Friday, December 8, 2017

Beginning a Different Journey

Since returning from Scotland I have been preparing the yard and garden for winter.  By the end of the day yesterday, as this shows, all was clean and tidy.  However, not for long.  We have been working with an architect to plan a major house renovation.  It will update the kitchen and bathroom from the 1960s and add a small addition. 

Our architect applied for the permits while we were away in October. It took a few weeks before we heard back from the Calvert County health department that they had no records of the septic system and they required a number of different things.  Fortunately the architect warned us that this would likely happen, but what would be required and the costs were unclear.

Today a contractor came to investigate the condition of the current septic, and do a percolation test to determine how fast the water drains away in the soil.  This is the second ditch where they determined that an inch of water drained from the test hole in four minutes.  Of course it did.  Look at all that sand piled up.  You can also see how the outrigger feet tore through the sod and buried themselves in the sandy soil.

Here is the vertical profile in the soil, showing just how sandy it all it.  This is something I already knew after many years of gardening in it.  You can also see on the left side of the hole where it partially collapsed.  This is all soft stuff.

The county will require we buy a new, sophisticated tank that will remove more nitrogen from the waste before it goes out into the soil.  We expected that since the house is in the "Critical Zone" of within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay. We appreciate the need to keep the Bay as clean as we can. 

We are waiting to see whether we will be able to use the existing dry wells that are original to the house, or if we will be required to add a leach field up in the front lawn.  Obviously the second choice would cost a lot more money.

This is what it looks like now.  While I could fuss around and try to clean it up, there is no point in that.  As we go ahead with the project, the whole front lawn area will be a parking and construction zone.  I wonder how long we will be living with things torn up?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Glasgow Nature and Design

Yesterday was the day to walk out from the city center along the Great Western Road.  We attended the morning Eucharist at St. Mary's Cathedral of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  This time, as before, the people are very warm and welcoming and the choir and organ were wonderful.  We returned in the evening for a wonderful choral Evensong.

From there it is only a short walk to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.  The sun was shining, the glass houses were full of interesting plants, and the whole place was crowded with families, scout troops, dog walkers, and parents pushing strollers.  It was a delight.  Yet my biggest thrill was when I discovered this pair of trees.
They are mature Monkey Puzzle trees, Araucaria araucana.  I have only seen very young ones, the first time was in the botanic garden in Edinburgh.  There are places which have tried to grow them in Washington, DC, but without much success.  I kept smiling and laughing at them!

Today was a day for final shopping.  David had to buy a new suitcase since one of the wheels disintegrated on the rough road on Iona.  We wandered through lots of different places, but I had to keep resisting buying the beautiful wool sweaters or jackets or other items.  There are so few times I can use them at home. 

We lunched at the Willow Tea Rooms.  These are copies inspired by the designs of Rennie Mackintosh, but still very pleasant with good food.  I had their cullen skink, for a second time; very good.

 It is a fitting way to end our time in Glasgow since tomorrow we will be flying home.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Returning to Glasgow

Fortunately we left Iona two days ago.  Today was the original day planned to travel back to Glasgow.  Checking my CalMac Ferry App, I learned the ferry off Iona was canceled all day because of the weather.

Yesterday we visited the Govan Old Parish Church.  I was curious about it because it was the parish where George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, was minister.  However, it had even more treasures than I expected.  The church is no longer an active parish church, though some services are held there. 

It does house the Govan Stones.  Tombstones from the graveyard around the church date back to the 850's.

We had a volunteer guide, Simon, who took us around, describing the features of the various stone and the history that had been forgotten for centuries. He explained that this stone is from a later period.  The letters carved on it were not originally on the stone, but were added later when the stone was reused in a second burial years later. 

The church was in the middle of the Glasgow Shipyards. When in 1930 MacLeod became minister, there were few ships being built because of the depression.  He left Govan in 1938 to create an experimental community designed to bring together the working class and the educated ministerial students that was to evolve into the Iona Community. 

Here is a detail of a modern Celtic cross that is outside of the church.  The egg and snake design is the same as St. Martin's cross outside of Iona Abbey.  This is likely the kind of carving and detail that cross would have had when it was originally carved 1200 years ago.  But with over a millennia of erosion, the cross lost the definition of the snake heads.

We would have seen the Old Govan Church last year when we had looked across the River Clyde from the Riverside Museum.  The last picture is a view of that museum with the Clyde in the foreground.  It is good to keep finding new riches in a place visited before. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Let the Sun shine, Maybe

This picture says it all.  The BBC weather app says there will be full sunshine at 1:00 p.m.  None of the sun and cloudy stuff before and after.  It is sitting in the window at 1:15, with rain coming down outside and streaming down the window.  We have heard this was to wrong year to be here in October.  All of Scotland, and some of England, have been very wet for both September and October. 

Yesterday, however, the sun really did come out most of the morning and into the early afternoon. 
So we walked up to the beaches on the northwest edge of Iona, where the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the ancient Lewisian Gneiss.  The multiple color bands in the rock are surprising.  I was ready to say it is my favorite spot on Iona, then realized I have already said that once or twice before.  Anyway, it is in the top five places.  After returning to the house and having lunch, when the sun still shining, we decided to climb up Dun Bhuirg.  It has the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.  So we got our boots on, picked up our walking sticks, and started walking west.  Five minutes out a large dark cloud was rolling in and we were leaning into the wind.  We were unwilling to give in, and walked on.  This shows the sky and beach at the Bay at the Back of the Ocean. 
We did get close to the top of Dun Bhuirg, but the wind was so strong that high up that it was not safe to walk narrow ledges with steep drops. So we turned back. 

Today we have been preparing to leave Iona tomorrow morning.  It involved gathering things scattered over a house for four weeks, washing multiple loads of laundry, and eating what is left in the refrigerator.  We attended the 5:00 p.m. Eucharist at Bishops House, then treated ourselves to a last supper at the Argyle Hotel.  Weather willing and ferries running, we will be off Iona in the morning, then bus, a second ferry and train to Glasgow in the late afternoon. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hike to Hermit's Cell

Friday was a wonderful day for hiking, cloudy with occasional outbursts of sun and wind speed in the single digits.  One place yet to be re-explored was the Hermit's Cell, the name for a circular wall of stones that may have been the base for a beehive shaped hut.  Those huts had been built across Celtic areas as monk's cells

We hiked up from the south, cutting across the golf course.  At the edge of the greens, where the rocks rose quickly is this delightful waterfall.  The only waterfall with such a dramatic drop on Iona.  Following a map really meant guessing where the trail went, because there were many trails made by the sheep and cattle.  Finally reaching the top of another rocky summit there it was.

Can you see it?  There is bright oval of green grass around the stones about 1/3 down on the right hand side.  On the left there is a large rock wall for a cattle pen.  Of course, to get there we still had to cross the wide area of bog in between.  With all of the rain the previous days, every low area was pooled with water.  But the worst of the boggy areas was yet to come.

We decided to continue hiking north, to come out near the Abbey.  Initially we worked our way across the high rocks of the central moorlands, keeping Dun I ahead of us.  There were occasional glimpses of the Sound of Iona to the east as well as the Abbey tower, barely visible on the right side of this photo.  But between us and the paved road  home were the peat bogs.  This part of the island provided peat for fires for many centuries.

Different paths were tried, and eventually a way was found.  But every gate was surrounded by mud.  We were both tired and sore walking the final mile down the road.

Yesterday was a day of solid dark clouds, and regular variations of rain.  A day to stay inside, read, work on photographs, needlepoint,  and write in my journal.  I am reading a biography of George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona community.  He was a tumultuous personality, and the reason Iona is known across the globe to this day. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Marble Quarry

For all the news attention to Ophelia, and the damage it caused in Ireland, it caused little harm by the time it arrived here on Iona, although bringing lots more rain.  The day after Ophelia we wandered the shops in the village, knowing the upland moors needed to drain and dry out.  Fortunately, on Wednesday, the day dawned with just clouds and scattered sunshine. 

The marble quarry is far from the beaten path.  It operated for short periods in the late 1800's and early twentieth century until all usable marble was removed.  One islander had recommended a trail to us.  When we tried it several days earlier, it proved to unreliable.  Instead we took the trail down to Columba Bay before turning off to the east.

Fortunately we were hiking along at the same time as a guided group, so I asked the guide where to trail turned off to the east side and the quarry.  He pointed to the place in the rocks to our left, and described some landmarks.  There were several times that I led the way to what appeared to be the described ravine, only to discover it led to a different bay.  This one is the Gully of Pat's Cow.  I wonder what stories were told about it in the past!

Eventually we found the correct ravine, and the abandoned equipment, including the tall marble cutting frame seen here.  What was surprising was how many large blocks of marble are still lying at the edge of the Sound of Iona.  Yet the whole area is now protected, and the equipment has been coated with something to prevent it from rusting away to nothing.  It was worth the hard hike, and slogging through lots of boggy areas still full of water from Ophelia.  My smart phone recorded climbing the equivalent of 54 floors!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Rain, Sunshine and Hurricane Ophelia

The regular rain showers continued over the weekend.  On Saturday we saw a short window in the forecast that was supposed to be just cloudy.  So we climbed up the hill behind the village, Cnoc Mor, in time to see the 10:00 a.m. ferry arriving.  It is often the busiest ferry since Saturday is the day rentals end and begin.  

There is a lot that can be seen from the top, such as the Abbey, the St. Columba Hotel in the center, the jewelry store and Oran craft cooperative.  In the distance on the right is Eilean nam Ban, the Island of the Women, and the Island of Mull behind it. 

We started walking west, to see if we could locate the Hermits Cell, but saw a squall blowing toward us, so quickly climbed down and took shelter in front of the library until most of it blew through.  We stayed inside the rest of the afternoon.  We had invited a new friend over for dinner, so David spent the afternoon puttering in the kitchen.

Sunday morning we went to the Scottish Presbyterian church in the village for the morning service.  The minister for the morning was the Rev. Joyce Watson, a Scottish Episcopal priest who we have come to know.  The minister was unable to lead because the ferry service was canceled in the morning, though it was running again at Noon.  So Joyce read through the service that had been prepared, including the sermon!

Sunday afternoon there was supposed to be another fair weather window, so we hiked up to the north end and the White Strand of the Monks.  We almost turned back when a squall blew in and the sky looked dark. But putting up the hoods on our coats, we waited for ten minutes.  It cleared out and there was some blue sky, as well as some more showers over the next hours.  David took this picture of the lichen on the rocks.

Today we have had more sunshine then the last three days!  We could see the edges of Ophelia because the clouds were moving from east to west, not the usual direction.  We walked over to Marchair on the west side.  If you want to buy a house on Iona, the house on the left, Lagnagiogan is available for £250,000.  Follow the link if you want to learn more about it.  However locals recommend tearing it down because it has water leakage problems and a big crack on the right end. 

On the right in the distance is the Hill of Angels, where Columba was seen praying by another monk.  He was  surrounded by dozens of angels.  One of the many legends attached to this island.

As I finish writing, the wind and rain from Ophelia are blowing around us.  But we are warm and settled for the night into our little home, Tighshee.