I travelled home to Hampshire just before Christmas to visit my family. The weather was grim - awfully wet and horribly windy, yet we had a great time swapping presents, cooking pies and watching old Christmas films. One evening was spent at one of our beautiful local churches, where we sang carols and ate mince pies. Oh, I really do love a good little church at Christmas time. The organ, stained glass, old stone... Don't you just adore the bright purple theme?
Then, on Christmas Eve, after several cancelled flights, three or four power cuts and quite a fair amount of frustration, I flew to Edinburgh with a violent storm snapping at my heels. Here I met up with D. and his family. More of the same followed - huge amounts of food and wine and laughter. On a chilly Boxing Day we paid a trip to the city's wonderful Botanic Gardens.
On the 27th we drove even further northward, to the Highlands, where we stayed with more of D.'s family. I'd been before, once, but on this occasion we knew we'd have much more time to explore... Those magical days between Christmas and New Year are always a joy to spend doing whatever one pleases, aren't they? Our journey took us through snowy mountain passes; we'd look out of the car and all we'd see was still and white: a Narnian paradise, minus the White Witch.
Even further up north, the snow had melted. Mornings were frosty and bright. Here water runs black at the impressive Falls of Shin.
Gorgeous, vivid Scottish woodland.
We were up in the Highlands for four days. We would eat eggs and bacon cooked in a heavy old frying pan for breakfast every morning and then head out in the car, driving past farms and deep gorges and lochs with surfaces like perfect silver mirrors, over snow-capped mountains, through dark wooded valleys. The landscape was some of the most unimaginably beautiful I have ever seen. One day we set out early, with thick grey mist all around us, and drove from the east to the west coast - the land was very narrow at this point - to a small harbour where boats leaves often for the Outer Hebrides. I don't know if it was mist or low cloud or whatever but it felt like we were truly up in the Heavens.
The dark nights were spent telling long stories and cooking with big pots, mostly. Partridges killed locally perhaps, or more winter pies. We even ate our supper in the great hall of a castle one night... Oh yes, the Highlands are a special place, and I didn't particularly want to leave. After driving in heavy rain back to Edinburgh, we caught a quiet train back to London on New Year's Eve. And then to shake things up a bit, we went to Venice. I really ought to leave that tale for a new blog post...