A Day Going Back In Time

As longtime readers of this blog may know, one of my interests is vintage lifestyle, especially vintage style from the U.K. Well, this weekend’s excursion goes back pretty far, even for my tastes. This weekend, I paid a visit to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, a living history festival that presents a themed fair revolving around the court of King Henry VIII. While there are all the typical food stalls, vendors, and shows, the main cast of the festival is the Royal Court and the villagers. The faire itself is held in its own, permanent structure, called the Tudor Village, which is used solely for the faire and its rehearsals. It’s a fantastic experience, and somehow even better when you come back over the years. I typically go one or two times per season, which runs from late August to mid-October. And I know enough people involved in the faire that I often can get discounted tickets!

This year, we decided to go on opening day to see the King approach, the village gates open, and the cannons sound. They’re not kidding when they say to cover your ears! Immediately inside the gates is the fountain and the Gatehouse Stage, where you can learn about the plot of the year when they present the Royal Welcome every morning. This year’s plot involves King Henry’s desire to divorce Queen Katharine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. They brought back an Anne Boleyn storyline last year for the first time in years, and it seems they’re sticking with it for a while. Of course, both the other courtiers and the common folk have their own dramas outside of the Royal family. The whole thing makes a complex tapestry of performance and history, which would be impossible to catch with even just one day’s visit to the faire.

That said, one of my favorite parts of faire was also one of my first stops of the morning: Scotch Eggs! I love this supremely unhealthy faire staple that takes a boiled egg, wraps it in sausage, and deep fries it to perfection. I managed to show up the first time just as they’d run out, but that meant that when I came back ten minute later, I got a fresh-out-of-the-fryer Scotch egg. Yum. I offset the Scotch egg with a fresh pressed beet-carrot-apple-ginger juice from the adorable juice vendors.

From there, it was time to wander. We met up with friends, saw a couple shows, and did some shopping. Oh, the shopping. Despite having attended faire since I was in high school, I’ve never actually had my own proper Renaissance Festival garb before. I always put something together that looked suitably “Renaissance” out of my closet, usually just involving a long skirt and some layered tops and jewelry. But I wanted to go legit, so one of our stops was to Moresca, where I got a cropped corest top, a flowy split blouse, and some harem pants to make the perfect warm-weather outfit for a day at the faire. And of course this means that I have to come back this season to get more use out of it! I also managed to find a new matcha bowl at a pottery vendor, which will definitely be getting some Instagram time this week.

After a day of shopping, walking, mingling, and eating, Mr. Tweed and I were pretty exhausted, so we decided to head home after about five hours at the faire. But the nice thing about faire is that whenever you leave, it’s always going to be a temporary parting!

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Scottish Adventure: Culloden and Clava Cairns

For our last day in Scotland, we decided to stick close to home and explore the sites right near Inverness. It seems foolish to visit Inverness and not see Culloden battlefield, the site of the last Jacobite uprising and something that comes up again and again when Scots discuss their history. In fact, I had a woman describe a tartan pattern to me as being “from after Culloden,” referring to the period of time when tartans were outlawed. From there, we decided to visit Clava Cairns to see some history from even further back in the history of the isle. Of course, our Outlander-fan friends warned us to be careful around standing stones around Inverness, but we deemed it worth the risk.

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Culloden battlefield reminded me of a smaller-scale version of Gettysburg. It had the same feeling of quiet dignity, with historical information and monuments punctuating a landscape that had mostly reclaimed much of the physical marks of the battle. We opted to skip the indoor exhibit, in favor of walking the battlefield for a while, quietly contemplating the loss of life and the way a single battle changed life in Scotland so dramatically. The loop we took brought us around and to the main Culloden cairn monument and the individual clan grave markers toward the end of our trips. Despite the fact that more tourists had come into town the evening before for the beginning of the bank holiday weekend, the battlefield still held the sense of hush and respect that I appreciated on my walk.

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From there, we decided to walk to Clava Cairns, just a mile and a half away. It sounded like an easy walk, but the combination of unseasonable heat, and a route that took us along narrow roads, shared with vehicles, made it a slightly more exciting route than originally intended. But we made it. Clava Cairns is made up of two sites: Balnuaran of Clava, a four-thousand-year-old group of burial cairns built by some of the island’s original inhabitants; and Milton of Clava, a medieval chapel built on the remains of more cairns. The site is popular with Outlander tour groups, and we were fortunate to just miss one group before arriving, so we were able to see the sites in relative peace.

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We came first to the burial cairns. During the Victorian Druidic revival, the burial sites were reimagined as being set in an oak grove, and so the Victorians planted oak trees around the cairns. Despite their questionable historical accuracy, the trees were a welcome relief from the heat and sun. The site is still intact enough that you can walk into the passage graves, which provides an interesting view of the site. The other ring graves are open only at the top, and despite the obvious temptation, no one dared disrespect the site by climbing the cairns.

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From there, it is another short walk to the Milton of Clava, where another cairn was displaced by a medieval chapel. It’s interesting to see this kind of dynamic history. I commented to Mr. Tweed that it was fascinating to be in a country that has preserved so many of the sites that date back thousands of years before, rather than the mere hundreds that so many American sites claim. And then to see the clash of historical populations in the stones that still stand today, hundreds and thousands of years later is amazing.

After walking back to the car at Culloden, we made our way back into Inverness to prepare for our journey home the next day…

…except that’s not how it happened! It’s not something to dwell on, but many of those who follow me on social media may have noticed we got two “extra” days in the Highlands because our flight out of Inverness was canceled suddenly. Suffice to say, we got to see even the parts of Scotland that we thought had become familiar to us from yet another side, as we navigated last-minute hotels, buses, and taxis. Honestly, it made the arrival home all the sweeter, but also cemented in my mind that I will return to Scotland some day.

Scottish Adventure: An Afternoon of Ruins!

From Cawdor, Mr. Tweed and I decided to drive out to Elgin to see Elgin Cathedral, a ruined cathedral dating from the 13th century. Once again, we enjoyed a drive in the Scottish countryside, driving through a few small towns (including one we would visit again under less happy circumstances – foreshadowing!). Elgin reminded me a little bit of Rome in a way, because it was sometimes hard to tell where monuments ended and the businesses and homes began. A community of garden-style houses would be punctuated with dramatically crumbling bit of the original city gates. We found Elgin Cathedral situated at a place where a few of the larger roads met, surrounded by a high iron fence.

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As we bought our tickets for the site, the guides told us about a deal they had where for 1,20 GBP more each, we could get a dual ticket that was also good at their sister site, Spynie Palace. It was still fairly early in the day and I’m a sucker for a ruined palace, so we agreed. You see, Elgin Cathedral was the seat of the diocese of the bishops of Moray, and for centuries, Spynie Palace was the bishop’s home, just three miles away. So it does seem fitting to see both at one go. I will say, the guides at the Cathedral and Palace were among my favorite people we encountered in Scotland. At the Cathedral, the guides seemed to be enjoying their job very much as they pointed out all the various places we should make sure to visit at the Cathedral site.

The Cathedral itself is almost surreal. Not only is it in the midst of a well-traveled section of the city, but it it so similar to other Gothic-style cathedrals I’ve visited, just not entirely there. The main towers were open, and we did take the opportunity to walk up. As you make your way up, they have exhibits of various examples of art and stonework from the cathedral, in various stages of restoration. They even have pieces of the supports for the massive rose window. I will say, the guide made a point to tell us that the staircases are not nearly as steep and narrow as those at Urquhart Castle, and he was absolutely right. We made it to the top of the tower with the observation deck, and took in the view, which is stunning.

From there, we explored the rest of the cathedral and the churchyard. There are many gravestones from all periods of time, including the tallest gravestone in Scotland, and a gravestone with the profound poem: “The world is a city full of streets and death is the market that all men meets. If life were a thing that money could buy, the poor could not life and the rich would not die.” Despite the noise of the street around us, the churchyard still felt rather peaceful, in the way that churchyards always feel peaceful.

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We pressed onward to Spynie Palace. As we made our way out of town, and up the drive of the site, the first thing we noticed was that there was not a single other car there. We parked and walked up an eerily quiet dirt path to the welcome cottage, where we saw the caretaker walking in from the ruins. He greeted us and checked out tickets and then asked if we’d like a little history of the site. We said of course. I think he might have been a bit bored, because we were treated to a 20-minute discussion of the history of the palace (really a castle, but the bishops wanted to make it sound grander), its place in the unfortunate history of Queen Mary of Scotland, and the Scottish Reformation. Apparently, Mary’s third husband, the Earl of Bothwell fled to the palace after being charged with the murder of her second husband, and tried to overtake the castle. But things did not end well for him.

The palace itself began to fall into decay by the end of the 17th century and not much of it remains today. But the main gate still stands, and it is through that gate that we entered the site. It was an interesting exercise to walk around and enter the palace where visitors would have entered. From there, we explored David’s Tower, taking in the view, and even ventured into the basement. The grounds were almost preternaturally quiet, as we were the only tourists there for most of the time. We were joined maybe fifteen minutes into our explorations by another two guys and a dog, but for the most part, it felt almost like a private showing. The peacefulness was lovely, but the site is so striking, that I almost wish it would become more crowded. Perhaps they do a brisker business on other days.

From there, we ventured back to Elgin for tea and cake, and onward home after a long day of history and castles in all states of repair!

An Historical Weekend Away

It’s been almost a month since Boyfriend and I decided to take a little long weekend trip to Gettysburg, but I suppose I ought to share some of the photos I took. It was a lovely weekend, with generally nice weather, if a bit warm and sunny some days. I certainly got more sun than usual, even with my sunscreen and parasol at the ready.

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We left on a Friday evening from work and did not meet much traffic, so we pulled up to the bed and breakfast a bit after 7 p.m. I had phoned ahead to make sure someone would be there to meet us if we were later than 8, and to save us a plate of food so we wouldn’t have to stop for dinner. But because we arrived before the restaurant closed, we were able to sit down to a nice family-style meal, complete with a glass of local wine for me and beer for Boyfriend. It was a lovely beginning to our weekend, and we got to our cottage relaxed and happy.

The next morning, we had our breakfast in the kitchen room of the main B&B house. It started with porridge, fruit, and tea, and then continued on with a big plate of cheesy eggs and bacon and toasted homemade bread with strawberry jam. The jam was obviously homemade as well, as it tasted incredibly fresh. I don’t generally prefer strawberry jam, but I enjoyed it very much. From there, we spent the day hiking around the historical park, doing plenty of walking. Although the clouds became rather dramatic at times, we did not get rained upon, although our feet were quite sore.

We ended up walking all the way around the north part of the park and back into town, where we got sandwiches for lunch at a little French-themed cafe, and then took the car back to the B&B to rest and clean up before dinner. Dinner was at the historic Farnsworth House, where we ate at the tavern before going on a ghost tour. The tours are given by guides in historical dress, and focus a lot on history, but devote plenty of time to the modern stories of paranormal encounters. I’m not too proud to admit, I felt a few chills while we sat in the haunted attic of the house.

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Sunday, after a casual breakfast in our room of sticky buns and blueberry muffins, we spend the morning touring the various wineries and cideries in the area. The countryside was stunning, particularly with the trees so laden with ripening apples. We bought plenty of wine and some cider to tide us over until we can get this year’s batch fermenting.

From there, we went back into town, where we had lunch at an Irish pub. It was rather upscale pub food, and I enjoyed my Scotch egg, fish and chips, and Murphy’s with relish. I was excited to see they offered “a wee bit of fish and chips” and 10 oz. beers for those of us with smaller appetites. Duly fortified, we ventured back into the historical park to walk around the south part of the park. Sadly, the hiking trails are far less well maintained, with the most care taken to keep up the newly paved driving tour route, so we spent much of our time walking along the road instead of braving the somewhat deserted trails. I found it sad that the roads so greatly reduced the number of walkers on the trails, with people preferring to drive up to the landmarks, get out of their cars for a few minutes, and then get back in and continue driving. But we enjoyed our walk, and I got a lovely panoramic view from the observation tower.

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Two days of so much walking and sunshine left us ready to head out on Monday after breakfast on the deck of the main B&B house. But it was a lovely weekend!

Weekend Crafting and Historical Exploration

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I had a lovely, relaxing weekend, this weekend. I started off on Friday evening by having some friends over to play board games and share a nice fall meal. I made my standby butternut squash pasta casserole, along with mini cheesecakes to celebrate a friend who had a birthday last week. It was simple, but delicious and certainly fortified us for an evening of fun games. It also served to soak up some of the cocktails we poured.

And then on Saturday, I went to my aerials class, and then just relaxed. I puttered around in the kitchen with some crafts. I recently ordered all the butters and oils and beeswax I need to make lip balms and lotion bars for holiday gifts, but I receive a small sample of cocoa butter in the order. I also recently bought some babassu oil for soaping, but discovered it could be a lovely balm ingredient as well. So I mixed up a couple of experimental batches. The cocoa butter was just enough to make one tube of lip balm. I mixed it with beeswax and some hazelnut oil to make a chocolate-hazelnut lip balm, although it smells only lightly of cocoa butter.

Then, I mixed up a slightly larger batch of babassu oil, mango butter, and beeswax to try out as both a lip balm and a lotion bar. I poured most out into an empty deodorant container (clean, of course) to use as a body butter, and then also was able to fill five lip balm tubes. The babassu oil melts at just below body temperature so it rolls on smoothly, but soaks in rapidly, so the skin is not left feeling greasy. I used some of it after shaving last evening, and found it left my skin feeling velvety, not oily. Boyfriend especially appreciated it, as when I use a soft balm in a jar, I tend to apply too much and my lovely smooth legs get a little greasy.

From there, I decided to make another batch of soap. This one used tallow, coconut oil, and olive oil to make a lovely, simple bar. I increased my super fat just a tad, as I’ve found my recently-tested first batch to be a touch drying. And I added oatmeal and calendula to the soap batter for an extra skin-soothing touch. They rested in my craft room for a couple days and I unmolded them this morning. My crafting room shelves are certainly filling up with soaps and balms!

I also used Saturday to just rest and relax and make a big batch of butternut squash and sweet potato soup for my lunches this week. The soup comes together quickly, simmers for a while, and blitzes up in the blender with very little effort. And soup and a cheese sandwich will be a nice early-fall lunch.

After such a relaxing Saturday, I went out on Sunday. I went downtown and spent the day at the National Museum of American History, where I browsed their new Innovation wing. There, I learned about all the inventions we take for granted that really changed the world. I was fascinated that they chose to include things like alarm clocks and deodorant along side exhibits about televisions and computers. And they had an entire exhibit about how ready-to-wear clothing changed the way people dressed and how the poor could move upwards in society. A truly neat look at how the early 20th century changed our social structure.

But the day spent on my feet meant I was particularly glad to come home to Boyfriend’s vegetarian chili and a nice hot bath for my Sunday evening beauty ritual!

The Ghost in Our Room

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I don’t actually believe our room is haunted. You see, for the last year, I’ve noticed that the light coming through our bedroom window shines on the far wall, near the door of our bedroom, and takes the vague shape of a person standing there. It startles me in the middle of the night.

But I don’t want to put up dark curtains or a shade to block the light because I like having sunlight in the morning. Also, our bedroom light fixture burned out shortly after we moved in and we’ve never been able to find a replacement bulb that fits. So I like having a lot of natural light; I just don’t like the streetlights shining in.

And in some strange way, it’s almost like this false ghost is becoming a real comforting presence. Whenever I start in the middle of the night, I can remind myself that anything I think I saw or heard is probably nothing, like the ghost. We’ve even taken to calling the reverse-shadow “the ghost.” As in, “we have to go something about the ghost,” or “it’s just the ghost” when I wake up panicked.

So now I wonder, what if I were to come up with a story about the ghost who watches us benignly from the doorway of our bedroom? I’ve always said that our room might have originally been meant to be the children’s room because it is large enough to house a couple of bunk beds. Perhaps the gentle presence is some long-forgotten mother who wanders our little historical town and peeks in the doorways of bedrooms to make sure those inside are safe. It’s a nice thought, and somehow turns a ghost from a frightening presence to a comforting one.

It is foolish, I realize, to make up a story about a patch of light reflecting on the wall. But it’s there every night as I try to fall asleep, and ghost stories are ultimately stories about history, which are so interesting.