Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scotland Pictures

I have always been fascinated by pictures. I love the way that they can tell stories upon stories, causing memories to be relived; both the good and the bad moments recollected. There is a beauty in the capturing of time that thrills me. I am awed by technology, and exceptionally grateful for it. Catching a glimpse of a simple photograph can bring back a flood of memories and inspire me to pursue continuous capturing of life's experiences. This being said, I would love to share with you some photographs that I took whilst on my trip to Scotland. I took thousands of pictures over the course of 9 days, and narrowing them down was so exceptionally difficult and painstaking, but the ones that I have chosen have special meaning, which I shall explain in the captions. I hope that you enjoy these photos, and somehow feel like you were on this amazing adventure with me. May you be shocked by the mystery of Scotland, and drawn towards making your own memories in this beautiful country.

I start this photo blog post off with a face. I could have chosen a breathtaking Scottish landscape, or an ancient building of historic importance, but instead I claim the right to choose the face of a stranger. For me, this journey to Scotland was not only about a chance to travel to a place I had never set foot before, but also one of pilgrimage; opening myself up to learning more about Charis, and finding the courage to face past memories that up till now I have wanted to forget. Therefore when I see this man's face and weary frame, I can see myself in his eyes, and feel my feet in his well worn shoes. Yet it is not a feeling of heavy-ladenness that I am left with, but rather that of privileged. Here is a man that is so obviously dedicated to journeying. May I always be like him.
One of my fellow travelers, Madi, was such an incredible gift to have on this trip with me. Together we shared moments of sorrow and pain, coupled with times of laughter and exuberance. Having Madi on this journey with me was such a wonderful blessing. No matter where you walk in life, you need someone beside you who can cry with you, or thrill at the joyful moments. Madi was that someone for me in Scotland, a fact which I am every so grateful for.
A large part of my trip to Scotland was spend contemplating. In the semester leading up to Scotland, I had been wrestling with a few things in my life, most important of which was me learning to face broken experiences that I had wanted to forget. Memories came back that I had desired to kept deeply hidden, or at least thought I had dealt with already, and so realization hit that I needed to sort out the pain, even when it brought more in the healing process. Although I worked up the courage and faced some of the jagged places in my life that threatened to cut me deeper before my trip, I needed a place to clear my head and figure out where to go from there. Scotland was that place for me. That chance to find more peace and wholeness, enabling me to re-enter Canada with my once gaping wounds beginning to mend.
Part of being a pilgrim for me involves learning and embracing the Celtic Spirituality that weaves its way throughout Scottish history. I am awed by the Celtic belief that God is in everything that surrounds me. This means that whether I am in a church, at home, walking in a forest, or skipping stones at a lake, God is everywhere. This concept appears so brightly in Celtic poetry, songs, and designs, and I love this way of living.
What a crazy collection of Scottish material! Although I'm fairly certain that this woman is not representing a specific clan with her choice of plaid material, I thought she deserved a place in this photo blog! One thing that we noticed throughout this trip was that most youth in Scotland wear only black, balking from brightnes and retreating to the safety of dark colours. However, this girl was definitely an exception from the norm; an obvious juxtaposition of old clan materials and new punk modernism.
The windy roads throughout Scotland were amazing, catching your eye and enticing you to follow the curves to see where you end up. Like this particular street off of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, many building in Scotland are ancient, made of stones and glass windows from long ago. However, although the tops are kept traditional, the bottom stories are often converted into brightly painted shops and restaurants that appeal to locals and tourist alike. 
These beautiful, blue, and modern stained glass windows are located between ancient stained glass windows in St Mungo's Church in Glasgow. Additions to the old building, these windows have been styled similarly to the older ones, but the colour blue helps distinguish this as a modern piece of artwork. I couldn't help but think that so often we butcher the old, replacing antique wood with cold marble, metal and glass, yet the artist who was commissioned to do these windows has shown honour to the past, and the spirituality that these beautiful windows express.
Found in the grotto of an old church in Scotland, this ceiling was made specially, purposefully arched and supported by wide beams. This style is meant to represent a forest grove, as if the worshiper were looking up at the treetops forming a rooftop in nature. I loved this purposeful embrace of nature that the Celts were famous for, and chose this picture in order to share the simplistic grace of this with you.
Taken on the Isle of Mull, the mountains you see in the horizon are those of the Outer Hebrides. (The Isle of Mull falls into the category of the Inner Hebrides.) We were blessed on our trip with sunshine every single day we were in Scotland, which is so unique, and this allowed us to even SEE the islands in this picture. Had there been rain and fog, we would have never caught a glimpse of this awesome horizon.
Much of our time in Scotland was unfortunately spent on a bus, however we had to travel somehow, so we made the most of it! This picture is definitely not the best quality, having a thick plexiglass window in between me and these gorgeous buildings, but I still liked the sense of the city overpowering and towering over those on the street! However, it was a comfortable feeling of being small, as if the cities in Scotland were cocooning their residents in a loving embrace!
Old Scottish houses are now few and far between, yet we stopped at one old settlement to wander between the squat buildings and duck carefully under the low doorways. For insulation and water resistance, the roofs were covered in thick layers of straw, which were held down by rock lines attached with wire. This causes the straw to sit nicely and not fly off. Not only is this visually appealing in a unique fashion, but it also speaks of a desire for groundedness. Often I find that I fill my life with so much busyness that it becomes easy for things to fall apart and fly away. One thing I've been learning over time is that finding routines and solid friendships/accountability allows me to remain steady, freeing me up to breath, while securely attached to the ground.
Something about abandoned buildings and ruins has always intrigued me, and this archway on the Isle of Iona was no exception. I couldn't help but think that if I could have jumped the fence that was before me, trespassed over the farmer's fields, and walked through this doorway, I would have ended up in another country in another century!
I chose this picture because I love the way the Celtic cross is so visible through the window. Whether you are looking outside from the inside, or inside from the outside, the cross is central to the frame.
When I was little, my sister and I would run down the main street in our town and stop at a certain blank brick wall pretending we were "collecting our mail." We would then proceed to use our extensive imaginations to read each other the "letters" that had arrived for us, making up stories and adventures along the way. This gorgeous letter box in Scotland was just one of the many that were scattered in every Scottish city, reminding me of my childhood, and the beauty of both the imagination and real letters!
A standing cross made out of stone and placed here around the 8th century, acts as a beacon to those looking towards or backwards from the Isle of Iona. Standing crosses such as these used to exist all throughout Scotland, many of which have since fallen into decay. Those that remain standing tall are therefore really special.
We found ourselves off the beaten path one day, and stumbled upon an ancient cemetery where a stone carved into the upside-down hull of a ship marks one of the burial plots for a viking sailor. In a shady corner of this cemetery, this bright orange moss could be found growing on the old headstones, bringing brightness to a somber location. Even the little things, such as orange moss growing on stone, can be beautiful and make one pause to capture that moment.
There were SO many sheep in Scotland, and I loved every single one of them! I know sheep are not very intelligent creatures, but boy are they adorable! The farmers in Scotland would use spray paint to distinguish their own sheep from those of the neighboring farmer, hence allowing the lambs, rams, and ewes to wander the grassy hills and yet bring them to the right barns at nighttime.
This was a special day for me. We arrived by ferry to the Isle of Iona, and spent a little bit of time touring the monastery and adjacent town. In the afternoon, we had an hour and a half of free time before needing to be back on the ferry, and so Madi, Cara, Kay and I decided to walk towards the marble quarry located on the opposite side of the island. Soon we came across a shortcut from the main path, a small sheep path leading over the grassy hills. Kay, (in all her infinite wisdom) decided to continue along the main road, yet Madi, Cara, and I diverged...we never made it to the quarry, getting lost upon the hills, yet we spent an incredible hour and a half being swept by the winds while walking over spongy bushes and heather plants! It grew in me a huge desire to return to Iona one of the greatest gifts that I could be given would be a chance to get lost again, on the breathtaking hills of Iona.
I have always loved textures and colours, and Scotland was full of both. I feel like this picture captures that; the rough harsh rocky outcrops projecting from the lush green soft grasses that grow on bumpy hills and banks of silky smooth rivers. And above all this, snowy white clouds are suspended, the sky opening up and shedding warm light over the ground bellow.
One thing that I have learned over my travels is that it is important for me to collect "rememberances" along the way; things that will trigger my memory later in life and remind me of the adventures that I have been privileged to experience. Although I included this picture, sand is not my own "rememberance," yet it gets my point across and acknowledges the importance of such actions. With a terrible memory, these tokens of travel can cause me to pause and recollect the things that I have been blessed to see and do throughout my life.
Must I say anything? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will keep this short: "welcome to Scotland!"
I included this picture in order to show you an example of a standing stone in Scotland. There were a few around this area, but I believe this was the largest one we saw. Why it existed, nobody knows, however it is such a beautiful totem, and like most things I see, I thought it was beautiful!
These mountains are found in the Glencoe valley, where the massacre of the MacDonalds occurred on February 13th in 1692 due to the feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbells. Here they seem only awesome, grand, and songworthy....yet these mountains were the slaying grounds of clans for many years. Tall and majestic mountains that have experienced much death and suffering.
Here is our coach, the bus that we traveled Scotland in! Our bus driver, Ian, was the loveliest man ever, who took the time to share with us his own love for his country. It was amazing to meet someone like Ian, who couldn't contain his joy that we were there to visit his place of birth, and longed to not only see the countryside, but also talk with locals like him to learn more about Scotland's history, stories, quaint nooks, and best pubs!
While in one of my favourite towns, Oban, Cara and I were walking along the waterfront when we glanced up onto the hillside and noticed this Colosseum way up overlooking the city and the port. Naturally, we decided to hike up to it, and watched the sun begin setting from this beautiful location. Inside these walls, was simply a garden, with paths running up and down, rose bushes, and trees under which benches sat happily waiting for a solitary reader, a young couple, or two old lovers to sit upon.
This section of a large staircase in Oban had been christened "Jacob's Ladder" and at the top rested residential houses, parks, and happily winding streets. Was the maker of the stairway commenting on the heavenly nature of cozy and peaceful families with children playing happily on swing sets?
The Great Glen Way is a pilgrim's path that runs throughout parts of Scotland, in particular the Glencoe Valley. We walked the beginning of the path for a couple of hours, but were all too soon picked up by our bus to be taken to our hotel for the evening. I would really love to fully walk this path one day...
This unique art form was something I spotted underneath a bridge while on a walk in Scotland. I found the juxtaposition of the harsh, solid cement, and the dripping paint really striking. So often we try to make our lives clear cut, black and white, easily definable, and self-constructed. We don't let our emotions go, because we're scared they'll cause an avalanche, and we place way too much importance on societal rules because we're terrified of being different. The dripping of the graffiti is stunning in my eyes. It speaks to my visual side, and encourages me that different is okay, and that rigidity, and having everything under control doesn't always leave room for unique and random beauty.
This sunset in Oban was such a gorgeous one. I sat in this very location one evening while in Scotland, and shared my heart's cry with my friend Madi. The streets here in Oban opened their arms to me, and the air allowed me to breath freely like I hadn't in a long time. It's always good to have someone you can talk to, and it's always good to be in an environment where that is accepted; an environment that comforts the ache that so often comes hand-in-hand with healing.
This library cafe was one of the most surprising and breathtaking finds for me while in Scotland. We had been given time to wander through the town of Inverness, and I fell in love with it right away. Everything in me simply longed to wander the streets of Inverness and bask in the sunshine. Cara suggested that we go into a second hand book store that we had seen a sign for, and somewhat reluctantly, I agreed. However, one step through the front door and the room you see in this picture knocked me flat! It was the quietest, most inviting second hand book shop I have ever seen, and I wished that everyone I loved could be with me! One day I will return, and drink tea in this bookstore, while reading books all day long!
This lovely creature is a highland cow (pronounced "heeland kew"), a Scottish variety of cattle that I fell in love with! The entire time we were in Scotland, I kept wishing that I could come close to a highland cow, but it wasn't until we were in Drumnadrochit on the edge of the loch ness that my dream became a reality! We dubbed this guy Seamus, and I took WAY too many pictures of him! I think it's little joys like these that make me so happy for the world we live in!
One of the more sorrowful moments for many of us was when we stopped at the battle grounds of the Hanoverian's and the Jacobite's in the battle of Culloden. It all felt so pointless to me. Here we were in a museum that was dedicated to two clans that fought each other because that was what they had been taught. The battle itself lasted less than an hour, and was the last hand-to-hand battle on British soil. Watching videos in the museum of the war chaos made everything stand out as so much more of a bitter, stupid, waste. A land and power grab between two men should never result in the death of hundreds. This stone that acts as a marker for the death of men who mindlessly fought one another really made the whole thing seem hideous and pathetic. In the end, the battlegrounds are marked with this stone, when the whole goal had been for the Hanoverian's and the Jacobite's to separate themselves from one another.
"There's a myth that whiskey is a religion here, but really it's just a part of the countryside." (Owner of Edradour Whiskey Distillery) The Edradour Distillery is one of the smallest in all of Scotland, making only 15 casks of whiskey a week. They make in a year what is normally produced in a week in a larger distillery! We walked into their warehouse storage facility and I was awed by all the casks that were piled about. We were also informed that room alone held approximately $100 million pounds worth of whiskey, and an ancient keg from 1966 was worth $1/2 million pounds all on its own! In our guide's words: "being a whiskey collector, arriving home, finding your house broken into and someone else drinking your whiskey...that's my definition of hell."

Our first evening in Edinburgh, Madi, Cara and I climbed to the top of a mountain we had observed earlier in the day, and watched as the sun set over the city bellow, and lights began appearing in the darkening night. It was a wonderful moment of silence and contemplation, and one which I was so thankful for. Watching the sun set, and night awaken is one of my favourite things, and I was lucky enough to experience this in the beauty of Scotland!

....and life goes on. Scotland was an amazing experience, and one that happened all too quickly. I'm back in BC now, and although I wish I could have had more time, I somehow know in my gut that I'll go back one day. I've been seriously looking into masters programs in Scotland, trying to ignore the cost of tuition, and dreaming big dreams! Wouldn't that be a wonderful experience?

Therefore, I won't say goodbye, instead, I say this: "until next time Scotland, and I wish you stay well. May your people ever smile, your history remain preserved, and your whiskey never run dry!"


  1. Thank you for letting me travel vicariously with you. Your adventure brought back fond, forgotten childhood memories (in search of the Loch Ness monster) as well as inspiring new dreams (visiting thin places; mastering the art of whisky drinking).

    I, too, am like the weary-but-determined traveller in your first picture who is never too old to keep discovering and learning.

    I'm intrigued by the straw roof held down by rocks-on-a-wire... grounded-ness, not getting blown away, staying the course.

    Perhaps one day - Xudo xochlasa - together we can trapse the heathers of Iona, and read treasures in the used bookstore, and marvel at the beauty of Celtic crosses, and have meaningful dialogues with locals as we sniff our aged whiskies. Maybe while you're getting your Masters;-)

  2. I love the pictures, Charis! 'Bout time you posted them! ;)
    This makes me want to travel to Scotland and get lost in the hills. I imagine I would feel free to ponder, free to contemplate, and free to dance a jig in the middle of the stones and grasses, smiling over the beauty of what God created.