Saturday, 5 November 2016

Haunted memories of the paranormal

'Secret Of The Sea'
A few months ago, someone made some odd comments on a drawing I had posted to an art group on FB. It turned out that it was based on his assumption that because the figure was white, it was a ghost.
Umm. Nope. Just a charcoal drawing. 
I'd never even considered the concept... and no one had ever mistaken my drawings for dead people before either, so I was a bit surprised.

But that being said, creating images of mysterious looking figures wouldn't be far off from actually doing 'ghost' drawings.
I do use figure reference photos, but most of the time once I reach a certain point, I do like to move away from the original photo and allow the 'character' of my drawing show me who it wants to be.

Freyja was a good example.
She altered and shifted before my very eyes into a person that to this day feels like I channelled her onto the paper.
I just kept covering the paper in charcoal and rubbing bits out... she just appeared.
I wish it could be like that every time.
'Freyja - The sight'
Drawing the supernatural has been on my mind again just this week. In fact I have a few things taking shape in my head, and in my sketchbook.
Not necessarily 'ghosts', but things related to the supernatural and paranormal, which has always been an interest of mine.
Its an interest that tends to go dormant for a while, before returning with a passion and making me wonder why I forgot about it.
This time it has re-surfaced with the Halloween Special of Most Haunted. (UK Paranormal investigation team)

I have complicated beliefs which I rarely like to explain, as everyone has a different perception of the 'metaphysical' .
Mine has been shaped over the years by my own research and experience in all parts of life. (Not just the supernatural/ ghostly areas).
The energy which creates this world is easily tapped into, and with regards to ghosts, I believe that that its just a form of energy which we can 'tap' into.
It will respond to us because we are all connected. But not all ghosts are 'dead' people. My Husband had his own experience of this being true while working at an old manor house this year.
At night he would hear whispering outside his door, and his name would be called when there was noone else in the room.
The sounds of a group of people talking were heard in the grounds and yet...  no one was there.
The stories told by the owner, make it seem as though this house has such strong energies, that it 'records' moments and replays them.
Surely thats the only explanation for seeing 'ghosts' of people who are still alive... a fact I find really interesting.

I have had supernatural events occur throughout my life, right from birth it would seem. One story my Mum tells is of how I was crying in my cot one day when suddenly I fell silent. Mum found me playing happily on the floor when she came up to see why. No possible way I had gotten out by myself.
Sadly I was too young to recall my 'helper'. :)
 I have numerous memories of night terrors and being afraid to sleep.
Events which stick in my mind such as seeing 'fingers' appearing round the edge of my half closed door as if some strange 'long fingered' being was threatening to push the door open & come in.

As I began to realise that my fears would not be taken seriously I think I just accepted odd occurrences in silence most of the time.
As I lay in my bed one night I watched a board game pushed from the top of my wardrobe.
I don't remember being afraid. Just curious.

I developed a fascination for the night sky. It was so beautiful and huge... I would lean over the edge of my cabin bed (It had a ladder to reach it with a wardrobe and desk below) to balance on the windowsill and peer out, long after I was meant to be asleep, and stare up at the stars.
One night I looked up and half hidden by a large tree I thought I could see the moon. A huge glowing orb directly opposite, above the car park.
I moved away from the window but aware that something didn't seem quite right I returned for another look... expecting to see the 'moon' where it had previously been.
It had vanished.
Looking around, I found it... now it was far to my left, almost behind the house entirely.
That night I practically flew back into my bed and didnt come out from beneath the covers again until morning.

At some point (I don't know if it was before or after the 'moon' event) I started having recurring nightmares.
In one nightmare I was in my Primary School classroom (which had lots of windows looking out onto a courtyard area). I'd look outside to see huge fireballs coming down from the sky like raindrops.
As if that wasn't frightening enough, the other one would see me up at windowsill for my nightly sky watch & above the houses I would see lights form above the clouds and gradually a fleet of spacecraft would emerge and fly in a line across the houses while I cowered in fear.
In fact I've seen numerous sci fi movies in the last 10 years that have special effects that look exactly like that dream.
I was in primary school at the time remember... and wasn't allowed to watch scarey TV. Plus this was more than 30 years ago. lol

So what came next?
The noises...

I have never been a good sleeper. Long after lights out I would be reading books or whispering through the paper thin wall to my Brother.
But then I began waking up with a start in the early hours to lay there in the silence feeling that something was odd. Then I would hear a noise from downstairs. Drawers opening. Chairs scraping on the floor.
Heart pounding I leaned over the banisters to see if I could figure out what was happening. Knowing that it wasn't my parents.
The first few times it happened I crept into my parents bedroom and told them I could hear someone downstairs.
Dad would shoot like rocket off to see and return with a grumble. There's noone there. You must have heard the milkman doing his rounds.
It wasn't the bloody milkman.

Night after night it happened. Now I was too afraid to tell my parents because I kept getting told off for waking them, so I'd hear the first chair scrapings and door closing and all I could do was lie under my covers and hold my breath.
Sweating and terrified that whoever was downstairs was going to know I was awake and come and get me.
Sometimes I would hear and sense that someone was on the landing outside my bedroom and was opening my door.
When I was brave enough to peek... the door was closed. 
I also recall trying to prove to myself that there really was a rational source of the noises... I would lean over the banisters and hold my breath to listen to intently.
I never managed to convince myself that a person was not in the kitchen moving things around.

I don't know what age I was, but I remember getting a walkman. My amazing cassette player and headphones, along with some story tapes including 'Wurzel Gummidge' & a story called 'Riders at Black Pony Inn'.
The latter was my favourite and I listened to it all the time.
 Especially when I would be afraid in bed.
I'd begun to dread bedtime, and tried so hard to be asleep by the time I heard my Parents switching off the lights and coming up to bed.
But I knew the weirdness would start once all was silent. The creepy sense of unease and the odd noises.
The walkman was my saviour. Sometimes I would be able to listen to it, hidden away under the duvet, and drift off to sleep with the comforting sound of Lesley Judd's voice and the 'doo doo doooo dooooo' of the cheery intro music, and I could block out the horrible creepy atmosphere beyond.

Times when 'Riders' didn't work there was always the radio. The lovely warm red light that blinked out from the the front of the walkman as I tuned it to the radio. 
Voices were the best... it was probably radio 4 or something. Late night chat which I didn't take any notice of, I just wanted some comfort from their voices.

When I was old enough to have a TV, that was a substitute for the Walkman.
For most of my teens I could only fall alseep with the TV on. Even if it it was turned down so low I could barely hear it.
Sometimes I would turn the brightness down low as well. Turning it off entirely was always a mistake.

Most of the paranormal activity was 'outside' of my bedroom. Which I guess I discovered when my Brother & I became old enough to stay up 'after' my Parents went to bed.
I would often be on the phone to my best friend, either sitting in the hall, or the lounge, and the 'scarey kitchen ghost' would arrive to send me scuttling back up to my bedroom.
Was it him I could hear as a child? I don't know, but his presence was always announced with that awful sensation of fear.
My back would prickle and the hair would stand up on my arms, and a feeling of utter dread would have me cringing in the corner whispering to my best friend "OMG... He's HERE... I have to go!"
I literally couldnt stay downstairs when he arrived.
In my minds eye I could see him.. a big hulking man with a face locked into an ugly scream.
He would pace the length of the kitchen and I never wanted him to see me.

Walking up the stairs was an experience in itself. And one that could catch you at any time of the day or night.
Have you ever had that feeling that something is behind you? 
Well all of a sudden you would put one foot on that bottom stair and be frozen in fear... back crawling...and a total inability to run.
When that happened I would walk slowly up the stairs... cringing at the presence behind me.
My bedroom was the first one at the top of the stairs, so I'd open my door a crack and slide in, slamming it behind me so nothing could follow.

One time I recall being sat on my bed, the door was to my right, and open so I could see the banisters by the top few stairs directly opposite.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of blue behind the banisters. As though something was coming quickly up the stairs.
I brushed it off and turned back to my magazine.
I then saw a flash of blue 'in front' of the banisters & with a speedy reflex I muttered "Oh no you don't... " & kicked my bedroom shut.

By this time it was normal activity for me.
Living with the energies of that house had become 'normal' and yet fairly terrifying on a daily basis.

The sounds of footsteps on a carpet. You know that one right ?
I heard that quite often up and down our landing.
I was never entirely sure if that was my Grandad though. He died in our house when I young. He was suffering from cancer and so my Grandparents came to live with us for a while.
I never found his death scarey. There were only a few occasions when I would be standing at the window in my Parents bedroom (where he died) & get that odd sensation that I was being watched.

One night as teens, my Brother & I were both in bed. We'd been talking to eachother (the walls are thin in 70's council houses, & the rooms are tiny) when I became aware of a tapping on the wall by my head.
Both of our beds were in the same position in our rooms, due to their size. We were on opposite sides of the dividing wall with heads against the exterior brick, wall.
It was as though someone were tapping the wall with a pencil.
One of us (I cant remember who said it first) said 'Will you stop tapping!' (It was probably me who said it actually...lol)
To which the other replied 'Its not me'.
The tapping continued. As did our 'Stop it' conversations... until we realised that 'neither' of us were in fact tapping.
My Brother refused to talk about it after that. He always refused to entertain any idea that was remotely 'creepy' or spooky.

It was with my Brother that I witnessed my next 'UFO'. We were playing computer games in his bedroom one evening & while awaiting his turn he was at the window and suddenly calls me over.
We watched some strange white lights perform acrobatics in the sky. Moving unlike anything we'd seen before.
One of them appeared to get brighter and bigger & in a slightly concerned voice I said "... its coming towards us!!!"
To which my Brother replied "No it f****** isn't"
While he dragged me out of the way, slammed shut the window & drew the curtains. LOL
He has refused point blank to ever talk about it again.

poltergeist
ˈpɒltəɡʌɪst/
noun
plural noun: poltergeists
  1. a ghost or other supernatural being supposedly responsible for physical disturbances such as making loud noises and throwing objects about.

 Thats what I called it when things in my bedroom began moving about.
It didn't feel nasty like the energies elsewhere in the house, but it liked to make me shout before school in the morning by hiding my hairbrush.
(no, it wasn't my Brother. Bedroom door always firmly shut)
Black hairbrush on my bed... I turn to my mirror.. turn to pick up the brush and its gone.
Spend 10 minutes hunting for hairbrush. Turn round and it's back on the bed.
Not every day, but it happened frequently enough for me see it had gone & start shouting "OK...Give it back you ******* *******"

The remote control... which was also black, and a similar size, was another favourite for play time.

Friends who stayed over also reported seeing things. But my family totally ignored me if I mentioned anything. 
Maybe they genuinely never noticed anything, but I never felt like they believed me so I didn't talk about it anyway.

I don't recall seeing much outside home, except at my best friend's house.
'Hot areas' would appear on my back when sitting in her room, for no apparent reason.
Like a cold spot... but it was boiling hot. As though I had been leaning against a radiator.
We watched her cat chase an invisible creature around her bedroom until it apparently disappeared under the door and the cat followed it's every move.
The same cat also sat in the middle of the room looking at something, then it acted as though someone was stroking it's head. The cat went all squinty eyed and blissfully slumped while looking up at 'nothing'.
Our hair would get pulled frequently. Sharp painful tugs that made us leap up in annoyance.
We also managed to catch some strange anomaly on her camcorder. Something white whizzing past the camera, while I was looking straight at her, that we originally thought was her thumb in the way. But no matter how hard we tried to recreate that anomaly, we could never do it.

when I was at college. (Age 19) 
I started seeing shadows out of the corner of my eye, and sensing people walking past when no one had been there.
It was around this time I begun to find out more about the metaphysical world. I found that I could receive images from doing psychometry, and had become interested in tarot.
I started practising meditation and wanted to explore and evolve my natural talents now I'd found people who also believed in, and experienced what I had grown up with.

Not long after college, I moved out of home. It was a tough couple of years but I ended up meeting and moving in with the man I later married.
He owned a lovely big Victorian terraced home, which should have been full of ghostly things.
But it wasn't.
It was silent and peaceful. And I realised that the daily harassment of noises and creepy sensations was a HORRIBLE way to live! Who knew!!

I lived there, ghost free, for about 8 years. Then we moved. Again, no real activity. 6 years later we moved into a house I knew I didn't want to live in.
No matter how it looked on paper.

The day we moved in it just didnt feel right. I was working full time, so thankfully I could leave it each day.
Nothing was right about it.
It was an old Inn. Probably dating right back to the 15th century it had been altered and added to over the decades. It had been left with a wonderful higgledy piggeldy interior with sloping old oak floorboards , open fireplaces and original oak panelled walls.
Exactly the sort of place you would expect me to love. Well my spidey senses told me otherwise.
Even knowing its age and how it looked inside (it was in need of TLC and lots of paint mind you...) I said that it just wasn't right.
Well, it turned out that I didn't really have any choice at the time. We needed to move urgently (Landlord needed his house back) and having a dog it's not easy to find rental properties.
The Landlord of the new property had also specified that he WANTED his tenants to have a dog. 
And so our Basset Hound was welcome there.
She adored the place. She ran all over it and claimed her room. Then plonked herself down at the top of the stairs where she could survey the whole place. 
It was a dog house. We had a feeling that Nimh was playing with all the 'other' dogs there many times.

Sadly for us, we as humans were not welcome.

My first week there was uncomfortable. Despite being a much larger house than our previous one, none of our furniture seemed to fit properly anywhere. It all looked wrong and felt awkward, when it should have been perfect for a period property.
The rooms felt harsh and unfriendly.
 I felt as though insects were crawling on me all the time. Not actual insects, but the the sensation of having something buzzing around my head and face constantly.
It was stifling and unbearable.

We had chosen to sleep in the smaller back bedroom as it was away from the busy main road. It was a pretty room, with white rough walls and part of the old fireplace left between the new plastering.
I slept like the dead that first night as I was exhausted, but I don't think I ever got a full night's sleep in that house again.
It seemed as though every noise was amplified. I have never been a jumpy person, and I've lived with floorboards and beams and quirky old houses before, but here I was on edge all the time.
I kept hearing a creature scratching at the roof above our bed.
My Husband banged on the ceiling and it stopped.
Night after night I would hear it. Was it a seagull? Was it a cat? I could never find it.
My Husband even went looking for rats in the loft space, but there actually was no 'loft' or attic above that part of the house anyway.

I started having odd dreams in which I found a doorway into the chimney and it was a tunnel that took me up so high I could see the sea from the top.
I was beginning to feel that the weird energy was at it's strongest around this fireplace/chimney. Like a vortex or a portal.
I managed to make my art studio in a room on the other side of the house, at the back overlooking the garden.
It was the most peaceful spot I could find and so I claimed it. When I wasn't out at work I spent every minute I could in there with the door shut.
I did lots of meditation in there. 

As a consequence of various factors keeping me from sleep, I developed chronic insomnia.
Now I've never found it easy to get to sleep (hardly surprising really) but I've never had proper insomnia before.
It was miserable. I had hit rock bottom the night I gave up on sleep altogether by 3.30am and watched movies until it was time for me to go to work at 6.40am.
I am not one of these people who can exist on a few hours sleep a night. I really do need my 8 hours or I am a zombie. 
I was trying all sorts of ways to fix it. I was managing about 3 or 4 hours at best. I was desperate.
The large bedroom at the front of the house was used mainly as a storage/ spare bedroom because when we'd moved in it needed re-painting and work done on the window, plus it was next to a busy main road.
But it had carpet ... and now the window was fixed... and maybe I could get some heavy curtains and furnish it to help muffle the sound.
Like I said, I was desperate.
We re-painted the walls and over that Christmas I moved our things into the new bedroom. It was still noisy from the road and the drunks shouting as they came past after pub closing but the buzzing insect vibes seemed a little bit further away. Not gone... but not quite able to reach me here. 
I had my best night's sleep since we'd moved.

Now my head was a bit clearer I was realising that the energy was radiating from that old bedroom & it seemed to stop just before it reached our new room. 
It was almost like you had a really annoying buzzing or whistling around your head constantly, then one day it moves off and you realise that you'd been so used to it being there.

Now just this week I've been watching Most Haunted shows on youtube and other paranormal investigation shows, and I heard a few people reference the 'insect' vibe and a few other things that I described in our house, that I'd not heard before.
One of which is a 'heaviness' of the atmosphere, or a mist that seems to hang in the room making it look 'hazy' or fuzzy.
 I noticed in that house, sometimes certain rooms looked 'foggy'.
Actually visibly cloudy to the eye.
It wasn't all the time, but I started to notice it and be aware. At the time I wasn't sure what it was, but now I'm wondering if it was more closely linked to spirit energy of some sort.
Having seen what they capture on Paranormal Lockdown shows I guess I should be glad I didn't know back then.

I never saw what I would term 'a ghost', but I sometimes had a strange sense that someone was standing in the garden facing the house.
It would have originally been part of a 'driveway' of sorts. Our hallway had original cobblestones from when a driveway was set through the centre of the building for horse & carts. 

We lived there for about 2 years. It wasn't a happy time for us, and it included our lovely Nimh getting ill and dying from cancer.
Maybe the other dogs wanted her to stay. At least she seemed happy to be there with them.

And so we moved from Cornwall... to this imperfect house on another busy main road in Lincolnshire. But the energy is so different. In spite of the things that I don't like here, the house is kind and friendly.
I feel safe and I do remember to stop and say thank you... and apologise for my complaints.
I had tried speaking to the old house... but maybe it just didn't want anyone there.

My Parents still live in the same house I grew up in. I went back to stay there by myself a few years ago. I didn't get a wink of sleep with all the noises... and a day later I packed up and ran off to stay with a friend for the rest of my visit.

'Dreamstate'


















Thursday, 6 October 2016

My Travel Blog plus 20% off Etsy Shop Products

Julia Guthrie Travel blog
I've noticed a sad trend in blogland, after recently returning to regular blogging after my foray into FB /Twitter/ Instagram, I've noticed that so many of the lovely blogs I used to read have all been abandoned or deleted.
Is anyone blogging anymore?

Sure it takes a bit more time to write out something worth reading... sure you have to make a bit more effort in order to comment. No clicking a symbol to like and scrolling on by. But is that really a bad thing?
I've enjoyed the ease of communication that came with Facebook, but now I seem to have come full circle, and am now craving the slower paced, less overwhelming connections to friends.
Actual solid people as opposed to a fleeting 'like' from people with names you can barely remember and know next to nothing about. I've missed talking to people with their own blogs, sharing a little corner of their life and letting their thoughts ramble across a page of photographs and musings.

I have been enjoying my travels over the last couple of years, and although I did put some of them here, I have started to move them (and add new ones as they happen) to my Travel Blog. 'Watch The Skies Traveller'

It's been fun to write, and serves as a diary for me also.
It also kick started me into coming back to this blog too. Which I'm really happy about. :)
I've found it oddly therapeutic as well. Everyone is far too busy busy these days, including myself, and the quiet moments in which I always enjoyed an hours catch up and blog read over a cup of tea had been lacking. Instead replaced by a constant frantic checking of Facebook throughout the day.
I still use all those other online mediums of course, but I've been there far less in the past few weeks. And instead swapped some of that precious time for my blogs. Just me and my thoughts, memories and adventures.

It would be great to see my followers over at 'Watch the skies traveller' & do tell me if there's any places you'd love me to blog about. We are off to Wales in January ;)

And if you have a current blog please also leave me a link or let me know so I can follow you back.


In other news I have a special October offer in my Etsy Shop... use voucher code at checkout - JGA20 - to receive 20% off your order.
And if you need any commissions created in time for Christmas, now would be the time to book.




Sunday, 25 September 2016

Looking back

I happened to glance at my blog list yesterday and recalled one I had set up for my dog. We lost Nimh 2 years ago, aged 10.
I had left her blog up as a kind of memorial for my furry trousered rascal. I hadn't read it for a long time, & it did make me laugh.
I wish I had been better at writing it now. Seems like there were so many wasted opportunities.. she was quite a character (read- Naughty). :D



*Baby Nimh. The photo we were sent from her breeder while we decided if she was to be ours

*First day at home with her new family. A little bit scarey but Mummy og was there to snuggle.
(I had left a t-shirt of mine on the sofa for washing and while we werent looking she took it into her bed. We let her sleep with it for a few weeks. :) )

*Nimh's first bedroom. It was like a dog cage but made from a box. With doors cut in. She loved to sink her pointy little teeth into it until she got them a bit stuck and sort of hung there for a few moments. lol

*She was a right little monkey at 3

*Running like the wind

*Having a lovely stretch all over our chair cushions

*Hmmm.... she snuck in while we weren't looking

*Beach = freedom

*Well, she was cold!

*Helloooo mummy og... what are YOU doing?

*OUT OF THE WAY... COMING THROUGH....

*Yipppeeeee

*Mmmmm Cappucino froth!

*Crazy face

*Then there was the day we tried to put a Santa hat on her to make Christmas cards...



*Best most favourite Christmas present ever... Caterpillar. The only soft toy she never 'un-stuffed' (killed). We still have Caterpillar. <3

*She ended her days with Cornish Pasties for tea... because sometimes, you just have to make your furry babies final months the stuff of dreams.
Not this one though.... that was mine. After a hard day at work making the damn things. :D



Wednesday, 21 September 2016

My musing heart



"Go, sit upon the lofty hill,

And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart."


-Elizabeth Barrett Browning-

This last few days have been blissfully cool as the seasons turn and the evenings begin to draw in. I am appreciating the cooler temperatures and the misty mornings.
I've gotten my favourite red shawl back out to wear in my studio. Cosied up with a cup of coffee and my sketchbook.
Autumn is off to a good start.


Today was 'Castle' day. I've been wanting to paint some castles for a long while. Ever since my Husband and I began 'Castle Quest'... a silly name for our excitement at trying to visit as many castles as possible.
I started with a large painting, which will probably turn into a mixed media piece, but its quite textured so after the first background layer the paint needed time to dry.
I decided then to try a pencil drawing while I waited. I chose a favourite photograph that I took in January 2015 at Stirling Castle, Scotland.

For some background noise, and added 'castle inspiration', I put on Season 1 of 'Outlander'. Mostly so I could see Doune Castle again. It was quite a thrill to see the courtyard and staircases where I was walking only a couple of weeks ago :)




 My photograph does actually have a figure in it, all be it unintentionally. It was in the middle of a snowstorm that day and as I snapped the castle entrance I realised a person was hurrying past.
I actually like the shadowy figure there in the photograph, but when I put her into my drawing I took away the modern winter coat and trousers, opting for a more... traditional dress code.
I can imagine that Castle walkway has seen many folk dressed in long cloaks over its long history, hurrying for shelter through a snowstorm. Perhaps even Mary Queen Of Scots herself.



It now hangs on my studio wall. A happy memory of a really wonderful day.
I will return to Stirling Castle I'm sure. And if I'm very lucky, perhaps it will snow again. ;)

Friday, 16 September 2016

September thoughts

It's halfway through September, and even though here in South Linconshire the weather is still so unusually hot, my thoughts turn to the darkening of the days and the coming of Winter months.

 Winter seems to be more of an influence on my artwork these days.
Currently swimming around in my head are tall trees, snowy hills, & castles in the mist.
Now all I need are some darker, chillier, quieter days in the studio to see what comes out onto the paper.

It's strange really, I am a 'Leo'. A Summer baby. I've always thrived at midsummer. It was 'my' time of year.
But over the last few years something has changed. The Summer months feel too noisy and busy and bright.
Perhaps somewhere along the line I learned to appreciate the Autumn and Winter months for the silence and peacefulness that they bring, allowing my muse to work uninterrupted.

This morning I awoke to the sound of cars splashing through rain. And I felt mildly excited.
Believe me, I have never been excited by rain before.
The sky is bright, almost a white/grey colour, and the rain makes hardly a sound as it falls in straight lines. 
I long to cosy up in the studio, where I sit now to write, and tape a new piece of paper to my easel. But I have things to do first... 
I just hope that the muse will wait for me... until I return. 

For now I will leave you with some photos from a recent week in the Scottish Highlands, where the mist and the castles, and mountains filled my mind with new ideas and inspiration. Oh for a Winter holiday by a wooded loch... imagine how full my sketchbook would be after a week! :)

To read more about my Scottish roadtrip, it's over here... on my Travel Blog...  http://watchtheskiestraveller.blogspot.co.uk/









Friday, 2 September 2016

Scottish Roadtrip memories... Loch Lomond to Edinburgh

January 2015. My Husband and I had not long moved up to Linconshire and it was a bucket list trip.
We decided on a whim to just do it. Just plan it, book a night in a hotel & drive for 2 days... just to see it. Just to see the mountains and Lochs of Scotland.

We were new to roadtrips back then, we hadn't yet learned how to turn our car into a comfy bed for the night, or how to plan trips by finding out where all the 24 hour supermarkets are (for toilets and washing facilities), or Costas for when you just REALLY need a good cup of coffee on the road.

We just planned a trip, and one dark winters night we jumped into the Travelling Wilbury and wound our way up North. It was actually the middle of the night as we were so excited and unable to sleep, so we set out much earlier than intended.
I recall driving the wild, dark and windy roads across to Cumbria and wondering if the vast looming silhouettes of the landscape would be as spectacular in daylight as they seemed in the early hours of the morning.
Pausing in a layby for a coffee and sandwich we noted how close we were to the Lake District. Signposts to Kendal were calling me... this too was another dream location & it was almost worse being so close and peering out into the darkness wondering what it would look like!

We crossed the border into Scotland and gave a cheer!
So long we had talked about this, and never really believed we would make it this far. From Cornwall it would be a mighty long trip.
We arrived in Stirling around 5am. No problem finding our hotel... but as we sat parked in the car park we were unsure of what to do next.
It was dark. It was wild and rainy. It was dark.
"Lets just go to Loch Lomond... so we can be there to see the mountains at sunrise!"

And so we drove, through the dark villages & alongside the oh so dark waters of Scotland. In the wind and the rain. And it was terrifying and exciting.
When you can see nothing but the shapes of trees and huge looming black things you can only assume are mountains and hills it feels like walking around with your eyes closed. As though you cannot see what is ahead... after all, this was unfamiliar territory to us. We had never seen a real mountain in our lives!
Very few street lights. None at all mostly.
I recall driving through the darkness of tree lined single lane roads and seeing water glistening alongside the road. A Loch? Oh the excitement.
The hilly road that took us splashing down into flooded sections of the road, and left my knuckles white with a worry that the next splash would be too deep for a our car. 

Finally we climbed... we were sure there must be mountains surrounding us. We could see their shapes against the night sky. Just.
We parked and put our seats back to snooze for a while, and await the morning light.
We had a long wait... dawn did not want to awaken as early as us.
But then at last... a glimmer of white... yes. A snow topped mountain gradually formed before us. We were out of the car... dancing and laughing. MOUNTAINS! SNOW TOPPED MOUNTAINS!!
(*Click to enlarge images)







As the sun reluctantly rose over The Trossachs National Park  http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/, we were astounded by it's beauty. We drove in awe. And I've never seen anything more spectacular than that first sight of the mountains at dawn. Even a grey, murky Winter dawn.

Driving around Loch Lomond we stopped in a small village called Balmaha. Nothing was really open as it was so early, but a lovely man who was off to work called out to us "Morning... Can I help you folks?"
We asked what time the shop would be open... or the cafe.
He directed us to the pretty Loch - side pub opposite, The Oak Tree Inn, and suggested that we go round the side entrance as it's open early for locals to get breakfast before work.
We did... and found a wonderfully warm Scottish welcome. Hot, strong, fresh coffee and bacon rolls to refresh us after our night of driving. 
We exclaimed at the amount of rain (flooding locally) & the lady remarked "Ah yes, there's a few puddles" :D
Puddles.


We set off, wide eyed and excited for a day of exploring & drove... and drove... and drove... one side of Loch Lomond then the other. There are so many photos I didn't take because I was too busy staring :D
One minute the sun was out and it was blue sky... the next it would be misty, the next it would snow!

















What a stunning place. So much more we could have seen, but mid afternoon we returned to check in at our hotel in Stirling and then took a wander around the town itself.








Just up the hill was the magical Stirling Castle.

One of Scotland's most important Castles, it was the childhood home to Mary Stuart and also where, as a young child she was crowned Queen.
Mary Queen Of Scots.
~
"Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland, dominating a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.
Its origins are ancient and over the centuries it grew into a great royal residence and a powerful stronghold.
During the Wars of Independence, which were civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years.
And it is no accident that famous battles such as Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place within sight of its walls.
In times of peace Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts, the superb hunting and to hold court – the castle was often the centre of government.
Royal building projects like the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Palace of James V, marked it out as one of the most important places in all Scotland."
~
The castle wasn't open much longer for the day, so we chose not to enter. Instead returning to our cosy warm hotel room for dinner and hot baths. Luxury at The Stirling Highland Hotel ;)

We had the most amazing view from our window and as we stared out, the sky began turn a very odd colour... within minutes it was a snowstorm!
So beautiful... 








Next morning we were treated to a proper Scottish cooked breakfast. Oh my. Now I love good plate of bacon, sausage, toast, egg etc. But when you add in Haggis to the mix... *yum*.
Amazing.

We checked out of the hotel noting that when it snows in Scotland, people treat it very differently than in England.
The staff are outside immediately with brooms, sweeping the pathways and roads clear! No hassle. No hold up's.
We put bags into the car & walked up the street back to Stirling Castle. It was a beautiful morning. But so cold. Colder than down South that's for sure :)
On the approach to the castle there were people with brooms already out clearing the car park. But as we reached the castle itself it was already snowing again.
And if there is something else you rarely, if ever see living in Cornwall... which is at the very opposite end of the UK... is a blizzard.
Its wasn't busy, but when the snowflakes began to grow larger... and thicker... and heavier... we were the only mad ones left walking around in it with huge grins on our faces.

A Scottish Castle in a snowstorm. You can't get better than that. 












There is a waiting point in the courtyard, where tourists can gather to meet a guide who will at certain times of the day take a tour of the castle.
We weren't sure if it would be running at this particular moment, given the blizzard... and the fact that it was just us. But a smiley lady showed up and we laughed as she offered to give us a personal tour regardless of the weather.
She said secretly that we were doing her a favour, as it got her out of sweeping the snow with the other staff members. lol

It was a fascinating tour. So much history. Fascinating to hear more about Mary Queen Of Scots too, as somewhat ironically, this was the place of her coronation as a child, and we live a stones throw from the castle site at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, where she was executed.
She was buried in Peterborough cathedral for a time, before being moved. I was born & grew up in Peterborough and never really knew all this amazing history back then.

~
"Mary’s father James V died when she was only six days old, leaving an infant queen on the throne. Her coronation was held nine months later at Stirling, one of the most secure places in the kingdom.She would spend most of her childhood here and return frequently during her adult reign. The sumptuous royal palace commissioned by her father was still being completed, but this and James IV’s vast great hall made Stirling the grandest of Scotland’s royal residence"
~







She left us to finish exploring and the snow flakes thinned. It was such an amazing place with so much to see. We spent much longer than we'd anticipated.
We guessed that the roads would be as carefully cleared as the pavements, so we had no concerns about driving across to Edinburgh before our return journey back down through Northumberland.
Less snow to be found in Edinburgh. And we walked up through the old streets to Edinburgh Castle. Wow.
 We hadn't planned on going inside on this trip but we really couldn't resist.




~
"Sitting atop a dramatic volcanic crag, formed around 70 million years ago, and protected on three sides by sheer cliffs that rise steeply to over 400 feet, the Castle has played a leading role in the history of Scotland for many centuries, with occupation of the site going back going back as long ago as the bronze age in 850BC.

Edinburgh Castle has played a pivotal role in Scottish history, both as a royal residence – King Malcolm Canmore (r 1058–93) and Queen Margaret first made their home here in the 11th century – and as a military stronghold. The castle last saw military action in 1745; from then until the 1920s it served as the British army's main base in Scotland. Today it is one of Scotland's most atmospheric and popular tourist attractions.
The brooding, black crags of Castle Rock, rising above the western end of Princes St, are the very reason for Edinburgh's existence. This rocky hill was the most easily defended hilltop on the invasion route between England and central Scotland, a route followed by countless armies from the Roman legions of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD to the Jacobite troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745."
~
You would be hard pushed to come across a Scottish Castle which doesn't have connections in some way to the enigmatic Mary Queen Of Scots, but Edinburgh, along with Stirling is a big one.
There is beautiful suite of rooms where Mary lived for a time, and you can walk in the very room where she gave birth to her only son. James VI, who would one day become the leader to unite the kingdoms of Scotland and England.
~
"As the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, Mary also had a strong claim to the English throne. By producing a son with her second husband, Lord Darnley, she both secured her succession and strengthened her dynastic position. James – the future king of both Scotland and England – was born in a tiny room at Edinburgh Castle"
~

















We had a few brief snow showers there, but the cold was biting. I've never known cold like it. We stood on the very top of the castle battlements looking out to the sea and the mountains beyond and by golly did my face hurt.
The icy wind was cruel up there.

Leaving Edinburgh late, around 4ish, meant that by the time we had reached the rugged landscapes of Northumberland it was growing quite dark.
Then the snow storm began in earnest.
Oh dear. Those hills and roads are not fun in fresh snow. When you can't see anything but white out of the windscreen. lol

We had planned to stop off and visit friends who live there, but for fear of getting stuck we had to keep going and it took hours.
Finally reaching home in the very early hours. Tired, but very happy to have seen our beautiful Scotland.

Being so close to the Lake District had made us long for that visit too... and so the very next week it was booked. A February trip just after Valentines day. 
The roadtrips continued... we had got the bug :)