If anyone reading my blog ever finds themselves in a situation that requires them to draw, animate, or design a dragon (or other serpentine mythical creature), may I offer up the gently rippling textures of the Pacific ocean and its beaches as scale inspiration? The constant motion of the sand and sea on this stunning day by the water made me feel as though I had entered into the presence of some breathing leviathan, lurking just beneath my feet!
On the one hand, 2018 might have qualified as the most adventure-packed year of my life. As my husband (then-fiancé!) and I finished up our last few months of long-distance love, I visited the United Kingdom twice in six months – a new record for me! We enjoyed a brief period of quiet time in our new home after that final visit resulted in the happily-ever-after of a granted visa: and then the rest of the summer concluded with a trip to my home, our wedding, and a mini-honeymoon.
I always enjoy looking back over my various voyagings in a given year, so I hope you will indulge me as I post my virtual travelogue nearly a week into 2019!
Given that this post’s title can be considered an homage to the superior fourth installment in the Land Before Time saga of my youth, I’m naturally overwhelmed by the timeless qualities of these rain-soaked forest landscapes. With that broad, bold Monstera leaf big enough to shelter a small child from the elements (holes notwithstanding!), the towering banyan trees, and the glistening plateaus of thick uluhe fern clusters, the plant life surrounding this waterfall trek seems magically monumental in scale.
The last time we visited this enchanting corner of the Berkshires, the stale snow of late March covered pond and stones and grass alike. Seeing each corner of these historic gardens enlivened by blossoms, lilypads, and trees took my breath away – and made me even happier to think that this place will soon become the site for a most important romantic occasion.
Consider this stream-of-consciousness (and intentionally vague) post a small opportunity for strange escapism – I hope these photographs can take you away from whatever troubles you for a moment! The common impulse is to compare this property to a hobbit-home in the Shire: but I think the experience it creates for the weary traveler has much more in common with Rivendell, “the last homely house…”
The last time I visited Wales, crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct seemed an impossible venture – ice, cold, and wind might have complicated such a quest. I’m glad we didn’t even try, because the summer experience proved absolutely idyllic!
Clad in my standard uniform for British adventures – a Sophie Hatter-esque dotted blue dress and an enormous, SPF-strong sun hat – I stepped into the sky with a canal at my side!
The aqueduct (a World Heritage site!) naturally appealed to my romantic sensibilities. That’s funny, considering that it constitutes an engineering highlight of the Industrial Revolution – probably the opposite of what would satisfy most actual Romantics – but in the twenty-first century, it possesses a distant historical aura that I adored. Imagine an alternate world in which such airborne canals became commonplace, and man-made rivers stretched like highways throughout all of New England!
A flock of ducklings and their watchful mother crossed our paths near the edge of the canal. Make way!
Of course, I most enjoyed the marbled, glimmering glimpses of the sky and trees in the water! On our way back, a few tourist-bearing canalboats sliced through the reflections, creating an even more dizzying pattern of colorful ripples. Now that I’m back in Massachusetts, I can’t help peeking into creeks with some disappointment…
When I lived in Edinburgh for a semester – five years ago, if you can believe that! – I arrived in the bleak midwinter and departed at the very end of May. Such a schedule prevented me from experiencing the Scottish summer: a simultaneously blustery and sunkissed time, when the evenings stay illuminated until long into the night.
As I planned my research trip, I knew that finding accommodations in Edinburgh itself would probably deplete my fellowship money all at once. In an attempt to be frugal, then, I decided to find lodging in my beloved North Berwick instead, commuting into the city each day via train to keep my appointments at various galleries and archives.
Saving money and staying by the seaside? I couldn’t be happier!
Given the nature of my trip – intended as an investigative art historical learning opportunity, not a vacation! – my days proved both productive and exhausting. On a Friday, I had appointments at two branches of the National Gallery that happened to be located a good distance away from each other. My wrist-worn personal fitness robot informed me that I’d walked over 20,000 steps in the process! I’d return to North Berwick feeling as content in my new knowledge of fairy paintings as I was exhausted, and a leisurely evening stroll by the sea restored my energy.
If you want to avoid the Edinburgh crowds by staying in North Berwick, I’d offer the following words of advice:
- Buy off-peak day return tickets for the train if you can – you save so many pounds, and the “peak time” window during which you are not allowed to travel is surprisingly short. Ask a conductor or staff member on your train to confirm!
- If you’re leaving on a Sunday, hire a taxi or car transfer to get you to the airport or the train station, because train schedules are reduced on that particular day.
- The gelato place near the main street of town is open until 10 PM in the summer. Just saying!
(P.S. Remember the last time I visited North Berwick?)
If you’d told my child-aged self that one day I would embark on an academically sponsored research trip to Scotland to investigate fairies [and their representation in three paintings by a particular Scottish artist], she…probably would have shrugged and said “well, it’s not as good as finding a portal to a fay kingdom, but it will do.”
As someone who grew up fascinated by fairy lore, I find Victorian fairy painting such a compelling and strange epoch of modern artistic production. For one relatively brief nineteenth-century moment, winged creatures of fantasy held centerstage in the world of fine art – occupying monumental canvases typically reserved for history painting. I won’t reveal too much about my particular research angle yet, but through a number of museum and library visits in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’ve discovered some truly fantastic archival material to help me on my journey.
The experience of seeing these three J. N. Paton paintings in person after studying them for so long, of course, may be as close to real magic as I’ll ever get.