Renewing Our Vows in Scotland – Part 3: Edinburg

After our deeply moving ceremony in the Ring of Brodgar, I expected that we would have a long trip back to Edinburgh, play tourist for a little, and leave. Instead we had the most spectacular time in Edinburgh, a gem of a city.

The morning we left the Orkneys we got up at 5 to drive our car to town and take a ferry to the mainland. Then we took a cab to the train station and headed off on the train for our 7 hour ride to Edinburgh. Three trains later and a few hours early due to a happy connection we emerged.

Deb had booked us a room at 94DR, a truly wonderful B&B run by Paul and John. The inimitable Paul and John were just one of many great discoveries we made in this beautiful city.

Introduction to Edinburgh

We got in about 7pm and so had time to have a real dinner. Paul worked some magic – something which he seems to have no end of – and got us a table at the Outsider. Now generally the food in the Highlands and Orkneys was fine, but with the exception of Kylesku, it wasn’t anything noteworthy. And we had prepared ourselves for that. This first night in Edinburgh, though, we had a sumptuous dinner of lamb, steak and venison. And yet, it was not even the best dinner we had there.

The next morning we got up and went to breakfast. Paul and John told us that they expected that we had had enough of the “traditional Scottish breakfast” – eggs, bacon, Lorne sausage, black pudding, grilled tomato, and mushrooms (and sometimes haggis). Indeed, we pretty much had that in every place we stayed.

Instead, they made us the most amazing shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish with eggs, tomatoes, peppers and onions. After that, we went on a 7 hour hike around the city and surrounding hills. It was a mix of urban, historic, and even rugged, hilly terrain.

Hiking the Hills

Edinburgh had a history of volcanic and glacier activity in the distant past and you could see in the surrounding “hills” which were part of the city.


The Cliffs Above Edinburgh

We headed out first on a long hike up a few thousand feet to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. From there, we had a 360 degree view of the city and its surrounds. We could see the Edinburgh castle, Scott Memorial, Firth of Forth (a “bay”), the “old town”, the “new town”, the downtown and everything else.


The “Road” to Arthur’s Seat


A Partial Panorama of Edinburgh

We hiked among the cliffs and hills for a few hours. It was an amazing opportunity to capture photos and we occasionally spotted a bit of ancient history among these hills.

Edinburgh - Holyrood Park

A Hiking Friend

Edinburgh - Holyrood Park

Tower Ruin

The Old and the Older Still

We came down from the hills to one of the more diverse cities we’ve experienced. It’s actually a second Scottish UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are several different centuries of buildings and the Scots take as incredible care of them as they do their history. We haven’t seen a city that is as good at blending the past with the modern. And it seems that there is an old castle, manor house or church on every street.


Ancient and Modern


One of Many Incredible Churches

As we literally circumnavigated the city, we also found ourselves circumnavigating the impressive Edinburgh Castle, sometimes closely and sometimes far away. It is built on a cliff and is impregnable from at least two-thirds of its circumference.

Edinburgh Castle

The Imposing Edinburgh Castle

Along the way, we found many nuggets, like the Hanging Bat, a brew pub that makes (and imports) some of the best brews we’ve had, and that’s saying a lot for us Pacific Northwesterners.

Another favorite was Princess Street Gardens. It was fun watching kids come out after school in their uniforms, playing in the grass. Of course, there were statues everywhere.

horse pigeon statue - Edinburgh

Statue and Friend

We rounded the castle and came to a must-see attraction: the Scott Monument – a memorial to the legendary Sir Walter Scott. It’s a most amazing piece of Gothic architecture, though as Deb says, “It needs a bath!”

Scott Monument

The Scott Monument

We climbed 371 steps to the top, up spiral stairs that got narrower and smaller. It is not for the claustrophobic. By the time we got to the top, it was more like a tight cave passage. There was no room to pass and the doorway at the top was narrower than my shoulders (and I’m only 5’7”).

It was adorned with a large number of “gargoyle-like” ornaments both inside and around the outside. Many of these were of dogs and Deb found a greyhound friend among them.


Deb and Friend

For the end of our hike we headed to Calton Hill. We saw his rather eclectic assortment of structures when we first arrived in Edinburgh and wanted to check it out more closely. It has an Egyptian Obelisk, a Parthenon-style structure, an Observatory, and a Tower among its many features.


Calton Hill from the Train Station

Interestingly, John (of 94DR) told us that Calton Hill is viewed as #Edinburgh’sDisgrace since they evidently had much grander plans for the site but ran out of money. While some of the buildings were fascinating, it was rather an amalgam of incongruous things.

Finally we headed off to a real treat for dinner – the Gardener’s Cottage. Once again, Paul had worked his magic and was able to get a seating at this incredible restaurant experience. Gardener’s Cottage serves 7 course meal of amazing dishes, each created with locally grown or farmed ingredients. Among the tasty dishes we had tempura scallops, hedgehog mushrooms and creamed corn with sourdough bread, razor clams (or “spoots”) with fresh greens and the most amazing apple sorbet.

Gardener's Cottage Partridge

Partridge at the Gardener’s Cottage

Dinner was a truly wonderful cap to our Edinburgh experience. We didn’t really expect much from Edinburgh beyond it being a large city. That’s generally been our experience in other large, commercial, metropolitan cities. And indeed there was a long street with the typical high-end shopping. But there was so much more to Edinburgh as we learned. Had we known, we would have stayed longer. You can bet we will next time! A big thank to our “hosts” – Paul and John. Thank you for pointing us to some memorable experiences. Pura Vida.

More Photos


A Man “Out Standing” in his Field (sorry – I had to do that!)


Having Fun

debbie beauty panorama

A Surreal Panorama


Pollock Hall


Old Buildings


A Unicorn at the Queen’s Palace (in Scotland)


A Imposing Silhouette of Edinburgh Castle

gargoyle - Scott Monument

A Gargoyle on the Scott Memorial

Calton Hill

The Observatory Cottage at Calton Hill


Deb Against a Painted Backdrop (not really 🙂 )

Renewing Our Vows in Scotland – Part 2: The Ceremony

When we last left our intrepid adventurers after discovering the rather sad origins of the Cargile clan, they were headed off to the far north in the Orkney Islands – land of Neolithic Scots, Vikings and druids – to renew their vows on their twentieth anniversary.

We flew from Inverness into Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. These islands are as beautiful as they are cold and rugged. The Orkneys are north of Scotland, roughly at the same latitude as southern Alaska. In August you can even see the northern lights. They also have an incredible history and are a rich location for archeologists.

As the “Orcadians” will tell you, if you scratch the surface in the Orkneys, they “bleed” archeology. It seems true. There are an average of about 11 archeological sites per square mile (yes, they measure in miles!). That’s 2000 just on the main island according to one of the historians.

We visited many of the sites and they are incredibly old. The Norsemen (Vikings) visited the islands and settled part of it. The islands were actually a wedding gift from the King of Norway to the King of Scotland in the past. The folks there still see themselves as more Viking in many way than Scottish in fact.

Truly Ancient Ruins

We stayed at the Standing Stones Hotel, which was very close to the Standing Stones of Stenness. This first, simple, stone circle had 12 stones arranged in a circle and is about 5000 years old. Most of the sites we saw were about as old. That’s far older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza. The stones, along with the other areas I describe below are one of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland.


The Standing Stones of Stenness (and Deb)

The Standing Stones were really a center point for most of the major archeological sites. Form there you could see the Ring of Brodgar (where we had our ceremony), several other individual standing stones, several other stone circles, Maes Howe, a burial mound with the largest collection of Viking runes, and several other ancient villages and sites. And those were the ones that were unearthed. There were many others that people know of there but had not been unearthed yet.

At the hotel, we saw a display by a local jeweler, Aurora jewelers, and unexpectedly saw some rings we instantly liked. So, we went off to find the jeweler’s studio. The rings we saw were designed and made locally in the Orkney’s and they had a series of runes around them which translated to “health and happiness.” In this serendipitous moment we decided to get new wedding rings (Again! Our first time was 10 years ago in Las Vegas). These rings really spoke to where we were and the heritage here. It was fitting.

runic ring

Our Runic Rings
Image © Aurora Jewelers

From there we went to the west side of the island to visit Skara Brae. It is one of the oldest villages ever found, dating to the Mesolithic times (though many of the other sites are Neolithic). It’s on the coast and in 1851 a huge storm tore the turf away from the top of this village. The dwellings, like most dwellings in Orkney today, were stone. Inside, the furniture – beds, dressers, etc. – were also stone.


Interconnecting Passages in Skara Brae 


A Skara Brae Dwelling

Did you catch the prehistoric dresser in the photo above?

While there we visited the manor of the “laird” who owned the land and who found the site. Deb was in there for maybe 15 minutes and really wanted to leave. I had never seen that before. She said it had a smell, which I wasn’t able to smell, and that it felt “bad.” We found out later from Helen, the woman who married us, that the house is evidently haunted and one of the beds is cursed. She also mentioned that she felt that the house was not right.


The Haunted Skaill House

I should mention the weather at this point; it plays a big role in what is to come. This entire summer had had really poor weather in Scotland and the Orkneys – cold, rainy, drizzly. Most of the folks we met talked about how uncharacteristically bad it was. In fact, when we got to Scotland, the weather had been better than most of the summer. Still, in the Orkneys, it was very cold and drizzly most of the days. We crossed our fingers that our outdoor ceremony would be nice – or at least reasonable.

In the afternoon, we visited the Ring of Brodgar (isn’t that an amazing name?) with Helen and Mark. They were the couple who have an incredible business presiding over pagan ceremonies – Orkneypaganweddings. We had a “rehearsal” that also involved a ceremony to ask for good weather.

Though cold and drizzly still, the Ring of Brodgar was amazing to behold. It is the 4th (as of a few weeks ago) largest stone circle in Europe and older than almost all of them, including Stonehenge. It had at one time 60 stones in a perfect circle, with specific stones perfectly aligned with north, south, east and west. 27 stones remain. While there, Deb and I picked the stone where we would hold the ceremony.


The Ring of Brodgar on Rehearsal Day
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

The next day we visited Maeshowe. This was a Neolithic burial tomb. Later, Vikings found it and left a lot of runes. It is the largest collection of Viking runes in the world. Do you know what they say? It’s actually all Viking graffiti. Some of it is really basic and funny, for example, “I am Lars and I wrote this on this high spot.” Some of it is “potty humor” – for example, something about Ingevild, who evidently was a tall woman, having to bend over. The funniest was a line that started on one line of rock and said something like “I am Bjorn and here I write these ru” and then it ran into an opening. But, on the rock above the opening it read “nes.”

A Word on Whiskey

What is Scotland without Scotch? If you are like we were, you might not have a good answer. We came here having never really cared for nor appreciated Scotch. On our trip we decided that we had to learn and so we took every opportunity to learn.

We learned that we really, really, dislike Scotches that are very “peaty” and smoky. These would be ones with descriptions like “burnt rubber”, “turpentine” and “oily rags.” Instead we discovered, not terribly surprisingly, that we liked Scotch from the highlands and particularly from the Orkney Islands. Then we discovered why.

Scotch producers use peat to make the Scotch. Peat forms from vegetation and in most areas it is very woody vegetation. In the Highlands and Orkney, there really aren’t any trees and so there isn’t wood in the peat. It is mostly composed of heather. The resulting Scotches tend to be sweeter, smoother and, at least to us, richer.

Our favorite was Dark Origins, a single malt from Highland Park distillery in the Orkneys. No, it does not have an age. It is a special “expression”, meaning that it is composed of variously-aged years of the same Scotch (so it is still a single malt and not a blend). We learned that, yes, generally the older the better, but occasionally there is an expression that is so good, they will bottle it. This particular one is aged in sherry casks and is named after a tax collector who made Scotch this way in his spare time to assuage the anguish he created with tax collecting. Come by our place for a taste sometime!

A Centuries Old Ceremony in an Ancient Place of Power

The time for our ceremony finally came and we were very excited. It was the fall equinox and nearing the end of the day. We got all dressed up in our wedding clothes. I managed to get all of the bits of my kilt together. Deb looked gorgeous in her dress, of course. As we were getting dressed, we noticed that much of the sky in the distance was blue and the sun was working hard to come out.


In Our Finery
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

When we got to the Ring of Brodgar, we split up. Each of us took a separate path around the circle, outside the stones. We then came together and walked to our stone where Helen and Mark waited. The ceremony began with a ritual greeting.

Welcome one and all to the Ring of Brodgar, where the sky meets the land, where we are within an island within an island, a microcosm within a macrocosm. May all that takes place within this place be for the good of all and harm to none [sic].



Our Ceremony Site – In Front of the Dragon’s Tooth
Images courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

Mark circled our stone, stopping at each compass point and appealed to the four elements of air, fire, water and earth to grant us gifts: air to infuse our breath with words of love; fire to will our hearts with passion; water to flood our emotions with feelings of love; and earth to nurture all present.

We then had our handfasting ceremony. If you have seen Braveheart, you have seen one form of the ceremony. We had a cloth about four feet long and two inches wide. Our hands were bound three times and with each binding we made a promise to each other.


Handfasting, An Ancient Ceremony
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

We made our promises, exchanged our new rings, drank mead, and then we kissed. And something amazing happened. This whole time, the weather was getting better. The sky was partly blue and the strong sun was behind a cloud and brightening everything up. We had been thinking the weather ceremony worked. But then, right at the end of the ceremony, when we kissed, the sun broke through the clouds and we kissed in radiant sunlight. It was magical.

Drinking Ceremonial Mead
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

We concluded the ceremony by jumping over a besom – essentially a set of twigs and heather bound to a stick. We gave thanks to the elements. And just that quickly, our window of sun started closing. Though it was still there behind a cloud, it was fully out for the most important 5 minutes.

The Besom
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

The Besom Jump
Images courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

We walked back around the circle to leave in the sunwise direction (clockwise), enjoying the day and wonderful experience we just had.


The Bride and Groom
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

Helen and Mark did a fantastic job with the ceremony and all of the details. Mark was our photographer and had some truly amazing shots here as you can see. We owe them a huge thank you for truly making our day special.

Our Lovely Pagan Celebrant Helen
Image courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean

20 years. It seems like we just met. Really. We still act like newlyweds J. We are so lucky to have found each other as soulmates. Every day is a new adventure. We’ve found that we don’t need much and we have everything we need. Pura Vida.

PS: Our adventure continues. Stay tuned shortly.

More Photos


The Standing Stones of Stenness


The Ring of Brodgar
Images courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean


Deb and Andy




Wedding Photos
Images courtesy Mark Woodsford-Dean


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