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

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More Pipers

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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