I first read the books under stressful circumstances: my car had broken down while I was in Arkansas for a long-stay job interview process, and I was stuck. I didn’t have money to book a hotel, so I stayed on site for the week after my car broke down (I should have been there for three days), and because of the sensitive nature of the work (a children’s home for troubled and suicidal adolescents), I mostly kept in the room and kept to myself.
Thankfully, there were dozens of books in the room on the shelves. They were Christian and mostly geared towards romance and Christian-based self-help. Alternating between the two main genres, I landed on the four-book series, Lowlands of Scotland, by Liz Curtis Higgs.
Only three of the books were there and I only made it halfway through book two before the mechanic determined that the car needed to be ditched and I should fly back to Florida to get on with my life. I couldn’t take the books with me, of course, so I ordered them as soon as I had some money in hand, along with the fourth book.
I have always had a mild fascination with Scotland, especially once I learned of my Scotch-Irish heritage. But reading these books stoked that fire from passive fascination to intrigue that must be pursued. Specifically, book four, Grace in Thine Eyes, set largely on the Isle of Arran, filled my heart with a need to visit the land of my ancestors.
In January 2007, my best friend, Elizabeth, and I knew it was time for her to head to Russia – and I wanted to come. “We’ll backpack through Europe first. I’ll plan the itinerary – you deal with VISAs and itinerary for Russia.”
The plan was set. I knew Arran was on the map of our adventures. We spent a week wandering Ireland and Northern Ireland, then hopped a ferry to Scotland, landing in Ardrossan. We missed the smaller ferry across to the Isle of Arran and wound up staying in a caravan (camper) in a marina that night instead – a delightful adventure in itself – and set sail the next day.
For several days, we camped in a sheep pasture on the island. We snacked on local cheeses, beef jerky, potted meat, fruit juices, and imported fruits and local veggies we could find around the island. We hiked to waterfalls and went horseback riding. We thoroughly enjoyed everything we could across “Little Scotland” with all its highlands and lowlands.
Then, it was time to head to Brodick Castle, the setting from the novel. We wandered the grounds a while and relished the beauty of the gardens, the unique landscape, and the stunning architecture.
Then, in we went for a tour. No cameras allowed, sadly, so that was left behind as we made our way slowly through the castle, examining the antiques and paintings, tapestries and china throughout the rooms.
When we came to a hall upstairs, we saw the portrait of the Prince of Orange. The tradition of the day involved visiting royalty to pose for a portrait to hang in the castle visited.
I knew I was related to this prince, somewhere along the lines. I casually mentioned it to Elizabeth and moved on ahead of her. She turned to look at the painting. I heard a gasp. I rushed back to her side. “What’s wrong?”
Elizabeth pointed up at the painting. “It’s you!”
I looked at the painting, laughing. “But he’s… Oh.” The prince was indeed blatantly a relative. The same eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones – just with blond hair and a masculine form. I was his spitting image.
Who knew that visiting this island, this place from a book, would result in me finding such an amusing and delightful treasure? I certainly couldn’t have guessed!
And though my memories from the island are tinged with sad recollections of this being one of the last “good” times I had with Elizabeth, thanks to her soon-after diagnosis of schizophrenia and the deep pain we all experienced throughout her illness and her eventual passing, the Isle of Arran remains one of my favorite places on the planet.
I reflect on the island with joy – Elizabeth and I made such sweet, beautiful memories there! – and delight. And someday, I plan to return to have a proper memorial for her like she deserves.