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coming up...
• Just a Barista
• Yo! Buddy!
• The Vault
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• Azure
• Tears in the Fabric
• Voice of God II

The Abbey (01/31/21)

A group of friends and I had decided that a three week trip to northern England and southern Scotland would be a great chance to see many of the sites all of us had missed on many numerous trips to the United Kingdom. We’d been to London, we’d been to Edinburgh, but had never visited any of the territory between the two, and had been told we’d be missing out if we didn’t get a chance to visit.

Just the cathedrals, castles and country homes would be enough to pull me there, and we hoped three weeks would be enough time to visit everywhere we wanted to go. We’d spent time in Leeds and the surrounding area to start, traveled up to Glasgow for a few days, and were making our way back down south to catch our flight out of Manchester.

The first 10 days or so had taken us to all the normal tourist spots, big cities and quite a few of the architectural masterpieces we had put on our list. It had already been quite an exhilarating journey.

We still had almost a full week left on our trip, which we thought would suitably accommodate all the sites driving down to Manchester, and giving us a few days in the city.

We’d veered off the road and headed to Dumfries, and decided to stay in a small inn near the town. While at dinner at a neighborhood pub, we began a conversation with a local, who recommended we try something different in the area. He asked if we had ever been hang gliding?

Yes, yes we have, and as soon as he mentioned it, our interest peaked as he told us about a wonderful spot that was perfect for hang gliding. Oh, and by the way, he and his brother owned the company that provided all the supplies and gliders. It was settled, early the next morning at sunrise we would fly over the green landscape of southern Scotland.

The next morning looked like it would be a stellar day for gliding, though frigid cold, there was not a cloud in the sky, perfect for crystal clear viewing of the beautiful landscape.

We arrived while it was still dark, got all our instructions, suited up for a cold flight, and hopped into the vans from the tour company that handled the excursions, happy to be chatting with our new friend from the local town, who had brought pastries and tea for our early morning adventure.

Though the area was definitely not mountainous, we were told there were rocky promontories that nature had placed in prime locations that provided some of the best hang gliding in the country, with sweet updrafts that would take us for an extended flight. And we were told there was a lot to see once we were aloft!

We got fastened tightly into our rigs, a slight breeze in our favor, and one by one ran at full speed and jumped off the edge of the crag that appeared to be the only piece of elevation in the area. Womp! As soon as we went over the edge, the wind picked us up and took us nearly straight up into the air. At one point I looked down and thought I saw my stomach sitting on the edge of the rocks, but figured I’d pick it up on the return trip. I was airborne, and as I looked around, so were all my friends, along with several of the gents we had met at the pub the night before.

Before us lay some of the most beautiful Scottish scenery we could have imagined. Green rolling hills, punctuated by occasional natural rock outcroppings, small residential hamlets, and outbuildings for the farming and herding that was the means of a living in the area.

It was an extraordinary airborne adventure that felt like it was never going to end.

Then I noticed that myself, and the guy I’d met at the pub, had, well, veered quite a distance away from the rest of the group. He pointed a direction, we altered our course a bit, and a gust of wind took us towards another section of the territory and directly over the vast, huge ruins of what used to be an abbey and its associated buildings.

It was a stunning piece of architecture, even from the height we were at. I pointed at the structure to my flying companion, got a nod, and hoped we could arrange a visit once we got back on the ground.

After what seemed like an eternity, we both headed towards a field and brought our gliders down for a soft and successful landing. Wow, what a flight. That was worth delaying our driving adventure for a day.

Once we had gotten out of our rigs, my flying buddy walked over laughing, telling me we had veered considerably off course, and it would take some time to make arrangements to get picked up. Then surprisingly landing near us was another one of the guys in the group, who had been on his own, saw us land, and thought it was best to join us landing in the field.

He landed safely, and all he could say was that he could have stayed up there all day. Yep, sure could have, but only God knows where we would have ended up!

After a few minutes of packing up our gear, we realized that the phone our guide carried had no reception in the area we were in, and the satellite phone that they always carried with them was with his brother, who we presumed landed in the area close to where we had taken flight.

Hmmm, we decided to leave all the gear in a pile, and started our trek towards the closest civilization in the area. Our guide said it would be about a 30 minute walk till we either found life or the phone had reception.

About 5 minutes into the walk we saw a couple of guys on two utility ATVs coming our direction - what was the chance of that? Actually quite good! They saw us land in their field and had picked up some of our gear, and headed over to give us a ride back to where we could meet the rest of our friends and head back to town.

The rescue was more than welcome, we all introduced ourselves and started the drive back. I got into the ATV with an older gentleman, Alistair, probably in his late 60s, while the other two guys joined a younger guy in his 30s in the larger ATV that carried most of our gear. We’d have to circle back once we got to the vans in order to pick up everything else.

Alistair was quite the character, and he’d fit a gamut of questions about me and my friends in between his boastful stories of his family, exploits, and their history. I imagined this was the kind of chap that would be a blast talking to over a couple beers back at the pub!

And he became ever more excited when he heard I was an architecture fanatic, and was interested in seeing the ruins of the abbey complex we had seen from the air. He explained, “You have to meet my grandson! The two of you are so much alike!”

In this deep Scottish accent Alistair asked if I wanted to go a little off track and head to his house to meet his wife and grandson? At that point, why not, so we told the guys on the other ATV our plans, they headed back to the vans and this jolly old guy and I headed the other direction out into the middle of nowhere.

After traveling, talking and laughing for more than 30 minutes, we pulled up this hill to a beautiful old farmhouse and cottage surrounded by tons of farm equipment, some of which looked older than my new friend! He laughed, saying his wife would be so excited they had company.

I suppose that was true, we were out in the middle of Scotland, surrounded by nothing but farmland and rolling green hills. We had not passed another human the entire time, though we had seen plenty of sheep and goats. All I remember thinking was there would probably be really good cheese in the area.

A short distance away a tractor was rolling towards us, on which drove Alistair’s grandson, a twenty something year old ‘kid’ that could have commanded the cover of any fitness magazine! Wow, must be the food and fresh air. Alistair laughed, since, as was my habit, I had said what I said out loud. “He’s quite a kid! We’ve raised him since his parents died when he was little.”

I felt there was a story there, but didn’t want to pry into something that was none of my business. “We’ll have to tell you all about our little family during dinner.”

Dinner? “Your friends won’t mind if you stay for dinner, will they?” Oh, probably not. They are more than likely already at the pub.

Caelan had jumped down from the tractor, and walked over to say hello. Alistair was all excited telling him about our adventure, how our interests were so similar, how I wanted to see the ruins of the old abbey. It was really apparent that they didn’t get guests regularly.

By now, Alistair’s wife Maisie had come out to say hello and join the conversation. Like her husband, she was thrilled I had come to visit and would be staying for dinner. I had expected Caelan to have left the three of us and headed back to his tractor, but he stood by completely amused by the excitement of having company.

After a few minutes, Maisie said she needed to head back in and clean the place up - they hadn’t anticipated any strangers. Alistair looked a little unsettled and stated he needed to figure out what we’d have for dinner and followed Maisie back into the house, leaving me standing there with Caelan.

Caelan looked at me with a giant smile on his face, “They are the best! They took me in when my parents died and have raised me since.” Do I dare ask? “They were driving back from an event in town and lost control of the car and were killed on impact. I was completely uninjured, and just 5 years old.”

Such a tragic story, yet there seemed to be a peace in the telling. Caelan said because he was so young, he didn’t really understand what had happened at that time, and his grandparents had picked up the responsibility of raising him, so the death of his parents did not have the effect it could have had.

I was left a bit speechless, unusual for me, but what could I say.

Before I could say anything, Caelan asked if I had ever driven a tractor? He needed to tend to a couple more fields before the day ended and would be happy to have the company. I told him no, driving a tractor was definitely something I hadn’t done. “Well, we’ll check that off the bucket list today then, won’t we?” Sure, tractor was on the bucket list.

We hopped onto a machine that seemed like it was 20 feet tall, and after a few minutes of instruction, I was driving a tractor down the road towards a field we needed to tend, Caelan at my side the entire time laughing at my newly acquired skills.

While I had been concentrating on not driving us off the road and into the creek, he had been talking about our hang gliding, what is was like living in a giant city like Los Angeles, what the weather was like, and oh, you are an architecture fanatic? Wait till you see the abbey!

Yes! My dream was coming true, I was going to get to see the beautiful ruins of the abbey. Caelan sensed my excitement, and said we would head over there first thing in the morning. Uhm, dinner, to the hotel, then back to the farm early in the morning?

"Grandpa had mentioned you’d be staying here tonight, since it is quite a drive back into town, and we have the room, and would really enjoy the company." Yes, I have gathered they would enjoy the company, and realizing how much I was enjoying spending time with Caelan, was more than happy to stay for the night.

Over the next couple hours Caelan and I finished tilling several acres of farmland and had covered pretty much every topic of conversation imaginable while doing so. In those few hours I had come to realize that, like his grandfather, Caelan was quite a character, and though they lived in the middle of nowhere, had more personality and intelligence than most city dwellers I knew!

To my wonder and extreme surprise, nobody had touched a cell phone the entire day. That was beyond refreshing! And Alistair was correct, Caelan and I had a lot in common and got along extremely well, even though he was a bit over half my age - just a kid at 26!

During our conversation I found out Caelan had never been hang gliding, even though the company that provided the services was a short drive away. As a working farmer, he couldn’t afford the time of that kind of extravagance. I sensed though, we would need to make some time for that.

At the end of what became a rather long day, we headed back to grandparents’ cottage, to be greeted by Alistair and Maisie waiting to hear all about our days’ adventure, and whether I would suffice as a farmer. They were pleased to know I was now an expert at driving the tractor - shearing sheep would have to wait for another time.

Caelan and I came into the cottage, and I was not surprised to see it was exactly what I thought an old farm cottage in Scotland would be. Warm and inviting, comfortable, humble, but quite beautiful - so much like the family that lived there.

Caelan showed me to my room, where a set of clothes was sitting on the bed. Maisie thought I was about the same size as Caelan and gathered a few things so I could be more comfortable. At first I was a little concerned, then realized everything they did was out of generosity and kindness. I thanked them, changed, and went out to join them for dinner.

And oh what a dinner it was. Traditional Scottish farmhouse cooking at its best - and so much food. I realized though that Caelan would eat everything on the table, and anything not nailed down in the kitchen, so realized why he was in such good shape. At 26 his metabolism was at its peak, and along with long days on the farm, I could only imagine what it took to keep him fed!

After dinner I called my friends back in town, only to find out my suspicions were correct - they had settled down in the pub, eating and drinking with the locals, and hadn’t really even missed me. At least that is what they said laughing heartily. Let us know if you are coming back to LA with us!

At sunrise the next morning, I awoke to the smells of what was another spectacular meal - we had to have a wholesome, hearty breakfast to keep us going during the day. Caelan and I got on an ATV, and off to the abbey we went. He even let me drive.

I was thankful my camera had been in my backpack, and had been dropped off at the cottage the day before while I was out on the tractor with Caelan. We got to the ruins of the abbey just as the sun came up and illuminated the moss covered stones with a glow that only a structure built in the 1100s could command.

It was stunning, and one of the largest abbeys on the Scottish border. Though partially in ruins, I could see it had vast potential for restoration and excitedly chatted away to Caelan 'my plans’ for its complete renovation. His smile never ceased. In fact, he would add comments here and there about different features that could be encompassed in the restored building. It was a wonderful joint collaboration.

We spent several hours walking through every inch of the abbey property, and with me nearly running out of battery power and storage space on my camera. The weather was perfect, sun drenching the stone archways, walls and mullions that once contained stained glass.

Though in ruins, the structure was still intact, and we discussed what it would take to restore the structure back to its original splendor. “We have all the original drawings, though the parchment is faded and falling apart.” This was getting more intriguing by the minute.

After several hours, we regrettably headed back to the cottage, Caelan saying he needed to take care of a small piece of land that had to be tilled before lunch and would be happy if I helped out. Lunch? Now I am staying for lunch? Maybe I won’t get back to LA when I thought I would. At that point, I wasn’t at all adverse to that.

We finished up tilling a large section of land so that a family from the local village could come in and start planting their crop. Caelan said they adhered to the ancient ways of allowing locals to use the land to tend their own crops. Serfs. That was extremely cool!

“You’d enjoy the weekend farmer’s market. Best locally grown vegetables, meats and cheeses you will ever have! We have a booth there every weekend.” Alright, apparently my visit has been extended a few more days till Saturday, just so I can go to a Scottish farmer’s market. But Caelan did mention cheese, and I saw the source of the milk.

We parked the tractor, and got back on the ATV. Caelan said his grandparents were preparing lunch for us at the top of the crag, that the view was astounding. Lunch was going to be a picnic - this couldn’t get any more surreal, especially considering the beautiful land that surrounded us.

And so it was. We ended up meeting Alistair and Maisie at the top of the small peak that had a commanding view of the surrounding property. And from the thousand year old stone that was used as picnic table, you could even see the abbey off in the distance. From this point, we had a 360 degree view of the neighboring farms, forest, glades, stream - straight out of a picture book.

It was truly a glorious view, and yet another wonderful meal!

As we had been driving up to the vantage point, Caelan said the family had something they wanted to share with me. Laughing, I thought, hmm, they are all werewolves. I guess once again I said that out loud, and got a good laugh from Caelan. But wait, he didn’t deny it. I told myself not to go there until I saw fur starting to grow!

As we sat eating lunch, Alistair explained to me that all the property, as far as the eye could see in any direction, belonged to their family. It had been in the family for hundreds of years, and since Caelan was the last surviving member of the family, it would all be his upon Alistair and Maisie’s passing.

I looked at them and didn’t know what to say other than “wow!”

This kind, humble, caring, hard-working family were actually not a poor family that tended the fields, but were actually very wealthy, and had chosen to live a down-to-earth simple life.

They had hoped that Caelan would someday meet somebody who had his passion for not only the land, but for the restoration of the abbey, and had realized I just might be that person. I sat there totally astounded and still not knowing what to say - out loud or not.

All the conversations with Caelan about the abbey and its restoration were really what he and his grandparents had been dreaming about for years. They just needed someone to help make the dream a reality.

And they laughed, saying their ‘angel’ sort of fell out of the sky to help. Come on now, I am not anything near an angel, and I didn’t quite ‘fall’ out of the sky - it was an extremely smooth landing! But I understood what they meant and was deeply humbled by their comments.

“Would you consider moving here to help us realize our dream? We understand it would be a huge change for you, but feel your passion and personal ‘goals’ might be realized along with ours.”

After what felt like an eternity, I could feel the tears streaming down my face.

All I could manage to get out was “I guess I’ll be going to a couple farmer’s markets?”

And I could finally have a valid reason for wearing my kilts! Oh, said that out loud too. Glad the group was laughing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Alistair and Maisie had sold a good sized piece of their property to further fund the restoration, but only selling to local neighbors who promised to continue utilizing the land for farming and agriculture - and some well placed agri-tourism facilities, bed and breakfasts, and the like.

As the years passed, we had assembled a large group of artisans and skilled craftsmen from Scotland and England to help bring the abbey back to life.

The stones of the abbey were strong, and with the care and attention of these craftsmen, the beauty of the structure came into shape. We had converted the monastic living quarters into a hi-end hotel complex, placed a top-notch restaurant in the cloister and surrounding arcades, and completely restored the church to its former glory, including stunning stained glass windows along the nave and at the entrance.

Waving at the entrance to the abbey were a set of stunning silk banners. They were made from a shimmering red fabric with black geometric and organic patterns overlaid with stunningly beautiful gold printed characters. The characters were not of a language I recognized, and no one that I asked knew the origin of the banners. Their beauty was beyond question, so I never asked any further about them.

It had been more than a decade of long days and hard work - but was more than worth it. Did I miss Los Angeles? I have to say no, not really. What we had accomplished was far more rewarding than anything I had ever down in LA. I did miss the LA weather though. Those cold Scottish winds just didn’t bode well with a kilt!

It had been nearly 12 years since my flight over the abbey ruins, all of us were aging, and Alistair and Maisie were especially seeing the ravages of time. It had become a challenge for them to get around, both of them now in their early 80s.

But the constant beaming smiles and exaggerated excitement over the completion of the restoration was with them to the end. They both took center stage at the opening ceremony as thousands of their friends and neighbors attended. They had seen their dream through to completion, but Caelan and I knew what that meant.

Alistair passed away only 6 months after the opening ceremonies, with his beloved wife Maisie passing just a few days after. Both had died peacefully in their sleep, and we knew they passed with the visions of their abbey now permanently in their dreams.

Caelan and I thought it would be fitting to have them buried under the giant rock on the top of the crag that overlooked their property and the abbey. We knew that would be a place of peace and rest for them both, looking down on the dream-come-true that was the abbey.

Over the years, Caelan and I found time to get rigged and go hang-gliding - several times. We still go to the local farmer’s market every weekend, chatting and laughing with our neighbors and new business partners.

On those days when we have a picnic lunch at the large stone at the top of the crag, we always have company - beloved company that had always been welcoming, humble, and kind. And every so often, from the top of the crag, when the sun hits just right, we can see the stained glass windows from the nave of the abbey’s church, windows depicting Alistair and Maisie, watching over the abbey of their dreams.


#Scotland #kilts #abbey #farm #fabric