Tag Archives: kilts

Castles, Kilts and Cows by Sherrie Hansen

I think by now, anyone who has followed my travels to Europe or read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels has figured out how I feel about castles and kilts. Although it’s a wee bit unusual to see a man in a kilt in the Midwest where I live, I saw an abundance of them at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games earlier this month.

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Cows dot the hillsides and valleys all over the countryside in the rural areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that I frequent – castles, not so much.

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While castles and kilts are one of the main reasons I set my most recent novels in Scotland, in Sweet William, I also came home to my Minnesota roots and Midwest connections. And the common denominator is the cow.

My first introduction to the Highlander breed of cows, commonly called Hairy Coo in Scotland, was 9 years ago at a B&B alongside Loch Ness.

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The owner hadn’t fed the coos their dinner for the day, so they were all gathered by the fence, waiting patiently, when we arrived to check in. When I started taking photos, she told me to pay close attention to how thick their hides were. She said they’d had heavy snow a few months earlier, during the cold of winter, and that the 7 or 8 inches that had accumulated on the backs of each coo during the storm stayed exactly where it fell for 2 or 3 weeks, until a stiff wind and warming temperatures finally blew and melted off their white winter coats. Their hides are so thick that not even their body heat melted the snow away. That was my first glimpse into why many hardy breeds of cattle come from the highlands of Scotland.

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I started watching for hairy coo wherever we drove from that point on, and included a scene with a toppled coo in Blue Belle. Michael St. Dawndalyn was embarrassed that he didn’t know more about coo even though he was from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of the dairy state.

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That’s only one of the Midwest Connections in the Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Although each of the characters in Wild Rose is native to the UK, beginning with Blue Belle, many of the main characters are from the Midwest.

Wisconsinite Michael and Virginia blue belle Isabelle are hiding out, hoping to escape their troubles by settling in a place far, far away from waging tongues and family dramas in their hometowns. When they discover that the world is a much smaller place than they’d thought, and it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in today’s electronic age, they end up back in the US to own up to the messes they were fleeing from.

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Both Violet and Nathan are from America, Nathan on a teacher exchange and Violet, on an ill-fated European Adventure. When they’re both haunted and very nearly destroyed by the past – despite their wish to create a new life for themselves in Scotland – they find that they’re made of stronger stuff than they’d once imagined.

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William, Michael’s cousin from southern Minnesota, appears at the very end of Shy Violet and steals the show with his buttery soft potato rolls and sweet Farm Boy BBQ sauce. The only one who’s not impressed is Rose’s niece, Violet’s friend, Lyndsie, who doesn’t like her meat – or her men – sweet. What happens next is like an episode of Chopped come to life, as sweet William and sassy Lyndsie spar in a charged cook-off.

Calamity strikes just when everything finally seems to come together, and on the other side of the globe, a whole new set of troubles present themselves.

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Scenes set in fictional Blue River, Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Fair will make Midwestern readers feel right at home. Fancy castle or farm house comfortable, there are quirky characters that readers can relate to in each of my Wildflowers of Scotland books.

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When I started researching cattle for Sweet William, I not only learned a lot about Highland cows, but French Charolais, and two other breeds that originated in Scotland – Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. Without really intending it, cows became the unifying factor between Scotland and the United States.

Sweet William Black Angus best

My nieces and nephew raise cattle and show heifers at their county fair in southern Minnesota, so I had expert advice to draw on. My niece, Victoria, educated me about the different personality traits of various breeds – which are skittish, gentle, or aggressive and likely to be mean, which have horns, and which are polled (hornless), which are able to withstand poor soil, rocky terrains and wet climates, and which produce lean meat and best care for their calves.

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When it comes right down to it, there are likely more differences in cattle than there are in people. Although living conditions, traditions and perspectives may vary from culture and country, I think human nature is pretty consistent from one part of the world to another. A reader recently wrote to me and said, “Boy, you know people. I have been practicing psychology and social work for 45 years and you must have been sitting in the office next to me. You know your stuff!” Whether I’m traveling in or writing about France, Romania, Germany, Denmark, or Scotland, I love observing interactions between people.

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I’ve been told by several readers that when I started writing my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, they missed the local color, familiar places, and quirky Midwestern characters from my first five books, which are all set in Minnesota or Iowa. If you doubt that people are the same everywhere, check out the church ladies in Wild Rose. In the meantime, I hope my local readers are pleased that Sweet William is partially set on a farm in Southern Minnesota. Wherever you’re from in the world, I hope you’ll feel “at home” when you’re reading my books.

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen

Scotland Revisted by Sherrie Hansen

I will be in Scotland by the time you read this, perhaps on the Isle of Arran, touring Brodick Castle or walking amongst the rhododendrons in the walled garden. Perhaps I’ll be checking out of Lilybank Guest House, or on the ferry, headed to Craig Villa Guest House, near Loch Awe and St. Conan’s Kirk. I was last in Scotland nine years ago, and have been longing to return for at least five. Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William have kept images of picturesque kirks and castles, hairy coo, grazing sheep, colorful villages, white sand beaches, stone cottages and heather-covered hills fresh in my mind, but I think the need to be there in person, experiencing it firsthand, is born of a more ancient connection.

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Mark and I recently signed up for Ancestry.com and  discovered that my DNA is 43% Great Britain, and only 20% Scandinavian, a slight surprise since I’ve always thought I was half Danish. (There’s also Western and Eastern European mixed in from my Bohemian and German great-grandparents, and a dash of Italian – where that came from, I have no idea.)

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Although my Mom’s family, the Lightlys, were from England, my grandma and now mother have long told me about a supposed Scottish great-great grandmother. My English ancestors lived in the north part of Lincolnshire, near a village called Scotton.  My family tree is leafed with names like Scullin, Maltby, Harrison, and Mcintyre, and in my searches of the generations, I just found a reference to the Shetland Islands. Scotland in my blood. I feel it when I hear the bagpipes, the drums, or a Scottish accent. I feel it when I see a parade of men in kilts marching down the field, when I look out over the sheep grazing, when I see fields of purple heather in the highlands.

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Researching my novels (and watching Outlander – my guilty pleasure) has only fueled my passion for kilts, castles, highlanders, and all things Scottish. I’ve always known I was from hardy stock with a history of eking out a living in a part of the country that’s sometimes brutally cold and harsh. I love the sea, and rocks, and find a great affinity in the creative, yet no-nonsense foods, cottage décor, and crafts of Scotland. I love that the colorful wildflowers and woven plaids of the highlands are such a contrast to the gray and brown stone cottages lining the valleys and lochs. There is something primal and instinctual that binds me to the Scots.

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I have no idea if a new book will be born of this journey to the motherland. I’ve labeled Sweet William (coming soon from Indigo Sea Press) as the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but I named Violet’s baby Heather, leaving the door open for a look-ahead novel some two decades down the road. And there’s always Red Jasmine, Blue-eyed Mary, Cherry Primrose, Bee (Bea) Orchid, Golden Rod, Lily of the Valley, Seaside Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and other names I can use if I change my mind.

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My main goal is just to relax and enjoy Scotland’s magnificent scenery and history. Everyone keeps telling my husband and me to travel while we can, so we plan to keep returning to Europe as long as we’re able – hopefully every year.

Scotland Lighthouse

There’s something to be said for getting out of the country, for going so far away that you can’t be easily found. Years ago, when I lived in Germany, my mom and dad came to visit me, and I learned this very important lesson. When I was little, our family went to Florida, Colorado, and northern Minnesota into Canada. Our trips were fun while they lasted, but on all these adventures, my Dad was still close enough to home that he was a little tense and consumed with wondering what was going on at home. A few times, after hearing the weather, or the news, or the crop reports, 5 or 6 days into a 8-10 day vacation, he would get worried or frustrated and utter the dreaded words, “Get in the car. We’re going home.”

When he and Mom arrived in Germany, with expensive tickets and a locked in return date, he had no choice but to relax and enjoy himself. This was before the days of email, Skype, texting with international minutes, or cheap long distance. Dad had no idea what was happening on the farm, and even if he had known, there was absolutely nothing he could have done about it.

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I saw a completely different side of my Dad on that trip. His sense of humor shone – he laughed and smiled and chatted with strangers and truly relaxed. It was amazing. He was like a new person.

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The same kind of magical transformation occurs between me and my husband when we travel. We get to know each other all over again. We rediscover ourselves when we forget the stresses of being a frustrated business owner and a busy pastor. We set aside the issues we’re preoccupied with and reconnect. Our tired brains and downtrodden psyches rejuvenate. Our bodies start to thrive again.

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I hope you’ll come along on our journey. You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my photos, or wait for my next installment at Indigo Sea’s blog. Sweet William should be ready to release just about the time I return from Scotland. I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in the meantime.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Bon voyage!

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Twenty-five years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now split their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Sweet William”, Sherrie’s ninth book and the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press. You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor

Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

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Filed under Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

The Road Less Traveled – Things I Learned While Traveling in Scotland by Sherrie Hansen

Earlier this month, my husband and I drove to Michigan and back on old highways, backroads, and even a few gravel roads for all but a few miles when we skirted Chicago on I-90. We even took a ferry across Lake Michigan in our quest for the roads less traveled. (Don’t even mention our GPS – she’s very frustrated with us for disregarding her advice.) The many unique images that were our reward included seeing an Amish farmer steering a homemade digger behind a team of 6 horses while his bonnet clad wife and little girls and suspendered little boys watched from behind the barn… the sun setting behind the cemetery of a little country church in Wisconsin… and marshy stretches of Lakes Michigan, Erie and Huron, and more – all things we never would have glimpsed on the Interstate.

Likewise, there are certain things a tourist expects to see while traveling in Scotland – bagpipers, Loch Ness,

Scotland - Bagpipes  Scotland Urquart Castle on Loch Ness

old castles and older abbeys,

Scotland Castle  Scotland Sweetehart Abbey

and if you’re lucky, heather blooming in the highlands and men in kilts.

Scotland flowers by the sea  Scotland Bagpipers

But  if you’re brave-hearted enough to rent an auto and drive down Scotland’s narrow little byways (we call them golf cart paths or bicycle trails) on the left side of the road (assuming they’re wide enough to accommodate two cars), you’re going to discover all kinds of hidden gems that the average visitor won’t see.

Last week, I posted a blog at Blue Belle Books – http://www.SherrieHansen.wordpress.com – about Things I Learned While Traveling in Scotland. It was very well-received. Here are a few more glimpses of why I love Scotland and why I started my Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

1. If you’re not sure where you’re supposed to go next, walk to the top of the nearest hill and have a good look around. Most likely, you’ll see something that will point you in the right direction.

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2. If the top of the hill is in a cloud, walk down to the valley and follow the river. You’ll know what to do.

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3. If you’re feeling downtrodden, bow your head and let the sun shine down on you for awhile. Things will get better.

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4. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative when painting your house.  A little color can really brighten your day.

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5. You never know what you’re going to find in your path. That’s life. Deal with it. It’s probably nothing to worry about.

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6. Learn what you can from those who have gone before us and try not to make the same mistakes.

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7. Take a close look and make sure you’re not missing something that could be key.

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8.  If you’re in unfamiliar waters, look for a bright light to guide you.

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9. Grow a thick hide and you’ll be able to withstand the strongest storms.

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10.  Never be too proud to call a friend and ask for help.

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11.  If you’re lost, look for clues. They’re everywhere.

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12. If you have a problem, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Creative solutions are the best!

Scotland Fishing Shack

Reading one of my books may be a little like traveling along the road less traveled, too. Your expectations might not be met exactly, but there are going to all kinds of little surprises and insights that you’ll likely discover along the way that you never would have stumbled upon if you hadn’t dared to venture from the mainstream to give one a try.

In the meantime, keep looking up!

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Filed under Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing