Scotland and England
Luigi and Manly, 1998
"Welcome to Balfour Castle. Your hosts are Andrew and Patricia Lidderdale, together with Patricia's mother and sister, Catherine and Mary Zawadski.
"The Castle was built in 1848 by David Balfour and was intended to embody and embellish the status of the Balfour family. They had been landowners in Orkney since the 16th century and by the early 19th century owned vast tracts on the 'Mainland' (Main Island) and several other islands, together with the whole of Shapinsay. The money required to fund these purchases had largely been created by John Balfour, whose shipping empire in the late 18th century was legendary.
"The Castle remained in the Balfour family until 1961, when the last of the line of descent, David Balfour, died without issue; (not for the want of trying -- he had four wives!) During his lifetime he became a close friend of Catherine and her Polish husband Tadeusz and on his death he expressed a wish that they should purchase the Castle and its grounds. 'Ted' with his usual quite unstoppable zest for life immediately agreed, despite the obvious odds.
"The Zawadski family have been here now for thirty years raising two sons (Christopher and Richard) and two Daughters (Mary and Patricia). In 1983 Patricia married Andrew Lidderdale and they now have two sons Rikki and Ron.
"Balfour Castle is a working farmhouse and as well as catering for our guests we also run two acres of traditional walled gardens (from which we produce all our own vegetables for the table) and two farms totaling 1,100 acres, which specialise in top quality beef as well as sheep and extensive arable crops. Richard runs the farm of Balfour Mains and Andrew runs Ness Farm at the far end of the Island.
"We are delighted to welcome you to our island home and hope that you will enjoy the special tranquility of the woods, farms and gardens. Moreover we are sure you will enjoy meeting and talking with our fellow islanders, they are an outstanding lot!"
Meals are served in the kitchen (actually, I suspect, the former servants dining room). From the bedrooms walk down two flights, right down a long hallway, right again past the snooker room and left before you reach the chapel at the end of the hall. The vast quantities of antique furniture and other items made me feel that I was living in a museum.
During cocktails and at dinner I met Tommy and Sarah, who were married here the day before yesterday, and Alan and Pamela - he is involved in community radio and she was an advisor in obstetrics and gynecology to the RAF.
Tuesday, June 30. After breakfast I walked about a mile to a blind (called "hide" by the British) overlooking the Millbank, a marshy pond where many birds gather. The blind had three windows, each about three feet wide and nine inches high, through which I could observe the gulls, terns, oyster catchers, ducks, lapwings, swans, moor hens, etc and one lone heron. The blind is the property of RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). I was joined by six women and a male naturalist guide for 45 minutes. Then by a male backpacker for half an hour.
Lunch was at the Smithy, one of few buildings in the village over one story. A small museum and gift shop are on the ground floor, a simple soup and sandwich shop above.
Wednesday, July 1. Catherine drove me past an old Orkney farmhouse of stone, with a low attachment at the rear for cattle. Originally the attachment was open to the living quarters so that the heat from the animals would help warm the house.
We went to a point on northeast peninsula whence I walked about ten minutes to the Broch of Burroughston on the coast. This archaeological site, on a cliff over a beach of slate rocks, was excavated in the 1860s. It was built around a well three meters deep, in concentric circles of stone walls; dwellings were between the circles. The initial construction was about 2000 B.C. and it was renovated around 1500 BC. At the entrance a bin holds 9" X 12" paddles containing text telling what to look for and how the site was used. The tower was 25 meters high and, eventually, fell on the dwellings. Catherine said that originally there was a tunnel to the cliff in which the residents kept a long boat for escape if attacked by too strong a force.
Seals were basking on rocks in the rain 50 yards off shore. I saw a bunch of wild pinks; also buttercups, wild iris and tiny wild orchids, all same shade of yellow, along path to site.
Catherine picked me up after 1:00 and left me at the Smithy. This is a few doors from the Thomas Sinclair one-room store locally called "Harrod's" because you can get anything there from penpoints to a tractor.
There were seven people at dinner, including Richard Zawadski and Callie Khouri, author of Thelma and Louise, with her son David and assistant Steven.
Thursday, July 2. I ascertained that my pint plastic flask fits in the fanny pack in which I usually carry my palmtop computer. Juice, porridge (with butter and whisky), fried egg, Scotch bacon, toast, local baker's cheese, Orkney honey (that has the consistency and appearance of bacon grease but the taste of honey), marmalade and tea made up my breakfast.
Catherine Zawadski drove Ernie and Glinda Beasley to the trail head for Burroughston Broch and me to the trail head for the Ouze on the north side of the island. It was a 35 minute walk to a dyke separating the sea from a tidal marsh. I walked along the stony beach to a headland where a bank of pinks bloomed. Then I walked back all the way across island, about three miles, to the village for lunch at the Smithy. There was no rain and today's minute of sunshine lighted the walk.
The only other guest at dinner was Ann Walker, raised in Kenilworth, Illinois. She is a wine and spirits writer and was a friend of the late Dick Graff, founder of the Chalone Winery. She now lives in Connecticut with her husband.
Friday, July 3. The Zawadski family was going to Kirkwall, mostly in the red van; Mary took me in her car to the landing, where she expertly backed the car onto ferry. On arrival at Kirkwall, she drove off the ferry and left me at the bus station. As I just missed the 11:00 bus, I had time to visit St. Magnus Cathedral. Built of red and white stone, the outside shows evidence of centuries of exposure to strong and permanent wind. The bus, for 2 Pounds 20 Pence ($3.67) took me past several miles of rolling green dairy country to Stromness, a few feet from Stromness Hotel.
I bought two bottles Scapa 12 yr old whisky at the local grocery. The bottles from which we poured our drinks in the Balfour Castle library included both this and Highland Park; I found that I preferred the former as it is a little smoother. As I suspected, the price at the grocery turned out to be less than it would have been at the duty-free shop at Heathrow
At the Stromness Hotel the same plump woman was a waitress in the bar at lunch, the head waitress in the main dining room at breakfast and the receptionist when I checked out. My room was OK with a nice view of a garden in which crows congregated and cawed whenever it was not dark. Darkness was very brief. Rain fell most of the time I was in Stromness.
Saturday, July 4. The alarm function of my palmtop computer (which I have programmed to play reveille) went off at 6:15 AM and I managed to get good buffet breakfast, to check out and to carry my luggage across the street and 200 yards to a large P&O Ferry before 8:30. This vessel took me and others across Pentland Firth to Scrabster where a bus took me to Thurso in plenty of time for the 12:13 train to Inverness. Although I got a forward facing seat on boarding, the two-car train connected with another shortly after getting underway and then I was facing backward for the rest of the journey, believing that if I switched seats the train would do another about face. Often the tracks were closely paralleled by a road. At one point a little red car kept pace opposite me and the pretty blonde driver kept looking at the train. I waved, she smiled and waved back and then sped away.
The train reached Inverness around 4:00. I waited and had a sandwich until the 6:30 train to Edinburgh. On board I was interviewed by a man from Scottish Railways who asked me to rate various aspects of my trip and of the Inverness Station. He entered my responses into hand held device that was connected by wire to a larger device strapped to his left forearm.
There are an awful lot of sheep between Thurso and Edinburgh. Mostly damp rolling grassland. The train reached Edinburgh a little past 10:00. On entering the Balmoral Hotel, I mentioned my name to the bellman and to the desk clerk, both of whom cheerfully reported that my wife had just checked in.
Sunday, July 5. My alarm again went off at 6:15 because I forgot to unset it. We both went back to sleep until Luigi's watch alarm sounded 8:00. At breakfast we saw a waiter put a pitcher part way on a shelf over the buffet table; it fell off onto the table, drenching the platter of ham and sausage to which we had hoped to help ourselves, but he took the platter away.
We walked east along Princes Street, Waterloo Place, and Regent Road, stopping at Calton Cemetery where stands a statue of Abraham Lincoln as part of a memorial to Scottish Soldiers who died in American Civil War; two were from Illinois regiments, one each from Michigan and New York regiments. Most graves were of people who died in the 19th century, including many children. One family included seven children, the longest survivor dying at 12.
After lunch we returned to the hotel whence Luigi went off to visit the Scottish National Museum while I napped. Dinner was at Stac Polly, where I had dined the preceding Sunday evening. Both of us had parsley crusted Scottish salmon - very good indeed. For starters Luigi had tomato and orange soup and I had bits of haggis in filo dough. Made of scraps of sheep liver and heart and oatmeal and spices the haggis was not nearly so disgusting as I had been led to expect; perhaps the traditional cooking in a sheep's stomach would have enhanced the effect.
Monday, July 6. After stopping at the railroad station to see if the cap I'd left on the train from Inverness Saturday evening had been turned in (it hadn't), Luigi and I took a walk into the area northwest of our hotel. We stopped first at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill store on Princes Street for a sweater for me and found many of satisfactory color, size and design on sale for 19.99 Pounds ($33.35), so I bought one of forest green.
We proceeded to the end of Princes Street, then along Queens Ferry Street and across the Dean Bridge over the Water of Lieth that flows in a very deep gully. The parapet walls of this bridge were raised and topped with spikes in 1912 to inhibit suicides. We went on into a nice residential area with large row houses and parks. Twice as we were consulting our maps people who were passing by offered to help us find our way. Edinburgh is a hilly city, and the hills seem to go up much more than they go down.
On the way back we looked at restaurants in hope of getting a modest lunch, but they all seemed to specialize in three-course business luncheons until we came to a basement pub called Champagne Charlie's on the northwest corner of North Castle Street and George Street. They had no more tables available but invited us to eat on a "ledge" along one wall. Bar stools provided appropriate seating, and we had some tasty yellow split pea soup and Madras Chicken sandwiches with a pint of Caledonian draught ale apiece for a total of 15 Pounds ($25) including tip. This was one place where we heard no American or other non-Scottish accents.
During my naptime Luigi looked inside the Registry Building across the street; it has a spectacular luminous dome. Then she went toJenner's department store -- contemporary with the Carson, Pirie, Scott Building in Chicago, it has a baroque red stone exterior and is built around a light well. The balusters are in a thistle shape.
Tuesday, July 7. We took the 9:40 AM train to Inverness, arriving a little after 1:00 and in time for a tasty lunch served in the lobby of the Station Hotel, adjacent to the railroad station. A firmly Victorian hotel, it has been modernized but not abusively so. Our room had a heated towel rack, and many gulls crying outside our window. Dinner was at the Cottage Tandoori Restaurant, 57 Academy St. - mulligatawney soup and whole Tandoori chicken, red with red and white sauces on the side. All very good.
Wednesday, July 8. We took the train to Kyle of Lockalsh and back through the spectacular countryside, with fog, mist, and sometimes rain. Rectangular patterns of stone might have been cottages before the Clearances in the 18th century drove many peasants from the Highlands into other countries. We saw deer, rabbits, rhododendron (some still blooming), delphiniums, cliffs, and several rocky streams. Many many sheep came into view, some still unshorn.
On arriving at Kyle, we walked about in very little rain, and got a nice view of the Isle of Skye and the new bridge to it. Lunch at The Seafood Restaurant in the Kyle of Lockalsh railroad station was a splendid seafood chowder with smoked salmon in it, flavoring the whole. Fresh fruit Pavlova -- meringue with raspberries, strawberries and heavy cream -- was delicious.
Back in Inverness, dinner in the hotel dining room included venison cutlets that were tough and gristly, and was accompanied by a slow, pleasant ambience.
Thursday, July 9. We managed to get breakfast in time to catch the 7:55 train to London. As we left the Highlands the land grew more nearly flat and the climate drier. We even saw a little sunshine and lots more sheep.
The Gloucester Hotel, where we stayed, is now called the Millennium Gloucester. It is near the Gloucester Road Underground Station in a neighborhood where we have previously taken a flat for a week at a time. The hotel is owned by a group from Singapore, who gave the decorators too big a budget and too little direction. We dined in the Bugis Street Brasserie, a Singaporean - Chinese restaurant attached to the hotel. The "Taste of Singapore" dinner selection included excellent seafood soup called "Singapore Laksa" plus other tasty dishes of tofu and pork, fish (possibly eel), curry chicken and rice.
I stopped at a neighborhood telephone booth and picket up one of the illustrated cards posted to advertise the services of an exotic Asian massage practitioner. On the back I wrote to my nephew Mason Soule that the problem with the au-pair girl in Massachusetts may have kept him from hiring an English girl to take care of his sons, but there are many young women in London who were well used to handling boys. I recently got an e-mail message from him saying that while he and his sons might like the idea, he thought his wife Catherine might object.
Friday, July 10. First thing was the Chagall show at the Royal Academy. The courtyard was populated by a score of life size cast nudes of a dark gray material in various positions. Inside we had the choice of a glass staircase or a glass enclosed elevator. Briefly believing that the show was only one story up, we took the staircase up three or four flights. Located in three rooms, most of the Chagall paintings were from St. Petersburg and Moscow, including private collections as well as state museums. Both of us enjoyed this opportunity to see works that we otherwise would never have seen. We took the elevator down upon leaving, and were glad we came relatively early as the show was crowded when we left and three times as many people got off the elevator as got on.
Shortly before noon we walked over to Savile Row and then around the corner to Denman and Goddard, my tailor on New Burlington Street. I had thought to pick up the new topcoat I'd ordered, but I got a fitting instead; for this I was thankful, not wanting to add the coat to my luggage that was already heavier than I liked.
At the suggestion of one of the tailors, we had lunch at La Locanda Italian restaurant around corner and down an alley. Valerio Beer from Milan was OK but only 330 ml instead of more common 440 or 500 that we had been drinking. I had a squid the size of my hand in chilli pepper sauce plus salad; spaghetti with tuna, olives and garlic was Luigi's choice.
For dinner we took the Underground to Green Park Station and then walked to the Carlton Club (which also has reciprocal arrangements with the University Club of Chicago) at 69 St. James Street. Unlike most other streets with which I am familiar, the buildings on St. James are numbered consecutively up from Picadilly on one side of the street and then at the far end the numbering continues consecutively up on the other side returning to Picadilly, so that the highest and lowest numbers are directly opposite each other. At dinner, rabbit for me and cold poached salmon for Luigi were well accompanied by the Club's house red claret, Chateau L'Etoile 1986 Graves.
Saturday, July 11. No hot water would flow in our bathroom when we got up, but after breakfast it did. Luigi and I walked over to Sainsbury's supermarket for rhubarb ginger marmalade. On the way back we stopped Kensington Communications, 130A Cromwell Road, London SW7 4ET, England, phone (0)171/373 4888, fax (0)171/373 8444, to see about renting a cellular telephone for some future trip to London. We were advised to call a couple of days before reaching London to reserve a phone number with a rental phone. The flat we have taken in this neighborhood imposes a substantial deposit for a telephone, and we have left too early in the day to it back, so we may rent a cellular phone next time. Lunch was at the Rat and Parrot, 25 Gloucester Road, a proper pub where people bring their squalling children. It has a brass rail at the dark wood bar and high and low tables. I had beef and Stilton pie, Luigi had Texas Chilli, and each had a pint of bitter -- 15.58 Pounds ($26) with tip. It rained all afternoon and we just lay on the bed and read books.
We had a delicious dinner at Bombay Brasserie, 2 doors away from our hotel. 63.85 Pounds ($114) including tip and beer and dessert. Achar Gosht (lamb) and Chicken Korma Rizala - both marinated and served in yoghurt based sauces.
Sunday, July 12. We took the Underground to Victoria Station, then the 9:32 train to Brighton where Charles and Anne Gilson met us at the station. Charles and I were close friends in the Boy Scouts, but had not seen each other since 1942. When I saw a man about my age with a pretty blonde woman who appeared to be waiting for someone, I waved and they waved back and thus we identified each other. They took us in their car to their home in Hove, adjacent to Brighton, and then to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. Originally built for George IV's lecherous weekends, this building is a glorious reminder of days of great luxury with large rooms elaborately decorated and furnished. In the huge dining room appeared many large serving dishes that I suspect were sterling silver with fired-on gold. (This is not made any more because the process destroys the sight of the craftsmen.) Queen Victoria also had an apartment in the Pavilion, and we saw her bedroom. I was impressed by the stack of half a dozen mattresses, and wondered if anyone ever put a pea under one to see if she noticed.
Back at the Gilsons' home we had a splendid lunch of Thai chicken, rice and salad accompanied by Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and preceded by Amontillado Sherry. Dessert was a delicious dish that included fresh berries. The Gilsons live in Hove, adjacent to Brighton, in one-story house on a hill with attractive front and back gardens. We had a very welcome conversation about what each had been doing in last 56 years. Charles is now a great grandfather and is no longer known as Chuck or Charley. After World War II (when he flew bombers over Japan) Charles finished college in Shanghai where his parents had gone as missionaries. After the Communist takeover he returned to the U.S. and got a job with American Express. As he was the only one in his class of recruits who would accept a post in the far East, they originally assigned him to the Okinawa office. Since then he managed various offices over the world, including a couple of years in Moscow, and ended up in London. He is now retired.
It rained all day until we were taken back to station for the 5:52 express to London. Back at the hotel, we got a couple salads and beers from a local grocery and consumed them in our room while watching television. France and Brazil were playing the final game for the World Cup in European football, and we watched that in part, but mostly we watched a re-released version of "My Fair Lady."
Monday, July 13. We took the airport bus to Heathrow and the 11:00 AM United flight to Chicago.