We recently made a camping trip to Vilas County in northeast Wisconsin. This is an area filled with forests, lakes, and welcoming community towns. We took our bicycles with the intent of riding the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail. This 52-mile paved trail was a gem to ride. At times we were in the thick of the woods following a curving and winding trail, and at other times we were riding along the shore of beautiful lakes. We rode trail sections that were relatively flat and then we also rode some short rolling hills – perfect for gaining enough momentum going down to get you almost to the top of the next hill. We rode over bridges spanning streams and wetlands. We saw deer looking at us from within the woods and we saw turkeys crossing the trail. With hot sunshine and warm breezes we made a stop for ice cream (twice). On the second day the late afternoon clouds rolled in and the rain began, but we were under a tree canopy and protected from the heaviest drops. And as quickly as it started, the rain passed out of the area. It was a memorable trip and we’ll look forward to a return trail ride in the future.
Slowly our summer season is coming to a close. The hours of sunlight are diminishing each day, the nights are cooler, and the landscape is losing its green lushness.
Walking in a field the other day I noticed the remainders of what had once been blooming dandelions. Their colors were gone and their skeletons stood tall above the other drying vegetation. Here they seemed proud of their intricate structure and proud of having survived the recent winds. There was no way to know how much longer the remaining blossom stems and seed would remain intact – a few hours, a day, a week – and yet they made a statement to me of resilience and beauty.
It was early morning when I launched my kayak into the lake. The smell of fireworks from the previous night’s celebrations hung heavy in the air. There was no wind, no movement; the fog had developed overnight and was now suspended low over the lake.
This is my favorite time of day – the after dawn quiet when the world slowly awakens, before the rush and hurry of another 24 hours. I paddled as quietly as I could, rustling up some ducks that were gliding through the lily pads. Someone had recently been sitting on this dock, throwing their fishing line into the lake, and hoping for a bite. The rod was left leaning against the bench but at the ready for the return of the angler. Perhaps that person was waiting for the fog to lift.
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.