Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Looking Back - Part Two

Gretna Green is a Scottish village close to the border between England and Scotland, and hundreds of years ago it became famous for run-away weddings.

In England, in the 1700s, an act was passed stating that parental consent had to be given to the guy and girl who were wanting to marry, if they were under 21 years of age.

In Scotland it was possible for 14 year-old boys and 12 year-old girls to marry without parental consent.

Because of the enactment of this English law, young couples eloped by the droves across the border to the closest Scottish village they could find -- Gretna Green.

Scottish law allowed marriages to be conducted by virtually anyone, as long as the vows were made before two witnesses. So the local blacksmith became known as the "anvil priest" as he was the one traditionally sought out by the couples to perform the marriage ceremony.

Hundreds of thousands of weddings have been performed in Gretna Green, and now, because of its romantic tradition, thousands of couples still come from the world over to be married "over the anvil" in the blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.

Today's "Blacksmith Shop wedding chapel"

A Gretna Green wedding

In 1961, I crossed over the border between England and Scotland and headed to Gretna Green.

No -- not to get married! I was travelling with my parents, and we were moving to the location of my father's new job, in Prestwick, Scotland. We stopped off along the way to visit this infamous tourist site. At the age of 15, I thought it was quite a romantic proposition -- to be snatched up by a 'knight in shining armor' and to run away together to get married in Gretna Green, and I spent many hours dreaming about it! Unfortunately, not all dreams come true :)

We stopped off at another tourist attraction along the way... Bruce's Cave, in Kirkpatrick Fleming, near Lockerbie.

Robert the Bruce was crowned King of the Scots in 1306 (I just love British history -- how I wish I had paid more attention to it in school). In 1307, after suffering a bitter defeat, King Robert went into hiding in the cave. He spent three months living a solitary existence, while things were looking their bleakest for the Scots.

Bruce's Cave

One day, while in the cave and in the depths of despair, King Robert watched a spider attempting to build a web in the cave. The spider would spin, and then fall -- get up and spin again, and then fall. Time and again it went through the process, working relentlessly, until eventually the web was completed.

Watching the spider gave Robert great courage, and the story is reputed to have given birth to the saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again."

More stories to come!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking Back -- Part One

I had an interesting childhood. I was born in England, and my family and I travelled what seemed like the length and breadth of the UK before I emigrated to Canada when I was 17. My father was quite the entrepreneur, and had many different 'careers' which moved us in and out of many English counties and into Scotland, too. I attended six different schools in 11 years -- pretty tough on my social psyche. It got to the point where I didn't even try to make friends in a new location, knowing that we would surely be on the move again soon!

But I had some wonderful life experiences to make up for all of that.

England is a beautiful country with a fascinating history, and no matter where we lived, my father made sure we visited points of interest and historical value. My next few blogs will tell the tales...not necessarily in chronological order.

When I was 16, we moved to Prestwick, on the north-west coast of Scotland, where my father had taken the position of manager of a hotel located right on the sea-front. This was the view from my bedroom window on a stormy day -- and we had a lot of them!
But on a clear, sunny, summer day, it was a beautiful setting, with a view of the Isle of Arran off in the distance...not quite as close as this photo, but stunning, nevertheless. The Isle of Arran is actually situated in the Hebrides, south-western Scotland, in the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow.

It was decided, one day, that we should take a boat tour of the famous Fingal's Cave, on another island, the Isle of Staffa. So we drove to Oban to board a sight-seeing boat which took us out to the cave -- a pretty awesome sight.This is the entrance to the cave. It is too dangerous for boats to enter the cave, so we were dropped off just below where you can see the people on the ledges. I don't think they do that anymore -- considered too risky, so visitors are dropped off on a level stretch some distance away and they must walk around to the cave entrance. There are walkways inside the cave -- enter at your own risk -- but it's well worth it! This view is taken from the inside looking out -- on a calm day. When we were there the seas were rough, the tide was in, and the waves were slamming against the rocks. We got soaking wet -- a great adventure!

The cave is said to stretch 250 feet into the rock and its roof is 70 feet above sea level. Here is a description of the cave, from Wikipedia:

Fingal's Cave is formed entirely from hexagonally-jointed basalt columns, similar in structure to (and part of the same ancient lava flow as) the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, and those of nearby Ulva. In both cases, the cooling surface of the mass of hot lava cracked in a hexagonal pattern in a similar way to drying mud cracking as it shrinks, and these cracks gradually extended down into the mass of lava as it cooled and shrank to form the columns which were subsequently exposed by erosion.

Its size and naturally arched roof, and the eerie sounds produced by the echoes of waves, give it the atmosphere of a natural cathedral. The cave's Gaelic name, Uamh-Binn, means "cave of melody."

That melody is what inspired Felix Mendelssohn to compose The Hebrides Overture, Opus 26 -- better known as Fingals Cave.

Click here: for a video tour of the cave, the island and surrounding area, with the overture playing in the background. You can 'hear' the waves in the music -- beautiful! (I tried to download the video, but just couldn't get it to work). It's well-worth watching it all the way through -- to hear the overture in its entirety; and the boat actually gets right to the entrance of the cave where you can get a good look at the structure of the columns.

Next post -- another Scottish site, with a facinating and inspiring story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We have a beautiful view from our living room windows. Ours is a quiet street where people take good care of their gardens. There are lots of trees and birds, and residents taking their dogs for walks on leashes and being good pooper-scoopers.

Only one thing spoils the view:

We've never really appreciated this lamp-post contraption -- but obviously someone does:

Look at that huge nest between the bin and the post. It's a squirrels nest, and although the lampost is ugly, at least we have fun watching the squirrel make his way up and down that post zillions of times a day with his mouth full of nest-building material.

I caught him the other day in the back-garden mulberry tree, chomping away at the leaves -- not sure if he was eating them or stuffing his chops full of them to take back to the nest. I'd love to know how many babies are in there.

It reminds me of a true story. Many years ago, we had to move from a lovely house with a lovely garden to a small apartment set on a very busy, noisy, dusty, main road. I was heart-broken and missed terribly all the wild-life we'd lived among for a number of years.

Feeling very sorry for myself one day, I prayed, "Lord, if only there was even just a little bit of wild life around here that I could enjoy."

Later, I went out on the balcony and noticed a real mess -- twigs and leaves I thought must have fallen from the straggly tree hanging high over the balcony (even the tree was dusty!) I moved the folding chairs away from the wall to sweep, and one of the chairs fell open. Inside was a nest of tiny, pink, baby squirrels!

For weeks after we had the absolute pleasure of watching the mother squirrel teach her babies, as they grew, how to jump from the balcony railing to the closest tree branch. If only I had a video camera in those days!

The squirrels came back every year, for the whole time we lived there...and I never shooed them away!

It seemed like I could hear the Lord saying, "See! I can even provide you with this. All you had to do was ask!"