Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Highland Fling

We arrive at Gargunnock House on August 6th. The car crunches along the gravel driveway and when the elegant façade finally comes into view between a clump of trees, even the kids go silent. There's an intense drama about the place that pulls you in -- think "Gosford Park" meets "Wuthering Heights." I've been coming here since 1996 and it still gets me every time.
(Gargunnock House, Scotland. Available for rent here.)

The housekeeper has hidden the front door key for us and we go into the massive entry hall, our steps echoing across the worn flagstone floors.

The children dash up the staircase and promptly vanish into the labyrinthine recesses of the house. We aren't alarmed. Periodic peals of laughter float down from another floor letting us know they're more than okay.

I go straight to the dining room and fling open the windows overlooking the kitchen garden. The air smells like woodsmoke, wet stone, freshly turned earth and flowering buds, and I'm in heaven.

The dining room is empty and still. The superstitious side of me swears that the long-dead faces on the wall are glancing around expectantly for stirrings of life.

Could they have peeked into their immediate future, they would have seen this:

In the living room, the rose-colored George Smith sofas and gold velvet curtains lend a theatrical air to the room. The stage is set and awaits its players.

Within hours, we are cozily ensconced in front of a crackling fire surrounded by books, puzzles, games and other 19th century pursuits.

The chef de cuisine (i.e. my husband) is in the midst of a culinary orchestra of chopping, cutting, slicing and dicing.

Piero's dinner is simple, honest and kid-friendly, with fresh, rustic ingredients that hit the spot. In the words of my idol, Nigel Slater, "Right food, right place, right time."

That evening, I wander into a sitting room to pay a private visit to the late Miss Viola Stirling, the last owner of Gargunnock House. Over the fireplace, there is a painting of her as a young girl being taught the finer points of gamekeeping by her father. I am so grateful to be back in her home.

Our days soon settle into a comfortable routine. We make no attempt to head off our jet lag; instead, unhurried breakfasts at 11am eventually evolve into leisurely mid-afternoon hikes. There is only one rule: Wellies are mandatory.

Gargunnock House is nestled amid acres of Arcadian pasture and, thanks to the UK's public rights of way rules for ramblers, nearly all paths less traveled are open to exploration.

In this enchanted land, streams are meant to be forged...

...and fences are meant to be scaled.

Have you ever seen such contented sheep in your life?

Here we are, minus the men (who are training their lenses on us). The goal for this hike is the top of that hill in the distance.

Our backpacks are stocked with sandwiches, cheese, apples and Hob Nobs. We are a ragtag team of deliriously happy adventurers.

My friend Hillary picks the perfect spot for a picnic.

The children ask if they can climb to a nearby waterfall. "Go! Run! Explore!" I tell them. The words have a novel taste to them and I realize that the phrase doesn't come trippingly off my lips back in Los Angeles.

When at long last we reach the peak, a blue-and-white surprise awaits.
And then another: a picture postcard view of our very own manor, its mellow stone walls magically spotlit by the sun.

Back at the house, we devour freshly-baked scones with butter, clotted cream and three varieties of Fortnum and Mason jam that I've brought up from London.

It's a different world here. In Hollywood, we're plain ol' Piero and Lisa and Luca. But here we're the McGiramontis: the Laird, his bonnie wife and their wee bairn.

On our next-to-last day, we succumb to the allure of the nearby William Wallace Monument.

Standing beneath it in the shadows, the forbidding toothy peaks look eerily similar to Tolkien's tower in Mordor.

We climb 246 very narrow stone steps. Encountering someone coming down when you're going up requires a firm grasp of navigational geometry. "Hmmm...if I put this part here, can you possibly fit that part there?"

At the top, we are greeted by a view so stunning it nearly knocks us flat.

I mean that literally. The wind is gusting so fiercely that it's nigh impossible to stand up straight. Luca and his friends seek shelter with Piero.

Our week-long stay at the house comes and goes in a flash, the way it always does when your greatest wish is that time would stop and you could exist in this space, in this time, with these people, forevermore.

Before we know it, it's time to take our boots off. Unfortunately, bursting suitcases mean that most of us end up having to leave them for future guests.
(I said most of us. Do you honestly think I could leave mine after they'd been embedded with the romance of the moss and the moors and the heather? I wrapped those babies in a plastic sack and wrestled my suitcase until it finally gave in.)

Back in Los Angeles, someone asks me what it is exactly about Scotland that I love so much. "It's the hairier version of England," I reply. My friend laughs. But it's true, and I say that with a love for England that defies boundaries.

Compared to the glorious clipped gardens of England, Scotland is unkempt and shaggy and bristly. It has more unpredictable weather, more untamed moors, more rugged hills, more unbridled romance, more sheep, more peat, more moss...well, you get the picture.

I found two very moving odes to Scotland by poet Jeannette Simpson. I extract liberally from them below.

I have seen your highlands and your glens
and felt a recognition I did not expect.

I long to be back on your soil to stay
even though I have people and things here who need me.

No, you are not the land of my birth,
But you are the land of who I am.


nadine paduart said...

you seem to have described the perfect time warp. what a glorious wander through stunning pictures and imaginative words...
oh, and if i may, i would add Manderley to the list of gosford&wuthering. you know : "last night, i dreamt i went to Manderley again", and then thàt view. splendid.
thank you for such a lovely tour.
(i also just now 'discovered' your work through the link on your blog. my, you make impressive tableaus!)

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Woolf: I wanted to put that phrase in the opening of my post, but I just used it (in two posts previous) to describe an equally magical visit to a place called "The Forbidden Corner."

But yes! Gargunnock is my Manderley!


Mrs. Blandings said...

You are never, but never, a plain ol' anything.

donna baker said...

Such a beautiful post.

Jane said...

Yes there is something about Scotland. It is magical whimsical and yet very untamed and as you say 'hairy' and I can understand when I am there why they fought so so hard, and so bitterly and for so long to retain their land.

How funny re Nigel Slater I did a post on him and his amazingness just this week.


L'Elégante said...

You are very lucky to made this beautiful journey. I dream about greenery and coolness, it is the quite indicated place.
Thank you for this beautiful report and these wonderful photos.

columnist said...

I'm off on my Highland fling in two weeks' time, and look forward to it more after reading your post. I was not sure of the ownership of Gargunnock House previously, and thought the Stirlings might be the same family as Sir David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, (Special Air Service), but he hails from another landowning family in Perthshire. However, I would not be surprised to hear that they are related.

I too have climbed the Wallace monument, (with my then very young nephew), and we experienced the whirlwind at the top.

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

Indeed, a real holiday!


Jane Kilpatrick Schott
Colquhoun Clan

pve design said...

...and what is your tartan pattern? I think you really need your very own family McPlaid.
Rather love the skirt over the pants look and your love for shaggy Scotland. Great fun.

VICTORIA said...

Wow!! that's what we called holiday! a real holiday indeed! Such a beautiful places!!!impressive shots!Thank you so much for taking us with you and sharing all of your wonderful photos,Brilliant post as well!

Felicity said...

A truly inspirational and beautiful post.
I have savoured these images this evening and am keen to get my very own Scotsman [a McDonald no less] to venture to the Wild & Hairy land with me.
I could only hope to have as wonderful adventure as the one that you have just enjoyed.
x Felicity

Lily said...

Oh Lisa, your posts remind me of this quote by Evelyn Waugh from Brideshead Revisited: " I should like to bury something precious in every place where I've been happy, and then when I'm old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember." (Not that you'll be ugly or miserable!) And such things you have to remember! Thanks for letting us come along in spirit!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

"Not the land of my birth, but the land of who I am".
God, do I share those feelings.
I have never felt more at home in a place than I do in Scotland. I know I shall look back at this post many times today. Thank you!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

a spectacular depiction of a wonderful trip -so glad you shared it with us like always. that place just looks like the most amazing place to spend a week. I'm green with jealousy!

Splendid Sass said...

Oh my goodness, such a beautiful post!

Laura said...

I am feeling quite pathetic that, after all of the times I've visited the UK, I've never once been to've inspired me! And how wonderful that us plebes are able in this day and age to rent an actual manor.

Catherine said...

What a beautiful and magical trip. The Gargunnock House is like a dream...reminds me of every Merchant Ivory film I ever wished I was in.

Dianne said...

Loved reading every word! I too would add Manderley to your list.Thank you for making me eager to read those old novels again. Off to my attic I go!

Kwana said...

Just beautiful. You have taken me away today. Thanks.

JMW said...

What a magnificent adventure - that's the very place I want to visit one day! All of you look so at home there - I'm sure you took home with you many dear memories.

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

If I could, I would have described Scotland just exactly so. A "hairy" version. Indeed! Loved this so very much. I blogged about my (one & only) trip to Scotland in a March post. I'd love you to stop by. Wearing wellies is a must! Your photos are breathtaking...

David said...

I felt as if I had been transported into a movie of sorts while reading your post....beautiful.

DM said...

Nancy Mitford would be so proud! You lived the title perfectly.

Miss Whistle said...

What a perfectly gorgeous house.
I think it's brilliant for children who grow up in Los Angeles to visit lovely, remote places like the Highlands, to see how things grow and watch animals graze and generally get in touch with their outdoors selves. Your kids must have been so happy there!
Just beautiful.
Miss W x

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

Perfection. I might not be able to take a vacation this summer but now I feel as though I have!

24 Corners said... do know how to DO Scotland, or any "land" for that matter...actually, you know how to become a part of, to integrate, to live to the fullest the spirit of the place where you are visiting, such a blessing.
The Manor is over the top perfect and the area couldn't have been more Scottish..with the soul of Scotland right there with you... William Wallace, not to mention the land, sky & waters...heaven if you ask me.

Glad you have your Wellies...wishing you many rainy days in LA so you can wear them often with your memories firmly planted on your feet!
xoxo J~

btw- I agree whole heartedly with Mrs. B.!

Rosemary Q said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosemary Q said...

What Mrs. Blandings said!

Hels said...

I think it is the perfect green landscape that does the trick. Especially if we come from dry, brown, parched landscapes. And the damp doesn't matter much.. because the fire places are so fantastic.

North of 25A said...

What an amazing experience for your family! So nice to have found you on the same day Scottish games will be hosted on Long Island!

wild thyme flowers said...

Good morning Lisa, have read this post four or five times. It's just beautiful !

Megan Taylor said...


I'm in heaven just reading this. I too have always felt a special kinship to Scotland.

In elementary school we had a World's Fair and, obviously, I chose Scotland. I believe my report was called "The Land of Lads and Lassies." I'll have to give my mom credit for that title, though! We still talk about it today with such joy and laughter. I did indeed have the Mary Queen of Scots Madame Alexander doll hailing eerily upon my booth...

My family finally took us to the land of lads and lassies when I was 13. We went to Edinburgh and lovely!

Your thoughts on Scotland reminded me of the opening of the poem "Scotland," by Alastair Reid, which I will also quote liberally:

It was a day particular to this piece of the planet,/ when larks rose on long thin strings of singing/ and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels./ Greenness entered the body. The grasses/ shivered with presences, and sunlight/ stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.

He must have been talking about those pastures you roamed. So beautiful!


Miss Cavendish said...

My family is from northwest Scotland and my husband looks like a Scottish deerhound (OK: truly an Irish wolfhound, but I'm taking license). How I would love to visit that island!

Denise said...

That children I don't even know have had such a wonderful summer holiday adventure makes me somehow very, very happy. And I'll be checking in to see if you post any more photos of that amazing garden!

helen tilston said...

Oh Lisa - the jpeg of the eight of you swinging on the garden gate is spectacular. The McGiramontis, the Laird, his bonney wife and wee bairn is so precious and I am so proud of you for bringing home the wellies with all those memories encrusted in their soles
Thanks for sharing this beautiful moment in time

Helen Tilston

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Best blog feature ever.
Time to make a movie: 'Lisa's Adventures on the Edge'...
bravo to you.


penelope said...

my grandmother would have said, "well, I'll be!" about that place. what a fantastic post! thanks

Unknown said...

Oh, you delight at every turn...
And I follow your happy travels, since I've just returned from places as magical as yours!
The world can be so beautiful!
I want to visit Scotland very much and you make it so much more desirable!

Thanks for the pictures!

Hausfrau said...

How wonderful! And "woodsmoke, wet stone, freshly turned earth and flowering buds"? I want a candle that smells like that!

Grace said...

I have been there! Or some of the places you have pictured. One of my best friends studied abroad in Stirling for a year while I studied abroad in Hull. We were knocked flat by the William Wallace monument (the wind anyway) as well. I remember lots of daffodils. What a wonderful place. Lovely blog. Happy to have stumbled upon it.

Gooseberry Jam said...

I have been a regular follower of your blog for some time and have enjoyed your “chats” immensely. Your blog has introduced me to new things while also having reminded of what I have long forgotten (I finally remembered to read Cold Comfort Farm thanks to you). The connective power of blogs can be so powerful – people who don’t know each other from a bar of soap providing not just information but inspiration. Your Scotland post has moved me sufficiently to write a blog comment for the first time EVER – as a small token of thanks. I read it when we had just been given some discouraging news (in the form of a reality check – really, who needs them?) about our planned relocation to the UK and was feeling rather despondent about how sensible our decision was to go back considering the current economic climate.

Your post reminded me of the true objectives behind our decision – to fulfill a nagging and urgent longing to reconnect with a place. It gave me a much needed surge of optimism and supported a now fragile conviction that what I was feeling, as opposed to what I was thinking - or being told to think - still had merit and that we should just do it. Who wants to live a life of regrets? Regrets I can always postpone, but life shouldn’t be made to wait. Thanks for sharing your life with us in such an engagingly generous way.


Where My Heart Is said...

Wow this looks like an amazing holiday. I would love to take the family to Scotland one day. The countryside is so DIFFERENT to Australia. Your photos are great.

mickie said...

wow! you are incredibly lucky. ;0)

katiedid said... seems our family may need to make some changes to our financial priorites. Stuff is much less important than memories like this! Stunning.

Jessica Claire said...

what beautiful photos!

Barnwood Urbanist said...

You managed to capture this place so perfectly in your words and photographs. I am smitten! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Belinda Rathbone's The Guynd about her family living in and restoring husband's inherited Scottish pile? It is definitely a book for you!


Anonymous said...

That living room is just sumptuous. Looking in, you can picture Regency gentlemen like bit players from Jane Austen novel, leaned over the chess board or playing cards, cigars and brandy at hand.

Candie Rossler said...

Oh Lisa, the place is sooo lovely! I was imagining myself opening the wrought iron doors of the mansion that I visited in Italy. How I miss the huge garden and the beautiful flowers there. I wish I can visit Scotland this year.


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