Your Road Map Eyes Give You Away

I got my first passport in 2013, determined to finally fulfill one of my travel dreams and see London and Paris. I was trying to plan it for the fall of 2013, and the pieces just weren’t coming together. Finally admitting that I needed to postpone took a serious inner dialogue to tell myself that postponing was OK, provided I didn’t let it become a dream that I only talked about and never did.

So, as 2013 ended with no passport stamps, I started making plans for 2014. My friend Liz, who I’ve visited a few times in Denver, makes an annual excursion to Scotland and proposed that I come there and meet up with her and we could spend a week touring Scotland, England, and Wales. I wasn’t sure it would work out to do all of that and still spend the time I wanted in London and Paris, but ultimately, the pieces fell into place and I bought a plane ticket and started planning.

I find travel both exhilarating and intimidating, but the thought of traveling overseas came with a big portion of the latter. It’s ridiculous that if I forget my cell phone at home on an average Thursday, I’m sure that’s the day my car will break down on the way into work. So, I was a little uncertain about how that would feel over two weeks in four countries (including one where I don’t speak the language). I knew I’d have to plan well since I wouldn’t be able to pull the internet out of my pocket to figure things out as I went along.

Luckily, travel planning is my raison d’être, so a little bit at a time over several months, I put together a three-ring, tabbed binder that was a magnificent work of organizational art, if I do say so myself. I dropped off emergency contact info with my Mom and emailed my itinerary to a few friends and then set off with two weeks of the bare necessities crammed into one carry on and a “personal item” (which is to say, the biggest purse you’ve ever seen).

My awesome cousin and her awesome hubby volunteered to take me to the airport in D.C., so I got to spend some time with them in Richmond before I left. My flight out of D.C. was at 6:30pm on Saturday, and since it was going to be 6:40am on Sunday when I landed in London, I was hoping to get a decent night’s sleep on the plane. I knew that was iffy going in; after all, plane seats aren’t particularly conducive to sleep, and I don’t usually go to bed at 6:30pm. As it turned out, those were moot points, because even if I loved going to sleep before dinner while sitting upright between two strangers, the flight from hell would have prevented it in any case. I say “flight from hell” because the temperature in the cabin seemed to suggest we’d narrowly escaped from there. I don’t like to be hot in the first place, but I was so hot that I was actually feeling physically ill. This was not aided by the perpetual turbulence that was tossing me to and fro and back and forth relentlessly. I was so miserable that I actually became THAT passenger who kept ringing for the stewardess to ask for another cup of ice, which was going unabashedly down my shirt as well as in my mouth. I looked around at the other passengers to make sure no one was wrapped up in blankets lest I was actually sick with a fever instead of crossing The Atlantic in a flying clothes dryer. Luckily, it was just a bad flight and not a trip-ruining illness, but I was really thankful to get on the ground and off that plane at Heathrow.

The layover was long enough to get me feeling OK again, and mercifully, my connection from Heathrow to Glasgow was a much cooler, much smoother flight. Liz was there waiting when I arrived and I piled everything in the rental car and we set out. It turns out, they love their Fords in the UK, so our car was a Ford Mondeo, which is basically my Fusion’s UK cousin.

This photo has terrible lighting, but it captures the moment, which was “Weeee! Here we go!”

Liz had mentioned wanting to stock up on a few bottles of her favorite whisky (it doesn’t have an ‘e’ there) that was only available at the distillery where it’s made. I said I was game for touring a distillery in Scotland (hellooo!), so we drove out toward Edinburgh and visited the Glenkinchie Distillery, where they walked us through their process, which was fascinating and pungent. At the end of the tour, there were samples of whisky from every region of Scotland for those who wanted to taste them.

By the time we got back to Glasgow, I’d been awake for roughly 30 exhausting hours and it was drizzling rain on and off (following a week of torrential downpours). We went to a grocery store for supplies (they had Caffeine Free Diet Coke!!!) and then checked into our hotel and had dinner there so I could make it an early night.

Monday, we woke up to blue skies, fluffy clouds, and all-around perfect weather. We spent the day driving through the Scottish countryside on our way to visit two of the Campbell castles in the west of Scotland. Our drive took us by Loch Lomond where we stopped in a picturesque lake town called Luss to walk out on the dock and through the village.

We journeyed on toward Inveraray Castle on the shore of Loch Fyne. Inveraray has been the ancestral home and seat of the Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, for centuries. My great grandmother was a Campbell, and according to our family historians, my ancestors date back to this very line. I know no particulars, but it was enough to feel a certain gravity about walking those grounds. We stopped on the bridge as we wound our way up to the castle to photograph this first view.

I spent a great deal of time walking around the front of the castle and marveling at it.

In my general fervor about the castle and the Campbell history, I had forgotten that Inveraray was also the location of the 2012 Downton Abbey Christmas special. I recognized the dining room straightaway, and there were photos nearby showing corresponding scenes from the show.

My favorite room was what I’d call the grand foyer – straight inside the entrance and decorated with weaponry. You never know when your castle might be attacked, and then everyone will need to grab something here!

The rest of the castle was lovely, but perhaps with a bit more subtle décor.

We had lunch in the Castle tea room, and I tried the traditional Scotch Broth, because why not? (I wasn’t much of a fan of it, to be honest, but I gave it a chance.)

After lunch, we walked through the gardens in the back of the castle to admire the grandeur from the other side.

Having contented ourselves with Inveraray, we proceeded along to find Kilchurn Castle, also of Clan Campbell, which only remains as a ruin.

We had to park just off the road and walk out to the castle, which was a lovely walk in theory, but given the recently-departed rains, the path was muddy at best. At points where water covered the path entirely, we had to try our best to circumvent it by walking out into the muddy grass. Two mud holes before reaching the castle, both my tennis-shoed feet immersed completely in the mud, and I felt it run in through the netting of my shoes and squish between my toes. There weren’t any options other than to keeping trudging forward.

Luckily, the views along the way and the castle itself were more than worth it.

Heading back to the car, my feet couldn’t possibly get muddier, so there was no use being delicate. When we came to a creek, I told Liz I was going in and took my camera off my wrist and handed it to her. It seemed like something to be documented. The water was freezing, but it felt better in my shoes than the mud!

Back at the hotel (and reunited with my other pair of shoes), Liz and I ended our day with a trip back down to the lounge where we proceeded to chat the night away with a charming and hilariously sarcastic bloke from Yorkshire, England, who was in Glasgow on business. We talked until the entire lobby, restaurant, and bar area was empty of anyone but us, and then said goodnight on the elevator. We ran into him again Tuesday morning at breakfast before we all left Scotland for jolly old England.

Liz and I had a lot of ground to cover, because not only were we driving south through England, but we were going to end the evening at our hotel in Wales. Just driving in the car all day would have been boring, though, so on what I’ve dubbed “Mr. Darcy Day,” we detoured to ride through the Peak District to visit Lyme Park and Chatsworth.

Liz and I have a bit of a difference of opinion on which is the superior production of Pride & Prejudice, but *my* Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley was actually the estate at Lyme Park. We arrived there first, and I was immediately giddy.

Liz wanted to walk up to a folly that she saw as we were driving in, and I wanted to go bound around the grounds like Elizabeth Bennett. My aspirations required a ticket, so I was about to buy one when Liz and I set a time and place to meet back out front. Liz left and I handed my card to the cashier, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t get it to go through. I guess I must’ve looked like I was about to explode with excitement and anticipation, because the cashier took another look at me, smiled, and handed my card back to me with a ticket and said, “Go ahead, honey. Have fun.”

Ohhh, and I did. I may have let out a few stifled squeals when I was far enough away from other people to prevent soliciting sideways looks, but I know I was grinning like a fool the whole time.

Remember this staircase? Darcy (Colin Firth) came bounding down these stairs after “Miss Bennett,” apologetic for not having greeted her properly when he emerged from a dip in his lake and found her there, touring his grounds.

Ah, Pemberley.

By the lake…

And of course Mr. Darcy planted some purple hyacinth just for me.

And I thrust my camera into the hands of so many strangers, if only so I’d have enough photos to prove to myself that I was actually there!

The route from Lyme Park to Chatsworth took us through the Peak District that Elizabeth toured with her aunt and uncle in the book/movies when she happened to end up at Pemberley in the first place. The drive was quite pretty, which is hard to convey in a through-the-windshield-in-motion photo, but it’s what I’ve got.

Chatsworth stood in for Pemberley in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which has always come with an asterisk in my mind because, in the book, Elizabeth visited Chatsworth on the same trip as when she visited Pemberley, so making them one and the same bothers my brain. Artistic license and whatnot. (Also, since the BBC version come out in 1995, and this one in 2005, does that mean that we’re due for another remake in 2015?)

Nevertheless, while Colin Firth is always going to be the Mr. Darcy for me, the Keira-Knightley-as-Elizabeth version is handy to keep around when I want to watch Pride and Prejudice, but I don’t have 5 hours to spare. Plus, even though it deviates from the book quite a bit more (and takes excessive liberties with the language and propriety of the time period), it’s a fair trade for the image of Matthew Macfadyen striding across that field at dawn or saying “Pardon me, madam, for taking up so much of your time” after she lambasts him under the folly’s shelter in a downpour.

Unlike Lyme Park, Chatsworth was used for both interior and exterior shots during filming. I always loved the image of Elizabeth walking in across the entryway floor, so it was fun to do that myself.

It seemed like an opportune moment for a selfie…

And to look out across the lawn toward the fountain in the lake…

Most of all, I was eager to see the Raffaelle Monti sculpture, “A Veiled Vestal Virgin.”

Elizabeth stops to admire it in the movie, and I was fascinated by it when I watched. Seeing it in person, it is no easier to believe that it is made completely of marble than it was when seeing it on film. I feel like I have to reiterate this point: the entire statue – including the veil over her face – is sculpted from marble. I stood and stared at it for a long time. It’s breathtaking.

I’m not sure whose terrible idea it was to rest all of the statues in Chatsworth’s sculpture room on pepto-bismol-pink stands. The movie fixed this – presumably by CGI. I thought about Photo-shopping it, myself, but figured I’d go with what it actually looked like.

Chatsworth kept the bust of Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy after the movie was finished, and it is currently on display in the gift shop with an amusing sign that reads: “Please do not kiss.” I am sure that happened more than once to incite the notice.

Having completed the house tour and bought too many souvenirs from the gift shop, I went outside to walk around the grounds. I immediately found a flower bed full of purple hyacinth – it’s like they were expecting me!

Over my right shoulder is the staircase Macfadyen’s Darcy ran down in pursuit of Elizabeth and the terrace where they had their subsequent awkward “and your parents are in good health?” chat.

We had yet one more adventure to experience after leaving Chatsworth, which is that when we made it to Wales (three countries in one day!), the navigation system on the car threw us an impossibly long string of directions about where to “leave the roundabout” and “turn immediately” that, had we been given a month to memorize it, we couldn’t have kept it all straight. This led to a lot of circling the roundabout and inevitably going the wrong way. It was dark and we were exhausted, but luckily I’m a big dork who over-prepares for everything, so I pulled out my much-disparaged Google maps and routed us directly to our hotel, where we were both quite happy to tuck in for the night.

[TO BE CONTINUED: Tune in next week to see what kind of shenanigans our heroines get into in Wales and on the drive to London.]