Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Scottish Interlude: Tea with Friends

Cup of the Day #101
By Gwyneth Leech
Colored India ink on upcycled white paper cup
I recently returned from a trip to "the Old Country", visiting my husband's family in Edinburgh and friends from art school days who live in rural Scotland. Everywhere we went we were greeted with the words, "will you have a cup of tea?"  I never say no to that. Well, rarely anyway. Ten cups a day or more, and one does start to feel it.

Tea at Fi's House
Kirkbride House, Traquair
Scottish Borders
Everyone in my family reading a book!

I enjoyed china teapots, cups and saucers, milk pitchers and sugar bowls, sitting around a table and talking for hours. For eight days I never saw a text or an e-mail. Slow down, way down, take a walk up a hill in the fresh air. 
A walk in the gloaming
Fi leads the way!
Scottish Borders

Conversation veered frequently to wind farms and solar panels, government energy policy, forest restoration, local food sourcing and other light topics. Folks are thinking a lot about global warming in Europe as weird weather continues to rule the day. (According to this Ted Talk by James Hansen, NASA scientist, we need to be thinking about it in the USA too. As in, really thinking about it, right now!) My good friend, Fiona Houston put her money where her mouth is and lived the life of her 18th Century rural ancestors for a year to test the limits of her potential food and energy independence. The experience makes a great read in the Garden Cottage Diaries. (What she missed most: radio and her electric washing machine.)

Snowdrops in the country
February, 2012

Cup collaboration, February 2012
Gwyneth Leech (left) and Sarah McKenzie Smith (right)

Sometimes we also talked about art and I had time for a delightful cup art collaboration with Sarah McKenzie Smith who lives in the village of Blebo Craigs (real place name, not made up, I swear.)
The hill of Blebo is cloaked with a dense forest of green-trunked and lichen-covered gnarly old trees.
An inspiring place to wander.

A walk in the woods at Blebo Craigs 

In Edinburgh on my last day I walked far and wide around the city remembering where things were; it has been a very long time since I lived there as an Edinburgh College of Art student. My feet took me to the wonderful Royal Botanic Garden where I spent some time cooking up an installation idea for Inverleith House, one of my all time favorite exhibition venues, right up there next to Wavehill's Glyndor Gallery. Crocuses and daffodils were bursting out in February and I basked in a ray of sun, awed by its ability to warm my face from 93 million miles away. A large number of trees were lost in the gardens in a freak mighty wind storm in January (cue the global warming theme again) but hundreds of fine old trees remain. 

My peregrinations through the city resulted in the only two carry-out coffee cups of the week: one in the morning from an Illy espresso bar near Charlotte Square (a striking red and white cup) and at the end of the day, the other from a Starbucks in Lothian Road. I was heading back to my my sister-in-law, Amy's house on the south side of the city but a rather long ride on a double-decker city bus was before me, so I picked up a grande Tazo Awake tea for the journey. Stepping onto the bus minutes later, I was greeted with a firm "NO," from the driver, "you cannot bring your coffee on the bus!" Good heavens! Caffeine, like smoking, banished from public transport! I retreated sheepishly to the Starbucks store and drank my cuppa sitting at a table.

Thirty minutes later I was at Amy's house in the Braid Hills.
"Will you have a cup of tea?" she asked as I came in the door.
"Sure," I said, "why not!"

View of Edinburgh from the Braid Hills
on another afternoon walk, February 2012.


  1. Great post! I am envious of your trip to Scotland, as all four of my grandparents were born in Scotland, and we still have several relatives there...havn't had a chance to visit yet, but hoping to at some day. I loved your pictures and how wonderful you had so many lovely cups of tea!

  2. What an inspiring trip! By the way, I wrote about you on my blog today :)

  3. What a great trip & a wonderful post. I am particularly glad to hear that Europeans are thinking a lot about global warming since most Americans seem oblivious. I watched the Ted Talk by James Hansen, it is excellent. I have been reading "The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World" by Paul Gilding, which is the same idea, but longer. It is really scary, especially, I think, for those of us with children...

  4. I have enjoyed your blog this a.m. thanks to Lisa Volrath guiding me here. Your photographs are wonderful and I love those coffee cups!