Nessie, highlands, and big hairy coos!

The drive from Inverness to Dornie through the Scottish highlands is incredibly varied and beautiful. It’s difficult to come back here to my B&B room and force myself to work. My head is too full of the drama and the wildness and the size and scope of this place. Photos below, mostly for my mum’s benefit because she is reading this and I love her very much.

This is me at Loch Ness. Couldn't see a monster, though I looked very carefully.

View of the Highlands: literally took my breath away.

Big hairy highland cow!

Scottish castle: the one from Highlander

Splitting Skulls

Knock, knock. Hello? Is God in?

So I came to Orkney in part to do Viking-y things, and today I was a true Viking by anyone’s estimation. After visiting the neolithic tomb of Maes Howe to look at the Viking graffiti therein, I headed into the town of Kirkwall (home of the magnificent 12th century crumbly cathedral St Magnus’s) for a spot of lunch and some Orkney ale.

“Give me a steak pie and a bottle of Skull Splitter,” I said.

The bar-keep did a double-take. I swear everyone in the bar hushed.

“Are ye sure, lassie? Skull Splitter is no’ really a lunchtime ale,” he said. “It’s very strong; eight-and-a-half percent.”

“I’m from Australia,” I said. “I can handle it.”

By Odin’s beard it was strong. But I drank it. And here is photographic evidence.

Kim of the Island

I am in the Orkneys, a little group of islands off the top of Scotland. There are only a few places in the world that I’ve long dreamed of going (Milford Sound was another: saw it last February. Iceland is still on the list) and the Orkneys is one of them.

Me at the Ring of Broadgar

To get here, though, necessitated me getting on a really really tiny plane with propellers. Propellers! In fact, it was so old there were still ashtrays in the arm rests. There was a string quintet on the plane too, with their cellos strapped into the seats next to them. I thought that at least, if we went down, they could play us some music, Titanic-style.

Flying off the edge of mainland Scotland and catching the first glimpse of the islands made me cry with excitement. Some of the islands are completely bare except for a lighthouse. I was expecting grey water, but it was clear and turquoise. Orkney is very sparsely populated, there are few trees, but the roads are good and it has incredible views. I’m staying at a cottage with a heavenly view across Scapa Flow to Hoy.

Today I’ve been to the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Broadgar, and Skara Brae. That’s right, it was neolithic sight-seeing day. Viking sight-seeing day is coming up on Friday, but it’s hard to escape the Viking influence here. Just reading the names of places should give you some indication of that.

Best things about today: talking to my kids on Skype, writing the prologue to my novella, blogging with my feet up and Sigur Ros on the stereo and drinking a fine Australian shiraz by the fireplace. Worst things about today: NOTHING.
And here, for your edification, is the (very short) prologue to the novella “The Year of Ancient Ghosts”, as written on a tiny propeller plane over the Scottish highlands.

 

Shards of bright pain and bright light speared into the cloying vacuum of unconsciousness. He struggled upwards; he had something important to remember.

“Try to be still. You’ve had an accident.”

His tongue swelled against his teeth.

“Don’t talk and don’t move. We’re taking you into surgery.”

The darkness yanked him towards it. Surrender. Beyond this threshold was an end to the pain. But there was something else. Something waiting, as it had waited for nearly thirty years, tangled in seaweed and teeth and veins.

His voice broke from his throat, a blood-soaked gargle. “Jenny! Mary!”

The light blinked out.

Scotland: as Scottish as a Scottish thing

You’re going to have to forgive me. I’m a long way from home and pretty jetlagged. In Edinburgh, which is gorgeous. Walked up the Royal Mile today and went to the castle. Here are a few pictures. I’m sorry, I’m too tired to know what they are of (except the one of me enjoying a cream tea at Edinburgh Castle).
Travelling is such a strange activity. We go so far from our comfort zones, and the results can be viewed both positively and negatively. I mean, you spend a shitload of cash, you’re tired all the time, and sometimes you pay 14 quid to get into a castle and find it a little… well… boring, so you spend another 5 quid on a cream tea that’s a little… well… average. But there’s something incredible about the long flight, passing over strange places that are lit up at night because people really live in them. Parts of Poland sound like fantasy cities: Wroclaw for example. And then you land in Scotland and everybody has this glorious accent you cannae understand. Oh good lord I’m rambling. It’s 5pm here, but 3am back home and my head is somewhere in between the two and my legs are wobbly and when I close my eyes I can still feel the plane pitching and yawing underneath me. One more plane now–to the Orkneys tomorrow to get my Viking on–then I can settle here for the six weeks and get some work done. And write more orderly and meaningful posts. Love you, Mum.

Travelling with books

Changi airport. Super tired. Weirdest and coolest place in the world. All those lights as you fly over, all those cargo ships in the water lit up like a lit-up thing (really tired… can’t make the words come).

I am reading Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens. Oh. My. God. I kept thinking words like: sumptuous, delicious, rich, detailed, powerful. This is an author at the height of her powers. The Rapunzel story retold, two different time period, lashings of mood, passion, atmosphere, and characters who you want to be your BFFs. Can’t wait to finish it on the next leg. YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK. That is all.