Things were gearing up at Dunrovin.
House guests would be arriving, the tutors’ dinner at Dunrovin after a community concert would take place on Saturday, and the Dunrovin summer party would be the following weekend.
Richard and I made a run into town. We stopped to pick up the wine at Tesco (a grocery chain). I wanted to methodically inspect every aisle to find interesting food items, like tinned (canned) haggis (kind of like sausage, made of sheep organ meats), for souvenirs. But Richard, being a man, frog marched me through the store and we were done in 10 minutes.
He had some business in Huntly center so it was my chance to check out the three charity shops. What I needed was a wool sweater, long underwear, and thick socks. I bought a pair of heavy platform sandals. I would have to jettison something else from my luggage to keep it under weight. I would probably be able to wear the sandals exactly one day in Minnesota before the weather turned cold. But they were made of buttery soft leather. Surely these sandals and I would be together, somewhere warm, eventually.
“Let me buy you lunch,” I suggested to Richard. “Somewhere nice, to thank you for putting up with me.” Richard accepted gladly, and we went to the Bank Restaurant, which had a purple and grey theme, which somehow worked.
I ordered Cullen Skink, a thick stew made of foods that are extremely common nearby: haddock, potatoes, and onions. And butter and cream. It was divinely rich and I was full after a small bowl, which told me it probably contained 1,500 calories. While I ate and murmured “Mmmm,” Richard talked about local development efforts.
“It’s good to see this restaurant full,” he said. “There are forever people from London or farther afield buying the old Victorian hotel with intentions of restoring it to glory. Last time it sold for around £250,000.” I stopped eating long enough to say wow!
“But you’d never be able to charge enough to see a return, so it sits empty.”
Lynn was home from Oxford, and we awaited the arrival of our first set of house guests. I say “we” and “our.” When you are a long-term guest you walk a fine line between pitching in to help and behaving as if the place is yours.
A few months earlier, I had been out for happy hour with coworkers and when Sabrina mentioned she was planning a trip to Scotland, the two pints I had ingested said, “You should come to my friends’ house where I’ll be staying!”
She took me at my word and followed up with me the next day, which meant I had to pitch the idea to Lynn.
“I have this coworker named Sabrina … I don’t know her well but she’s young, has striking red hair, looks like a model … she DJs at night on community radio … her boyfriend’s named Simon; I’ve never met him; all I know is he works for the travel section of the Star Trib newspaper and . … they’re planning a trip to Scotland and I was wondering if you might be open to them spending a few nights at Dunrovin?”
In other words, how would you like to host two total strangers?
She said yes.
This would be Sabrina’s first international trip. I was excited to see Scotland through the lens of a new traveler, and looking forward to getting to know her better. We exchanged a few emails in advance of her arrival and I gave her lots of unsolicited advice (my specialty), including admonishments to dress warmly.
Before we heard the sound of tires on the gravel drive, the dogs barked wildly to alert us someone was arriving. Sabrina stepped out, wearing the shortest plaid skirt I have ever seen. She looked fabulous but chilly. One of the spaniels lunged at her and smeared mud all over her stockings. Simon stepped forward and handed Lynn a plastic bag.
“It’s five pounds of smoked haddock,” he explained. “We picked it up on the way here from Edinburgh.”