July 1st – 28th, 2017
* Jo yelling in background: “It’s diary, Penny…not dairy!”
Personally, I’d much rather spill my guts to a block of cheese or a cup of froyo…but whatever…
Jo is going off the deep end. All she does is work and write and go for walks. It’s like the summertime version of The Shining. Now she’s taken up bee watching.
* Jo: “Pen, you gotta see this! They’re battling to the death!”
Oh, lord – it would appear that two bees are, in fact, brawling on the floor of the teepee. Apparently, Bill the Bee found out Bob the Bee is boning Brenda the Bee, who is believed to be Bill’s bride-to-be.
* Jo chuckling: “Gee, I sure hope none of them contracted hepatitis bee.”
That’s it. We gotta get outta here. I’m going to rent a car, strap Jo to the hood, and we’ll go sightseeing!
NEWSFLASH: Dogs are not good drivers.
I once saw Toonces the Driving Cat and, another time, a squirrel flying a plane on TV. I thought, ‘Hell, if those simple-minded creatures can operate dangerous machinery, then, by the power of Graaaayskull!…so can I.’
Well, I’m starting to think everything on TV is a lie.
Not only could I barely see over the steering wheel, but I forgot what side of the road I was supposed to be driving on. And I was repeatedly distracted by my stunningly good looks in the rear-view mirror.
Furthermore, every time we entered a roundabout, Jo would belt out her rendition of Roundabout as made famous by the eternally-awesome rock band, Yes. Followed by a string of “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?!”
My patience wearing thinner than a nudist’s wardrobe, I barked, “So help me, God, I will turn this car around and go home!”
The Maiden Stone
We had a ton of sightseeing to squeeze in that day…and then the inevitable happened:
I got lost.
We were looking for the Maiden Stone, located near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, about 1-1/2 hours from where we were staying. We spotted a sign for it, but then we didn’t see anything else thereafter.
So we crashed a Scottish wedding at a castle to ask for directions, and Jo’s eyes bulged out of her head when she saw the abundance of Scotty Hotties clad in kilts. Having successfully received directions from an employee, I quickly yanked Jo out the door by her pant leg before anyone could slip and break a hip in her puddle of drool.
* Tada! The Maiden Stone! We had actually passed this thing twice without seeing it. I couldn’t see over the steering wheel…what’s Jo’s excuse?
The Maiden Stone was carved by the Picts, Iron Age/Early Medieval tribal folk whose name means “painted” or “tattooed” people. I bet they looked fierce! Pictish stones like these have been found all over Northern and Eastern Scotland and date from the 6th-9th century. Early ones display solely Pictish symbols, while later ones display a mish-mash of Pictish and Christian symbols. Why did they carve them? What do they mean? Well, nobody knows for sure.
Could they be important markers on a Christian pilgrimage? Sure. But maybe some punkass teens just got really, really stoned and thought it would be “totally gnarly” to leave their graffiti calling card.
Maybe the stones say, “Burger King in 2 miles.”
Or maybe…just maybe…they’re pieces to a Stargate, and when put back together, they open a portal to another dimension where another punkass teen thinks he’s an Egyptian god and threatens to incinerate his guards if they don’t bring him a fresh caramel Frappuccino. Wait, Jo just informed me I’m confusing Stargate with Starbucks.
In any event, the story behind the Maiden Stone is that a daughter of the laird of Balquhain (say that five times fast) made a bet with a stranger that she could bake bannock (a type of flat bread) faster than he could build a road to the top of Bennachie (a range of “hills” in Scotland). The prize would be the maiden’s hand…because he already had a foot and a head in his collection from prior girls. 😉
You guessed it: This story has a twist! The stranger was really the Devil. Dun-dun-DUUUUN! The devil finished the road lickety split and went to collect the
foolish fair maiden. The maiden said to him, “I, uh, forgot to turn off the coffee pot,” then turned and hightailed it on outta there. But the ol’ Devil soon caught up to her, grabbed her by the shoulder, and turned her to stone…hence, the Maiden Stone.
Moral of the story: If you want the road construction (or a rebellious daughter) in your town to disappear, hire the Devil.
FUN FACT: Well, this is more speculation than fact, but some say bannock may have been used to determine whether or not someone should be sacrificed. “Sorry, Tony – your bread just wasn’t up to snuff today. We’re gonna have to bludgeon ya’, strangle ya’, stab ya’, and throw your body into the peat bog, along with your shitty bread.”
Jesus, whatever happened to just leaving a negative Yelp review?
We Climbed A Freakin’ Mountain
* Ahhh, yes – this trail was the beginning of the end for Jo…the base of Mither Tap
After the Maiden Stone, we saw a sign for Mither Tap, one of the peaks of Bennachie. Jo recalled that someone said we should climb this “hill” because there’s the really cool remains of a Pictish fort at the summit. Well, where we come from, everything is flatter than flat, and our version of a hill is a tiny, little thing where fire ants live. So when someone says we should go climb a hill, Jo was like, “Totally, we got this!”
So Jo and I started climbing this beautiful trail up into the woods, thinking it would take us 30 minutes max to reach the top of this so-called “hill.”
20 Minutes In:
Jo: “What a beautiful day! I feel so alive! Come on, Penny!” Jo prances away.
Day 5: Jo and I are still climbing the hill. We are in the belly of the woods, and flies have started to swarm around Jo’s sweaty, stinking head. A lot of “F” words are flying around, too, as she swats at the flies. And…now she’s running back n’ forth along the trail, flailing her arms and baseball cap around, karate chopping the flies and yelling, “The power of Christ compels you!”
She spots someone coming down the trail towards us and nonchalantly puts her hat back on, smiles, and greets the stranger. “Lovely day we’re having!” She hopes they didn’t notice the satellite of insects orbiting her cranium.
* The view looking back towards the trees we just emerged from
Day 10: We’ve finally emerged from the trees! But…but…this isn’t the top of the hill??
Nope. THAT is the top of the hill. “Hill, my ass!” Jo says. “That’s a freakin’ mountain.” Now Jo’s asking if we can turn around and head back. No way, man! I’m having the time of my life! Fresh air…wind blowing through my fur…stopping to sniff flowers and greenery every 6 inches just to rile Jo up.
* A sign reminds Jo we’re still on the road to purgatory
Day 15: I fear I’m going to have to eat Jo. I promised her I never would, but I only said that because she threatened to withhold belly rubs from me. She’s never going to make it up this hill. She’s out of shape. And the only thing she’s ever climbed was a step stool to reach some cookies on the top shelf. She’s definitely going to die before me. And I’m going to eat her.
Now she’s ranting some more. “The Devil calls this a road?! He didn’t deserve to win that bet. A man doing something half-assed strikes again! And it’s no wonder the Picts built a fort way up here. Their enemies would say ‘screw it’ a quarter of the way up and go back home.”
Day 20: People are passing us on the way up and passing us on the way down. And they keep telling us we’re almost there. Jo says she’s pretty sure they told us that 5 days ago. “It’s worse going back down,” someone says. Glad Jo didn’t hear that.
Day 22: I fashioned a papoose out of some rawhide and native heather, and I’ve resorted to carrying Jo on my back. She fades in and out of lucidity now, mumbling something about how the hills are alive, ain’t no mountain high enough, and hills are just the boobs of the earth. Help me, Cosmic Owl…
Day 23: Jo and I get a second wind upon seeing how close we are to the top! Jo whips out her boombox and presses play. Wait a second…where the hell was she keeping a boombox this whole time?? Mr. Mister pours from the speakers, as we sing along at the top of our lungs…
“The wind blows hard against this mountain siiide, across the sea into my sooooul.
It reaches into where I cannot hiiide, setting my feet upon the rooooad.
Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the niiiight
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the liiiight”
We high-five each other and bound up the remainder of the hill side by side…
* Entry to the remains of the Pictish fort
* Almost there!
* And we made it! Our view from the top of Mither Tap
Jo and I sat in silence for a good while on that mountain, our eyes sponges, absorbing and saturating with all that we were seeing and all that we had seen. We were so minuscule up there…yet we were giants.
The wind was cold and beat us tirelessly, just as Time beats tirelessly on the doors of our lives, a reminder that eventually we must open up and face it. Maybe invite it in and humor it with a cup of tea. Then tell it to get the hell out and move along.
We reminisced about years past, happier times, sadder times, different times…all of which had brought us to this very moment. We talked of how far we’d come together in life. How many times I made her laugh. How many times she drove 30 minutes away so I could indulge in my favorite froyo.
What if we had never found one another? Would Jo just be another crazy cat lady who never leaves her apartment? Would I just be another statistic? I would have never survived this long on the streets. And Jo would have gone mad with grief many a time if I hadn’t been there to nudge her along. We would never have embarked on this epic journey together.
While we stared out over the landscape together, Jo began, “As A.A. Milne would say, ‘We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Penny?'”
“Even longer…” I finished.
Ok, enough mushy shit…
In total, it took us about 1-1/2 hours to climb up here. And just for the record, according to National Geographic, “Most geologists classify a mountain as a landform that rises at least 1,000 feet.” Well, Mither Tap is 1699 feet high. So, considering we’ve never done anything like this before and we felt like total badasses when we got to the top, we’re saying we climbed a damn mountain.
And we met an adorable couple, Greg and Maxine, seen in the photo above. We talked with them for a bit, and they’re going to Alaska! We should have exchanged numbers. Maybe we’ll run into them again in the future!
So you’d think after spending 4-1/2 hours driving around getting lost and climbing a mountain, we’d head home. Nope. NOT. TODAY.
Instead, we drove another hour or so to the shores of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire and the famous Dunnottar Castle, where the Scottish crown jewels (aka the Honours of Scotland) were protected from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century. Moreover, a cinematic version of Hamlet was shot here, as well as Victor Frankenstein. It even made an appearance in the video game Call of Duty and was inspiration for Merida’s family castle in Brave.
* We didn’t go inside this one, however. Jo took one look at all the steps and said,
So we grabbed a haggis roll, a beer, and some fish n’ chips, and enjoyed the view
* Finally, we decided to head home…took the scenic route and soon got sidetracked by more beautiful back roads and trails. Damnit!
* We were driving down a random road and found a stone circle literally just sitting in someone’s backyard
* Made it home in one piece! What. A. Day.
Up Next: Hiking a Waterfall!