Virtual Vacation: Arriving at Newbold House

VVS WTTAfter celebrating our son Eli’s college graduation in Boston and spending a luscious week with my partner, all three of our kids and both grandkids in Granada, Spain, I said goodbye to my family and set off alone for Scotland to teach my retreat at Newbold House.

I arrived back at Newbold House at midnight last night after a long, luxurious train ride from London. It was wonderful to wake up here again and get reacquainted with the gardens. The care and love of the natural world is apparent everywhere.

(This blog post is largely images, so turn your images on if you want the story to make sense!)

Greenhouse
Greenhouse
Movable Chicken Shed
Movable Chicken Shed

lupins

blue-flowers

rabbit-free-zone

After a week of eating lots of olive oil and bread and drinking wine in Spain, my body felt bloated and a bit polluted so I was happy to eat fresh oatmeal with flaked coconut, figs, ground flax and fresh yogurt. And a lunch of fresh celery soup and chard pie. Real food. Vegetables, Everything right from the garden. My only problem was that I was cold. I’d been determined to take just one small suitcase on my month-long odyssey and since I was going to be in Boston, southern Spain, Scotland and later London, it was a challenging trip to pack for. In Spain, I mostly wore sundresses and sandals, a sunhat and sunscreen. My only shoes are a pair of walking sandals and a very light, thin pair of black boots, nothing remotely like all the giant all-weather boots I see lined up at the back door of Newbold House where all the workers leave their outside shoes. I did, as my last purchase before leaving California, buy a pair of furry slippers to wear in the house and I’m thrilled that I did. But the fact remained, the thin down vest and very thin fleece jacket I brought were just not going to be warm enough. So I decided to devote my afternoon to finding something warmer to wear for the remainder of my time here. Everyone I know who travels light says that’s the secret – buy what you need and leave behind what you don’t. So I decided to make an adventure of it.

The town of Forres is about a 15 minute walk from Newbold House, the location of our Victorian mansion/retreat center. I set out with a town map that included not just streets and businesses, but all kinds of walking trails, like this one, established by the Forres Footpath Trust:

forest-trail-sign

Apparently the Scots are really passionate walkers. There’s even a festival just for hikers:

walking-fesitval

As I walked, I began to think like a travel writer again. This happens every time I come on one of these trips, especially when I intend to share my travels with you. I start to do what I will be teaching my students to do: to notice the unusual quirky details and to note them in a small notebook and to take pictures to illustrate what they’re seeing. It’s the things that are different or unusual that make a good blog post, things like this sign:

squirrels-crossing

Or this one:

coffee-and-wine

The other thing I tell my students is to try to find the story in their day (there may be many – but to pick one) and to tell that story. I decided my story for today would be a very simple one – an expedition into town to get warm. So I focused my attention and this post – on that journey.

My intention was to hit the thrift stores along the main drag of Forres, so that’s what I did. Each one (and there were six that I counted in a two block stretch) was devoted to a different disease. There was the cancer support thrift store. (No luck there). The Alzheimer’s thrift store. I hoped to find something I could wear there in honor of my mother:

alzheimer-scotland

And then there was this one:

chest-heart-strok-scotland

And these two:

charity-shops

But I struck out in all of them. That’s when I spied this store across the lane:

highland-army-surplus

I bought my first pair of jeans when I was in 8th grade at Mac’s Army Navy Store in Asbury Park, New Jersey. They were sewn with red threads and were all the rage, and I got kicked out of school for wearing them. Dress code violation. There was a period in my early teens where I got my best clothes at the army-navy store, so 45 years later, why not try again?

When I first walked in, I wasn’t sure what I’d find:

army-surplus-interior

army-surplus-interior-2

But then I started talking to the proprietor, Robbie MacLennan. This is another thing I always tell my students. Be courageous: talk to the locals. Be curious. Ask questions. You’ll usually find a story. And maybe even make a friend.

robbie-maclennan-army-surplus

Robbie told me he opened the shop three years earlier. Before that, he’d been a roofer. But then, “I smashed a motorbike and knocked me legs,” and couldn’t be a roofer anymore. He said it was hard to compete with the military people who sell their uniforms illegally on Ebay, but he was managing to keep his shop going. As he tried to sell me a Norwegian jumper, “Your wear it next to your skin, mind you,” he told me, I asked if any other women ever bought anything in his shop and he said yes.

For 15 pounds, I walked away with this very warm jacket – and a story to boot!

laura-army-fleece

PS. I happened to have time today to compile this post today, but I’m having a lot of trouble transferring my photos from Iphoto to Constant Contact where I’m sending this post from. It’s taken many more hours than I will typically have, so I’m not sure how often I’ll write here, but I will be posting shorter daily updates on Facebook more frequently, so you may also want to “like me” and follow my trip there.

Right now, everyone is arriving, so I have to go downstairs!

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