Monday, September 22, 2014

Sisterhood Adventure

I am 55 and went across the ocean for the first time. What most surprises me about that line has nothing to do with the ocean;I can’t believe I’m 55! But then everyone feels the same if they dare put their age down on paper.

My sister Merle has been researching our ancestral roots and knew that our Dad’s line came from the Orkney’s on an island named Westray, two ferry rides off the northern tip of Scotland. How exotic is that? About a year ago we decided, all six of us sisters, to visit that faraway island and track down more of our ancestors in England, east of London.  

I spent most of the summer immersed in the planning of the trip. We knew we wanted to be gone for three weeks, but where to start planning a visit to the whole of the UK! We finally decided to book our dream cottage on the coast of Westray for three nights, and then build the rest of the trip around that. I put a large whiteboard up in the office with each day blocked out. We had many sister meetings pouring over travel books, working two computers simultaneously, slowly building our itinerary. More than once I said in exasperation, “Why didn’t we just book a tour bus!?”

In the end we created a mix of day tours, castles, pubs, cemeteries, cathedrals, stone walls, tourist traps, live music, shopping, and prehistory sites, and agreed we wouldn’t have changed a thing. From a hostel in Kirkwall, to an historic B and B in Berwick upon Tweed, to a sub-par house in Canterbury, the lodging was an adventure. And the train! We rocked the train. We even got good enough on the rails to dare hop off at Dunrobin Castle at a moment’s notice, knowing we would have to flag the train down on its next journey. All fun.

Mark asked me what I liked most about the trip. The Orkney islands stand out with their emerald pastures, fat sheep and cows, rock dykes (walls), and brooding coastlines.  The Scottish Highlands were captivating and the ferry rides great fun. Polling Scots on their view of the referendum was enlightening, as was noting the change in dialect as we traveled north. And the history was magnificent. The standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar predate Stonehenge!  

But it’s the people who helped us along our journey that I’ll remember the most. Jasmine, who I found through Facebook, meeting us with a hug at the train station in Faversham. Glynn, who researched our roots and took us to the very street where our great grandmother lived as a baby. Steve Williamson, the distinguished churchwarden at Ashwicken, who showed us the silver goblet that our great, great grandparents would have taken communion in. Fergus and Anna and Paulo who let us drop in on their beautiful cattle ranch in the Highlands. Hugh and Wilma, outfitting us with blankets for the military tattoo adventure and escorting us to the petrol station on our way out of Inverness. Geordie, who showed us his farming operation on Westray. Brynn on mainland Orkney who spoiled us with breakfast the likes our hostel had never seen before! I could go on and on. So to them I say thanks and be well.   

And also thanks to my sisters . . . my heroines, my role models, my best friends, for holding hands and hearts on this - our adventure of a lifetime.

only one bag each, you could hear us roll by!

the queen's entrance to her garden at Sandringham in Norfolk

Merle and Steve at Ashwicken, Norfolk

where our great grandma Emma was a baby, Middleton, Norfolk

lots of churches to explore

casualty of Henry VIII, York, England

beautiful, historic Berwick upon Tweed, just below the Scotland border

Fergus showed off his horses in the Highlands of Scotland

as castles go, Dunrobin is splendid

waiting to hail the train

Ring of Brodgar on Orkney mainland, that's heather in the foreground!

that's our tool van in front of our deluxe accommodation

finding old Reid headstones at Lady Kirk in Pierowall village

they know a cowgirl when they see one, Orkney isles

Geordie's nice indoor housing facility for his cows on Westray

Lighthouse on Westray

big yearlings heading off the island on the ferry

counting pence coins in Edinburgh, someone's got to do it