June 2012

Wedged between the Dornoch and Cromarty firths, the Fearn Peninsula juts into oil-rich seas in Scotland’s remote northwest highlands. I speed along unnamed roads running through fertile lowlands and hilly coastal towns. Clouds and sun vie in the sky, casting off rain and rays as the battle rages on. There’s a sudden, familiar sign for an ancient monument, and I let serendipity take the wheel northwest of Balintore. The farm road peters out at Fearn Abbey, the most northerly of all medieval abbeys on Great Britain. Various eras of mankind are written in the stonework. Crumbled arches, fallen grave slabs, and pitted tombs litter the grounds.

The air is rife with ghosts.
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Bell's Brae Leading Into Dean Village

With all of its twists, turns, alleys, and closes, Edinburgh hides a lot of secrets. It feels like I’m always talking about Edinburgh’s mysterious nature – that you never quite know what you’ll find when you walk out the door – but it’s what makes Edinburgh my favorite city in the world and draws me back again and again.

I’ve gone underground and over hills finding some of Edinburgh’s most spectacular and unique spots. When Ian Rankin told me about Dean Village, an old grain milling hamlet still intact within Edinburgh’s city center, and the Water of Leith walk, my activities for the following day booked up immediately. Turns out, in addition to spinning a good yarn, Mr. Rankin is an excellent ambassador for Edinburgh. Read more...

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Up from the town of Pitlochry. Up and over the golf course sliding off the hillside. Up through the forest of towering Scots pines and fallen limbs blanketed with resiny perfume. Up onto the stony heathland where butterflies flicker in the air like leaves alive. Up the weathered rock stairs swallowed by the summit to an empty stone bench with a view. At 1,300 feet, Craigower Hill soars above the more famous Queen’s View hiding somewhere in the foliage below. I pull the earbuds from my head, peel off my buttoned shirt, and let the high winds cool me. Loch Tummel lies at the foot of Schiehallion, the fairy hill of the Caledonians. Farragon Hill and Loch Rannoch are out there, too. Somehow, magically, through the thick curtains of ultraviolet light stand the three sisters of Glen Coe. Read more...

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One of Rosslyn Chapel's Green Men

It’s a cloudy late-April Saturday and I’m standing before the wrought facade of Rosslyn Chapel just south of Edinburgh. This is my second visit, but I still have difficulty believing it exists. I’ve yet to find a more wondrous and unsettling place.

Perhaps you read my recent Picture This about the green man of Rosslyn Chapel. It’s a good intro to the bizarre stone carvings inside the chapel and a taste of the history behind it. The chapel was built between 1446 and 1486 by Sir William St. Clair, the last St. Clair prince of Orkney. The St. Clairs were a powerful Scottish family of Viking extraction, and they even fought to retain Scottish independence alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. What possessed Sir William to build Rosslyn Chapel? Read more...

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Black ghosts stretch across the bright green meadow south of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Friends, foes, colleagues, and classmates congregate beneath the cherry trees’ pink horizon while steeples prick the lonely clouds overhead. People laugh and kick soccer balls, and there’s the common crack-hiss of opened beverages singing out over the dull background traffic. This green hollow in the middle of Auld Reekie draws me like a midge to the heather. Marchmont sits quietly to the south while the Royal Mile buzzes like a hive not ten minutes walk north. Father and son skirt the edge of the park, talking quietly in the shadows of history. Just another Saturday evening in Edinburgh.

To think this perfumed glade was once a bog is to understand a shred of our ingenuity.
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