Reading Scotland – January 2019

One of my favourite things is to read books set in Scotland. I have been doing this every year for the past 7 years and this year is no exception. Living here in the English Midlands, I long to be in Scotland, but alas, I am not but books give me the opportunity to travel to Scotland without packing any boxes or suitcases.

I am part of a Goodreads Group each year that encourages you to pick up books set in Scotland or written by Scottish authors and a few weeks ago I made a video about my Scottish TBR for 2019:

So, what have I read so far this year with a Scottish connection.

I do like a dual timeline story and this month I read two of them:

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

This is part 2 in her loose duology centered around Slains Castle and the Jacobites fighting to get their King back on the throne. There is a present day love story/narrative and then the story in the 18th century. I adore her books, if I want to escape my head (which at the moment I want to all the time), then a Kearsley will always, always do the trick. Sadly, I only have one book left by her, her most recent Belleweather, which I shall procure at some point this year.

 

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Down to the Sea by Sue Lawrence

When I saw this book listed on the Bookseller, I knew I had to read it. We all have those keywords that make us pick up books, for me they include “Scotland”, “dual timeline” and “mystery”. The book’s “present” day timeline is actually in the 198oies and the past timeline is in the 1890ies. A couple buys an old house in Newhaven, outside Edinburgh to renovate and open as a luxury care home for the elderly, while in the 1890ies, the building was used as a poorhouse. It was a bit spooky in places (I am easily scared), very atmospheric, and a fantastic cosy read by the fire while it was freezing cold outside. Saraband kindly sent me a copy and the book is published on the 21st Feb on the Kindle and 14th March as a paperback. I was delighted to find out that the author is the same Sue Lawrence of the Scottish Baking book, which I would highly recommend, I adore this book. If you like Scotland and baking, it’s a must really.

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

I have been obsessed with Arthurian myths since I was single digits in age. Oh, how badly, have I wanted it to be true and for magic to be real and I dreamt that it would be me one day, rediscovering magic and bringing it back to the world. I still read most books about Arthur and Merlin and any character surrounding the myths, both fiction and non-fiction. Pike has taken inspiration from Adam Ardray’s books Finding Merlin/Finding Arthur, which make the case that Arthur/Merlin was Scottish. I had read those books myself and they are a great travel itinerary if you want to explore some of those sights yourself. Here, we follow Langueroth, a high-born noblewoman whose twin brother is set to become Merlin, although, he is not quite there yet at the end of book 1. I enjoyed it, although I did not quite love it as much as I had hoped, the downside of going into a book with too much expectation. I believe book 2 is set to be released Summer 2020. A long wait, but I know that books need to be written and I am painfully aware how lengthy this process can be (hello second draft edits).

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The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Set in Edinburgh in the 1840ies within the medical profession, in particular that of women’s health and childbearing. It’s part mystery, part historical fiction centred on medical advances, part role and place of women in society and the world as a whole during that time period and it was certainly an interesting read. I liked the book a lot, but did not quite manage to love it because for my taste it was rather grim. I am glad my childbearing years are over.

Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole

This was a very short novella about a black woman at court of King James IV and her Highland Lord. I don’t read much romance of the saucy variety, but I thought this was entertaining enough and I shall definitely pick up another one by her.

 

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Lanark by Alasdair Gray

A Scottish modern classic and one I have been meaning to read for years. I was put off by the description of it as being difficult, hard to access and strange and offputting. You see, don’t let words like that put you off from a book because personally, I thought this was one of the best books I have read in a long time. It’s a like the Bildungsroman meets Weird Fiction, so yes, it is strange, but it is also wonderful. I likened it to my husband as “Mann, Grass and Kafka went on holiday together to Scotland, drank too much whiksy, had a love child, which was reared by China Mievielle in a Glasgow tenement and the child was read daily Lovecraft stories. And the child became the book.” And quite frankly, I have no better explanation for it.

The Art of Coorie by Gabriella Bennett

January is grey and dull and my asthma was bad and then this book arrived kindly sent to me by Black & White Publishing and it was just such a wonderful little thing taking me to Scotland. Coorie may just well be Scotland’s answer to Hygge and Lagom, combining the wonderful feeling of being outside in Scotland’s nature and then returning inside to cosy up by a fire with nice food and drink. If you are planning a trip to Scotland, I highly recommend this to get you into the mood. The images are beautiful and the writing is informative and interesting. I have a Coorie video coming up on my channel later this week. So check back there.

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Last summer in Dumfries and Galloway

I love Scotland. Anyone who knows me or just spent a few minutes with me, will be informed about this passion of mine by me gushing at them. Probably, right after “hello.”

And before you ask: No, this love of Scotland is not Outlander related. I was always a lover of all things British, even as a small kid, I loved books set in the UK by British authors (especially featuring castles) and so it was small wonder that I ended up living in the UK. My first trip to Scotland was in 2003 with my (now) husband and it was love at first sight. Thankfully, my husband and my daughter equally love Scotland, so at least once a year (often twice) we head up north and explore.

Our mission is to visit all parts of Scotland and last summer, we went to Dumfries and Galloway. On various trips up north, we would always say: “Oh look this part seems nice.” as we speed along the motorway. Last year, we decided to stop for once and use Dumfries as our destination.

I looked for cottages along the stretch of coast between Kirkudbright and Newton Stewart and settled on one at Kirkdale Estate. We stayed at Kirkdale Bank, which is a lovely cottage sleeping 6 (although I have to admit, that 6 would push it a bit, so two families sharing may not be ideal, but one family with 4 children that would work) and it was plenty big enough for the three of us.

I admit that my heart sank initially when we arrived as a busy A-road was thundering past above the cottage. One thing I go on holiday for is to escape the constant road and traffic noise I have whilst living in the city. Admittedly, it was fine inside the cottage (thick walls) and down by the sea you could hear nothing.

A short walk down a private path leads you to this. For the entire week, there was always only us there. We had several BBQ dinners on the beach, went rockpooling and just hang out down there. That was the most fantastic aspect of this holiday and without a shadow of a doubt what makes this holiday cottage.

Dumfries and Galloway is beautiful and it is really Scotland in minituare. The Galloway Forest park provides hills and mountains and lochs and forest and wildlife and all of that was a mere 10 minutes away from the cottage. We went mountain biking, went for hikes and explored, it was lovely.

Another highlight was seeing the Red Kites at the Red Kites Farm. No, the Red Kites are not being farmed, but a farmer near Kirkudbright has been putting food out for them for years and years, so every afternoon they gather and come down to pick up their food. We walked into the hills behind the farm and saw them soar and it was the most wonderful sight to behold.

We also expored Wigtown, as a booklover it was a must, but sadly it was soooo rainy, I did not take any pictures, but I did buy books and ate lovely cake.

On a sunny day (they happen in Scotland), we went to Culzean Castle, free for us with our National Trust membership (total bonus of holidaying in the UK) and we had an excellent tour of the castle and a meander through the grounds. Best playground ever, despite the fact that the zipline was out of action that day.

A short walk up a hill from our cottage, is a neolithic burial site called Cairn Holy, the husband was desperate to time travel back and become a chieftain or something, but alas, the stones did not transport him through time.

Dumfries is definitely a place to visit again for us, we are thinking about a long weekend later in the year as it is only 4 hours from Birmingham. The closest Scottish destination for this Scotland lover.