ScotTrek: Thirsk

One of the earliest tv shows I remember watching (that wasn’t Bob Ross or Reading Rainbow) was All Creatures Great and Small. I grew up reading James Herriot’s books, and I felt in some ways that the Yorkshire Dales were as familiar to me as home.

Thirsk, the village where Alf Wight (James Herriot) lived and practiced most of his adult life, is just a 20-minute train ride from York, so off I went on my second morning.

The train station is rather inexplicably a mile from the town, but it was a lovely walk in to 23 Kirkgate, “Skeldale House.”


The first picture is the view from the front doorstep: down the road to the left is the church where he married “Helen” (really Joan.)

The house has been turned into a museum and the first floor has been recreated as it was in the 1940s (the upper floor is more general information on veterinary practice, and another part of the house contains sets from the tv show. I stood in the tv show dining room!!)


Although technically a dining room, the main front room was primarily used as a patient waiting room.

I loved the rows and rows of medicines.


The breakfast room, although small, was where much of the daily life took place – it’s a cozy place.


And the kitchen … oh! What a cheery room. Clearly an awful lot of living happened there, too.


This was lying open on the table.

I walked down to the church next – St. Mary’s, built in the late 1400s. It was partially restored in the 1800s, but the doors are original, and an elderly gentleman caretaker (the most wonderfully stereotypical Yorkshire man I could have hoped to meet) proudly showed me how although the doors weigh at least a ton each, they are so well balanced and he can push them shut with just a finger.

Before I left Thirsk, I stopped at the grocery store and bought lunch: cheese, crackers, and four chocolate eclairs, all of which I ate with great relish on the train back to York.


But not before talking to these friendly sheep, who I encountered on the walk back to the train station.

Is there anything more Yorkshirian than sheep? I think not.

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?


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.)

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.

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.

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.
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.
And then from the very tippiest top, this view:
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.
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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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: #9


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.


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


Tri-cord curtain tiebacks.


“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

IMG_8869e IMG_8874e IMG_8877e IMG_8886e

Object Lessons: #8


Somewhere around fifteen years ago, I followed the example of my kindred-spirited Great Aunt Miriam and started copying favorite passages from books, quotes, poetry, and other oddments into notebooks. I’m on book #12 now, and flipping through past books is pretty much like taking a stroll through my mental development and rather makes me want to pat my past self on the head and tell her how far she’ll come – but that would be condescending. (Don’t be that person.)