Renewing Our Vows in Scotland – Part 1: The Highlands

Debbie and I renew our vows every five years somewhere new. For our 20th anniversary, we did something very off-path. We travelled to the far north of Scotland to one of the oldest stone circles in the world. We renewed our vows in a pagan handfasting ceremony. At twilight. On the equinox. It was a truly magical event. Here’s our story in three parts.

It’s been awhile, yes. Not that the summer hasn’t had its share of off-path adventures, including teaching in Costa Rica and buying a new house – well more accurately, a fixer – in Fall City. And the house has indeed been greedily consuming every spare moment of time it seems. Nevertheless, shortly after we moved in, Deb and I headed off to the Scottish Highlands.

Deb had spent several months planning this amazing trip, which included a number of adventures including our vow renewal – or as one of our friends mistyped, our “vowel renewal.” The name “Cargile” is Scottish and so I thought it appropriate to get remarried in the full traditional Scottish kilt kit. I could not find a kilt in the Cargile tartan of “Clergy” so I settled for the more common “Black Watch”, though I was fortunate to find a handfasting cloth in the Clergy tartan.

Suitably prepared, we headed off with our Tortuga backpacks of course. We only use those for travel now and surprisingly my kilt and all of its accessories, along with the rest of my clothes, fit. Deb’s gown also fit along with all of her things.

Our first day involved a lot of flying and a long train ride from Edinburgh to Inverness. There, we rented a car for our trek through the Highlands. We knew we’d have to drive British-style and joked that it would be more challenging if we got one that was “stick.” We did! It actually was not difficult at all to master British-style driving (including driving stick with the stick on the left).

Debbie Drives UK

Deb’s First Drive

The Bonnie Highlands

Over the next several days, we took a long tour through the Scottish Highlands. What a beautiful country. I could describe just how beautiful it was, but I’ll leave that to the photos. There are a lot more at the end.

Scottish Highlands

Looking West near Unapool

Scottish Highlands

Some Locals in Lochinver

We spent our second night at the Kylesku Hotel, the Scottish Hotel of the Year, in the northwest of Scotland. Sonia and Tonja, our innkeepers, welcomed us like family. It was right on the loch (lake) and we had amazing fish that literally came off the boat. The dock was right next to the hotel.

One of our first fun adventures was an unexpected rescue. As we hiked around the hotel, we came to an overlook on the loch. Deb spotted an odd sight – a slowly undulating white arm touching some plants by the edge of the shore. We went to investigate and found that a fairly large (compared to what we’ve usually seen diving) octopus was stranded in a shallow hole surrounded by plants. This loch is attached to the sea and the tide had gone out. The poor thing was listless and was feebly moving its arms. I went down and had to pry its sticky arms from some plants and then lift it up. It was about two feet long and was much heavier than I would have expected. I was able to toss it into the water. Then the most amazing thing happened.

The octopus, which I thought was nearly dead, sprang to life in the water and zipped around in a circle in front of me and then jumped out of the water and back in before swimming away. Its “happy dance” touched me. It felt like it was saying “thank you.” I never knew octopi could, or would, breach. I just wish I could have gotten a picture. It was a pretty amazing creature.

The next day we had a gorgeous hike through the Scottish Highlands near Lochinver. We started off in a forest by a river and then ventured out into the hills. We were the only ones around and felt that we had the entire world to ourselves. The heather was rich in the hills and the views were spectacular.

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Staples – Heather, Rocks and Mountains

Scottish Highlands

My Love in the Heather

The Highland Games

From Lochinver, we travelled east to Invershin where we stayed at the Invershin Hotel. We had a fantastic time there and met new friends from Canada and Germany along with our wonderful innkeepers, Cheryl and Angus. We chose Invershin because we were attending the Highland Games.

The games were the finals for the year in Scotland so we got to see the best of the best. It was one of those moments that really distinguishes an experience in a country – like watching an Arsenal vs. Manchester United game in a British pub in London, or dancing in a jammed samba club in the middle of Rio de Janeiro until 2am.

The games have been going on for 2000 years and all events take place on a grass field, including the track and cycling events. But those were pretty ordinary compared to the “heavies” competition. They threw stones and hammers in a variety of ways and also did the caber toss. Essentially, they pick up a large tree, run and then flip it so that, ideally, it does one half rotation and lands straight in the opposite direction.

Highland Games

The Caber Toss

Highland Games

And a Flying Kilt

Yes, kilts were flying. But these athletes did not wear their kilts the “traditional” way; they had compression shorts underneath. The bagpipers, not so much, as one of our Canadian friends learned!

The games also had a dance competition, a bagpipe competition, and a parade with full pipe and drum corps.

Highland Games

The Sword Dance

Highland Games

The Pipe and Drum Corps

And of course, what games are not complete without Tug of War? This was serious. They were (highly) competitive teams. The matches would take 10-20 minutes with lots of grunting and an occasional plumber’s butt.

Highland Games

“Cracking” Under Pressure

Before we left, we visited the Invershin castle. It has a sad story like many Scottish castles as we learned. After many generations, the last heir of the castle willed it to a hostel group with a stipulation that the castle be preserved as a hostel. That hostel group had it for several years and ran it into the ground. In need of repairs, first they sold off all of the 57 acres of land and then all of the paintings and sculptures inside. Even after netting several million pounds, surprisingly, they seemed unable to spend the 500K pounds to keep the castle maintained. The locals led a valiant battle to save it. It was offered up for free if you could demonstrate that you had the necessary cash to fix it up and keep it in its original condition. A group of investors bought it and is now trying to turn it into a 5 star hotel. Sadly, it’s not a unique story in Scotland.

Invershin Castle

The Gates of Invershin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

After Invershin, we had a free day and decided to visit the beach town of Dornach, located on the east coast off the North Sea. The gem there was Dunrobin Castle. There were countless paintings of Earls of Sutherland (12 I think) and their kin. But the highlight was the castle and grounds itself. The castle was “Disneyesque” (in a good way) and the grounds were spectacular.

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle from the Grounds

dunrobin castle grounds small

And the Spectacular Castle Grounds

From Dornach, we drove back to Inverness to catch a plane to the Orkneys and our big day. While in Inverness though, we found a shop and looked up the Cargile crest. It was a pretty funny experience. With our genealogy historian there, we found the proper crest for the name “Cargile”, spelled as we spell it. The crest was ermine with a red “X” across the front and a martlet over the top. Interesting? Well, “Cargile” was originally a youngest son. The “X” means that he had no title or holdings. The martlet, which had no feet, meant that he also had no land. Poor guy. So, there’s the story of Cargile clan.

cargile crest

The Cargile Crest

Fortunately, our adventure doesn’t end on the sad origins of us Cargiles. It doesn’t even end after our amazing vow renewal in an ancient, powerful place. But you’ll have to check back shortly for more. Pura Vida.

More Photos

Loch Druim Suardalain

Fisherman on Loch Druim Suardalain

Rock Wall

One of Many Ancient Stone Walls


More Pipers


A Shetland “Pony” in Invershin

Invershin Castle

Invershin Castle from the Trail

Invershin Castle House

The Caretaker’s House at Invershin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle Above the Grounds

Andy and Deb at Dunrobin Castle

At the Hedge “Gate” of the Grounds

Deb at Dunrobin Castle

Debbie Framed

Funny Deb

Having Fun in an Inverness Pub

10 Most Memorable Things – Europe

It’s been a week or so since we’ve returned from the European part of our new adventure. We are settling into our new rental home in Fall City (near Seattle), unpacking, and re-establishing our Seattle life. As we unpack and organize, we’ve all had a good chance to reflect on our travels. We all put together our “top 10” lists of the most memorable things for us each of us from Europe. You’ll see a few similarities, some differences and some, well, fun surprises.

Aidan’s Top 10

  1. The floooooood oooh spooky: That flood was something. Man, it totally deserves a highlight. It was scary and fun at the same time! I am sorry I got excited. *Clears throat* okay so I felt like I was going to get hypothermia I was so cold on the bench and then I hung like a towel on the tree after the water was too high on the bench. But it was hard to climb the tree because I could barely move my legs.
  2. The best gelato ever in Orvieto: I loved that place. It was in a good spot. The gelato flavors tasted real and not artificial. The chocolate was creamy and smooth and delish. The fruit flavors tasted like you were eating fruit off of the bush.
  3. El Gollo del Oro in Roma: I loved that restaurant. The food was amazing. The place was beautiful. I had fun taking pictures and talking and eating.
  4. Provence, France: I really enjoyed it there. It was peaceful and nice, good weather, nice cats. The grape trees were fun to play in. The town was really nice but save the town for a minute.
  5. Orvietto Duomo: That place was pretty cool. I liked the colors of the stone and the interior also the exterior design was cool. The gargoyles were cool and the chapels were cool.
  6. The Cappuccin bone place in Roma: This place man the bones and the patterns and designs were overwhelming and amazing. But the children skeletons were kind of disturbing and the fact the 100s of people’s bones were there was too.
  7. Walking to town in France by myself: I thought it was pretty cool going by myself and mom and dad putting that much trust in me to do that.
  8. Barcelona: Barcelona was cool but not as cool as France. It had better food and that counts for something. We lived in a nice spot had good food.
  9. Double 00, Barcelona: Let me just say I am pretty sure we all loved that place. Yes? No? Okay, awkward. I liked the building. The food was amazing like the passion fruit mousse.
  10. Argentinian grill, Barcelona: Again we all liked that place lets establish that one more time. The place had a nice modern feel with some fanciness added in that. And most important of all the food was amazing.

Nev’s Top 10

  1. The food in Europe, in general really, over-rode my expectations. I never expect much, if anything, and the food was delicious. Generally speaking, it was better than the US. It’s usually fresh and the flavors are to die for. The things that would have cost a lot of money for little in return in the US, cost less in Europe for way better results. I tried differently cooked things I eat often such as chicken, and tried new pastas. Sauces were full of flavor, and interesting starters were tasty. We had cultural food from Spain, Italy, and France and it was awesome.
  2. The transportation in Europe is really efficient (unlike the US) such as the train system. We rode a lot of trains to get to different cities/towns and countries. I’ve always wanted to ride a train, but I learned it’s not that great. The scenery on the way and the graffiti you pass is interesting but otherwise it’s just a long ride. But the fact that you can get on a train to go to another city or country in Europe instead of having to go on a plane is pretty cool.
  3. The sculptures and art we saw were cool. The David for example. I could look at it for hours. I was actually looking forward to drawing it. It was really detailed and the anatomy was spot-on. Some of the other sculptures were beautiful too. And some of the paintings and other art were nice, even though it was mostly about Jesus and stuff but it was still really detailed and unique.
  4. Throughout our trip I came across a lot of local cats, and some were stray. The strays were fed daily by local people which was nice, the cats recognized their feeders too. They were friendly and I liked petting them. It was nice to see that nice, cozy local small town feeling I suppose. It seemed like there were more cats in Europe than dogs, and I didn’t see any stray dogs.
  5. The flood had an adrenaline rush that I’d never felt before. I’ve never been in a situation until now that made me think Aidan and/or dad might die. I also had never been in a flood. It was something interesting that happened and not the same old daily things. It showed me how grateful I am to have my family. I could have lost them. I realized I take them for granted sometimes and I regret that. I love them more than they know, and wish every day I knew how to thank them properly for what they do for me.
  6. In Provence we stayed at a house out in the country. It had big grapevine fields that were fun to run through. The sunsets were beautiful along with the stars because the sky was so big and open. There were also two cats that lived there, which I practiced my photography on. The female’s name was Cloe and she was gorgeous. She liked me to and remembered me whenever I came back from somewhere in town. She’d crawl into my lap and let me pet her. She was a hunter too, it was fun to play with her and give her things to chase.
  7. I’ve only had gelato a couple times before Europe, and it just tasted like ice cream so I thought that’s how it was supposed to taste. But then I had gelato and Europe and it amazed me. All the flavors there were to choose from, some of them being strange and never would have thought of there being a flavor of anything – but they turned out good. Each gelato place was different. No chocolate flavor tasted the same, but all of them were good.
  8. The Italian haircut I got was cool. It was the best haircut I’ve ever gotten. It was clean and the guy made sure to get every hair. It was cool to watch him do different settings on the buzzer, and to see him in such focus. And he got all the little hairs off of my head when he was done which was nice. It felt fancy compared to my Costa Rica haircuts.
  9. The small on-hill town we stayed at in Orvieto was nice. It was quiet and most of the town didn’t allow cars. All of the streets were like alleyways. The restaurants were mostly small local family ones. One of them was amazing with homemade pastas and sauces that melted in your mouth. The church there was pretty too, and had amazing paintings.
  10. In Florence there was a market that was really cool. It was like a farmers market but with items, leather items mostly. There were leather jackets, belts, bags, wallets, bracelets, and lots of other things. We got a bunch of stuff there. Some things we weren’t expecting to come back with. Mom and dad were really excited about the things there, which was nice to see. There were cool gadgets and fresh smelling leather.

Deb’s Top 10

  1. Genoa flash flood
    This has to go at the top. It was certainly not the most enjoyable but will likely never be forgotten. I’ve written some about this already. I admittedly still run scenarios in my head from time to time about what I would have/could have done if Andy had missed when he dove and grabbed for Aidan.
  2. Farmhouse near Bonnieux, Provence, France
    Our little farmhouse outside of town was a gem. The time here was very relaxing and peaceful. I loved sitting out on the daybed by the grape fields, snacking on delicious French cheese and drinking the local wine. This was my first time in France. I found the people to be so friendly and very patient with my complete lack of French language skills.
  3. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
    This was breathtaking for me. The scale, vision, and cohesion of elements from floor plan, elevations, materials, texture, sculpture, and all the way through natural and artificial light is awe-inspiring. I hope to be able to go again when it is finished. The kids promised that they would go.
  4. Playing along the city wall in Avila
    We were just walking along the outside of the wall to get back to our hotel. This particular spot along the wall sort of drew me in. There were many boulders in the grass along the wall, shade, grass and tiny wildflower. Those things made it a bit of a magical spot to stop and play. We climbed, laughed, talked, and just sat to rest. It was lovely.
  5. Gelato at Il Gelato di Pasqualetti in Orvieto
    I was in Ovieto 15 years ago. That was my first trip to Italy. After sampling a multitude of offerings, I concluded then that this was the best gelato. Coming to Orvieto again, I could only hope that it might still be there and still be as tasty. It was still there and after many more gelato samplings in the intervening 15 years, I believe it still to be the BEST gelato.
  6. Güell Park, Barcelona
    We ended walking around the public area of the part because we did not know that you needed to purchase tickets ahead of time for the Gaudi sculpture section. It turned out to be a wonderful thing. The public area was not terribly crowded. We walked around the beautiful gardens and then were drawn to some harp music. We ended up sitting, listening, and watching under a beautiful stone archway that provided wonderful acoustics for a local harp player. The organic design, the music, the gardens, and the harp player herself made it seem like a magical fairy garden.
  7. Hearing Aidan say “this is cool” in the Medici Chapel, Firenze
    The kids were not always enthusiastic about the various venues, or the trains, or the prep reading.  Occasionally I would wonder if all of it was worth it and if they were actually getting as much out of the trip as we had hoped. This one, unprompted comment was the thing we were hoping to hear. It was worth the wait.
  8. Seeing Nev’s huge smile and enthusiastic “thanks” to the barber in Rome.
    Again, Nev was not overly excited about going on this trip. We had many conversations about observing and appreciating the subtleties of different cultures. Watching the precision and attention to detail during the haircut was amazing to me. It was something I had not seen before. It never occurred to me that Nev would notice. This moment – the big smile, the look of enjoyment and respect, the enthusiastic thanks and handshake – was the one for which I had waited. Just like Aidan’s above. This was when I knew something had clicked and learning had happened.
  9. Cheese at the wine festival in Barcelona
    I like good, strongly flavored cheese. I had not had any for the past 10 months as Costa Rican cheese are quite mild. Andy and I stumbled upon this outdoor festival of local wines, cheeses, and cured meats. I let Andy pick the wines for sampling and he let me pick the cheeses. I did this mainly by following my nose. I selected the ones that smelled the most interesting.  I somehow ended up with an unknown variety of a local blue cheese. It was so good I cried – just a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of that cheese.
  10. Watching Flamenco dancing at local bar in Seville
    Andy and I spent a late evening at a local bar in Seville watching local residents gather and dance Flamenco. We could have gone to watch professionals but this was so much more fun. They clearly did it because they truly enjoyed the art form and the camaraderie. The best part was one of the men teaching the dance to some newcomers. He explained the same way to several different people the hand movement as reaching up to change a ceiling light bulb. It was fantastic to watch.

Andy’s Top 10

  1. The flood of Genoa
    The flood should have been frightening in many ways. It’s memorable to me for some good reasons though. I saw Aidan in a crisis situation and he handled himself really well. I was proud of him. It had been awhile since I had been in a situation like that and it was a bit eerie to feel that sense of calm and focus when things go south. Most importantly, I felt like we all bonded and were truly together as one family that night. As the young adults get older, those moments get rarer and I cherish them.
  2. La Segrada Familia
    I had only heard about La Sagrada Familia and seen some pictures, none of which could truly do this amazing architectural feat justice. I was awestruck at the care toward each detail Gaudi had and legacy Gaudi has left to finish this task. Could have spent days there. I am not usually moved deeply by architecture, but here in this special place I was.
  3. Gladiator camp, Rome
    The gladiator practice with Aidan was fun, of course, but the real memorable highlight was the history lesson on Rome. I thought I appreciated what the Romans had accomplished, but I had a new found respect for their achievements listening to our very passionate gladiator trainer. Having 40 or so people in Roman armor show up for a celebration after our class was pretty memorable too.
  4. Piazza Signoria, Firenze
    I had forgotten how truly incredible this Piazza was. I sat there entranced, looking at the sculpture and taking photographs. I really wanted to sit and draw. Maybe next time. The highlights also included how transfixed Nev was and how peaceful Deb looked sitting there.
  5. World’s Best Gelato
    What is a ten best list without the world’s best gelato? I often get disappointed when I return somewhere and a wonderful place I had discovered is now gone (this just happened in Ashland, Oregon on our way back to Seattle in the car). I was so happy to see our little gelato discovery was still right where it was in Orvieto, as if 15 years had not gone by. It reminded me of Deb and my first trip there.
  6. Dancing with my love in Sevilla
    We don’t know Flamenco. After listening for awhile, though, we thought we’d try it. We did more of a salsa/swing step, but it worked with the music and the people there were very accommodating. It’s always magical dancing with Deb. At 1am in Sevilla, Spain, dancing to a new kind of music in a small, local little club, it was priceless.
  7. Watching the street artists in Firenze
    Watching (good) street artists is another thing I could do for hours. She wasn’t the type doing caricatures. She was using pastels on the black cobblestone street and recreating a Renaissance painting. I though Nev might like watching her and suggested it. It was wonderful to see that Nev has the same ability to watch and appreciate art in the making. What a wonderful unschooling moment.
  8. The Duomo cupola tour, Firenze
    I really hoped to do a secret passage tour in Firenze. While it was not meant to be, the cupola tour was close. I love wandering through the “hidden” spaces of great buildings. The really memorable part, though, was seeing the dome art up close. It’s one thing to see it from several hundred feet below. When you see it close, you really have a much more profound appreciation for what these amazing artists did. In many ways, it is a lost skill. CG is just not the same.
  9. Montserrat mountains
    I love mountains. I need to live by them and Deb needs to live by the sea. That’s why Seattle is such a great place for us. The mountains around the Montserrat monastery were beautiful and unearthly. I have never seen such terrain before. I would have loved to hike in those mountains. Sitting and looking at them was a close second and a memorable experience.
  10. Three hours in line with Aidan at Portaventura
    This one is probably a surprise, especially if you know Aidan. In the Portaventura theme park, we waited about three hours to see a big Halloween “haunted forest.” Aidan is like me – always moving and impatient. What was memorable about the three hours, especially reflecting on it now, was that it was just the two of us hanging out and we had a good time, despite the cold and waiting. I saw him engage total strangers in (very mature) conversation. I saw him describe all sorts of favorite shows, Youtube videos and video games with excitement. We played games (like the one where balance and you try to push each other over). We talked about a lot of things. And he must have thanked me twenty times for staying in line with him. It was a little like a long run…the first 15 minutes were tough, but then you get into the “zone.” I need to find a way to get into that zone with him more often.

We went on this five week odyssey to give Nev and Aidan a chance to see history, religion, art, and architecture up close and give them a real appreciation for history and Europe. We took away so much more. Looking at what was memorable to everyone here, it’s clear that each of us had our own perspective filled not just with memorable places, but memorable experiences with each other. We travelled five weeks with just backpacks and were together every day. We saw some lights go on. We saw some inspiration. And we became closer. Now that’s the most memorable experience. Pura vida.