Trip Report – Scotland 2022

I’ve been thinking a lot of the concept of “Clock Time,” a term coined by Joe Zadeh in his excellent essay “The Tyranny of Time.” (It’s great, read it.) It was partly invented by John Flamsteed’s founding of the Greenwich Observatory, which birthed “Mean Time,” a concept that was eventually spread worldwide by the British Empire and its citizens. Everywhere the British went, they brought clocks, centering their colonies around them, and adhering schedules to the rotations of those pernicious little hands. So, it’s fitting I found myself musing over Clock Time as we spent much of this past April in Scotland, the northernmost country in Great Britain—the birthplace of Clock Time.

If you’ve been reading my blog and trip reports for a while, you’ll know this was a second visit for us. Our first was in 2017. The trip was initially supposed to happen last year as a gift from Kari-Lise to celebrate my 40th birthday. But COVID, which doesn’t adhere to Clock Time, had other plans, and the trip was delayed several times. As we were to learn, this was for the best. So, when the time finally came, on the heels of yet another COVID spike in the Pacific Northwest, we packed our bags, donned our masks, climbed into and out of several airplanes, and made the trip. I’m thrilled we did. It was long overdue. If revenge travel is a thing, our trip was a dish best served cold in two graves. This time, we returned to some favorites, allowed ourselves time to explore, and visited some new locals covering much of Scotland.


Edinburgh

Our return visit began in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh—It’s a stunningly beautiful city, modern and convenient, but still jam-packed with history in every nook and cranny. We had visited before but felt we barely scratched the surface, so we dedicated a bit more time this go-around to seeing more of the city, choosing to walk, and allowing ourselves more time to soak up the town. Unlike home, spring had been delayed in Scotland, so while the days were warm, the flora was more in its late winter/early spring transition. By the end of the trip, that would have changed, but for much of our visit, as we moved further north we chased the tail end of winter.

With an apartment in Haymarket serving as a base, we had plenty of access to museums, gardens, parks, food, pubs, galleries, and more. Edinburgh is a modern city built on the bones of an old city, and I find the layers of elevation and the interplay of the present intermixed with antiquity inspiring. It’s a recurring theme in my work.

Bopping around Edinburgh and exploring its nooks and crannies was a relaxing way to begin a long trip, even if we walked over twenty-five miles before grabbing a rental car and heading out of the city and into Scotland’s vast reaches.


Islay

1665 Map of Islay by Joan Bleau

I am drawn to the smoke and brine. I want complexity in a dram I sip. So it makes sense that much of my interest in scotch whisky indubitably settles on the malts of Islay, with occasional forays into Island and Campbeltown whiskies. Perhaps this was where my musings on Clock Time first started to percolate. After all, whisky isn’t a process that can be rushed; it’s ready when it’s ready, and that could take decades, according to our measurements. In some ways, the more complex the dram, the more we are tasting time itself.

This wasn’t our first time here. We had been to Islay once before but left with plenty of unfinished business. On our last visit, our days were limited. So our second trip to Scotland again brought us on a return pilgrimage. This go around, we had four full days and took the opportunity to visit every one of the open distilleries on the island and sample a swath of expressions.

Our base on Islay was Port Charlotte, a lovely little seaside village with a fantastic central location allowing quick access all over the island. (And an easy 1-mile walk to Bruichladdich.) Islay is divided into two sections among the locals, the “light” northwestern side and the “dark” southeastern side—separated by the River Laggan. Depending on where you’re at and who you are talking to at the time, those nicknames can flip, but the teasing is all in good fun as the community on Islay is tight-knit and friendly.

There weren’t many places on the island we didn’t visit, but much of our time was focused on its whisky. Most of the distilleries had only just reopened to the public. So that eight-month delay in our trip erred for our benefit. We did tours. We did tastings. We explored warehouses. We sampled the weird, the rare, and the unattainable. (If you can get your hands on an Ardbeg Dark Cove, treat that beauty as a precious gem.) We made friends with the staff and got to know Islay through its chief export. After nearly a week on Islay, we came away with an ever-deepening knowledge about whisky and the island.

Of course, we expanded our collection, and this time we went big, returning with ten bottles that are difficult to find in the PNW. (We also picked up three more when we got home to round out the collection.)

  1. Glen Scotia Double Cask (Campbeltown)
  2. Glen Scotia Victoriana (Campbeltown)
  3. Springbank 10 (Campbeltown)
  4. Kilchoman 100% Islay (Islay)
  5. Bruichladdich The Biodynamic Project (Islay)
  6. Bruichladdich Octomore 11.2 (Islay)
  7. Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2021 (Islay)
  8. Bunnahabhain 12 Year (Islay)
  9. Caol Ila Moch (Islay)
  10. Scarabus (Islay) – The distillery on this expression is kept secret, and it’s also pretty common and affordable, but we didn’t know it at the time. Ah well. Decent malt, regardless.

And the three “local” additions:

  1. Springbank 15 (Campbeltown) – Funny enough, we couldn’t get this at the distillery, so imagine my delight in finding a bottle available in Seattle.
  2. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Heavily Peated 10 (Islay)
  3. Ardbeg Uigeadail (Islay) – My favorite scotch.

Orkney

History is everywhere in Scotland. Ruins four or five hundred years old are common. You find them on farmland, in the middle of a city, or next to the village pub. They constantly serve as a fixed reminder of impermanence. But on the Orkney Islands, there is a shift. Ruins there extend far deeper into human history. In the presence of deep time, something as pedantic as modern Clock Time appears trite, maybe even a little gratuitous. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a relaxed approach to schedules and the clock as one moves away from population centers.

Sites representing thousands of years of history are scattered among the sheep pastures, cattle farms, and rolling hills of King Lot’s old stomping ground. Ruins like the village of Skara Brae (older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids) sit only a few miles from the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, and several chambered cairns. One can start five thousand years in the past and move slowly through eras visiting sites from the Stone Age, the Picts, the Vikings, the Renaissance, and eventually into our present day. And it was moving among sites and seeing the remnants of the ancient past that roused my reflection on our harried modern life and worshipful adherence to the clock. Perhaps this confrontation with deep time constantly returned my focus on how we spend our moments, what we let bother us, and how much time we give to unimportant things.


Hills Between

In college, road trips were grueling marathons, with drives between fourteen to seventeen hours a day. For some reason, I did this for fun and was even proud of it. I’m older now, and I refuse to do that anymore. It’s not how I want to spend my life. So, between our major destination stops (Edinburgh, Islay, and the Orkneys), we gave ourselves loads of time to explore Scotland, stopping whenever we were inspired and seeing what was to see—and there is a lot to see.

As you would expect, much of that was history, and much of that history was ruins, but there were also moments of intense natural beauty. Scotland is an ancient and rugged landscape, and it’s impossible to ignore. Coming around a corner or emerging from a forest can introduce vistas that will take your breath away, and often some of the most stunning pieces of natural beauty are tucked away in hidden corners. Like any country, you’ll often find the more fulfilling places off the beaten path. The reality is, I have never regretted stopping and exploring vs. spending more time on the road, and that goes doubly in Scotland.


Advice and Tips

  • If you’re going to be in Scotland for some time and, like us, you’re into castles, gardens, and ruins, I recommend getting a National Trust membership. None of the sights are expensive, but they add up, and going this route will save you some bucks.
  • Deep-fried pizza is terrible. While it might sound intriguing, it’s not. It’s a grody soggy mess. Skip it. Now haggis, on the other hand…
  • Since COVID, most distilleries are moving to reservation systems, so be sure to book early if you want special tastings or tours.

Clock Time might have been a British invention, but American capitalism distilled it and turned it into a rigid hustle-culture grind that seems to haunt our society. While there are obvious benefits, it took me stepping away from US soil and facing the presence of deep time that tuned me into our strict adherence to clocks and schedules. I’m sure the reflection on time also came from this trip being a celebration of a milestone birthday. It’s easy to reflect on our past and our future in moments like this, and I clearly welcomed it as we journeyed around Scotland. It’s part of what makes travel appealing to me. Lessons like these, even ones without actionable takeaways, excite me for travel. After several years of the pandemic, travel is what helped me reexamine the portions of my life that leaned too far into Clock Time and look for places for improvement.

It took me longer than I expected to assemble this Trip Report. Life has been chaotic in both good ways and bad, and sometimes that can step in the way of our own goals. But, after being back for a few months, I am starting to feel like I’m re-establishing myself into a routine.

I didn’t write as much as I hoped on my trip, but I thought about it and worked through some complex knots that I hadn’t known existed. As with all travel, I came back feeling both refreshed and inspired in ways I hadn’t expected, and that’s enough for me to call this trip an astounding success. Couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate turning 40. Thank you, Kari-Lise.


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I Lost 50 Pounds

Since the beginning of 2022, I’ve lost fifty pounds.

It’s been a process. One I started in January. On the first of the year, as millions of others do, I weighed myself and was the heaviest I’ve ever been. That was depressing. So, I moped around for the rest of the weekend, and then on Monday the 3rd, frustrated with myself and my health, I decided it was time for a lifestyle change. I put on my shoes, went outside, and went for a walk. And I didn’t stop.

My Apple Fitness Tracker Results for the first half of 2022.

For those unfamiliar with Apple’s fitness stuff, the three rings every day are Move (Red), Exercise (Green), Stand (Blue), and the little green dot represents a recorded workout. (Workout here being almost exclusively an outdoor walk.) I allowed myself down days when my body was tired. But I kept it up—rain, shine, cold, snow, or sun. The first month’s walks were slow and short. But I gradually became more and more confident taking on new challenges (stairs and hills and lots of ’em.) By the end of June, I had walked over five hundred miles, and you can see the miles in the soles of my shoes.

Old shoes on the left, new on the right—they’re Adidas Terrex Free Hikers, and I heartily recommend them.

I also began to count calories and track my weight regularly. I didn’t make any significant changes to my diet, but I did find myself cutting back. I kept eating what I wanted to eat as long as it fit within my daily caloric requirements. Even on “cheat” days, I counted my calories. Naturally, I gravitated to more whole foods since I could eat more of those, but I didn’t remove anything altogether—life is no fun without good food.

I faced challenges as anyone would expect. I was injured a few times, but I exercised through those and came out feeling better and stronger. Though some days were excruciating. I plateaued, which was frustrating, but I kept up my routine until the plateau broke. I fell into old habits and found myself climbing out of a hole several times, but I refocused on my goals and kept at it.

And it was successful. Fifty pounds are gone, and I feel incredible. My clothes fit better. I have loads more energy. I no longer fear hills. My overall mood has improved. My sleep has been better. I’m excited to get back into the mountains. And as a nice bonus, a lot of annoying minor health stuff has cleared up.

This wasn’t a “diet” for me. I’m not planning on returning to the same patterns I lived before this change. For me, I’ve approached this as a shift in lifestyle. Refocusing on what I wanted in life with my body and health. Every body is different, and every person has different goals and desires. What works for one might not work for another. But, I’m happy I found a routine that fits my life and has given me my hoped-for results.

I’m not planning on stopping. I still have more goals ahead. Don’t expect this to become a boring diet blog. But this was the first major milestone, and it’s good to celebrate those, and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Now, on to the next one.

de Fer Cartography: A Free 17th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps 

This spring, I released the second in a series of sets coming from one individual: Nicolas de Fer. He’s an interesting historical figure, a famous French geographer who eventually became the official geographer of the Spanish and French courts. He was a prolific engraver and publisher, stole unabashedly, and while his work isn’t considered historically accurate, he brought a uniqueness with his cartography that helps it stand apart artistically from his contemporaries, making his work the perfect base for fantasy map brush sets.

Hey look it’s Nick de Fer! His wig is freshly fluffed and he’s ready to impress you with his maps.

Today, I am happy to announce the release of de Fer Cartography, the third and final set in my de Fer Collection, and my twenty-fifth brush set! This is an extensive cartography brush set based on the first plate of de Fer’s Le Cours de Missisipi, ou de St. Louis, an early 17th-century map depicting headwaters of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes region. The map itself isn’t as accurate as other maps from the period, but like his other work, de Fer’s artistic ability is what shines here. He goes into extensive detail, creating a unique art piece with signs and symbols that stand apart and work exceptionally well for fantasy maps.

A sample of what you’ll find in de Fer Cartography

Much of what you’d expect in a standard cartography set will be found here settlements, landforms, and fauna; however, there is a uniqueness de Fer brings to his work that would add a nice spin to fantasy projects. I particularly like how he’d rendered each building in settlements really fills out a space. And, I hope you like cartouches because this set comes with plenty! They work well to decorate empty spaces and bring an air of authenticity to a fictional piece. While they aren’t historically (and occasionally biologically) accurate and often feel like the illustrative version of a game of telephone, they’d be easy to manipulate for other narratives and purposes.

The cartouches within this set are varied and can really add flavor to a map

The de Fer Settlement set features over 290 brushes and includes the following:

  • 30 Grouped Settlements
  • 15 Individual “Peaked” Structures
  • 15 Individual “Arched” Structures
  • 10 Individual “Square” Structures
  • 14 Forts
  • 5 Unique Settlements
  • 50 Mountains
  • 20 Mountain Pairs
  • 10 Swamps
  • 30 Forests
  • 50 Trees
  • 11 Animal Cartouches
  • 6 Canoe Cartouches
  • 13 People Cartouches
  • 4 Burial Cartouches
  • 1 weird thing I couldn’t figure out
  • 3 Anchorage Symbols
  • 8 Portage Symbols
  • 2 Map Elements

But wait… there’s more. While most of the interesting signs and symbols came off the first plate, there was a second plate as well, and while the second wasn’t as detailed as the first, it was filled with many more cartouches. Not everyone needs ’em, but if you want to round out the set, there will be a link below the button for the de Fer Cartography BONUS set that includes sixty other cartouches to decorate your maps! HOORAY for bonuses! Unless you hate cartouches. Then BOO for bonuses. Cheer or boo, whatever.

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMP and Affinity Photo) as well as a transparent PNG (3 Mb) in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. They’re black and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there.



DOWNLOAD THE DE FER CARTOGRAPHY BONUS
– View the BONUS transparent PNG –
(2.5 Mb)


As with all of my previous brush sets, de Fer Cartography and its bonus cartouches are free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy de Fer Cartography? Feel free to show me what you created by emailing me or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!


de Fer Cartography in Use

Want to see how I’ve used this set? I created a sample map based on “The Peninsula of the Palm” from Guy Gavriel Kay’s wonderful 1990 fantasy novel Tigana. (Link goes to IndieBound. Pick it up!) It was fun to rework another map as a sample and doing so has made me want to revisit the book. You can see the results below. There are three versions, a colored version, one black and white, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you as you get started on your projects!

2238 x 4050
2238 x 4050
1080 x 1350

Supporting this Work

If you like the de Fer Cartography brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work or just help cover the cost of hosting, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror-soaked dark urban fantasy novels instead of a donation. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. They make great gifts. Visit the Bell Forging Cycle hub to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

de Fer Cartography is just one of many brush sets I’ve released over the years. You can find it and other free brushes covering a wide variety of historical styles on my Fantasy Map Brushes page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project. Click the button below to check them out!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →

Old Haunts: PAWN

📍 Peaceable Warren
🏙 Level Five
🕝 Mid-Afternoon


“Been lost since the death of their master, cloakin’ themselves in mourning garments and the like. Not much more than parasites now; cling to whoever would take ‘em. They deal only in shadows and whispers. That ain’t much in the way of currency.”

—Tawil, Gleam Upon the Waves


Credits:

“Pagan Love Song” by The Columbians (1928)
Other audio and video from original, licensed, and public domain sources.


This is just one of many.

You never know what you’ll discover in the twisted streets, quiet alleys, and busy warrens of Lovat. Enjoy these “Old Haunts”, a series of vignettes and visions presented in Glorious Monochrome® by Waite™ Radio Pictures, Inc.



Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →

An Overdue Hiatus

It’s a little odd to post something like this during a lull in my blogging, but I like to keep my readers informed when I will be away from the internet for a bit (as much as you can realistically be “away” these days.) Anyway, this post is to announce that this blog will be dormant—I mean even more dormant—for the next month or so. Why? Well…

Kari-Lise and I are taking our second trip to Scotland! (Our first visit was in 2017. You can read about our experience here.) This trip is long overdue. It was supposed to be for my 40th birthday, but COVID did its thing, and everything was delayed and then delayed some more. But no more. It’s happening. Finally. We’re planning to visit some favorite places (Edinburgh and Islay) and hit up some new spots (Orkney) and generally get lost in the solitude of the open country. We’re really looking forward to it and it should be a good time.

We will be gone most of April, so my current plan is to resume blogging in May. I expect to be writing quite a bit while in Scotland, so I hope to have lots to share upon our return. While away, I’ll almost certainly post to Instagram, so I recommend following me if you’re interested in my travels. And as always, expect a trip report upon my return.


If you’re looking for something to read or explore in the interim, here are a few suggestions:

For more travel-related photos, previous trips, and trip reports check out:


Mar sin leat, and see y’all when we return!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →

de Fer Battlefield: A Free 17th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps 

Last September, I released the first in a series of sets coming from one individual: Nicolas de Fer. He’s an interesting character, a famous French geographer who eventually became the official geographer to the Spanish and French court. He was a prolific engraver and publisher, stole unabashedly, and while his work isn’t considered historically accurate, he brought a uniqueness with his cartography that helps it stand apart artistically from his contemporaries, making his work the perfect base for fantasy map brush sets.

Why it’s Nick de Fer! Prepared to wow you with his engravings.

Today, I am excited to release de Fer Battlefield. An extensive battlefield brush set based on de Fer’s Le Combat de Leuze ou de la Catoire, a late 17th-century map depicting the fortification of the Belgium city of Leuze-en-Hainaut in 1691, and the Battle of Leuze, a French calvary victory from the Nine Years’ War. It’s full of the sort of stuff that makes these maps fascinating and energetic: charging calvary units, stalwart pike men, soldiers, explosions, battles, villages, and more.

Even in their time, Battlefield maps were a storytelling element as much narrative as informative. But, I know many people don’t understand how to effectively use brush sets based on them. My sample map for this set strives to inspire how these sets can enhance a narrative and help tell a story. There are many opportunities for fantasy maps to employ a similar tactic in their maps, moving away from a static approach of borders and cities that we are familiar with to one that details events in a fresh and exciting way.

A sample of what you’ll find in de Fer Battlefield

The de Fer Battlefield set features over 230 brushes and includes the following:

  • 8 Army Units
  • 2 Marching Army Units
  • 10 Pike Units
  • 12 Organized Lines (Could also work as fields)
  • 10 Organized Units
  • 20 Individual Soldiers
  • 15 Cavalry Units
  • 20 Charging Cavalry Units
  • 5 Marching Cavalry Units
  • 5 Attacking Cavalry Units
  • 25 Individual Cavalry Units
  • 10 Individual Cavalry Units Rearing
  • 6 Mixed Combination Units
  • 7 Battles
  • 10 Bushes
  • 30 Trees
  • 5 Forests
  • 10 Hillsides
  • 12 Towns
  • 4 Explosions
  • 9 Unique Brushes

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMP and Affinity Photo) as well as a transparent PNG (3.5Mb) in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. They’re black and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there.



As with all of my previous brush sets, de Fer Battlefield is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy de Fer Battlefield? Feel free to show me what you created by emailing me or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers. Let me see what you make!


de Fer Battlefield in Use

Want to see how I’ve used this set? I put together a sample map, and you can see the results below. There are three versions, a colored version, one black and white, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you as you get started on your own projects!

3000 x 3000
3000 x 3000
1080 x 1080

Supporting this Work

If you like the de Fer Battlefield brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror-soaked dark urban fantasy novels instead of a donation. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit the Bell Forging Cycle hub to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

de Fer Battlefield just one of many brush sets I’ve released. You can find it and other free brushes covering a wide variety of historical styles on my Fantasy Map Brushes page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project. Click the button below to check them out!


Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →