Virtual Vacation: Enchanted, Day 5

This writing retreat in Scotland came about when my former student, Robyn Randolph, emailed me from her new home in the Scottish Highlands and said, “Laura, if you ever want to teach a writing retreat here in Scotland, I’ll handle all the logistics on the ground.” That one email turned into a series of emails and Skype calls, and several months later, the Write, Travel, Transform Retreat in Scotland was born.

It’s always incredible to me how an idea can actually come to fruition. This retreat will be starting in just a few days—and I really am in Scotland, a place I never would have come to without Robyn’s enticing invitation.

At 6 PM tonight, Eileene and I arrived by train in Nairn, the town of 8000 where Robyn and her husband, Geoff, live in rural splendor. As soon as we got our baggage into the boot of their car, we headed out to the farm of their friends Peter and Terry Muskus. I was immediately struck, once again, by how different it is to visit people who live in a place than it is to be a tourist. This farm is definitely not a place we would have visited if we hadn’t been with them.

A week ago, Robyn and Geoff had asked what we wanted for dinner. They suggested lamb and we happily said yes since we knew it a specialty of the region. Our lamb, the one we were going to eat tonight, had been raised right here on Terry and Peter’s Laikenbuie Farm. We just stopped by just to pick some fresh greens for our salad.

Laikenbuie Farm was a stunning little paradise and the gorgeous vegetables this region is famous for were apparent everywhere. Here are just a few of the delights we found in their garden:

Here’s what they did with an old pair of boots:

On the way home, Geoff told us a little about the town and its most famous resident: actress Tilda Swenson. Charlie Chaplin, we learned, used to bring his family here for vacation every summer. There’s something magical about the Highlands that draws visitors back again and again.

Even from the back of the car, I could tell that the landscape felt open and generous. The coastline was stunning and when we got to their home, there were views of the ocean and the ever-changing sky from almost every window. I could see why they loved living here. And the story of how this house came into their lives one where serendipity played a winning hand.

Robyn and Geoff are foodies. Robyn is a cookbook writer and they lead cooking classes and retreats through their business, Pure Highland Living. And the kitchen in this house was state of the art and came fully equipped.

As we unpacked our bags and got ready for dinner, we knew we were into a treat.

At the kitchen table, we sipped organic wine as we watched Geoff take the largest, lushest kale leaves I’d ever seen. and fill them with walnuts, organic sharp cheddar, dates, and homemade picked red cabbage. Then he rolled each wrap and sealed it with a toothpick. It was our appetizer and the combination of unlikely flavors was outstanding. This is how Geoff and Robyn like to prepare food—they are intuitive, imaginative cooks.

Geoff cooked the rolled lamb shoulder roast with rosemary from the garden, lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper. The aroma permeated the house and when it came out of the oven, it was beautiful. Later they served it with locally-made spiced Indian carrot chutney; the combination was divine.

In the meantime, Robyn was finishing up the salad: three local lettuces, just picked at the farm, date syrup, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, local chevre, avocado, and fresh herbs: parsley, mint and basil snipped into the salad. It was all topped with a variety of edible flowers, then served with a dressing made of fresh mint from the garden.

Rounding out the meal were baked yams with butter from the local organic creamery. The meal was incredible, every bite marvelous and bursting with flavor.

As we ate, Robyn told us stories about all the local farmers and foodies they’ve networked with. And there we were, tasting the fruits in each bite of a meal I will never forget.

After dinner, we put on some layers and headed out for a walk. I was happy for my windbreaker and glad I borrowed a hat. It was chilly, but comfortable. The coolness seemed to fit the evening perfectly.

This was the first thing we saw as we walked down their drive and it made me laugh:

We followed a trail down to the beach, a short distance away. On the way, we picked tiny, wild raspberries, newly ripe and bursting with flavor.

For the past year, Robyn has been writing me flowery, effusive emails about the cosmic beauty and tranquility of her new home. She’s gushed about how amazing it is and how much she loves it, but I just didn’t get it. She’s sent me plenty of lovely pictures, but photos and words just don’t do this place justice.

It was 8:30 and sunset was still an hour away. We were the only people on this vast stretch of beach. The sky above us was huge and constantly changing. It reminded me of the big sky in Byron Bay, Australia on the beach I had found so delightful just a couple of months ago.

As soon as we reached the sand, I was immediately silenced, gripped by a visceral experience of spaciousness, joy, stillness and awe. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to walk, to smell, to feel the air, to breathe, to be. I could see that Eileene felt exactly the same.

Photo by Robyn Randolph

I was reminded of Ketchikan, Alaska where I lived for two years in my twenties, working for Alaska Public Radio—the incredible beauty and wildness of that place. This stretch of coast felt that way, too—primal, alive, so much vaster and more powerful than my worries, my concerns, my puny little human existence.

In one evening walk on the beach, I got it. This is why Geoff and Robyn left everything behind and moved with two suitcases to northern Scotland. Now I understood what could make someone give up everything they knew to start a whole brand new life. I could feel it in my body. I could feel it in the spaciousness of my mind. I could feel a deep recognition rise up from my core. I could feel my soul awaken. This was a place where magic is born.

Photo by Robyn Randolph

Under my feet, the sand felt unusually springy. When I asked Geoff why, he said that I was walking on the ocean floor. The tide varies four meters in height from high tide to low tide every day, and with the slope of the beach, that means the shoreline varies by 200 yards twice in a single day.

We were walking on the ocean floor. How cool was that? And here was a bit of evidence, a green crab Robyn found in the sand:

I felt like I could walk on that beach forever. But it was time to turn around and head back for home.

As Robyn and Geoff walked ahead of us, I turned to Eileene and said, “Can’t you imagine being in a little cabin right here at the beach, looking at this, and writing?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I’d get my frickin’ book written.” We both cracked up.

Photo by Robyn Randolph

Photo by Robyn Randolph

Back in Geoff and Robyn’s kitchen, it was time for dessert: fresh strawberries, raspberries and brambles—what the Scottish call long blackberries—with freshly whipped local dairy cream. And yes, to top it off, Geoff poured us a couple of glasses of whisky.

If that weren’t enough, Robyn pulled out several varieties of chocolate for us to sample. And I learned what a good combination whiskey makes with chocolate.

It was an incredible evening, a terrific introduction to the wonders the Highlands has to offer.


  1. jane seeley says

    Sitting in the setting sunlight on my deck in Mt. Shasta California after a late afternoon visit to the downtown Farmer’s Market, I am reading your blog. While I bought a few tomatoes today (can’t get enough yet from my garden to satiate my desire), I am steaming my home grown chard and squash after finishing off a salad with greens, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden. As I prepared my vegetables, I knew so many others were feeling the joy of eating good home grown organic food purchased today and I felt so blessed to have such a repast at my own hand. I can feel your joy from such magnificent food, home grown and prepared with love. Thank you for inviting me along.

  2. Tony del Zompo says

    laura… this post inspires me. seriously. oh, and speaking of inspiration, i’m going to PA tomorrow to visit jess for a couple of days before she takes off for college. i’ll miss a few days of posts, but i’m pretty thrilled to follow you. and, of course, eileene on Facebook.

    • says

      have a good trip, Tony. wow, she’s going to college. glad it’s one milestone you’ll get to share with her. that’s special! I’m sure for you it’s doubly bittersweet–she’s leaving home and you missed so much of her growing up. but you do have your lives ahead of you.

  3. Marie says

    Laura and Eileen,

    I so love these posts about your journey…the military Tattoo, the theatre, Robyn and Geoff’s home…especially the beach – wide open spaces. The wide open spaces and big sky are what draw me to Northern Nevada. Lake Tahoe, Truckee, The Truckee River views as it wanders through Reno, four season, sweet smelling sage, and the year roound outdoor activities. Truth be told, I’d rather be in Monterey…but I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful place and enjoy it daily.

    Ten minutes to depart your old stomping grounds of Edinburgh, and off to Inverness to meet up with Julie. See you both tomorrow!

    • says

      Marie, you’re going to love Newbold House. It feels a lot like Commonweal–a retreat space with lots of magical, powerful, deep earth energy. But different, too, of course. As soon as I arrived here, I knew it was the perfect place for a retreat like ours.

  4. Maia Jackson says

    Delightful! I’m going to try to recreate that appetizer – sounds divine as are the exquisite images. My mother’s side of my family is from there and it resonates in my bones. Despite my maternal lineage history of lying as to my existence in their photo albums denying my existence into their graves because I’m of mixed African-Native American blood intertwined with their Old $ Scots & Brits. Yet, the Shaman in me says that one day I’ll bring my mixed girls there and the spirits of the land will rise to greet us with open arms, welcoming us home. Thank you for sharing your journey. Peace & Cool Runnings (Safe Journies).

  5. Cathy Krizik says

    Wow. Sounds like mind, body and spirit were fed. Gotta love those wide open skies. Scotland is now on my “to do” list. Enjoy!

  6. Susie Fleming-Cook says

    I hail from SW Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today’s post caused so much emotion, I had to wipe away happy tears. I am inspired to write and to try new things. Thanks Laura!

    • says

      Hi Susie, welcome to the Virtual Vacation. I’m so glad you’re feeling inspired. It’s responses like yours that make the commitment to write every day while on vacation worthwhile!

  7. Hazel says

    I think the thing that is missing from pictures of the ocean is the smell. It is that primal smell; the blending of all smells; the smells from which we came that is missing. I believe we recognize it as such whether we verbalize it or not.

    Thank you so much for sharing your posts and the beautiful pictures. Definitely wish I was there! How much fun would that be for Melody and I to do together? Afraid I am too old now, but I can dream. Thank you.

  8. Cherie Pittillo says

    Laura, do you have any Scottish ancestors? If so, do you think you experienced a genetic remembrance?

    • says

      Cherie, the interesting thing is I don’t have any Scottish ancestors. I can only imagine how much more powerful the experience of being here would be for someone who did.

      But I am receptive to feeling energy–and primal energy is the same no matter where in the world you are.

  9. Lucy says

    You have me hooked! The first thing I do when I sit down to have my morning coffee is to a virtual vacation moment with you. I am enjoying every post you have written and I truly feel I am traveling with you. Thank you for this experience.

    • says

      Lucy, you’re very welcome. So glad you’re enjoying the ride. It’s posts like yours that keep me writing–it gets harder once the retreat starts tomorrow because I’m also teaching and tending my flock of students!

  10. Barbara Ambler says

    Thank you so much for sharing you journey to Scotland. I resonate deeply with that area. I am inspired to take up the pen again and contemplate the beauties of our own central California Coast. and redwood forests……Barbara

  11. Bobbie Anne says

    Laura, I agree, Scotland is magical! The farm, fresh garden greens and flowers, delicious dinners that look mouthwatering, and you even got to walk on the ‘ocean floor’. That is indeed enchanted!

    My husband’s grandfather was from Scotland. I don’t think old black and white pictures do it justice. Your photographs and Robyn’s are beautiful and in color. Thank you for letting us see Scotland with you.

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