Scotland, day two: Melrose

In my initial planning, I stumbled across a photo of a beautiful church, half in ruins, with a roof of sky and a floor of lush green grass. It was Melrose Abbey, and it caught my fancy like whoa.

So early on my second day, I woke up and dressed as quietly as possible in my pod at the CODE hostel, conscious of every noise and worried about waking my 5 roommates … only to find, when I finally emerged, that they had all managed to depart at some earlier point without waking ME!

I caught the 8:23 train from Waverley Station to Tweedbank – captivated my first real look at the Scottish countryside, impossibly green fields dotted with black-faced sheep, pine forests, and glimpses of distant castles.
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At Tweedbank I managed to get the right bus on to Melrose on the first try, despite having no real idea what I was doing, and soon I was deposited in Melrose, a small town that looks like nothing more than the set of a quaint BBC show.

I bought breakfast at the co-op grocery store – a coffee and chocolate pudding, because what are adventures for if not indulgence? – and sat outside on a bench to eat it. Soon the man from the shop joined me with a cup of tea – he asked about my travels and told me about his, and at that moment I realized two things:

1. I was REALLY TRULY IN SCOTLAND, and
2. I thought I’d have no trouble understanding the accents – I watch British television! – and I was totally, completely wrong.

Despite understanding only about half of what he said, this anonymous man made me feel so welcome, and after he left I wrote in my travel journal, “Melrose has won my heart completely.”

It was also at this point that I realized the enormity of what I was doing. Most of my traveling before had been to go to a specific place, weighed down with suitcases and obligations. To be one person, alone in the world, half-way around the globe from anything familiar, carrying all the possessions I needed on my back, free to do whatever I wanted … I felt heady with freedom.

After a quick stop at the cashpoint (that’s British for ATM) for the colorful currency it was hard not to think of as play money, I walked over to the Abbey at last.
Here’s a condensed history: the oldest parts were built in 1146 by Cistercian monks at the request of King David I. It was badly damaged by the English in 1322 and 1384, and further defaced during the Reformation (heckin’ English, heckin’ Protestants, ruining perfectly good architecture. I spent a lot of time being angry at the Protestants in particular during this trip.)
The last Melrose Abbey monk died in 1590, and in 1610 part of the church was converted into a parish church for the town. It was used until 1810, when a new church was built. All that’s left of the monk’s sleeping and working quarters are the foundations, but most of the walls of the church are still standing, and a few areas still have the stone vaulting in place.
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The surrounding graveyard was still being used well into the 1900s (and may be used yet, I’m not sure.)
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Those are the facts. What is also a fact is that I cried. To see this magnificent place – beautiful even in pieces – to imagine it bustling and full of work and prayer, to know that it was built over 850 years ago by real people who had hopes and fears and dreams, and that parts of it were *still here* …
It was overwhelming.
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There were wild strawberries growing on top of some of the graves. Reader, I ate them.
I went through a small gate in the Abbey wall, crossed a small road, and found myself in a field crossed with lines of medieval culverts – and beyond that, an unmanned museum housed in a building from the 1600s, full of things found during excavations at the Abbey. The sign on the door said “please close the door behind you, and don’t bring your dogs inside” and I laughed –

As I said to myself a lot during this trip, “this would never happen in America.” If we even had a site like this, you’d never been allowed to wander it freely, touch everything, sit where ever. You’d never be trusted to be in a museum all alone, especially when not all the objects were under glass.

One tower was intact enough to climb to the narrow stairs, and I asked one of the docents if I could leave my backpack at the foot of the steps. I didn’t think I could make it up with it, but I didn’t want them to see an unattended backpack and call the bomb squad – she laughed and not only said that I could, but insisted on standing guard over it until I came back down.
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It is possible but not conclusively proven that Rober the Bruce’s heart is buried under this stone.
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I spent at least three hours wandering around and at last sat at a table in the corner under a spreading tree to eat my lunch and do some journaling. Mid-afternoon I caught a bus to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, then a train to continue my journey south.

And that’s day two, folks. Next up, at some point: a lot of gushing about York Minster. ❤

ScotTrek, day one: I conquer Edinburgh.

So here’s what it was like to be in Scotland for the first time, moderately sleep-deprived, coming down off some pretty intensely stressful weeks leading up to it, and not entirely confident that I had thought of everything that needed thinking of before setting out.

I landed in Edinburgh under heavy, grey cloud-cover. “It’s right nice to be back where it’s proper depressing; I love it,” said a young Scottish man to his girlfriend, seated just behind me.

I found the bus I needed into the city centre and sat there feeling, honestly, a little underwhelmed. I’d been so busy and stressed leading up to the trip that I’d forgotten to actually get excited, and so far the scene from the bus window didn’t look that different from London or New York or Chicago and what if I had spent all this money and time to come spend 15 days traipsing about a country and feeling nothing but “meh” because my brain had forgotten how to enjoy it?

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Then the bus passed by a row of charming stone houses, with beautiful gardens and old trees. Even inside the bus, it smelled like damp earth and fresh green lawns, and I thought … “oh my God, I’m in SCOTLAND.”

After the bus left me on Waverley Bridge, I stored my backpack in the train station lockers and set off to see all the things. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I found my way to the Royal Mile almost immediately – it was the last day of Fringe, and though it was still early in the morning, there were already shenanigans happening. (Basically, Festival folk are like renfaire folk, only without the renfaire.)

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I went to St. Giles straight away, where I saw a man dressed as a viking, and then around the corner to the National Library, and then to Cannongate Kirkyard, where I sat and ate snacks and caught up on the internet, because there is so much free wifi in Scotland.
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Pretty sure I also found Greyfriar’s Kirk (there’s a theme to this whole trip: I am most likely to be found in old churches or old graveyards) and the People’s Story museum.

Then I thought, hm, yes, the weather is fine, I shall go climb Arthur’s Seat. It will be a lovely, gentle afternoon stroll. After all, it didn’t look that tall on the internet.

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The internet LIES. What looks like a lovely path here soon became a steep stone staircase set into the mountainside. (Only later did I realize that I chose the more direct but significantly more challenging path to the top.) But I saw heather and every time I had to stop to catch my breath I had beautiful views to look at.
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And then the top … was glorious. There’s a flat area just shy of the tallest point that’s all soft spongy moss-like grass scattered with bits of lava rock (yes, I brought some home), swirling with gulls swept up in the mighty winds.
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And then from the very tippiest top, this view:
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I went back down the longer, easier way and found the sign I should have read at the beginning (but I’m sure it’s fine), and also the ruins of a 600-year-old chapel.
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Which … lemme tell you, that felt surreal, that chapel. I sat in one of the remaining windows and ate a snack (again) and wrote in my journal and there was no one at all around. Just me and a pile of 600-year-old rocks.

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After that, I realized that what I wanted more than anything was a cup of tea, so I stopped at a random tea room near Holyrood Palace – a tiny little thing, with shared tables. I ended up being joined by a woman from Oregon who had just come back from the Highlands. We compared notes and shared stories and let me tell you, oatcakes and tea never tasted so good.

At some point I dropped my bag off at the hostel (CODE hostel, if anyone wants a recommendation – they have sleeping pods and it’s kind of the best). It was in New Town, so I followed streets full of beautiful Georgian architecture and very Scottish signs down to the garden where the Book Festival was being held.

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And THEN I proceeded to forget I owned a camera, and when I met Elizabeth Wein, we completely forgot to selfie and I have no pictures of any of it.

But it was a wonderful night, YA panel drama notwithstanding. I sat next to a family from Glasgow who were headed to NYC the following week, so we totally traded travel tips and they were generally the loveliest. And I stayed awake despite being something like 40 hours without sleep.

Last line in my journal for that day, written from my sleeping pod: “man, sleeping is awesome.”

Coming soon: south to the charming village of Melrose.

A Library of One’s Own

This is the story of a library that was a long time in coming.

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I’ve never had room to do anything but keep books double-and triple-stacked. I dreamed of the day when I could keep all my books in one room, organized by category rather than by size.

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And then there was a house, a house named Innisfree. And in Innisfree was a room that could, with a lot of work, become a library.

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It took six months, but in the end there were burnt orange walls, built-in bookshelves, a window seat, and – my favorite – a gold ceiling.

 

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But then life got crazy and it took another 3-4 months to have the time to organize properly (modified Dewey Decimal system, for the curious), hang art, and really make it feel like home.

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Now it’s turned into my favorite place to be.

 

 

Was the wait worth it? You bet your sweet first-edition Jane Austen it was.

Recipe for a fine Autumn morning

IMG_3701eWake up when it’s already light.

Grind coffee beans. Make coffee. Drink coffee.

Wear something woolen, because it’s cozy.

Take a walk in fog that makes the world look strange and wonderful and coats every hair and eyelash in microscopic dew.

Take photos of the dewdrops that have coated every spiderweb and turned them into intricate tangles of diamonds. It won’t even matter when your skills can’t capture your vision: you’ve learned what doesn’t work. That’s enough for today.

Pet the cat, even though she left you a hairball in the night.

Cook a potato. Eat the potato … with gravy.

Live in denial that winter is coming.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
(Mary Oliver)

Object Lessons: #10

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It was a Saturday morning at a garage sale. Or a midweek run to a thrift store. Or a birthday box from a friend who knows my penchant for such things –

 
The truth is, I don’t remember where I got this little round, brass box full of metal pen nibs, nestled in a bit of ancient yellow cotton. But I like them a lot, and someday I might even use them.

Object Lessons: #9

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I bought this claddagh ring at my very first renfaire: Norman Medieval Faire, with Stacy, something like six or seven years ago. It cost $25, which felt like a fortune for a girl who didn’t spend much on herself, and I’ve only taken it off twice since: once when a jeweler repaired a small crack that developed after I caught it on a door, and once for this photo.

(That faire was also the first time I saw The Rogues, first time I wore garb, and the start of a never-ending love affair with renfaires and the people that make them so wonderful.)

Details: library edition

I have a working home library now, and while there are many more things I want to do before calling it complete (oh, the agony of deciding how to organize my books – #librarianproblems), it makes me happier than I can describe.

Of course, my cat keeps watch over all.

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Yes, there’s a story behind #catscatscats. This pillow is also known as the most meta Elizabeth Wein fan art ever.

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Tri-cord curtain tiebacks.

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“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

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