My mother’s mother, better known as Grandma, was from Scotland. She and Aunt Alice lived in my hometown, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Grandma never lost her brogue even after more than 60 years living in the States. I’ve been to England a few times, and even to Ireland, but I’d never been to Scotland. Bucket list!
Grandma holding me, “a number of years” ago.
Earlier this month, my science-writer husband Dana was invited to cover a statistics conference in London. I had a quilt show booked at the same time, so I flew out to meet him after both our things were over. We spent a couple days in London.
No museums for me this trip! SHOPPING was high on my priority list!
Give me Liberty!
The major stores do not appreciate photography inside, but not knowing that, Dana took an illegal shot of some installation art looking down from the top floor.
My haul from the famous fabric department…. soft cotton lawns.
The unmistakeable purple bag.
Also on the agenda: Cath Kidston. Picadilly Line to Covent Garden, anyone? Again, no photography, but let me just tell you, for someone who loves color and floral prints, it was a feast of eye candy. Here are my small souvenirs.
We shopped along Oxford Street and visited the Topshop. Upstairs is the mens’ department, Topman. Just two weeks earlier they had installed a system whereby you could design your own tee shirt on a computer screen and have it printed on the spot. Of course Dana jumped on that!
We designed the following shirt which makes me laugh every time I see it. A prancing kitten, on the moon, with astronauts.
We visited the fun and funky Camden Market. This little owl jumped into my purse.
I can’t go to London without visiting Harrods. Dana and I were there on our honeymoon trip 25 years ago and I just love it. It’s like 50 large department stores on steroids, with customer service agents everywhere to willingly help you with your smallest requests.
All lit up for Christmas, and Dana even got one of those iconic red double-decker buses in there.
Carnaby Street (makes me think of Twiggy) had a special holiday lighting party one night. We took the tube over a little early and did some strolling and shopping. In a card store, we each picked out charity cards, and they both had robins on them!
It was right about then that we started to notice robins everywhere. Carnaby Street had huge robins strung across the sky!
We asked a very friendly shop clerk what was up with the robins. She held her hands up as if to say “Obvious” and replied, “It’s… Christmas…”
Apparently robins have become a symbol of the holiday season in the U.K. Our shop friend admitted that she didn’t know exactly why. We explained that in the States they’re more of a herald of spring. Later Dana looked it up. Here’s a blog post that gives a couple of theories:
I also always seek out Marks & Spencer. Nowadays seemingly more known as M&S (or at holiday time, Magic & Sparkle), there’s always one close by so not too hard to seek. Their tea bags are properly strong enough to stand up to the milk and sugar that I add courtesy of the partly Scottish upbringing.
Spotted some more holiday cards that seemed perfectly printy and decided to come home with me.
To Euston Station in the evening to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to Aberdeen. This was fascinating and fun. We booked a private double sleeping car that was tiny and cozy, with bunk beds, and we even managed some sleeping! The conductor woke us up about half an hour before arrival, with orange juice for Dana, coffee for me, and Walker’s shortbread for us both.
We stayed at the Skene House Whitehall. After the cramped quarters of the plane, the small London hotel, and the train, it was a heavenly surprise to open the door and find an entire living room, kitchen, and bedroom. I’d highly recommend the Skene House if you ever venture to Aberdeen. There are three of them.
The next day was our highly anticipated visit with my second cousin Jane, a relative I’d never met. Our grandmothers were sisters. Jane and Sandy live in nearby Stonehaven, and they invited us for lunch. We nattered nonstop for hours, exchanging information about our respective branches of the family tree while Jane fed us a delicious lunch of hot smoked salmon, with treacle duff for “afters.”
Sandy, Jane, and yours truly, in their lovely home.
The next and last day of our trip was my whole reason for going… a visit to Inverurie, Grandma’s hometown. I didn’t want to dive deep, I just wanted to be there, look around, and walk where she had walked.
We found a couple of addresses where the Manns had lived.
High Street was the main drag, so we strolled up and down a bit.
In one of the shops I found a precious wee robin to put on our Christmas tree. He has a piercing gaze.
You know how we have the dollar store? In the U.K. they have Poundland. I made a fabulous find!
Sometimes it’s the little things.
Back home a few days ago after an 18-hour trip door to door. Still trying to catch up with jet lag and and an eight-hour time difference, but getting there. And one important thing off my bucket list. Grandma, I hope you felt me there in Inverurie, walking in your footsteps.
Until next time,
By Kay Mackenzie