Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

A day on which I’m too lazy to write two blog posts

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today I’m over at Heart-Shaped Glasses, where I’m blogging about how I come up with settings for my novels.

Kendal Castle, Cumbria

I’ll be giving away an ecopy of one of my books to a randomly selected commenter, so stop by and say hey!

 

Summer Vacation, Victorian-Style, AND Two Giveaways!

We’re starting our weekend early at the blog today, just because–it’s summer! I always think of summer as a lazy, quiet time, with long evenings spent on the patio with a glass of wine, vacations in locales exotic, familiar, and somewhere in between, and schlepping the kid to day camp. Naturally, his favorite camp is a 25 minute drive.

I tend to think of Victorian era summers as similarly lazy and quiet, although I have no idea if they truly were. I’ve written before how affordable train travel revolutionized the way middle-class Victorians spent their leisure time, and summer was a popular time to take that vacation they’d saved for all year. Victorians traveled a lot, including women on their own, and their travels took them not just to the Continent, but to the Middle East, Asia, India, Australia, and America.

Brighton, Frederick William Woledge. 1840.

But for those less adventurous souls, a trip to the seaside was just the thing. For those who wished to stay fairly close to London, Brighton was only fifty miles away, easily accessible by train. Sometimes called “London-by-the-Sea,” Brighton was a mini-London without the smog. Bradshaw in his 1863 Railway Handbook writes of the traveler’s first view of Brighton from the train station: The twang of saltiness that greets the lip, and the freshening invigorating tone of the breeze, are agreeable proofs, on your first entrance, of the bracing bleak atmosphere that characterises the climate, though in various portions of the town, more shelter, the air will be found adapted to the exigencies of the most delicate invalid. The panoramic view that first bursts upon the eye is so striking of itself, that it may be worth while glancing at it in detail, for the benefit of the visitor’s future peregrinations.

Brighton, from the Pier, ca 1890. Source: Photochrom Print Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He also notes,

Bathing establishments, too, are almost as numerous [as accommodations], whilst, for amusements, there is no provincial town in the kingdom that can offer such a variety of assembly and concert-rooms, libraries, bazaars, and other expedients for slaughtering our common enemy–Time.

The more things change…

Blackpool Promenade, 1898

 

 

 

Brighton, of course, wasn’t the only seaside destination. For those in the North, a popular resort was Blackpool, on the northwest coast. When the cotton mills in Lancashire closed for a week every  summer, the town was inundated with factory workers seeking a respite from their usual lives.

Southend Pier, date unknown. By Snapshots Of The Past (Wikimedia Commons).

 

 

On the east coast, holidaymakers sought their summer break in Southend-on-Sea, situated at the mouth of the Thames in Essex, famous for its pleasure pier and miles of sandy beaches. Currently the longest pleasure pier in the world at over a mile long, in 1848 it was the longest pier in Europe at 7,000 feet long. Our friend Mr. Bradshaw notes of Southend in 1863, “The company that assemble here in the season will be found more select than at Margate, but it suffers severely in its climate when an easterly wind prevails…[Its pier] forms besides a pleasant promenade for those who love to enjoy the salubrity of the sea-breeze…”

 

Woman in bathing suit, 1893.

There were countless other resorts dotting the English coast–Margate, Ramsgate, Tynemouth, Dover, etc.–and at most of them you could find the ubiquitous bathing machine. These cabanas on wheels would be pushed out in the water, where bathers could descend into the sea, modesty intact, via a set of stairs.

Many of these resorts remain popular today–minus the bathing machines.

What’s your favorite summer vacation spot? If you comment below, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $10 Amazon gift card OR an autographed copy of one of my books, your choice. (I will use a random name generator to pull the name of a commenter on July 31, when the Summer Blog Hop has concluded!)

And now that you’ve finished taking the seaside air with me, click here to visit my fellow Wild Rose authors on their summer blogs. Each blog offers another glimpse at summer–and possibly another giveaway–so be sure to check them all out. You can also enter to win a Kindle Fire from Wild Rose Press using the Rafflecopter below. Thanks for visiting and happy Summer!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/seaside_01.shtml
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackpool#Arrival_of_the_railways
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southend-on-Sea
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southend_Pier
Bradshaw’s Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland (1863).

Winter Escapes

Here in Northeast Ohio (and most of the rest of the northern half of the US), March is roaring in like a lion. We’re expecting another ten inches of snow today to add to the foot or two already on the ground. The piles of snow on the sides of the streets now exceed the height of my car, and the simple act of pulling out of a driveway or turning a corner is fraught with peril.  Ice dams under the eaves are causing water to back up into my house, in places we’ve never seen them before.

Most years I manage to get away from it all and head somewhere warm in March, but sadly, that’s not happening this year. Instead I will hunker down and write about how the Victorians weathered winter.

Source: http://www.rmets.org

The weather in England is known for being less than ideal for many months out of the year. For about 400 years from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Britain even experienced a “Little Ice Age.” The annual mean temperatures for central England were below 0°C nearly every year from 1772 to the 1930s. In 1836, fifteen feet of snow fell on Christmas Day. Frost fairs, held on the Thames when it froze over, were common from at least 1608 until 1841.

Hans Thoma, New Brighton, 1881. Source: Wikimedia.

Although it required trips to the Mediterranean to truly escape Britain’s winter weather–and plenty of wealthy Victorians did–there were also opportunities to holiday in England. Brighton was a favorite destination, as it remained reasonably warm through December.

At the start  of the Victorian era, visits to seaside resorts were the province of the wealthy. Only the wealthy could afford the journey, let alone the cost of staying in an inn. But by the end of Victoria’s reign, with the advent of the railway and the rise of the middle class, more and more people began to flock to the seaside.  Even the lowest classes, if they saved their pennies long enough, could afford to make the trip.  Resorts began to spring up all over the coast from Scotland to Cornwall.

Torquay, Devon, 1842. Source: Wikimedia.

It is, of course, human nature to want to escape one’s life for a while, to go somewhere warmer, or prettier, or cleaner, or simply different. The Victorians were just the same, and advances in technology during the era made it easier for more people to make that escape. They certainly had plenty of snow–more often and in greater quantity than we have now (as difficult as that is to believe).So as you watch the latest inch of snow fall outside your window, think about how much easier it is to escape the snow and cold now than it was then.

Curl up with a good book and think Spring.

Sources:
http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadcet/
http://www.rmets.org/weather-and-climate/weather/frost-fairs
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/jan/07/brief-history-snow-britain-charlie-english
http://www.netweather.tv/index.cgi?action=winter-history
http://www.victoriana.com/Travel/brighton.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/seaside_01.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_seaside_resorts_in_the_United_Kingdom

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