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Friday, January 30, 2009


The final installment of a gripping saga of one writer writing things and being in a castle.

23 February 2004


Went to Edinburgh again today. This trip was a DREAM compared to the last one. First, left earlier. Caught bus immediately. Was in the city by 10:15. Had coffee at a fantastic place called the Black Medicine Coffee Co.. Trekked up along the royal mile to Edinburgh Castle. Castle is very castley. I am used to castles now. Audio tour served to remind me, yet again, how little I know about history. As I remember it, the tour went something like this:

“This is the outer castle wall, which was first built in 1086, and then again in 1123 and then again in 1346 and then again in 1532, just for fun. It was severely damaged in 1564 during the siege of Layoffme, at which time it was fortified, only to be knocked down again in the battle of Seriouslyquitit. James the VI of Scotland, also James the I of England, son of Mary Queen of Scots [this part may actually be right] ordered the construction of the final layer of the wall in 1653, because he thought ‘it could be a bit thicker.’”

When I returned, the movies I asked Trevor for had arrived. HOORAH! He has sent The Hulk, Bad Boyz II, and S.W.A.T. He understood the brief perfectly. I took my little stash back to my room before anyone could ask me what it’s in the box.*

25 February 2004

Before I say anything else, let me at least explain what “fear of hot chocolate” meant.

So I bought this container of hot chocolate and I plonked it down on the tea tray when I returned from Bonnyrigg on that grey afternoon. The chocolate was pretty well received, but the staff all seem to fear the chocolate or something, because they will never move it along with the tray. They take it off the tray and leave it on the tea table, so that after dinner I have to go upstairs and get it after dinner. Then they didn’t want to take it upstairs again on the tea tray, so they leave it in a variety of places around the downstairs area—the drawing room, the informal dining room, and most recently, on the ledge outside the kitchen, next to the bus schedule. I’m always trying to hunt it down, and they’re always figuring out ways to outsmart me.

An amazing change has come over me in the last few days. I came through that almost violent reaction I had to the place, the one that had me so despairing. Suddenly, I felt completely at home. I just clicked in. I notice it a lot on the Castle walk. The Castle walk is a looping path that begins on the side of the driveway then cuts down to the river and turns back the other way.

The first few days I was here, I ventured only a short way down this path then came back. I’ve only been doing the Castle walk completely for the last four days or so. The first time I did it, I was a mess. Really nervous. It’s the kind of thing that when you clap or make a noise, you hear things scurry all around you. My boots are very soft—they are in fact the reason I think I’ve seen the deer so many times. They don’t always hear me. I saw them on the walk the first time I did it all the way. The first few times I did it, I clapped and coughed and generally made a ridiculous amount of noise (technique developed during the famous “Little creatures of the forest” walk on the first trip to Edinburgh). Then the edge gradually wore off. Now, I do the Castle walk like I’m Jane Goodall or something. I creep along, stopping when I hear a noise. Of course, I’m looking for deer or ponies or rabbits, not giant orangutans or leopards.

I realize the fact that I can now walk through a marked path in the woods without vomiting from anxiety is not really that great of an accomplishment, but shut up.

In an unrelated story . . . Nigel was telling us all about how his friend called him one day and asked him if he wanted to come over to help tear down his shed. He said yes. He said they spent the day just bashing the thing apart with axes and hammers and that it was pretty much the best day ever.

I would like to destroy a shed sometime.

9:09 PM

I’m in the drawing room now, with my legs stretched out by the electric fire. Agatha and Nigel are trying to figure out when St. Crispin’s Day is. I wish Nigel would tell another good story like the one about the shed, but instead we are just going through what sound like holidays last celebrated in 1200, which no one should know.

I’m going back to my room to watch Bad Boyz II.

1 March 2004

Now that I’m on the downward slope, it’s all going very, very fast. I know that 9:59 this morning (which it is now) will quickly turn into 6:30 this evening, and then before I know it, I’ll have to make my final decision about my train, pack, settle my account, and leave.

Leaving is going to be strange. I’ve become extremely accustomed to being here. Coming down to the breakfast room, covered in its Victorian pictures of Scottish men in various tartans, to the long, thin table to have porridge, orange juice, and painfully strong coffee. Having my mornings to do things like what I’m doing now. Getting my little lunch container. Getting the tea at 4. Wrapping up at 6:30 or so to go down to poke at the fire, and then getting called to dinner. Sitting in the drawing room, feeling way too full, talking for a while, going up for my bath. Getting my clothes out of my wicker trunk for the next day.

I’ll have to take all these books (we all horde the books) back to the library. I’ll have to take down this pile of stuff that’s been in the left corner of my desk the entire time I’ve been here, and which I pretty much haven’t looked at. I’ll have to get out the suitcase that I stuck in the linen room on the night of the 11th and pretty much haven’t touched since, except once to look for a phone cord.

The disruption to my routine may kill me.

Anyway, I took some photos a few days ago. I seem to only take photos when it is overcast. I should take some today, because it is beautiful. But I won’t, because I am lazy. Also, I’m trying to remain focused.

In theory, I am going with Agatha and Petunia to Rosslyn Chapel today. It’s supposed to be one of the most amazing places around here. We’re going at 1:30, so I really need to get cracking. It’s now 10:30. So that’s three hours. Shall we chart my progress now? I think it’s down to that. I have to start keeping track. No more monkey business, boys and girls. I have to get this troublesome, coffee-stained, pencil-covered manuscript back into its big padded folder, along with the disk of new material. Can we do it? Yes, we can.

10:34 AM. Listening to birds. FOCUS.

10:36 AM Closed this, then opened it back up again. Woodpecker is at it again outside. Also, I smell horse out there. I don’t know how this is possible (even if the horses are out today, they are very far from my window), but I am telling you, I smell horse.

6:31 PM

I told you it would be 6:30 in no time.

I did work those three hours. Had my coffee, banana, and cereal bar. (Okay. And a chocolate covered biscuit that I rescued from yesterday’s leftovers on the tea tray. I stash an extra or two in my drawer if there are leftovers. There. I’ve admitted it.)

Agatha, Petunia, and I left for Rosslyn at 1:30 on the nose. I was working up until the last second and just had time to snag my coat and jog off. We went to Rosslyn chapel, which is amazing. It’s kind of the law that you have to go there if you stay at Hawthorden.***

This is Rosslyn Castle, which I think is a rentable landmark trust house.

There isn’t actually very much castle at all. Our castle is better. Our castle can beat up your castle.

2 March 2004

10:38 AM

This morning, Nigel offered to have me come along with him this morning along the lady walk, since I’d never been on it. I agreed. We left at 9:30 on the dot. So yes, I decided to go walking in the woods with a man with an axe.

It’s a good thing I went with him, because it’s the kind of thing that I NEVER would have done by myself. It’s amazing—but the stories are true. If you go down on the lady walk, you go down. Like right down the side of the slippery rock. It was aggressive walking, serious hiking. You can barely call it a path—there are path-like parts, but sometimes it’s just a little dent in the foliage, a few inches across. And when we went down to Wallace’s cave, it was just slippery, sloping stone “steps” that listed in the direction of the drop, so I think the chances were actually better than average that you could slip and go head-first over the edge. But we did it, and we went in. Not a lot to say about caves, except that they are cave-like. This one was supposed to have been able to hold 60 to 70 men. There were two main “rooms,” with “wings” on either side that we completely pitch black.

We came back up and continued until we got to a felled tree that blocks the path. Nigel has been chopping this tree in half, a little bit, every day. He said he’s never gone beyond it, and suggested I go and have a look while he did his ten minutes of chopping.

If I was ever going to get attacked by an angry badger, this would have been the time. I have never come closer to putting myself in the path of such a creature. Again, I did not see one. The only thing I saw was a pony in the pasture, high up on the opposite side.

When I got back, Nigel was chopping away. I noticed there was blood all over the handle of the axe. He cut the back of his hand at some point. This is nice. Nigel and I go out for a little walk with an axe, Nigel returns all covered in blood. That should keep the others quiet for a while.

Rose had made a cake for Agatha, since yesterday was Agatha’s 63rd birthday. (I didn’t have much dinner. It was quiche, which I attempted to eat with little success.**** But I did try. The pudding was small, compared to the usual pudding, and I was saying how happy I was that for once I wasn’t overstuffing myself. Then five minutes later, a whole other cake!)

We played Scrabble. I lost. No surprise there. I suck at Scrabble. Petunia thrashed us all with a 160 without breaking a sweat. Agatha and Nigel got 104. I stumbled in with 95. I hate Scrabble.***

4:54 PM

I’ve decided to change location. I’m down in the garden room now, trying to keep this little fire alive. I watched three deer from my window. They came down the hill and went down to the castle walk. The amazing thing was—I knew they were there. I was sitting in my room, and I heard a crackling on the leaves all the way on the hill across, and I knew. I have developed WOODLAND SENSES.

Poke, poke, poke the fire. This fire is not doing well. It’s steaming and smoking and generally dying.

5:06 PM

Oh, I’ve got it now. It takes a lot of effort to make things burn. Well, wet wood, anyway. When it really goes, it sounds like breaking glass. And it’s strange—it really makes you understand how the oxygen has a role, how fuel converts to heat, how you can’t poke it all the time . . . What I learned at Hawthorden.

Nice woody smell, too. I have become a good country girl.

6:08 PM

Have I been doing this for an hour? I smell like wood.

The fire can honestly be described as “roaring.” It is maybe the best fire we have ever had. I am not kidding. I have used half the basket and am exhausted from the effort, but this is one very serious fire. The others had better get down here soon to take a look at this. Nigel may be upset that I used up all the wood that probably took him forever to chop, but it is too late to think about that now.

3 March 2004

I spent all last night reading in the drawing room with Petunia and Agatha. It was quiet because Nigel was out having freshly-shot duck with one of his friends who lives nearby, and he ended up walking back from Rosewell in the dark, kind of drunk. He couldn’t figure out how to get back in and was ringing the bell. We heard it, and I went down to get him.

We had fruit and Greek yogurt for dessert, so I went down and stole us biscuits later on. When I switched on the kitchen light, the bulb exploded. Don’t tell me I don’t have the magic touch.

Tonight is Agatha’s last night, so we will be having our final dinner. We have to figure out what we are giving as gifts. I imagine that I may even start taking apart my room tonight, putting the things I won’t be needing into bags, taking apart my desk.

It’s hard to believe. I’ve almost done it. I made it to the almost-end.

I think I can hear Agatha packing in the room next to mine.

Some more photos:

Going into the Lady Walk. This key isn’t as cool as THIS KEY:

Now, that’s a key! Also, it doesn’t work! They changed the lock. This is the entrance to the caves under the castle. Apparently, the “feral youth of Bonnyrigg” tried to bust open the 17th century lock and they had to get a new one.

But, back to the Lady Walk:

The castle from the Lady Walk.

A tiger. Not found on the Lady Walk. I hit the clip art button by accident. Had you going, though.

4 March 2004

9:29 AM

We’ve just finished breakfast, and we had a quick look in the dungeon. And now, Agatha (remember my early relationship with Agatha?), now Agatha is leaving. I have turned in my 15 pounds for the gift for the staff. I have an entire day, but there is a lot to do. My wash bag is down with Margaret, but I am going to start collecting up a few things.

11:08 AM

Have finished packing about halfway, amazingly enough. Have gone down and made some copies for research. Having checked my records, I see now that in my time here, I have made 15 copies and drunk (or at least poured) 8 sherries. My bill for three and a half weeks will be 3.95.


Paid up with a five pound note. Donated the extra 5p. I was feeling generous. (I’ll make an extra copy later.)


Have done my castle walk. Agatha’s little red car is gone.

Did I mention that everyone was being boring again last night? Makes me feel a little better for leaving. Petunia wanted Nigel to read aloud an A.S. Byatt/Henry James piece—a poem extrapolated from his work. We had to listen to three versions of this. Listening to Henry James read aloud is not fun. Listening to Henry James, A.S. Byatt, and Petunia read aloud (with “highlighting” so that you can hear the changes) will make you suicidal.

3:42 PM

Extreme packtitude. The thing about packing is once it’s almost done, I want to go. I want to wheel this 5,000 pound bag down the drive while it’s still nice.

Said goodbye to Hubert. Went out and had a look out over the glen from the ledge outside the garden room. Didn’t even need my coat. And now, now . . .

Yes. It’s the final tea tray. Not the final, final tea tray. Just my final tea tray. Oh, tea tray. How I will miss thee. Two slices of choc-o-late cake from the tea tray. Oh, tea tray.




Tea tray, I will always remember you. I will think of you every day, somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00. And I hope you think of me, tea tray.

Incidentally, I’ve spent all this time worried about badgers, come to find out it’s owls I should be concerned about. Owls. Like Hewdig. The owls that I hear a-hooting from early evening on. Not the screaming vixens. Not the deer. Not even the buzzards. The owls, which, I learned over dinner last night can swoop down and TAKE OFF YOUR SCALP with their 400lb tension death-grip talons. The owls, which must have been all over the place when I took my dark walk. Nigel was saying he was happy that they weren’t attracted to anything on his head when he did his, and then went on to explain the whole terrifying story. But unless Nigel wears hats made of live mice, I really don’t see how that would be a problem.

I’m shutting my window tonight, anyway. I mean, you never know.

6:00 PM

Have been working, but it’s all gone out the window now. I’m actually writing this from the steps, as I go online. There is a real end of school feel. We were all talking in the hall, and we all went out on the roof from Nigel’s room.

8:31 pm
Drawing room.

The diary cuts off abruptly there. What happened next is not recorded, but I will tell you in the next post . . . The Badger Diary, the aftermath. And I'll explain how this links to THE FUTURE.

*It turned out Ron had a similar stash in his room. I found this out only on his last day.

** This is the chapel at the end of The DaVinci Code, which I hadn't read at the time. From Scotland, I went to Paris, and spent most of my time in the Louvre, so I accidentally was on The DaVinci Code tour.

***This isn't new. I have never liked Scrabble. It's one of those things that people pull out because I'm a writer, and they always say, "I bet you love this! I'll bet you'll kill us at this game!" I don't. It's the only board game I actively despise.

**** I don't mean this to be a list of things I don't like, but I REALLY hate eggs, so this was like waterboarding me.

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Anonymous Kaitlynn said...

Whoa, you're seriously at a castle...?

3:42 AM  
Blogger Hollishillis said...

Brilliant Maureen. I can't wait to read the finale. That tea tray makes me want to binge on 24000 calories of chocolate brownies!

4:00 AM  
Blogger Reese said...

Brilliant stuff MJ. Brilliant. I get a little thrill whenever I read the name Trevor because I keep thinking "haha, Pierre!" Which is an irrelevant inside joke, but you know, whatever.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounded like a really awesome...event. Kinda' sad that the Badger Diaries are done, though. Oh well.

Can't wait for the next post!


5:31 AM  
Anonymous SarahE said...

OooooooOoooooh. The aftermath. I can't wait! Hehehehe.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous cei cei said...

i'm allergic to eggs,which is a good thing because i hate them; everyone always says how crazy that is but YOU GET IT!

i kinda want to visit a castle now, lol

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Carrie said...

OWLS?! Like the owls that hang out in my tree at night and stare into my open bedroom window? *Those* owls? I knew they weren't as harmless as they seemed.

I hate Scrabble, too. And eggs.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Marvelous Maggie said...


Hahaha, that was my favorite part out of all the Badger Diaries.

And that thing about owls... HOLY CRAP.


7:31 AM  
Anonymous Lysh said...

Oh no, I will (pathetically) really miss these diaries. Can't wait for the aftermath!

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Ariel said...

What?! You've never seen a mice hat before? How unfortunate.
In all seriousness, though, it is quite sad to know that owls could rip off your scalp should they be so inclined. We have all been deceived by tales full of kindly post owls!

9:13 AM  
Blogger Colt said...

Hopefully you and the tea tray will unite in the near future...I hate Scrabble as well...stupid game with its letters and spelling! Any who very funny!

7:40 PM  
Blogger Brittany Ann said...

I've been excitedly going forth to read more Badger Diary every day. The feeling I have about it all ending is akin, I think, to your feelings about parting from the tea tray. :(

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know an owl story. I heard it when I went on a night walk at a provincial park. The guide said that one of the other guides was trying to attract owls to show some visitors a little while ago. He had the bright idea to make mouse noises. Turns out that they were really realistic because an owl swooped down from the night sky and mauled his face. Luckily the guide survived.

12:37 AM  
Blogger cityrambler said...

Glad you enjoyed the audio tour of Edinburgh Castle. Had you heard of walk talk tours? - the downloadable audio tours of Edinburgh, York, Manchester and London to play on your MP3 or iPod. Ideal for independent travellers like you.

Take a look at www.walktalktour.com and see what you think.

12:50 AM  
Anonymous becca said...

Can't wait for the aftermath! Please say you actually TALK to Ron? I've been waiting for you guys to become best buddies. Don't let me down!

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen, Tahnk You for finally publicizing the threat of owls! One used to live outside me window and it was out to get me! The three came down in a storm a few years ago though so it moved farther down my street. But it was out for my life!

2:29 AM  
Blogger angela said...

Ahh, I have GREATLY enjoyed this documentation MJ.
You should go to castles in Och Aye Land*ahem* Scotland more often.

I shall miss Agatha and Petunia and Nigel and Ron and Rose and Margaret and Hubert even though I have never met them. *le sigh* And you never saw a badger.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Callidora said...

I only like eggs when they are hard-boiled than pickled. Everyone thinks I'm weird for liking pickled eggs. Oh well, they're delicious :o)

6:54 AM  
Blogger RoboFillet said...

I also very, very much dislike quiche! It is like my nemesis food! I went to a 21st birthday party tonight and what did they serve? Quiche! At a 21st!

Who has quiche on their 21st?!

6:24 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

haha I haven't checked your blog in a while and I have just read the entire "Badger Diaries" in one sitting. I'm actually an American that has lived in Edinburgh for the last 3 years. Glad to hear you liked Edinburgh! Though the castle experience sounds a bit like an intellectual Big Brother gone wrong.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an English teacher and I get the same thing with Scrabble! I suck at it. Horribly. So, then people get all uncomfortable when they've just kicked my butt at Scrabble even though I'm an English teacher, and they say things like "oh... ummm... better luck next time?"

I feel your pain.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Alexa said...

I have loved these diaries - brilliant!

I'm a teacher and rubbish at scrabble too, although at Christmas I won for the first time ever with Za. Which everyone contested but is allowable - haha!

2:25 AM  
Blogger hannah said...

oh goodness Maureen please please tell us what happened next!! i absolutly LOVE this little diary!! :D

5:44 AM  
OpenID hereandnow said...

I can reliably inform you that destroying a shed is AWESOME, if you haven't gotten around to it in the intervening period.

It was a derelict cottage, but the principles are the same.

Hypothetically, though, it could be a good idea to get your hypothetical brother to warn you before he hits the single remaining load-bearing column with a hypothetical sledgehammer. That would have been verging on a little too much excitement, if it had ever happened to me. *cough*

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you didn't see a single badger while you were there. *Sad shake of the head*

(OH MY GOSH! The word verification says 'backed'! That's the first time it's EVER been a real word!!!)

4:07 AM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PAINFULLY STRONG COFFEE! Strong coffee keeps you awake longer. It also keeps you more alert to watch out for owls and badgers.

Thank you for sharing The Badger Diary with us. It was very entertaining, and it was interesting to learn about the place where 13 Little Blue Envelopes got its start.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Becky D. said...

Dear Maureen,

I loved these entries so much that I decided to start my own. But I'm sending them in email form to my best friend who lives in the states, while I endeavor to spend a year in England. Honestly, though, this inspiration to start my own Badger Diaries (mine's called 'For You, I Will Tarry On'), is what is keeping me from hoping on a bus to Heathrow and a plane back to the states. So thanks, for giving me the chance to stay sane. I'm not sure if this makes sense or not, but thank-you all the same.

2:00 AM  
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