June 24 – The Birds and the B's
Catlowdy, Cumbria via Carlisle
It's late afternoon now, and we have quite a way to travel to our lodging in Catlowdy, so we head for the car and, subsequently, the motorway. We are all tired and contemplative as we head through rushing traffic toward Carlisle. I'm zoned out in the front with the atlas in my lap.
Somehow (ahem) we end up right in the middle of the town, where the traffic is horrendous, instead of on the bypass we should have been on. We do however, get a quick glimpse of Carlisle Castle by taking this route. On the outskirts of town we stop at a grocery store for dinner to take with us to the bed and breakfast. Our double and single room reservations have been upgraded to a cottage and we hope that there are kitchen facilities. In any case, we've been informed that there isn't a pub anywhere nearby, so we should eat before checking in or bring something with us.
Now this will sound silly, but before we left Robin asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to do on our trip, other than the things I already had on my "must see" and "if we have time" lists. I told her that I wanted to hear bagpipes, I wanted to see men in kilts and that I wanted to go into a grocery store, just to see how similar or different it would be to my local supermarket. So, I'm looking forward to exploring the grocery store.
The supermarket really isn't very different at all, other than the huge automated revolving entry/way out (man) door. We all assemble salads at a salad bar and choose fresh breads from the bakery. Then we go in search of salad dressing, which we find on the tea aisle. Here is the main difference I notice – they stock an incredible selection of teas, but this is to be expected.
We are away from the city and driving out into the countryside in the twilight. The directions provided by our hostess to Bessiestown Guesthouse are succinct and accurate. In no time at all, we are pulling into a long drive. Bessiestown is a working sheep farm, and the car park is surrounded by farm buildings and fenced pastures.
A good stretch and a deep breath of country air and I'm suddenly coming back to life. Generations of my ancestors were farmers in Kentucky and when I was a child we often we returned for a visit to the country during the summers. I've been looking forward to my stay at Bessiestown and the rural atmosphere and am not disappointed.
We are greeted by Margaret and Jack Sissom, very kind and gracious hosts, and their cat Smudge, who, judging by his size, is a very pampered pet. He purrs and rubs against our legs, then flops over on his back (like a dog!) for a rub. Margaret leads us to our cottage, which is a converted stable, but you'd never know this from the decor. A full modern kitchen and living room are at the top of a spiral staircase. Below are the two bedrooms and bathroom, including a full sized bathtub. We are then shown to the dining room where we will be having breakfast each morning.
The entire establishment is the epitome of a fine country house. Attention to comfort is foremost, but attention to decor is not far behind. Margaret stands outside with us in the courtyard for a few moments, and we look north. "You're looking at Scotland," she says. "Armstrong country". The hills in the distance are misty and blue, the pastures before them so bright green. The air is sweet with country scents and I am falling in love with this place.
After a long, hot soak in the tub I join Robin and Dana upstairs and we gather around the dining room table for dinner. Margaret has supplied us with a bottle of wine, and we've lit the little gas fireplace. The television provides background patter. My eyelids are so heavy, but I go outside for one last look at Scotland before retiring.
It has grown quite cool in the couple of hours that I was inside; I can see my breath. The silhouetted figures of two horses stand out in a field near the house and the sound of a lamb bleating forlornly for its mother is carried on the wind. Crows call raucously to one another from the treetops of a grove.
I feel a smile turn up the corners of my mouth as I look to the north. Scotland, I think, as I wrap my arms around myself in an attempt to stave off the chill; I'm looking at Scotland. But first there are two days to fill in Cumbria and Northumberland. There is Hadrian's Wall to walk and a stone circle to visit among many other things. Scotland will wait for me. The anticipation is building and almost too much to bear, but Scotland will wait for me.
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