Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Today was a Fairytale...and a Historical Novel

It was my turn to host book club last week, and The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley was the featured book of the month. During my first week in Aberdeen, I couldn’t put this book down. I absolutely love historical novels, and since this one mostly takes place in Cruden Bay, just 30 miles north of Aberdeen, it was a double page turner. Other than a world famous golf course, Cruden Bay’s main attraction is Slains Castle, which is the primary setting of The Winter Sea (and also the inspiration for Bram Stroker’s Dracula. It’s a very inspiring place, apparently.)   

I thought it would be a fun outing for a few of the girls from book club to get together and hike to the castle and the Bullers of Buchan along the coast. The weather forecast for Monday was very promising, so we decided to start with a morning hike and end with afternoon sticky toffee pudding at St. Olaf Hotel, which is both mentioned in the book and also where Susanna Kearsley stayed while she did her research for the novel.

When we set out at 10 AM, the weather in Aberdeen was picture perfect. However, the closer we got to our destination, the thicker the haar (fog) got. At one point our visibility was pretty much non-existent.
But in some ways, I find that the fog adds an air of mystique to the Scottish landscape so I didn’t mind too much. What I did mind was the dew on the tall grass which soaked my jeans. The temperature also dropped about 10 degrees while we were out which made me wish I’d grabbed both my fleece and waterproof hiking pants. That darn weather forecast; fools me every single time.
Other than the mild physical discomfort and moderate visual impairment, I still had a blast exploring the ruins and coastline with my girls.

You may remember that Jon and I did this same hike for our anniversary back in May. Well, on that day the weather forecast didn’t blatantly lie and we got some sunny shots of Slains and the Bullers of Buchan. Here’s an example of the difference.
First Trip:

Second Trip:

I swear, Scotland looks entirely different from one day to the next. After hiking a few miles and working up an appetite, we decided to head into town for some lunch and Sticky Toffee Pudding at St. Olaf and ask around to see if the owner had any insights into Kearsley’s stay there.

Not only did she have some stories, she also let us tour the room she stayed in.

You can see the outline of Slains in upper left hand horizon.
While we were busy imagining her working on her novel and gazing out of her window at her stellar view of Slain’s Castle (by this time the haar had burned off and we had the sunny day we were originally promised), the owner was scouring through old guest books to try to find Kearsley’s entry.  She hadn’t found it by the time we needed to leave, so we told her thank you for her efforts and headed to the car. After I put on some Taylor Swift for the car ride home (my car, my music!) and put the car in reverse, we saw the owner come speeding through the parking lot, guest book in her hand. She had found it!
We all passed it around and took snapshots of Susanna’s signature. It truly made our trip so much more than we bargained for. You’ve got 5 stellar TripAdvisor reports coming your way, St. Olaf Hotel! Thanks for going out of your way to make our Cruden Bay experience so special!


  1. So neat to be a part of the history... Of the castle and of the book. Loved it! But I'm not sure someone who has not read the book would appreciate it as much as we did yesterday.

  2. I am beyond jealous! When I visited Scotland your folks took us to sights mentioned in Diana Gabaldon's books - made the history of Scotland come alive! Thanks for sharing your outing. Aunt Beth

  3. I just downloaded the sample for this book to my kindle.. My obsession with Scotland and historic novels, both fiction and non-fiction , would certainly have been enough of a reason... But, your adventure and pictures were the cherry on top of the book sundae. Thank you for sharing...

  4. Thanks for making all the places in The Winter Sea come alive for me. Did you see Moray or Graham?

  5. Just finished this incredible novel and can't thank you enough for bringing it to my attention. My mind is a whirl with the review that I wish to write. How unbelievably wonderful would it be to trace the steps and bring this book to life...as you have. Sigh..