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Beacon Archive

December 2002
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Mary and Marge do the British Isles

Long about now many snowbirds are planning for a trip south, to Florida, Texas, or Arizona. But two Island women, Marge Peters and Mary Stewart Scholl, chose to leave early and go a little farther. They decided to give themselves a well-deserved reward for their years of grinding it out by flying to London, renting a sporty little car, and seeing just how much they could take in on a madcap, two-thousand-mile-plus tour of the British Isles.

Their first foray took them south, to Stonehenge, where they spent a half day absorbing the ambiance. That eliminated the bad taste left by London, where the prevailing opinion was that a person's value was measured by how well they followed the rules–and as long as the Londoners were following the rules, the barest civility to others would suffice. But rural England, where they could stop in a pub and chat with the locals whenever they felt like it, garnered them several opinions that were both off the wall and from the heart.

After a few days they put their car on one of several ferries in their itinerary and crossed to Ireland–and then to Arranmore. Unfortunately the body of a young woman who had died in a car crash was coming home on the same sluggish boat, and there was no impetus to throw a party for the two ebullient Beaver Islanders. The somber mood was matched by the weather, a grey day with a cold wind blowing the fine gravel over the rocky and undershrubbed landscape. Yet our plucky ambassadors were able to pick out several familiar faces. “Look, he's got to be a Martin,” was a typical guess–and time after time it turned out to be so.
They wound their way through the countryside on narrow back roads, with Marge doing all the driving and Mary furiously snapping pictures out the window of all the unusual sights. Many houses were built so close to the road that stepping out the front door was the same as stepping into the street. But the flowers were wonderful, the scenery grand, and oh the people: friendly, picturesque characters whose energy was totally absorbed in living out their unique viewpoint and stories. In each little village they were invited to stay.

They visited Marge's great-aunt in Scotland who did their laundry. Down the road they were chased away from a picturesque lake by a pack of angry swans. As they caromed north, they drew closer to Mary's primary goal: the mystical Hebrides Islands off Scotland's northwest shore, a primitive and magical place long at the top of her wish list. The four-hour ferry ride brought them to a rustic fishing port, bursting, like much of the countryside, with color and quaintness. They came upon giant old oak trees, abandoned stone huts and walls, narrow, twisting roads threaded through the lakes and streams, and the beguiling but dangerous moors, blooming with heather and wild iris. At one stopping place their hostess was a McLeod, whose ancestor's image had been carved on a burial stone a thousand years before. Of particular interest were the 500-year-old+ St. Clements' Church, newly rebuilt at a cost of $5,000,000, and an 8,000-year-old monument on the Isle of Lewis, the 15'-high standing stones of Callanish. Everything about the trip this far had opened Mary up, and when she stepped in front of the tallest stone in this megalithic array, a bolt of electricity zipped through her with amazing slowness, although from Marge's perspective only an instant elapsed. Clearly the message was, thank you for coming; your efforts will prove worthwhile. Back on Beaver, other visitors to Callanish revealed that they had experienced the same thing.

Finally it was back to London for four days seeing the typical tourist spots. They visited the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and the stubby quay from which the Mayflower set out. On one of their shopping trips they were interviewed live by the prim and fussy BBC, not about their impression of jolly old England but–true to British form–what they thought of the recently invented walking banana.

Once they'd returned to Beaver Island, the two women fell back into their grooves with renewed energy–enough to keep them going until they can save up another $3,000 (the amount they each spent; everything was reasonable, but it was downright cheap in Ireland, which had adopted the Euro) to go someplace as wild and invigorating again.

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