I’ll Take the High Road, Day 6: Ach, Aye!!

This was truly a grand day.  We had some absolutely gorgeous weather as we bade farewell to Aberdeen and left to visit the town of Scone, specifically the Scone Palace.

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Scone Palace

Scone Palace is the home of the Murray family whose head is now the hereditary Earl of Mansfield.  Historically, Moot Hill on the palace grounds is where the kings of Scotland were crowned.  While not a royal palace, the building was an abbey before the Murrays gained ownership and being an abbey is the other way for a building to be called a palace.  Fun fact:  there is a difference between palaces and castles.  Castles are fortified.  Palaces are not.

We stopped into the coffee shop on the grounds for some tea and shortbread before having a formal tour.  Our tour guide was fantastic!  He made history come alive before our eyes as he talked about Scone Palace’s history as well as the history of the Murray family.  The Murrays still live on the property so photography was forbidden inside the palace to respect their privacy.

When the tour was ended, we were given a little free time to explore the grounds at our leisure.  I explored the mausoleum on Moot Hill, saw the original Douglas Fir (yes, Christmas trees began in Scotland before being spread around the world), saw the Old Cross, and even solved a hedge maze.

After getting our history on, it was now time to get our game on.  We headed off to St Andrews to visit their world-famous golf course.

Golf was practically invented at St Andrews and it was impressive to see the old course.  I also took a little amble through a nearby neighborhood where I admired the North Sea and stepped into St James’ Catholic Church for a lookaround and a prayer.

At 2:10 we headed over to St Andrews’ practice center where we were allowed to knock out a bucket of balls at the practice range.  Some of the fellow tour members were obviously golfers while most were, shall we say, not.  It made for an amusing time.  For myself, all of my shots were surprisingly straight and true and I managed to hit several balls 75 to 100 yards.  However, if I’m going to learn the game, I need some lessons as I also completely whiffed the ball on several occasions.

From St Andrews, it was off to our final city of the tour:  Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital.

In terms of view, this was the best hotel (Mercure Royal) as I had a room on the top floor with a panoramic view of the city.  We had several hours to ourselves which I used to bathe and shave for tonight’s optional excursion:  a visit to the Jam House for the Spirit of Scotland show with the Ceremony of the Haggis.

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View from my room

Ach aye!!! (Oh, yes!!!)  This was the best event of the tour yet.  We had a sumptuous meal consisting of an appetizer of smoked salmon which was superb.  I can see why salmon is considered one of the hallmarks of Scottish dining after tasting theirs.  Then we had a taster’s course consisting of haggis with potato and turnip while our host, singer Bruce Davis, led us in The Ceremony of the Haggis with a humorous interpretation of Robert Burns’ poem, Ode to a Haggis.  The main course was Braised Spear of Scottish Beef with horseradish mashed potatoes and root vegetables.  The beef was the tenderest I have ever tasted and I wished I could have had a second helping of those amazing potatoes.  For dessert was a cup of fruit, cream, and oatmeal.

After diner we got to see the Spirit of Scotland show which was an amazing night of songs, music, and dancing by the talented troupe of the Jam House.  There was even a bit of audience participation as we were encouraged to sing along on the refrain of “Loch Lomond”, the first verse of “Amazing Grace”, and we all stood up and joined hands as the show closed with “Auld Lang Syne”.

I was disappointed to see such a delightful show end, but it was time to return to the hotel where I wrestled with a dodgy internet connection to get pictures posted.  Mercifully, I was looking forward to a bit of sleeping in as breakfast would not be until 7:30 with our first event of the final day not beginning until 8:30.

Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 4 & 5: A Journey to Squiers Manor

When I awoke on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a looong day of driving.  But first, it was time to feed the spirit with worship.

I attended the early morning service at St James Catholic Church.  It was a quaint, welcoming church and I rather liked it.  It was a good service which ran a little longer than normal due to the baptism of twin children.  I was particularly moved by Father’s sermon.  He connected the story of God restoring Elijah in the desert with a hearth cake and water to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.  God restored Elijah with physical food, but Jesus restores with spiritual food (Eucharist and His Word).

To be honest, all of this talk about food was stirring my appetite so I dashed back to the White Swan where Cathy had breakfast waiting.  Today it was cantaloupe, cappuccino muffins, multigrain waffles, and some small sausage links.  Cathy proved to a most gracious host as she shared conversation with me while I ate.

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Once breakfast was done, I settled my bill and stepped out to the car.  I felt a little blue.  I really liked this little town.  Hopefully the stars will align so, one day, I may be able to return.  But if you’re in Whitehall, get a room at the White Swan.  Cathy will make you feel like family.

Today’s drive was much more pleasant than it had been on Friday.  Traffic was at a much lower volume so I was able to speed quickly through Indiana and the construction slowdowns were kept to the bare minimum.  Then came my rematch with Chicagoland traffic.

I mentally cracked my knuckles and dove into the fray.  The speed limit was still a suggestion, so I fought fire with fire and raised my own speed limit to somewhat keep pace with the traffic.  The other cars were still moving faster, but I didn’t feel like a sitting duck.  I managed to quickly slip past Chicagoland and the rest of the drive was a snap after that.

After 6 hours, I was ready for a break, so I was grateful that I had arrived at my stopping point of Maquoketa, IA on schedule.

Squiers Manor

Squiers Manor

My final stop for this journey was Squiers Manor owned by Kathy and Virl Banowetz.  Let me say that this is the finest inn that I have stayed at in Iowa and makes my top 5 list for the B & B project.  The house is a beautiful 1882 Queen Anne and the manor and its land take up a block.  The interior and grounds are immaculately kept and the manor is still the same as when it was originally built.  Kathy and Virl also deal in antiques and many items in the inn are for sale.  They also deliver.

Originally I was to have stayed in the Maid’s Chamber, but Kathy graciously upgraded me to the J.E. Squiers Room at no additional charge.  This is easily one of my favorite rooms that I have stayed in.  It almost has a Victorian feel.  The queen bed is very comfortable and I’m quite taken with the soft, forest green carpet.

The J.E. Squiers Room

The J.E. Squiers Room

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Front hall

Front hall

Upstairs hall

Upstairs hall

Kathy suggested several restaurants and I decided to have a little Mexican food at La Casa de Pancho.  Once more, Mapquest tried to bamboozle me with ridiculous directions that would have sent me into the middle of nowhere, but Kathy had given me better directions and I easily found the restaurant.

Kathy had told me the portions were ginormous and, if anything, it was an understatement.  I ordered the burrito chicken fajita with rice and olla beans (they’re cholesterol free).  My eyes bulged when the plate came out.  It would have taken 3 of me to finish the meal.  I’ve got an issue with wasting food, but I had little choice since I had no way to preserve the food until I got home.  So, note to myself, bring a cooler for future trips.  My note to you, plan on sharing a plate with your date or friends.  The portions are that large.

With a full (luckily not overly so) stomach I returned to Squiers Manor to begin writing today’s article.  After I had written as much as I could, I went down to the guest area to have a piece of Kathy’s chocolate mousse cake.  It was moist and delicious and, being chilled in the refrigerator, was the perfect dessert for a hot night.

When I had finished my cake, I drew a hot bath in the Jacuzzi tub and nearly fell asleep in the swirling water.  I managed to drag myself out of the bathtub and over to the bed where I fell into a peaceful slumber.

I really didn’t want to get out of bed when I awoke the next day because the bed was so comfortable, but it was time to start organizing to leave.  But first, it was time for breakfast.

Kathy had promised me a taste adventure from her garden and this meal filled the bill.  Along with glasses of orange juice and water I enjoyed cantaloupe, cinnamon encrusted coffee cake, raw fried potatoes and squash, and an omelet with broccoli, onions, cheese, and possibly more because I lost track of the ingredients.  It was a foodie’s delight.  The meal also came with a little bratwurst, but I was stuffed so Kathy kindly wrapped it up for me to take home.

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

So ends another journey for me, but I insist you arrange for a stay at Squiers Manor if you find yourself in the Quad Cities area of Iowa.  As Kathy’s sign says, “Enter as strangers. . .leave as friends.”