“What the heart has once owned, it shall never lose.”
– Henry Ward Beecher
If you are in receipt of my previous newsletters,, you know that I’m back from leading my Scottish Highlands & Islands Odyssey and my fellow ‘Odyssey-ites’ (sixteen) and I had the most wonderfilled, magical, transformative time, ever!
Whenever I talk about the experience, people respond with a deep sigh and say, “I wish I could have been there.”
Therefore, I decided to share my day-to-day Odyssey experiences with you through a series of newsletters. Every few days, I’ll post an account with photos of our amazing adventure.
Please click on the link below to visit my website if you would like to view any content that you may have missed, and please feel free to email me any questions or comments.
Lots of Joy,
October 3-11, 2014
Scottish Highlands and Islands Odyssey
(Odyssey– a spiritual quest of self-discovery; a journey home)
Wednesday, October 8th – Day 5, With a Little Help…
I woke up with both a joyful and a heavy heart. After a quick breakfast, I went outside to take in the beauty of this sacred island one more time. As I walked through the hotel’s garden, I removed my friend Paris’ family clan badge from the chain around my neck. Unable to join our Odyssey in person, he had asked me to take it home for him. What an honor! Knowing he was with us in spirit, I knelt down and did as I’d promised–I rubbed the badge in the garden’s soil and sent a silent message of homecoming to him. As I rose, I noticed that several others were also saying their good-byes in the garden.
On our walk to meet the early morning ferry, we were of one mind and spirit– soaring souls because of what we’d experienced here and a tinge of sadness because we were leaving Iona today. We brightened up when Maria reminded us of the inscription on the Abbey’s gift shop mural– “You are destined to return three times to the isle of Iona.”
Once on the ferry for the ten minute crossing to Mull, I stashed my bags and went up to the top deck to get a last look at Iona. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Les, Winslow, Julie H. and Debbie were already there. As I approached them, Debbie turned to me with, “Julie drank the well water!”
“Oh, my God” I remember thinking, “who’s her next of kin? Who do I notify?” I also remember thinking that drinking the water from St. Bride’s well was something I could never and would never do. Trying to remain calm, I asked Julie what it tasted like. She turned to me, shrugged her shoulders and matter of factly said, “Like water.” Right about then, that other voice (the one that gets me into trouble) silently, seductively whispered to me, “Go ahead, try it.” Knowing the dangers, perceived and real, of drinking the St. Bride’s water, my reason overrode the command. Not wanting to appear judgmental, though, I announced to all present that even though I might be tempted to have the experience, my bottle of the sacred water was safely packed in my luggage. Before I could finish the sentence, Les thrust his bottle of St. Bride’s water at me and with an impish grin, said, “Here, you can have some of mine!”
Well, what’s a girl to do– just say no!? I drank it. It wasn’t bad. In answer to everyone’s query about the taste, I replied, “It tastes like well water, a bit brackish, but fine.” The look on Debbie’s face as I drank the water was one of shock, dismay, disappointment and finally resignation. Realizing that her call for sanity was going unheeded and with a resolute look on her face, she firmly demanded, “Give me that bottle!” as she grabbed it from Les. As she looked at each of us.
I thought that a lecture was coming. Instead, she put the bottle to her mouth, tilted her head back and drank!
Now it was my turn to ask, “What does it taste like?” After a minute, Debbie thoughtfully responded, “It tastes like…rock!”
That short ferry crossing from Iona to Mull was one of life’s serendipitous, once in a lifetime, priceless moments and it’s another one of my favorite memories from the Odyssey.
On the hour long drive across Mull and on board the ferry back to the mainland, we were all pretty much a reflection of the day’s intermittent overcast weather– sometimes bright and upbeat and sometimes subdued and introspective. Lost in our own thoughts, we processed our profoundly powerful experiences of the past few magical days in Scotland. We were headed back to Edinburgh and in a couple of days would be leaving our new found soul family and departing for our respective dwelling places. I couldn’t call those places ‘home’ anymore. Here, in this heart-centered land, was our home. Here, we had found ourselves, re-connected with our essence and become whole again. Being together on this wonderfully transformational Odyssey, we had encountered our own personal trials, tasks and rewards and that experience had given us the opportunity to gracefully release the false, stifling belief systems and baggage of the past.
As Linda P., Debbie and I sat together on the ferry watching the approach of the Oban shoreline, Les came up to us with exciting news, “They’ve got Dougie MacLean cd’s in the gift shop!” Well, nothing like a little shopping to shift the mood! Debbie offered to stay and watch our belongings if I picked up a cd for her. Armed with a mission, Linda P. and I practically flew to the ferry’s gift shop. Les handed us the precious Dougie MacLean cd’s and then advised us on a few other artists and music he and Nicky had played for us during the Odyssey, which is how I came to know of and become smitten with the group, Capercaillie.
Back on the mainland, we traveled south to our next destination. As we approached the point where we’d be leaving the Highlands behind, we expressed our feelings of loss. Because we were making good time, we stopped at an atypical tourist rest stop/restaurant/shopping opportunity. This particular rest stop has an on-premises international celebrity named Hamish, the Highland Cow. He has his own Facebook page and an ever increasing number of fans. He, his mate, Barra, and their offspring allowed us to “ooh” and “ahh” over them and take as many photos as we wanted for about ten minutes before they tired of us.
Realizing that our audience with Highland cattle royalty was over, we went inside the tudor-style building and were amazed at the size of the shop and the variety of goods available. The shop, being at the border where the Highlands end and the Lowlands begin, was situated on a powerful vortex. It was very much like a place out of time. Being there you didn’t feel like a customer, you felt like a guest at a social event. Even people who didn’t like to shop had a great time there.
I asked one clerk about the cd they were playing and when she answered, I thanked her and told her I’d let my friend know as soon as I located her. She shocked me by saying, “OK, Linda’s over there if you want to tell her.” How did she know I meant Linda and how did she know her name!!??
Finally, it was time for us to continue on to the last destination that we would go to as a group before returning to Edinburgh and ending the traveling part of the Odyssey. Heading for Falkirk, we drove on in silence until suddenly– rising up like majestic metal steeds of the gods were the twin equine sculptures paying homage to Scotland’s economic and mystical past– the Kelpies. Stunning, magnificent, awesome, inspiring– those words are inadequate in describing the wondrous beauty, history and emotion that the two figures exemplify and evoke, but they’ll have to do.
Horses are the physical representation of spirituality and I could barely contain myself as I went to the office to introduce myself and meet our ‘Kelpies’ guide. I’d watched the progress of building these magnificent horse sculptures on-line and I knew we had to to make them our last stop. They symbolize so much of the strength, grace, beauty and resilience of the Scots (as the sculptor, Andy Scott, intended) and the story of their coming into being is as important a part of their legend as what they represent.
In making the arrangements for our visit, I’d ‘met’ via telephone and e-mail, the director of bookings and several staff members. Every interaction was gracious, accommodating and professional. Knowing we were driving cross country to get to them before closing time, they’d even offered to host a special, later tour just for us! Meeting them in person was even more wonderful than our other meetings. While they were preparing the paperwork, I bought two lovely porcelain ‘Kelpie’ cups from their tiny gift shop display.
Paperwork completed, bag with cups in hand, our guide Steve and I met the rest of the Odyssey-ites and commenced the tour. As Steve spoke to us with the 100 foot Kelpie statues in the background, we listened avidly and took lots of photos. At one point, in an attempt to hold my umbrella, take a photo and move the bag with the cups from one arm to the other, I dropped the bag of cups! It made that sound that only porcelain can make when it hits the ground and Steve interrupted his recitation to offer me condolences. Hurt but resolute, I picked the bag up, shook it– yep, they were broken, promised myself I’d replace them and focused my attention on Steve and taking pictures of the Kelpies.
And then my iPhone died! That was the third piece of electronic equipment that had stopped working for me in two days! First my camcorder, then my laptop and now this! What was going on!? I took a deep breath and put that behind me, too. In no time at all, I forgot about my ‘troubles’ and became completely absorbed in the Kelpies and their story. The story of the Kelpies, Duke and Barra, and the surrounding park is also Steve’s story and he told it with passion and enthusiasm. We even got to tour the inside of Duke and marvel at the ingenuity of the engineers who’d brought the artist’s vision to fruition.
We spent nearly an hour there and eventually made our way back to the office where I told them my sad tale of dropped and broken porcelain dreams. They clucked sympathetically as they took my bag and shook it. They agreed the cups were broken as they listened to the pieces rattling around. They smiled sweetly, assuring me that I had no need to worry because they’d think of something. Then they opened the bag, removed the two wrapped packages containing the remains of the broken cups, carefully unwrapped them and, lo and behold– there were the two cups– whole and unbroken!
They rewrapped the cups, put them back in the bag and handed it to me saying, “You see, no need to worry, they’re fine now.” Oh my God! Just one more magical happening on a profoundly magical Odyssey! In many ways, before Scotland, we were like those cups– fragile and broken. And now we were whole and stronger. (Later on I thought I should have given them my broken electronics. Who knows what they could have done with them!)
On board the coach again, a half hour from Edinburgh, Nicky took the microphone, sat next to Les and began to speak. With an expression of unconditional love on her face, she told us that she spoke for both of them, that they’d never had a tour group like ours, that they were happy we’d included them in every aspect of the Odyssey, that they’d transformed, too, that they thought of us as family and hoped we’d be friends forever, that they didn’t want the Odyssey to end.
Someone behind me yelled, “We love you, Nicky and Les!” and she said, “We love all of you, too!” That did it. There wasn’t a dry eye on that coach. And then Linda D., who was sitting in the seat across the aisle from me, began to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” and those who weren’t too overcome with emotion joined in. If I could have stopped time and lived in that week forever, I would have. I think everyone else on the Odyssey would have, too.
When we arrived at the hotel in Edinburgh, Les and Nicky made sure we were checked in before they made their good-byes. Les again expressed his regrets at our parting and for not being able to attend our Farewell dinner on the following night because he had to be on the Isle of Lewis to lead another group. Nicky reminded us that she’d be back at 11am the next morning to take those of us who wanted to accompany her to the Scottish National Gallery to see the original painting by John Duncan of Saint Bride being transported by angels to Bethlehem to attend the birth of Christ. There were hugs all around and then they went on their way.
Left to our own devices, Julie A., Louise, Ralston, Jan, Amanda and I decided to have dinner at a restaurant that Nicky had recommended. We set off on foot with Jan as our navigator and after several twists and turns found ourselves about to enter Victoria Street where the restaurant was located. Though we’d never been on that street before, there was something very familiar about its look, its curiously curved road and its ancient buildings.“Diagon Alley!” shouted Louise, “Didn’t J. K. Rowling write ‘Harry Potter’ here in Edinburgh?” And then we all saw it, too. The streets and architecture of the Scottish capitol’s Old Town were the inspiration and setting for Hogsmeade Village, the town nearest Hogwarts. We were like kids who had found Platform 9¾. I think at that moment, twelve year old Amanda was older than we were. Scotland– everywhere you turn– truly the gift that keeps on giving!
After a wonderful meal, we headed back to the hotel. As we strolled along, we spoke of many things, some deep and ponderous and some light and frivolous; but above all, moving and meaningful. I marveled at the fact that here we were, comfortably just being, thousands of miles and light years away from where we’d begun. And I thanked God, once again, for my lovely life.
Hear, ‘Auld Lang Syne’
Friday, October 10th – Day 7, This love will carry…