Welcomed home from afar by bunnies and bats

Home from Scotland

The Saltire (Scotland’s national flag, showing the cross of St. Andrew) flew outside the Manse for a day as we celebrated our return home from a wonderful trip.

Hello, people! It’s been a long time since my last post. There’s a reason for that: I took a vacation! Raymond and I tore ourselves away from beautiful Queensborough for a few weeks and made a long-hoped-for visit to Scotland. It was absolutely marvellous, and at the risk of being one of those people who bores you to death with their travel photos, I’m going to share a few before I tell you my welcome-home-to Queensborough story. Here’s how we spent much of July:

Champagne cocktails, Grand Central Hotel

A good start to the adventure: champagne cocktails as we look out onto the main hall at Glasgow’s Central Station.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan, pretty much your classic Scottish castle – one of lots of castles we visited.

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

The statue of Robert the Bruce at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where he famously defeated the English in 1314. Of course we had to visit, especially since we live close to the Hastings County hamlet named for it.

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

Raymond with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. We were both touched by the story of the wee terrier who stood guard over his master’s grave for 14 years, until his own death.

Portree, Skye

The harbour of Portree, Isle of Skye.

Stairway inside the broch at Dun Carloway

The stairway inside a 2,000-year old broch (high-walled fortification) at Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

Gardens, Balmoral

In the gardens at Balmoral Castle, where the Queen stays every August.

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery, the ship used by Capt. Robert Scott (“Scott of the Antarctic”) on his 1901 expedition to Antarctica. The ship spent two years trapped in the ice there, but eventually made it home and is now moored in Dundee, where it was built.

Sheep in Barra

Sharing the single-lane roads with sheep on Barra, Outer Hebrides.

Drawing room, Royal Yacht Britannia

The state drawing room aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently docked in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. Love the midcentury furniture!

Isle of Harris, on the way to Lewis

The stunningly beautiful Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

William Wallace monument

The gothic monument to William Wallace, better known (thanks to Mel Gibson) as Braveheart.

Breakfast menu, Ardhasaig House

Breakfast menu at the charming Ardhasaig House Hotel, Isle of Harris.

Raymond and the printing press

Raymond the journalist revisits his professional roots thanks to an 1860 printing press at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Cuillin, Skye

The Cuillin peaks, Isle of Skye.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street on a very wet day indeed. We both bought raincoats.

Drummond Castle Gardens

Drummond Castle Gardens, Muthill, Perthshire.

The Lewis Chessmen, National Museum of Scotland

The Lewis Chessmen, carved in the 12th century and discovered in the 19th on a beach in Uig, Isle of Lewis. Their amazing story is told here.

Oban, Scotland

The pretty town of Oban, from which we set sail on a five-hour ferry ride to the Outer Hebrides.

As you can see, we had a pretty great time, learned a lot of Scottish history, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was a wonderful trip.

And now, as promised, here’s my story about what happened when we got home to the Manse.

We pulled into the driveway just under 24 hours after we’d got up that morning in Edinburgh. Exhausted but hungry, we were sitting down to a plate of spaghetti topped with Raymond’s Famous homemade spaghetti sauce (always on hand in the freezer) when I happened to look out a front window.

“Look! A bunny!” I called out in delight. A wee brown bunny with storybook white cottontail had hoped into the front yard for a nibble on our grass.

A second later, it was joined by another one.

And then another one.

And then another one!

Four little bunnies! They only stayed a minute, then hopped away in a southerly direction. We’ve never before seen bunny visitors on our lawn. It felt like they’d come just to say welcome back to Queensborough.

(Though I did learn the next day that it’s a banner year for bunnies – I believe Eastern Cottontail is the proper name – in Ontario. Well, so much the better!)

A little later, as we were putting away dinner’s residue and outside darkness was beginning to fall (along with our eyelids), I glanced out the kitchen window. To my astonishment, I saw a bird that I am fairly sure was a bat zoom in the jerky way that bats do over the south section of the Manse yard. And then there was another. And another. Wow!

When I was growing up in this house, bats were part of every summer evening. As my siblings and I and the neighbourhood kids played softball or tag or hide and seek in the Manse’s front yard, there would always be bats swooping overhead. Aside from the scary (false) stories that some of the big kids would tell about them getting caught in your hair, we never gave them any mind. But ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse, I’ve been struck by the utter absence of the bats. Of course, it’s not just in Queensborough; thanks largely to something called white nose syndrome, brown bats are considered an at-risk species in Ontario. Which is bad news not just for the bats, but for humans who live in places (like Queensborough) where summertime means mosquitoes. Did you know that a single brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitoes an hour? (More amazing facts on bats here.)

For years I’ve been hoping for a bat sighting at the Manse. Unless my eyes deceived me, we got it on the very evening we returned from three astounding weeks away.

The bunnies and the bats are a long way from the castles, lochs and mountains of beautiful Scotland. But there couldn’t have been a better welcome-home gift.

A flag at the Manse for Decision Day in Scotland

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond hoists the Scottish flag – the St. Andrew’s Cross, or Saltire as it’s officially called – at the Manse this evening. (Note how his shirt matches it. That wasn’t planned.)

Now don’t get the wrong idea about this: just because Raymond and I have a Scottish flag flying from the front of the Manse as you read this (if you’re reading it this evening, Sept. 17, or tomorrow, Sept. 18), it doesn’t mean we’re plumping for the Scottish-independence side in tomorrow’s referendum.

No, we’re just celebrating all things Scottish on a day when the whole world seems to be looking toward that country. And I guess also seizing the chance to fly the Saltire (which I’ve just learned – here – is what it’s officially called), which Raymond bought a while back because of our connection to the very Scots-oriented Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul (Presbyterian) in Montreal. We were married there!

I’ve written before (like here and here and here) about the charge we get about mixing it up with different flags at the Manse on significant national days; and Raymond has been having fun acquiring those flags. (Just wait till Oct. 14, and see if you can guess what the flag is that’ll be flying outside the Manse that day!)

As for Scotland’s independence referendum, it strikes a little close to the bone for us, two longtime Montreal journalists and veterans of the independence wars in Quebec. My prediction (for what it’s worth): the vote will be very close, but in the end the majority of people will decide to stick with the United Kingdom. For better or worse.

But whether the Scots stay or go, their country is a place Raymond and I would love to visit one of these times. We dream of experiencing the raw, stark beauty of the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys and the Shetlands; the history in Edinburgh and the lively cultural scene in Glasgow; and of course the peaty scotch whisky!

Until then, we offer up our own little celebration of all things Scottish – today at the Manse.