From Northern Ireland we took a ferry across the sea to Scotland. We traveled to the northeast of Glasgow to the village of Stirling. Here, standing high atop a volcanic outcrop Stirling Castle looks over the flat valley with the River Forth below. This area was crucial during Scotland’s history as it is the transition point between the Lowlands to the south and the Highlands to the north. During the Wars of Independence the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. The current castle dates from the late 14th to the 16th century, although there are mentions of a castle on this site dating back to 1110. Scottish kings and queens lived here and often times it served as the center of government.
This image is of the Queen Anne Garden that is overlooked by the Queen’s living quarters and the Prince’s Tower. It’s believed there has been a royal garden here since the 1400’s. The large flat lawn that extends away from the garden’s edge was turned into a bowling green in the 1620’s.
History is everywhere at this site, and we even found an area that relates to my family’s genealogy and the lineage of the Douglas clan/family. On the opposite side of the castle is another garden where it is believed that in 1452 King James II murdered the 8th Earl of Douglas and threw his body out a window into the area now called the Douglas Gardens.
There’s a rugged and wild coastline along the northern shore of Northern Ireland. The waves crash with force against the rocks, and the cliffs tower high above the North Sea. Along this coastline is the Giant’s Causeway — an amazing area of beauty and wilderness. And I was fortunate enough to be there a week ago.
We’ve just returned from a wonderful adventure to Northern Ireland and Scotland. It was my first time in either country, and I’ve found there are so many places I’d like to return to and explore further. Our first five days were spent in Belfast and then the Antrim Coast – this wild coast of Northern Ireland. These five days were a great contrast between a historic and beautiful city and a rugged coastline.
We hiked up and down the Giant’s Causeway on a cool, windy, and showery day. The weather seemed fitting for the setting. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the base of large basalt cliffs. The shoreline is covered with mostly hexagonal columns that stick up at various heights, formed by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. It gets it’s name from legends of giants crossing the sea to Scotland, leaving their footprints behind.
A quick downpour unleashed blowing rain, and we huddled behind a large rock, protecting ourselves as best we could from the precipitation. It served as a perfect block to allow us to eat our lunch. And by the time we were finished the rain had moved on, later followed by sunshine. We hiked along the shore, and eventually climbed a staircase to the top of the cliffs. It was wonderful to look to the north and view the power of the sea, then look to the south and take in a bucolic landscape of rolling green hills dotted with white farm buildings and grazing sheep.
Our spring is here, and it is lovely! The forsythia bloomed, the red bud trees blossomed out, the lilacs filled the air with their delightful scent, and now the lupine are blooming. I was driving down the road, turned a corner, and there was an embankment filled with lupine. The breeze would catch their upright blooms and they would dance, swaying back and forth. It was as if they too were welcoming the warmth of the sun and the joy of spring.
The morning started with clouds and the promise of a spring day. Our brown landscape was showing shades of green, the trees were starting to bud, and the rush of spring birds were beginning to migrate through the area. The lake was calling me, and by the time I hauled my kayak to the shoreline the clouds were parting a bit to allow the sun to streak through. It was going to be a glorious morning – a perfect time to be on the lake.
Quietly I paddled the perimeter, and with each stroke I was reminded of the muscles that I hadn’t used since last fall. I observed the docks and boats that had been put into the lake, flushed a group of wood ducks further down the shoreline, and reveled in the crisp morning air. It was a delightful half hour to absorb spring with all my senses. As I approached the end of my journey I was greeted by the resident loon pair swimming in front of the beach, as if they were welcoming me back to their lake.
Here in the north we are still waiting for spring’s arrival. Our skies have been gray, our temperatures have been 10-20 degrees below normal, and we’ve even had continuing frosts and snow. It’s been hard to keep our spirits up thinking that spring will not arrive in April but is holding off until sometime in May.
But there’s a lovely “cure” at the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park and it seems like everyone is making a mental-health trip to the conservatory. Spring is in bloom, with bright and lovely colors – reds, yellows, whites, pinks, and blues – and the scents of these blossoms float in the air. Everyone is smiling, taking photos of the colors with their phones, inhaling deeply, and spending time in the gardens trying to soak up the indoor promise of warmer weather.
Spring will come, although by now it may be fleeting. We may instead jump from winter to summer. But I’m sure we will all welcome the long-anticipated warmer weather and it’s accompanying blossoms and blooms.