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The Arrow #141
Greetings from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Today’s Arrow is going to be a short one. I didn’t pay a lot of attention when MD and the distaff of our traveling companions set up this tour. Unbeknownst to me, it has involved almost every waking minute. I figured there would be some downtime for me to put this week’s newsletter together, but I figured incorrectly. We have been on the go from dawn to beyond dusk every day.
Some of the time spent can be blamed on the tour company MD used to set the whole thing up and some on MD. For example, she set us up with a great Michelin starred dining experience in Glasgow. But it took forever and included a wine tasting with each course. There were at least ten courses, and the wine pours were generous. And, of course, I drank them.
We got back to the hotel late, as in close to midnight. The tour company had arranged a car to take us to the airport at 5:30 the next morning for our flight to Belfast. When I asked what time the flight was, I discovered it was at 8:35. I asked the hotel staff how long it took to get to the airport at 5:30 am. About 15-20 minutes they told me. We figured there must be some reason we needed to leave that early, so we caught a few hours of sleep (less in my case, because I don’t sleep well after drinking wine, and I had consumed a lot of it). So, we’re up a 5 am after packing the night before, then off to the airport at 5:30. We get there at about 5:50 and the gate isn’t even open to check in for another 40 minutes. We finally check in and we have almost two hours to sit and wait. With crappy internet service. Plus, I was so tired and hung over, I don’t think I could have written coherently.
We take a quick 35 minute flight to Belfast, take a taxi to the hotel. Unload all our bags, and go to check in only to be informed that we had no reservations at the hotel. MD checked her app for the trip (there is now, of course, an app for everything) and it listed that very hotel, which is why we went there. Then our traveling friend checked her app, only to find that hers had a different hotel. We asked the folks behind the desk of the hotel that did not have our reservation where the other hotel was. She said it’s just a short taxi ride away. So, she called the other hotel to be sure we did have a reservation there (and we did) and called us a taxi.
The guy arrives, we load all the bags (there are a lot of bags for four people on a two week trip), pile into the taxi, and tell the driver we need to go to the Grand Central Hotel. He looks at us kind of funny and says, “It’s just right around the corner.” We could easily have walked, but by the time we told him he was already half a block down the street in a different direction. By the time he got turned around (one way streets and all), it cost us about five bucks. And took longer than if we had just walked and rolled our bags, but we got to see some of the area on our scenic route.
Then we check in and are told that our rooms won’t be ready until 3 PM. We’re told this at about 9:45 AM. So they stored our bags, and we walked around Belfast tired and hung over. And it was cold and spitting rain. We’ve been so lucky; it was the first rain we had really encountered on the trip. We finally came back about noon wet and bedraggled. The staff took pity on us, I guess, and let us check in early.
We’ve all been to Belfast a number of times because our European warehouse for our sous vide business is here. The owner of that warehouse is a good friend, but he was going to be out of town, so his son (whom we have all known since he was in grade school) took us to play “some real Irish golf.” We played County Louth, a beautiful course, but very long. And very cold and very rainy. Narrow fairways and a ton of gnarly rough, so we spent a lot of time in the pouring rain searching for balls. I lost only two, but that’s because I ended up finding a lot of errant shots. As you can see from the photo below, the greens are narrow and surrounded by a ton of stuff you don’t want to be in. I was in a lot of it. You can’t tell from the photo, but the wind was howling and it was raining like crazy.
After this experience, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that I am a fair weather golfer. Unlike St. Andrews, which provided us virtually brand new (but unfamiliar) clubs, County Louth provided us with a mismatched bunch of crappy clubs. In fact, they provided me with only ten clubs (a full set is 14). My partner lucked out and got 11. Given the weather, the shitty clubs, the lack of wedges, and a couple of other clubs, it was an awful day.
All I could think of was how nice it would be to be ensconced in our lovely hotel room with a nice, hot cup of coffee, pounding out the Arrow.
In my stead, though, the bride stayed warm and dry with a dram at hand and agreed to do a quick Outlander tour recap for your reading pleasure.
Take me home to Lallybroch
My name is MD, and I’m an Outlander addict.
Obsessions are funny things. You never know when one might strike you. And consume you. And so it was for me when, after much cajoling on the part of one of my life-long girlfriends that I must see it and would love it, I finally queued up Season 1 of Outlander for the first time and began to watch. It was March 5, 2022, and STARZ was about to release the premiere episode of its sixth season the next day. I watched season one episode one, then immediately went on to episode two, then three… you get the idea. Mike was out of town on a golfing adventure, and so for the next eight or ten hours or so that day I found myself moving from my favorite chair only to get a coffee or a dram of whisky (or get rid of same) and then sit back down to return to the past.
In the next three weeks I watched the entire first five seasons (80 episodes — sleep is over rated) and the first three episodes of the new sixth season and was caught up with the rest of the global Outlander-obsessed crowd impatiently waiting for the next episode to drop. Once Season 6 ended (after only 8 episodes because of Covid delays and Caitriona Balfe’s pregnancy) during what’s known to the fanbase as ‘the Droughtlander’ — the period between seasons — I cranked it back to Season 1 and began again while waiting for Season 7. In full disclosure, I have watched all 7 seasons now 16 times and read Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous books 1-7 and half of 8. (And in my defense, written and published two novels of my own and half of the third, so despite what my beloved might imply, it hasn’t all just been Outlander!)
I admit to being hopelessly and completely addicted, but it’s a pleasant enough addiction. Maybe it’s my Scots heritage; according to Ancestry I’m nearly half Scottish and a chunk of the rest from Northern England. (My maternal great grandmother was an Irvine, a Scottish clan dating back to a first mention in the 8th or 9th Century and to William de Irwyn who served as aide de camp to Robert the Bruce and who, after helping The Bruce wrench Scotland from England in 1315, was granted a large estate at Drum for his trouble.) Or maybe it’s my life-long attraction to the 18th Century. Whatever.
I’ve never been so besotted by a series or a cast of characters in any story.
Which obsession brought us and two dear friends of many years to Scotland on an epic journey from the Lowlands to the Highlands in search of all things Outlander. [Mike, for his part, just shakes his head, unable to fathom wanting to see the filming location of an historical fantasy romance. But he mostly cheerfully indulges me.]
Our first stop was Edinburgh and the location of the fictional A Malcolm Print Shop on Carfax Close off the Royal Mile where the fictional Highland warrior James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser (aka Jamie, aka Alexander Malcolm) had opened a business after his years as an indentured groom on the Helwater estate following his release from Ardsmuir prison after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden. (Whew!) The print shop is where Claire tracked Jamie down in Season 2 when she came back through the stones (after returning to the 20th Century just before Culloden) ending their separation of 20 actual years (and 202 years of historic timeline). In the film, the production team covered the staircase with a black wooden roof, but otherwise Bakehouse Close (the actual name of the spot) and the building that served as A Malcolm looks the same. I scampered up the steps and knocked but, sadly, no one was in.
The next day we participated in a day-long excursion of Outlander sites near Edinburgh, including – first and foremost – Midhope Castle, aka Lallybroch, the fictional ancestral home of the Frasers of Broch Tuarach. It’s a beautiful old multi-story stone farmhouse surrounded by peaceful woodland (and a lot of tourists). The archway where the notorious Black Jack Randall bound and whipped an 18-19 year old Jamie Fraser in front of his sister Jenny to force her to come with him inside (it’s a real bodice ripper in this part) looks just the same, with the small exception of the missing Fraser crest above the arch. When they film, they add that in (and the front door and glazed mullioned windows of the house). We learned that just 2 days after our visit, there was set-dressing activity around the archway getting it ready for some kind of pick-up filming, but we didn’t know for what.
And here’s the courtyard and front steps to Lallybroch, where Claire sat in 1968 (and where I’m sitting now) to wistfully remember Jamie and her time there in the 18th Century.
Just a few hundred yards from the castle, in the woodland, is the pathway that leads to the location of the cave Jamie hid in for 6 or 7 years when he was on the run from the redcoats, who were out to hang him for treason. It isn’t really a cave at all, but a rock outcropping that’s made by the wonders of lights and angles and CGI to look like a cave opening.
And then we’re off to Blackness Castle, or as it is also known, the Ship That Never Sailed, a 15th Century castle built by one of Scotland’s most powerful families of that era, the Crichtons. It stood in as Fort William in the series. The actual Fort William garrison (An Gearasdean in Scottish Gaelic) is now a derelict ruin, so they needed a stunt garrison, and the formidable stone structure that juts out into the Firth of Forth served well in the Outlander saga as the site where Jamie was imprisoned (for obstruction) and nearly flogged to death with 200 lashes administered in one week by the sadistic Black Jack Randall. The pillory and platform where Jamie was chained and whipped was added by the production team for filming, but the courtyard it stood in looks much the same.
We climbed up the spiral staircases of every turret and ran along the battlements and looked down into the waters below, into which Jamie and Claire leaped to safety. (Got in over 22K steps that day. Just one more reason to eat low carb and work out regularly — thanks @samheughan and @MPC!)
Below is the location (top window on the left) where the intrepid Jamie Fraser bravely rappels down the wall and bursts through the window into Black Jack’s lair with nothing but an unloaded pistol and his bare hands to save Claire from certain violation by the horrible Captain Randall.
And the view Black Jack had of Jamie coming in when he announced his arrival with ‘I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my wife!’
Then it was off to Crainsmuir (the real village of Culross) where Claire’s friend, the witch Geillis Duncan, lived with the Fiscal in the house below, and from which window Claire witnessed the plight of the poor tanner’s boy who had his ear pinned, and from which house Claire and Geillis were arrested and thrown into the thieves hole to be tried as witches.
Also the location of what they call Claire’s Garden, which is an actual hanging botanic garden in Culross. It and the medieval village itself are worth the trip, Outlander aside. In the show, those who have watched will recall the garden is located not in the village of Crainsmuir, but just outside Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of Clan Mackenzie. (But through the magic of green screen technology they made it so).
And speaking of Castle Leoch, the filming was done at the magnificent Duone Castle, which is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland and open for touring. Fantastic to see, whether you’re an Outlander fan or not. The approach, missing the set dressing of thatched outbuildings seen in the series, looks remarkably the same as first viewed at the end of the first season’s first episode. Ep 101. And you can see the grassy area out front where the Highlanders played shinty following the boar hunt.
Inside the courtyard, the voice of Sam Heughan (aka Jamie Fraser) on the audio guide informed us that the production team imported something like 50,000 metric tons of dirt to create the thick, muddy, mucky mess that greeted the returning Mackenzie clansmen, Jamie, and Claire after she’d first come tumbling through the stones and been ‘saved’ by them from violation by (yes) the villainous Captain Randall.
The interior of the castle is beautifully restored and maintained and incredible to see, though nothing of it was actually used in the filming. The production crew took castings of stones in the kitchen, for instance, and made detailed layout drawings and duplicated them to re-create Mrs. Fitz’s kitchen in the series on a sound stage at the studio. The actual Duone castle kitchen is below, showing ovens and a great hearth.
You can see cut marks in stones on the wall where knives were sharpened.
And here’s the Duone Castle great hall, which was even more magnificent as it was re-created on a sound stage at Wardpark Studios in the show, if you can imagine.
Then we visited Falkland, the village that served as Inverness of the 1940s. The store window (below) is where Claire spotted the blue vase that she remarked on, wondering what her life might have been like had she bought that vase and given it a home. But she didn’t, and thus the saga is launched.
And the iconic spot in the street of ‘Inverness’ (aka Falkland) where Frank sees the Ghost of Jamie standing in the rain looking up at Claire’s mirrored reflection in the window of Mrs. Baird’s B&B on the eve of Samhain, just before she inadvertently falls through the stones and into Jamie Fraser’s arms in 1743.
We drove all over the glorious Highlands, including through the sweeping landscape of Glencoe, which served in the show in the outdoor scenes surrounding Ardsmuir prison. Viewers of the show will recall it as where the Highland prisoners worked on the rock brigade and the peat cutting brigade (from the latter of which Jamie escapes to try to find Claire at Silkie Island.) The scenery is utterly breathtaking. (It’s also where scenes of Harry Potter and the James Bond Skyfall movie were filmed.)
Here in the photo below (we believe) is where the fight took place at Ardsmuir between the Jacobite prisoners and Protestant ones led by Tom Christie, when the blind lad (also named James) was killed, and Jamie stepped in to claim a piece of tartan not his own and take a flogging for old Charlie.
No Outlander tour would be complete without a visit to Culloden Moor, where the final battle of The Rising took place on April 16, 1746, both in history and in Outlander. It is a windswept and somber place and deeply moving when you think of the monumental loss of life that took place in just a few minutes that day in the ill-fated and desperately wrong decision on the part of The Bonnie Prince to listen to his Irish general O’Sullivan instead of General Lord Murray and undertake the battle there and then. But he did. And, exhausted and starving, over flat (and even slightly uphill) boggy ground the Highland clans finally charged and were crushed. Over 700 (mostly of the right flank) were killed in the space of a few minutes; about 2000 all told in under an hour. And the Jacobite Rebellion was over.
It’s an eerie feeling to stand on the battlefield, looking across the moor from the Jacobite front line (where the tiny blue and white flag flutters on the far left) to that of the English (marked by the red flag below) and to imagine that doomed last Highland charge across the moor into the teeth of British musket and artillery fire.
There is an amazing moving map display that shows the real time charge of the Jacobite army toward the English army (which didn’t move much except the mounted cavalry which flanked the Highlanders on their right and cut off their retreat). You can see the wounded and dead fall and their numbers dwindle. You can see how the slight uphill terrain on their left flank held them up. You can see how as they try to fall back the cavalry intercepted them. It was all over in much under an hour.
The cairn above memorializes all of the fallen. Many of the clans that fought are memorialized with individual stones. Granted the Jamie Fraser of Outlander didn’t actually exist (thought several named James Fraser did).
But many Frasers and MacGillverays and MacLeans and MacLeods and Grants and Stewarts and Camerons and Mackenzies and so many others did exist. And they fought and died here at Culloden. I couldn’t find a Clan Irvine stone, but there are a number of ‘Mixed Clan’ stones. And I did find an Alexander Irvine mentioned on a wall display among those who fought at Culloden. If you have a drop of Scottish blood or any interest in military history, a visit to Culloden is a must.
And one last magical stop on this part of the journey was to the stone circle at Clava Cairns, the spot said to have inspired author Diana Gabaldon to create Craig na Dun and Claire’s portal to the past. The site of the fictional Craig na Dun exists (on a hilltop in the village of Kinnoch Rannoch near Perth – we didn’t get to see that, unfortunately) but the stone circle there does not. Those large stones in the show were made of Styrofoam painted to look like stones and trucked in and set up on the hilltop. But there is a very similar standing stone at Clava Cairns that I tried to take advantage of…
I’ll be back in 202 years, more or less.
I just got back from another brutal round of golf. I asked my bride if she would step in and do a little travelog for the Arrow. I didn’t realize how seriously she took me. I hope you enjoyed it.
I played Royal Port Rush today on the north coast of Ireland. I played it a few years back, but didn’t remember it being as difficult as it was today. I can’t complain about the weather—it was perfect. I play best when I’m relaxed and swinging easily and smoothly. Today I had one of Ireland’s top hurlers (if you don’t know what hurling is, take a look here), a teaching pro, and a kid I’ve known for years. All three of them—especially the hurler—could hit the ball a mile. I have 40+ years on all of them, yet I was trying to keep up. Which kind of mucked my own game up.
Beautiful course, though. One of my all-time favs. Here is a typical hole.
And the typical rough you get into if you miss one of the fairly narrow fairways.
As you can probably surmise, it’s easy to lose a ball. Since I had played the course before, I brought two sleeves of balls. But I ended up losing only two, and those not until the 16th hole and after.
An Interesting Factoid
Someone sent me an interview with Donald Trump 22 years ago right after the events of 9/11. Trump is a builder, so he knows a lot about constructing large structures. But he missed something I learned on my very first day of engineering school that I’ve always found fascinating.
On my first day of engineering school in my Strength of Materials class, the professor asked the class what was stronger, steel or wood? He asked for a show of hands. How many say steel? And how many say wood?
Of course, anyone but a moron would say steel, but sensing a trick question, I didn’t raise my hand. If I had, I would have gone for wood, since it had to be the choice. Steel was too obvious. But then I thought, What if he asks me why I picked wood. I didn’t have a clue, so I just didn’t put up my hand.
As it turns out, wood is indeed much stronger than steel in a certain circumstance. And that circumstance is fire. Wood will maintain its strength much longer than steel in extreme heat. Steel melts. Wood doesn’t. It does burn, but it maintains its strength longer than steel.
So, our prof said, if you are building a structure to hold up, say, a fuel tank, or anything else you wouldn’t want falling into a fire, you are better building it out of wood.
I’ve never tested the idea, but I assume my prof had it right. It does make sense.
Obviously the Twin Towers couldn’t have been made with wood. It would require vastly too much volume to be able to support the rest of the structure, so steel was the necessary component.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about this entire trip is my favorite Richard Feynman quote:
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
I’ve been reading one horror story after another about vaccine injuries and the increase in excess deaths all across the world.
I’ve decided there are basically three different groups of people out there that are heavily invested intellectually in the entire Covid vaccine situation. There are the folks who work in one of the many alphabet agencies in the various governments, the vast majority of whom seem to be all in on the vaccines. Then there are the vaccines skeptics, a group in which I include myself. And finally there are those doctors and other healthcare professionals who just don’t think that much about it and fall in line with the recommendations of the alphabet of agencies. Then, of course, there are those who work for Big Pharma, but they’ve got a profit motive, so I don’t count them.
The more I read, the more I am convinced that Covid vaccines in particular, and probably most vaccines in general, are more harmful than they are helpful, which places me in the second category above. But I’m reading all the literature that seems to show they are harmful, which confirms my bias. There really isn’t a lot of literature showing the vaccines are truly safe and effective. Whenever I read one of those papers, I can find all kinds of holes in it.
I just want you to know that I’m always keeping Richard Feynman’s quote uppermost in my mind, because I do know how easy it is to fool oneself. Just today I fooled myself into thinking if I could just swing harder, I could hit the ball as far as a bunch of 24 year olds. It didn’t work.
I don’t want anyone to think my mind is made up on this entire vaccine situation. I’m continuing to read and study everything I can about it. When I do write about it in the Arrow, as I will next week, it will have been after much study and thought. Not just a quick shoot from the hip opinion.
I do have those kinds of opinions from time to time. When I do, I’ll forewarn you.
I just realized it is almost 2 AM Ireland time, and we have to get up and get packed and be ready to drive to Dublin early tomorrow morning. Looks like I have about four hours of sleep ahead of me.
Keep in good cheer, and I’ll be back next Thursday with a regular edition of the Arrow.
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