Friday, May 9, 2014

Wowzers

Epitaph at Hawkshead
On every trip there are some things that really stand out. Although I got to check three places off of my ‘bucket list’ (St Melangell’s shrine, Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm and Gallery, and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter), there were other places that we went that were surprising, moving, and unforgettable.

Rannoch Station is the end of the line: for the railroad and for the ‘B’ roads. What’s out there are the moors. When I was in grade school we read a story about a young girl who lived on
Sunrise on the moor
the moors in Scotland and that sparked my imagination. That vision of the moors was further fueled by Sherlock Holmes stories and movies. However, I was completely unprepared for the reality of the Scottish moors. First I had no idea that they would be surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Aren’t moors supposed to be low-lying bogs oozing mud and bugs? Well, there were bugs and bogs but there was no mud. We were told to be extremely careful hiking out onto the moors because they can be quite unforgiving, taking the lives of unsuspecting or careless hikers each year. When I stepped down onto the thatched vegetation water oozed up and as I took another step there was a sucking sound threatening to pull my shoe off of my foot. As the evening approached, we
Moor deer
watched from a rock that had been around for a few thousand years the last train cross the trestle and a herd of deer head toward their nightly feeding area. Looking across at Loch Rannoch it was easy to believe that we were the only people on the moor that day. Except for the trains (four a day), the only sounds we heard were birds songs; no traffic, no human voices, no sirens. There are six full-time residents here, with tourists flowing through the area in the spring, summer and fall. Gorse, a beautiful but prickly shrub, is common on the moors, as are all sorts of lichen and heather. I was hoping that the heather would be in bloom, but we were a few weeks early. Two days after we left, it snowed on Rannoch Station. I’d go back in a heartbeat!


Like the moors, the Isle of Skye was ruggedly beautiful. Animals and people who live there have to be hearty. The wind blows, it rains water just short of ice, and the temperature never gets
Highland Cattle
really warm. But the air is clear and waterfalls plunge off of cliffs into the sea or down the side of mountains covered with brilliant yellow blooming gorse. Black faced sheep with thick, plaited wool wander at will eating the lush grasses. Farmers keep a healthy strain of cows with long shaggy red hair, Highland Cattle. Like the sheep, they can withstand cold, rain and wind. This is a very interesting geologic area. There are peaks, plateaus, and valleys that were formed from volcanism and glacial movement leaving stunning craggy areas covered
Waterfall near Kilt Rock
with verdant grass. Also in this area are dinosaur trace fossils; Ornithopods, Megalosaurus Cetiosaurus and Stegosaurus called the Isle of Skye home. What I don’t understand is why anyone in this windy area would wear skirts or kilts of their own accord. This is another part of the world I would return to with no hesitation. 
Highland Sheep


Without a doubt Rosslyn Chapel was the most interesting and beautiful of all of the religious sites we visited. Built in the 1400s, William St. Clair had intended for this to be the start of a huge cathedral.
Rosslyn Chapel
However, the relative who inherited the chapel and land was not particularly interested in completing these plans and literally slapped a wall on the end. During the reformation, the St. Clair family decided to abandon the chapel rather than tear out all of the catholic related art, although angry mobs came in and ripped out alters, statuary, and other catholic relics. Inside, there is seemingly no spot that is not exquisitely carved. The carvings were to function as a visual guide to the Bible. There is the story of the Garden of Eden, the seven deadly sins as well as the seven virtues, the angel of death carrying people into the hereafter, fallen angels, devils, Moses with the 10 Commandments, and so forth. There are also ‘green men’; these male faces have plants growing from them. Somewhere along the line the family St. Clair split, adding Sinclair as a family name and the chapel began to be restored. These restoration efforts were short-lived and Rosslyn Chapel fell back into ruin. This changed in the 1840s when a young woman viewed the ruin and proclaimed it a ‘gem’ that should be restored. Fortunately, this young woman was one who people listened to, Queen
Rosslyn Castle
Victoria; and standing in an alcove is a Madonna that looks surprisingly like her. The restoration work continues to the present. The metal roof that had been in place covering all of the Chapel since 1997 had just been removed so we were able to see the entire exterior. We thoroughly enjoyed the 25 minute lecture our docent gave about the Chapel, and we really liked being greeted by the resident Chapel cat, Michael. Down a trail through a cemetery and around the middle of a hill are the ruins of the Rosslyn Castle. The walls are under restoration but there is a house that is occupied by descendants of St. Clair/Sinclair. There is lavish vegetation with lots of walking trails going all the way down to the town of Roslin.


These three amazing places will stay in my memory and fire my imagination for years to come.

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