the 7th century. According to tradition she came here from Ireland and lived as a hermit in the valley. One day Brochwel, Prince of Powys, was hunting and pursued a hare which took refuge under Melangell’s cloak. The Prince’s hounds fled, and he was moved by her courage and sanctity. He gave her the valley as a place of sanctuary, and Melangell became Abbess of a small religious community. After her death her memory continued to be honoured, and Pennant Melangell has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Melangell remains the patron saint of hares.
– St Melangell’s Church website

It’s a wonderful little place.

Here’s the entrance to the churchyard, with the classic lych gate:

Interior of the church:

The 15th century rood screen.

 

Chancel, with the (reconstructed) 12th century shrine of St Melangell.

 

Detail under the shrine.

 

Inside the Apse.

 

Back of the tympanum, containing a plaster panel with The Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments, all in Welsh.

In the churchyard:

I love this place. Maybe it shows:

We got some lunch in the charming little town of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (where parts of this favorite movie was shot), then went to visit Pistyll Rhaeadr, one of the “seven natural wonders of Wales.”  The waterfall is mentioned in Communion of Dreams, and one of the major chapters of St Cybi’s Well is titled ‘Pistyll Rhaeadr’. Here it is:

That’s almost 250′ tall.

 

My sister and her family before we climbed to the top.

 

Up on top.

 

Steve, getting some images of the falls, looking down.

I did the same:

Here’s a description of the top of the falls, taken from St Cybi’s Well:

As he came around past the rock outcrop, the sound from the falls increased. There was the distant rumble from the bottom of the first long drop, but closer now were the sounds of water scrambling over rock and root, gathering in the small pools at the top before the plunge. Darnell made his way to the last of these pools, near the edge of the cliff, and stood there, listening.

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and relaxed, opening himself as he had tried to do at St Cybi’s and St Seiriol’s, allowing rather than reaching, feeling rather than thinking.

And he felt something. A whisper in his mind. A whisper as though someone were speaking his name. A whisper of invitation, to step through the wind and over the edge of the cliff, to come to freedom. It was a beckoning, a subtle and supple call to pass through to the other side.

This was the thinness Megan spoke of. He understood it now, at least a little.

Releasing the breath, he slowly opened his eyes, then knelt down to the pool in front of him. The silver-grey sky reflected in the pool had a new shimmer to it, an intensity he had not seen before. He reached out, as he had done before, and placed the palm of his hand against the surface of the water.

There was no slight electric thrill, but neither was there just the crisp coldness of a mountain stream. Rather, there was a vibrancy, almost a … depth … there, more than the few inches of water in the pool would suggest. And while the roar of the falls to his left called loudly, it was the trickle of water coming from his right which whispered to him. He stood, and followed it further up the mountain.

After hiking back down to the base of the falls, we enjoyed a snack in the little tea shop, then headed back to our cottage. The magic of the day continued, as we watched clouds form midway down the mountain:

The next day we decided to visit Caernarfon castle, the massive fortress in the north Wales town of the same name. This one:

Some of my images:

And from displays inside one of the main towers:

Time enjoying the castle was followed up with lunch on the castle square:

That afternoon, we went to St Cybi’s Well, itself:

The main bathing pool.

 

The well source, itself, behind the bathing pool.

 

“Author’s selfie.”

 

Jim Downey

 



Penny for the Guy?*

Hmm. Perhaps it’s time to invest in companies which make those Guy Fawkes masks

Even better, we can set up an investment fund which holds stock in companies which make yarn, knitting needles, Maalox, poster board, magic markers, etc. Just to hedge our bets, it should also look at firms which deal in security consultation, drones, police & military equipment, private prisons, and so forth. Pity there’s no way to own stock in the ACLU.

Oh, and I wish I held the copyright on 1984

Who’s in?

 

Jim Downey

*



Pop-up phantasmagoria*.

This is completely delightful:

 

Lots of news from the world of my life. Most of it good. I’ll share in a few days.

 

Jim Downey

*Reference



The Storytellers.

You should read this: Born to Be Conned. Seriously, it’s a very good examination of the human tendency to construct narratives to explain the world around us, and how that trait can easily be manipulated and used against us. Here’s a good passage, explaining why we’re susceptible to grifters of every sort:

Stories are one of the most powerful forces of persuasion available to us, especially stories that fit in with our view of what the world should be like. Facts can be contested. Stories are far trickier. I can dismiss someone’s logic, but dismissing how I feel is harder.

And the stories the grifter tells aren’t real-world narratives — reality-as-is is dispiriting and boring. They are tales that seem true, but are actually a manipulation of reality. The best confidence artist makes us feel not as if we’re being taken for a ride but as if we are genuinely wonderful human beings who are acting the way wonderful human beings act and getting what we deserve. We like to feel that we are exceptional, and exceptional individuals are not chumps.

The piece also reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, because of this insight:

Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself.

I don’t mean to pick on religion here, just to point out that this is a very human trait. In fact, I have often wondered whether it is a defining human characteristic, something which could easily set us apart from other intelligent species. It’s fairly easy to imagine how intelligent, sophisticated, technologically-advanced civilizations could be constructed by species which don’t have this human gift for storytelling. You can, after all, have curiosity and scientific inquiry, art and poetry, even narrative and historiography, without having something like literary fiction.* I think that it might be interesting to write a science fiction story/series based on the premise that humans become the storytellers of the galaxy, because of our unique ability to create explanation narratives unrelated to reality.

How very meta.

 

Jim Downey
*Of course.