Sailing Takes Me Away

Hello again, my friends.  Are you all having a nice weekend?  I sure am.  Just when My Plaid Heart thought it couldn’t physically handle another weekend of Virginia temperatures in the mid-upper 90’s, Mother Nature has finally thrown us a bone.  It is GLORIOUS outside with early fall-like temps, lower humidity, and a nice, cool breeze.  It’s short-lived, though.  Pity that the dreadful temperatures are set to return next week.  Pity indeed.

In keeping with the aforementioned cool breeze, I’d like to invite you to come along with me today as we set sail on the brackish waters of the estuary that meets the North Sea – the Firth of Forth.

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It was a few months prior to one of our trips to Scotland that I decided to do something bold and adventurous.  I reached out to a sailing company that I found online – Edinburgh Boat Charters – to inquire about chartering a sailing tour of the Firth of Forth.  Sailing was an experience I had never personally had and I knew that Mr. C would absolutely love something like that.  I honestly don’t even remember what put the notion in my head, but I am so very glad it did…whatever it was.

fullsizeoutput_19bColin Henderson, the owner of Edinburgh Boat Charters, was pleasant from our very first communication and helped me plan our adventure. His company offers a number of “pre-scheduled” trips to choose from each month or you can book a “private” sailing tour which they will customize to your desires.  We chose to do a “private” (because Mr. C and I are just introverted like that) half-day tour of the Bridges and Islands.

The morning of our sail the weather was rather foggy, but it would lift as the morning went on. We eagerly arrived at the point of embarkation – Port Edgar Marina in South Queensferry (less than a half hour from Edinburgh).

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We got a little lost at the docks, but once we located the yacht, Colin greeted us and we climbed aboard for coffee, tea, and pastries.  Our handsome Scottish skipper oriented us to the boat and schooled us in the requisite safety information (which was especially appreciated by me because of my fear that my perpetual unsteadiness might at some point hurl me overboard – and it wasn’t for lack of trying, I assure you!).

Informed and securely fastened in our flotation devices, it was finally time for anchors away.  Slowly at first, we motored away from the docks, orienting ourselves toward the open waters, and assessing the wind which would eventually take us out to sea.  I remember my heart was aflutter and I’ll bet Mr. C’s was too!

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Then in a whirl, it was ropes, cranks, and the snap of the canvas as it married itself to the breeze.  We were off.

After we were settled in and on course, Colin generously gave the wheel over to Mr. C – who happens to know a thing or two about the mechanics of steering a boat – and he ended up sailing for a huge chunk of our half-day tour. Mr. C and I have been together for a quarter of a century and I don’t think I have ever seen him as happy as he was that day.

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Here are some of the interesting things we saw on our tour of the Forth:

The Bridges

The real stars of our sailing tour were the three massive bridges that connect Edinburgh with Fife.  They are a source of enormous pride for the people of Scotland and it’s easy to see why.

Forth Bridge:  The iconic Forth Bridge, which opened in 1890, is the freight and passenger railway bridge that links Edinburgh to Fife.  It spans just over a mile, stretching over the Firth of Forth.

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Forth Road Bridge:  Opened to the public in 1964, this massive bridge contains 39,000 tons of steel and spans 1.5 miles.

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Forth Road Bridge

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Forth Road Bridge

Queensferry Crossing:  This new, recently opened bridge is a replacement for the Forth Road Bridge.  It stands 164 feet higher than its counterpart!  I can’t wait to get pictures of the finished product on my next trip.

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Queensferry Crossing-early stages of construction.

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Latter stages of construction.

 

 

(Ignore unsightly gap – the horror. Darn editing.)

Anyway, I blogged about the bridges in more detail last September.  If you’d like to read more about these awesome structures, please click here.

Inchcolm Abbey

Located in the Firth of Forth on Inchcolm Island, Inchcolm Abbey is the most well-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland.  As it happens, I recently wrote a blog about this site as well.  To learn more, please click here.

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Oxcar Lighthouse

Oxcar Lighthouse was designed by David and Thomas Stevenson (cousin/father of author Robert Louis Stevenson) in 1886.

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Seals

A large seal colony has their residence in the Firth.  This was the first time I had ever seen seals in their natural habitat.  Extraordinary!

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And a few other images from that fun day…

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Gorse covered banks.

DSC_1006.JPGWhat a truly magnificent and memorable day.  Edinburgh Boat Charters has my highest recommendation.

I will end by leaving you with the link to one of my favorite old tunes from back in the day, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.  Enjoy and have a wonderful week.

See you next time.

Cheers,

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Inchcolm Abbey

Hi Friends,

Did everyone had a nice weekend?  I spent mine planting lots of pretty pink flowers, eating delicious food, visiting with family and friends, and writing a word or two.  The long Memorial Day holiday is almost over and tomorrow it’s back to business as usual.

In today’s blog post, I’d like to point out a really interesting site located on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth (the estuary off Scotland’s east coast that flows into the North Sea).  Mr. C and I first spotted the structure from the grounds of Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh.

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As viewed from Lauriston Castle.

We had no idea what we were looking at that day and assumed it was a castle ruin.  It wasn’t until we chartered a sailing tour of the Firth (a blast – more on that in a future post) that we saw this remarkable structure in clearer view.  Turns out it was Inchcolm Abbey, the most well-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland.

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To get to the island of Inchcolm and the medieval abbey, one must take a ferry, which departs from South Queensferry, Scotland (roughly ten miles from Edinburgh’s city center).  To see the abbey by foot and to touch those ancient stone walls for myself is an adventure I would very much like to have one day.

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In my curiosity, I did a little research about Inchcolm Abbey.  Here are ten interesting things I learned:

  1.  Inchcolm Abbey is the most well-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland.
  2. In 1123, Alexander I took shelter on the island of Inchcolm during a fierce storm.  Because he was so thankful that his life had been spared, he vowed to build a monastery as an expression of his gratitude.  Sadly, he died a year later.  In his absence, his brother David I asked Augustinian canons (priests) to establish the priory instead.
  3. Inchcolm was raised to full abbey status in 1235.
  4. Inchcolm is known as the “Iona of the East” (as opposed to Iona Abbey on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides).
  5. Though the abbey enjoyed years of peace in its isolation, it was also often a target of the English military during Scotland’s wars with England from the 1300’s to the mid-1500’s.
  6. Visitors of the abbey can see a preserved 13th century medieval fresco that depicts a funeral procession.
  7. A hermit is said to have inhabited the island prior to the foundation of the monastery.
  8. The oldest relic on the island is a 10th century tombstone.  (Wow, that’s the 900’s, people!)
  9. Inchcholm served in the defense of Scotland during the first and second World Wars.
  10. The island is known for its population of seals.  Aww.  I’d like to see that.

 

So there you have it, Friends.  Another fantastic Scottish find.  Aren’t they all, though?

Enjoy the rest of your week and I’ll see you again next time.

Cheers,

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Pretty Pittenweem

Hi Readers,

I hope everyone is doing well!  Today we are going to jump in our car and head about fifty miles to the northeast of Edinburgh to a delightful little village on the Firth of Forth.

You know how sometimes in travels you happen upon a place that is just as pretty as a picture?  Pittenweem, Scotland is one of those places.

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Mr. C and I unfortunately didn’t have a lot of time to spend in this sweet village and there were some things we missed seeing (like St. Fillan’s Cave – the hideout of the Irish saint with the glowing arm – d’oh!), but this place is most definitely going on the list for a revisit in the future.  In fact, we are considering making Pittenweem our home base on next year’s trip.  (Is it next year yet?  No?  Crap.)

Located in the East Neuk of Fife, Pittenweem is a real charmer.  A mishmash of houses with red pantiled and gray slate roofs and Dutch inspired crow-stepped gables dot the village surrounding the picturesque, working harbor.  Viewed from a higher street above, the homes are a lovely contrast to the blue waters of the Firth beyond.

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Quaint shops, galleries, and eateries line the historic village streets.  During the short time we were there, we popped into Cuppa for a spot of tea and a scone and then into The Cocoa Tree Shop for a few gourmet chocolates to take with us.  Yummy on both counts!


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A thriving fishing village, King James V declared Pittenweem a Royal Burgh in 1541. Today the town continues to be an active marketplace.  Fishing boats pull into port each morning with their catch of the day and fishermen sell their haul out of sheds at the harbor market.  I would really love to be there to experience that next visit.  I suspect it would feel a little bit like stepping back in time.

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One of the main focal points of the village is the Pittenweem Parish Church.

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This impressive medieval church was founded sometime in the 13th century, with most of the existing structure dating to the 1600’s.  We did not go inside, but from the outside it was wonderfully atmospheric – especially when viewed from the far side of the kirkyard.

Like any proper Scottish town (haha), Pittenweem has its own tales of witchcraft and executions.  Several witch trials took place in this village in the early 1700’s.  According to the historian Lizanne Henderson, the events surrounding the case of the Pittenweem witches was “one of the most extraordinary and truly horrific outbursts of witch persecution”.  Fortunately, it was the last significant event of witch hunting in Fife.  Thank goodness!

Should you ever find yourself motoring along Scotland’s east coast, do make a point of stopping in Pittenweem as well as the other charming fishing villages that are nearby (Crail, St. Monans, Anstruther, and Elie are especially nice).  Whether you are just there for an hour or two or plan to spend a few days, I promise you will not be disappointed!

Cheers,

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St. Fillan’s Church-Aberdour, Scotland

Hello Friends,

I hope your new year has started out well.  Anyone have big travel plans this year?  I will be heading to one of my favorite places – Destin, Florida – because these toes are in desperate need of a little sand time!  My heart needs a little Scotland time, but it will have to wait just a wee bit longer for that.  In the meantime, I have my photos (you seriously don’t want to know how many), lots of wonderful memories, this blog, and you, dear friends, to help tide me over until 2019.  So again, thank you for letting this crazy American woman share her passion for a land not her own.

20180111_170116Today, I’d like to share a special find – St. Fillan’s Church.  St. Fillan’s is a parish church located about 40 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh in Aberdour, a picturesque, seaside village in Fife.  The church sits peacefully beside Aberdour Castle.  Views of the Firth of Forth can be seen over the low south wall.

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In the kirkyard (churchyard) looking toward Aberdour Castle.

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View of the Firth of Forth

20171229_161813The morning that Mr. C and I set out for St. Fillan’s, it was chilly and gray, the sort of day befitting the exploration of a Scottish church from the Middle Ages.  From the parking lot (‘car park’ if you fancy sounding like a local), we walked up the little road that led us toward the castle and the old church.

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Aberdour Castle

We strolled through the walled castle garden and came upon a lovely sidewalk where we were met with cheery daffodils and beautiful, tired, time-worn headstones that one can only imagine must have toppled over at some point before being laid to rest against the old, stone wall.

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Castle gardens; St. Fillan’s Church (left); Aberdour Castle (right)

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St. Fillan’s Church lay just ahead.  We were strangers about to enter a sacred place, outsiders with one foot in the present and one foot that was about to step deep into the past.  This holy place of worship was never ours, and yet it was familiar, friendly, and welcoming.

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Who Was St. Fillan?
20180107_144451St. Fillan was an 8th century Irish abbot.  According to a 2016 Historic Environment Scotland publication, he “was born…to noble and saintly parents.  His mother was Kentigerna, daughter of a prince of Leinster.  According to legend, he was born disfigured and thrown into a lake at his father’s behest.  He was miraculously rescued by St. Ibar, who baptised him.”  It goes on to say, “Fillan came to Scotland in his youth and lived for many years as a hermit before being elected abbot of Pittenweem.  His left arm was reputed to glow while he wrote.  Fillan died on 17 January in Glendochart in Perthshire, where he had retired to resume his life as a hermit.”


Saint Fillan’s is one of the earliest surviving churches in Scotland.  It was built in the early 12th century by the de Mortimer family, who also owned neighboring Aberdour Castle.  Portions of the church date back to 1140 (possibly even earlier), making it nearly 900 years old -a fact that continues to amaze me.  Originally built in the shape of a narrow rectangle, St. Fillan’s was redesigned and altered throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.  By 1790, however, the church had fallen into disuse and sadly, had become a roofless ruin.  And so it remained for more than a hundred years.

The 1920’s saw a glorious rebirth of St. Fillan’s.  Because of the vision and commitment of the local community in 1925, the church was lovingly restored and brought back to life.  In July 1926, St. Fillan’s held its first service in well over a hundred years.  What a day of rejoicing that must have been!  St. Fillan’s continues to function as an active parish church today.

20171231_15084820180101_09014720180101_08592620180101_085631DSC_336420180101_085727I must confess, I wasn’t expecting the reaction that I had when I stepped through those beautiful wooden doors.  I have been in many old churches, but I literally gasped as I stepped inside.  I was astonished by its beauty, its size, and the richness of its architecture.  It was like walking through a portal to another time.  Except for a few minor, modern touches, one could almost hear the voices of the saints of old, raised in song, reverberating between those cold, stone walls.  My photos don’t do it justice, but let’s take a peek inside.

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Wouldn’t you agree that St. Fillan’s Church is pretty amazing?  It was a truly special find.  It has stood proud for some nine centuries through years of love and years of neglect, and has served the spiritual needs of the people of Aberdour for over 600 years.  May St. Fillan’s continue to be a blessing to its community and to all who happen to stumble upon this incredible treasure.

Cheers,

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