And now, my eleventh trip to Scotland and thereabouts, on the tenth anniversary of my first in 1998. It's a solo flight all the way this
year--no Win, Ron, or Bobby. I suppose it's as well, as this will be the shortest trip in some years, just thirty days, thanks to turbulent
exchange rates and skyrocketing fuel prices. But I will miss the company.
Being on my own allowed me to shape my itinerary into a coherent loop, with no need to meet anyone at the airport partway through. I'll fly into and out of Edinburgh, and start with ten days in much-missed northern England. Hadrian's Wall country is first, followed by visits to Whitby and York, and a reconnection with old friends in Reeth, in the Yorkshire Dales. The stops in Scotland are mostly familiar ones--Isle of Whithorn, Inveraray, Plockton, Fortrose, Craigellachie, and finally Edinburgh--but I'll try to mix in some new things along with old favorites. As always, stone circles and distilleries will figure in!
I decided on my first day to visit the four major abbeys in Scotland's Borders region on my way to Hexham. In the course of planning, I realized that there would be several notable abbeys along the route in Yorkshire, and suddenly abbeys became the major focal point of the trip. Searching the websites of Historic Scotland and English Heritage, I found more than twenty within my grasp. How many will I get to? Read on....
Tuesday, 30 September 2008 It's been a busy week. Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas played the Iron Horse in Northampton
Sunday evening, and I'd planned on that for weeks to put me in the mood for Scotland. They were marvelous. Earlier in the week, Win
called and asked if I wanted to go see Rachel Unthank and the Winterset on Thursday. I'd
never heard of them, but they're from Northumbria, where I'm starting the trip, so I couldn't say no. They were absolute magic, a four-woman
band with piano and fiddle, and vocals by sisters Rachel and Becky. The sisters' voices are wonderfully complementary, as you might expect,
but with a fascinating contrast. Rachel sings in a clear tone, with an earthy Northumbrian accent, while Becky's tone is misty and ethereal.
The repertoire is rooted in Northumbrian folk music, but is adventurous enough to include a Robert Wyatt cover. I was utterly enthralled,
a rare thing for me with an unfamiliar artist.
After, I got to chat with them, and Rachel told me that she lives outside of Corbridge, where I'd stayed a few years back. We compared pub notes, and she told me the best pub in Hexham, my first stop, is the Tap & Spile. CAMRA's Good Beer Guide concurs. I'm looking forward to it.
Win is driving me to the airport this afternoon, and he arrives right on time. I've had days to pack, but still I don't feel ready--I never do. My eleventh trip to Scotland, and I still have major nerves. It doesn't help that I've been unable to find the infrared filter for my camera. And as always, I can't think of what else I may have overlooked. I'm sure there's something.
In the terminal at Bradley International Airport, between Springfield and Hartford, I have a pint. I've learned not to drink on the plane, especially on the overnight flight to Europe--the first day there is tough enough--but this one beer helps to settle my jitters. Once on the plane, I feel calm for the first time in a week. Whatever I've forgotten, I'll replace in the UK, or get along without. We take off in late afternoon gloom, and I watch Bradley disappear as we ascend into the clouds.