This week was hugely different from my average week, so sit back and get comfortable. This is going to be long. However, I hope it will be as entertaining to you to read, as it was for me to live. Ok, so that's probably not possible, but I still hope you enjoy it.
Monday afternoon I threw my bags in the car and drove up to Sheffield. I spent the evening with my best friend, Jill. We hadn't seen each other since a couple weeks before Christmas, so it was really nice to spend some time with her. It happened to be that it was Mark's birthday . . . but he was out of town on business! I didn't forget, though, and took up his birthday present (Jiffy Cornbread Mix!) which was waiting for him on the kitchen counter for his arrival. Jill had an orchestra rehearsal, so I drove her down and marked essays whilst she played with the orchestra. I just about survived the essays :S and we had a lovely evening at home.
The next morning I dragged myself North for the real reason I had braved the roads. I had to attend a workshop at the University of York. I had only found out about the workshop a week before. Rebecca sent me a forwarded email saying if I could make it to the workshop, it would be quite useful. Well, when one's adviser says go . . . one goes! Even if one is less than thrilled with the prospect. In fact, I was petrified. I was absolutely dead sure that I was going to be miserable all week, in over my head, struggling to keep up. I had this dread because over the past year and a half I have been struggling every Monday morning to keep up in the 2 hour Data Session I attend with Rebecca, and this was going to be a 4 day, 9.30-5.30 long Data Session. Well, 10 minutes into the workshop and I thought, 'Actually, I think I'll be ok. I'm at about the same level as everyone else here'. By the end of the week, though, it was clear that all those Data Sessions with Rebecca had paid off and I was actually quite a bit ahead of most everyone. I vowed to return to Essex and kiss Rebecca's feet in repayment. Today, when I arrived at the previously Dreaded Data Session, Rebecca said, 'You've got a fan up North!' Apparently Celia (the Conversation Analyst running the workshop) had sent not one, but two emails to Rebecca (they're quite good friends, both being very prominent Conversation Analysts) saying that she had really enjoyed having me on the course, that I was bright, enthusiastic, talented . . . and several other flattering adjectives, and that they should do whatever necessary to get me the funding necessary to get me back up North for the second half of the workshop I was on last week. Rebecca is currently trying to get the Department to authorise some money (any at all) to help ease the way, and Celia has arranged a Bursary which covers half of the tuition. So it seems I'll be heading back up to York next week.
At the end of the workshop my friend Christy (whom I'd been staying with. She's getting her MA in Art History at the University of York, and lives across the courtyard from where the workshop was held) and I jumped in my car and drove further North yet! We drove clear up to Loch Lomond in Scotland. We stopped around 11.00 pm at the top of the Loch, at this little hotel. They let us have their really posh room which is normally 100 gbp for half price. So, we got this fabulous room, with really nice bed, amazing shower (which we didn't figure out till too late to use!), sitting room and fabulous view of the loch (which we could only JUST make out that evening. The full glory wasn't revealed until the next morning). Christy, a true SoCal girl, was freezing, so the first thing she did was cuddle up to the heater in the room.
The next morning, the view out the window was spectacular. The mountains were cut off by the low lying clouds, and the snow was clean and new. We'd driven through the beginning of a reasonably heavy snow the previous night. It looked lovely, if cold. The loch especially looked uninviting. Not somewhere particularly warm at any time, especially frigid in February!
We turned from the vista and made our way further North still. Christy had never been to anywhere other than Edinburgh, so she was keen to see the country side. Of course, because it is mid-winter, most of the attractions were closed. Not many people travel to the North of Scotland (in fact, not many people travel to Scotland!) between November and March. But the country side in winter is gorgeous! I've been up there before, but always in June or July. Never in winter. It was fabulous!
The best part of the trip happened later Saturday morning. We had driven through most of the Glen Cloe area, and were just climbing up the North side of the valley when the vista opened up. It was stunning, just as Loch Lomond was, but in a completely different way. So we were looking for a spot to pull off the road and take a photo, when we saw a sign saying Parking area 500 meters. I pulled off the road at the top of the road, just as it was curving round to the right, about to crest the mountain (or hill). All the sudden, we realised that at the far side of the parking are were two deer! They were just having a drink off the water, not bothered by all the people and cars and buses and cameras snapping their photos. We got within 5 feet of these enormous deer. They could have made a whole lot of mess if they'd decided to attack with those antlers. Instead, they either ignored us, or stepped back a bit. Christy agreed that seeing these deer was the best part of the whole trip. However, she laughed at my enthusiasm. I admit it; I was perhaps a bit overly enthusiastic. In my rush to make friends with the fauna, I left the door to my car standing wide open! Christy comes over a moment after me and says, 'Do you realise you didn't close your door?' I was absolutely shocked! But I wouldn't have changed my reaction for the world. A little door forgetting is good for the soul.
Christy got the best shot of the day, though. Well, best shot of the whole trip.Amazing. Looks more like it came out of a National Geographic Magazine than off an Art History MA student's brand new camera that she is still trying to figure out how it works. Good Job Christy!
After our close encounter with the animal kingdom, we continued our journey North. Are you getting the sense that North was the theme of my week? Until I had to come home, of course! We ended our Northerly push at Urquhart Castle, on the Western shore of Loch Ness. One of the things that surprised me was how little snow the Loch Ness valley had. As we'd driven into the valley, the snow just (forgive the pun) melted away. Only a light dusting, where other areas had several inches of accumulation. It was still beautiful, though. I was reminded of postcards. You always see postcards of places dusted with, or covered in, snow, but you're always there during summer (barring ski trips). Well this time I got to see the postcard version.
My favourite sign in the world is up at the edge of Loch Ness . . .
'Disabled Driver of Horse Pulled Carrage In the Area.' How great a sign is that? I've laughed at that sign for years. I used to have a photo of it, but it was on my old computer, which was stolen. One of the few that I didn't have backed up else where. Never mind. I have a new one!
Eventually we had to turn around and head South. It was getting dark, which means we weren't going to see anything fun, or at least our fun was going to be limited. So, we figured we might as well get a start on the next day's return trip home. As we headed out of the Loch Ness valley, it started to snow. As we got into the Glen Cloe area, the snow got harder, and started to accumulate. And worse? It was dark. It has been years since I drove regularly in the snow, I've never driven this particular car through snow, I didn't know these roads, and -- of course -- it was dark. I decided to slow down. A lot. We crept along at about 25 mph, just keeping safe. After a while we came up to a switchback. There was a bit of oncoming traffic, so I decided to slow down further and wait till it had past. I didn't want to be on the curve with anyone else. And boy did it turn out to be a good thing! Just as the first oncoming car got to the critical point of the curve, he lost control, spun out, fishtailed, and I was SURE we were going to have to call someone to fish him out of the ravine. He came within centimeters of hitting the guard rail. On MY side of the road! He managed to avoid it, then nearly hit the one on his side. And then came back around and nearly hit it on my side again. He eventually got control, but if I had continued on at my original speed, we would have been sideswiped at best, head on-ed at worst, and easily could have ended up in the ravine ourselves. Another very close call. Fortunately we were protected, and we were safe on the near side of the curve. Hopefully, he learned his lesson about driving in the snow!
We stopped for the night in Carlisle, Cumbria for the night. The next morning we got on the road and headed home, -ish. We weren't in any hurry, though, so we took the back roads for a while. We stopped off at one of the various Hadrian's Wall points. Then we headed over towards New Castle.
Over there (which was well East of where we stopped to see the Wall) we were getting hungry, and saw a sign for the National Trust Gibson 18th Century Pleasure Grounds property. They always have good cafes with lovely food, so we thought we'd take a look. Since we're both members of the National Trust, it was free to get in. We had a nice little wander, but it was really freezing, so we only stayed out for about half an hour, forty-five minutes. We headed into the blessedly warm tea shop, and cuddled up to a mug of hot chocolate and an amazing 'Sunday Stew'. That consisted of potatoes, pork and apple sausages, carrots and parsnips, all served up on an enormous Yorkshire Pudding. Delightful! And exactly the right remedy for cold hands and noses.
We finally made it back to York and I dropped Christy off at her dorm and headed back to Essex. Thanks, Christy, for such a fabulous week and weekend!
Parting shot: Christy and Adele, Scotland.