[Note from Frolic: Today, we welcome author Angela Quarles to the site. She’s talking about her trip to Scotland to do research for her new time traveling novel! Take it away, Angela!]
I need a boat ride:
“Can you make 11:00 today?” reads an email from a boat captain named Donald.
I glance at the time. It’s 9 AM, and I’ve just rolled out of bed at the hotel where I’m staying in Arrochar, Scotland. It’s a Thursday—Day Five of my research trip for book one in my new time travel romance series, Some Like It Plaid, though at this stage it’s still called Book One for Entangled Publishing. It’s an unusually sunny June in 2018, and I have three more days left to check off the remaining items on my research list: find two scene locations. This boat trip might be my savior for one of those two.
“Is there a later time? I just saw this and I’m over an hour away and still need to eat and take care of a few things before I can head out,” I email back.
“11 is the only time today or 2pm on Friday,” is the answer. Not wanting to push it to Friday in case the trip proves fruitful and I’ll need to explore the site by land, I accept after making sure, for safety reasons, that I won’t be the only boat passenger.
After a hasty breakfast, I head out in my rental car for Tighnabruaich and only as pull into the lot near the launch with minutes to spare do I realize: I need to pee. Hoping the boat trip won’t be too long as there is no public restroom nearby, I hustle to the end of the stone pier and introduce myself to Donald, the captain of The Morag.
My aim? Ride in a boat somewhere on the waters between Lochgilphead and the Isle of Bute. Not only will this be part of the journey my characters will take on their trip by water from Dunadd to the Antonine Wall, but they also shelter along the coastline from a storm. This is one of the two locations left to find before my plane leaves from Glasgow on Sunday and takes me home to Mobile, Alabama.
Donald is everything you’d hope from a boat captain giving a tour—competent, entertaining, and friendly. We sip tea from well-worn mugs as he regales us with tales in his Scottish brogue. The scenery is gorgeous, but then it is Scotland. I slather on sunscreen because it’s another sunny day, which is not typical Scotland, but I’m not complaining.
We see sunning seals with their pups as well as the island that’s the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, but my vigilant scans of the shoreline are still not turning up the type of formation my story requires.
As the trip ends, I pepper Donald with questions about the nearby coastlines, explaining my plot needs, and he graciously and patiently answers them. When I step off the boat, I still don’t have a specific location, but I feel like I’m closer in my quest. More importantly, Donald has given me an invaluable tip for cruising along the waters around Argyll without having booked boat excursions in advance—ferries!
On the quest for a watchtower:
There’s another boat tour in Tayvallich, Donald told me, which potentially allows me to find the second location—a hill for a watchtower overlooking Loch Crinan and the Sound of Jura. A quick Google search gives me a start time of 2 PM. Taking Donald’s advice, I roll onto the Portavadie ferry after a quick bathroom break, cutting off an hour or more travel time, and then dash a little brazenly along the treacherous one-laners only to arrive three minutes too late. Turns out, though, I needed to arrange the tour ahead of time.
Kicking myself that I didn’t plan this better, I’m contemplating writing the rest of the day off as a loss, research-wise, and take a personal trip to Castle Sween, but I also now have another problem–there’s only about fifty miles left in my gas tank and the closest station is back in Lochgilphead, which I’d passed in my haste to get to Tayvallich. I’ll make it, no problem, but it means I can’t gallivant far. I decide instead to explore nearby Crinan.
I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to look for my watchtower here, but when I pull up at the Crinan Canal parking lot, I see the perfect hill for it. Assuming it’s private property and inaccessible, I satisfy myself instead with a partial walk down the canal to get an idea of the shore my characters would have walked along in one scene. With sweat trickling down my back from the sun beating down on me (I was prepared for rain, people, not sunshine), I come across an arrow for a nature trail leading into Scotland’s rain forest (who knew!). Up I go, having the time to explore, figuring it will be an interesting jaunt at least. Though my thighs are protesting the climb, this walk has everything for the soul—moss-covered rocks, twisty trees and twisty paths, which occasionally break into the open sun and breathtaking vistas. Then you dip back into the shady forest. I can easily picture faeries here. Or hobbits.
Soon, however, it cuts back to that same hill I’d seen from Crinan—now I’m on the hunt for my watchtower location after all. Lots of expletives pop from my mouth when I reach the top. Though my quest seemed out of reach around lunch, by the end of the day, by pure luck, I’ve found my second location. Now I just need to find that shelter tomorrow, as I hope to attend a Roman reenactment on Saturday.
Isle of Bute FTW
I hit the road on Friday. Destination: Isle of Bute. I’m on the hunt for a good shelter from a storm for my characters during their boat trip from Dunadd to the Antonine Wall. Consulting a map, it looks as if the south tip of Bute has narrow inlets that would be perfect. So off I go to the ferry at Colintraive.
However, I very nearly become involved in a three-car pileup when someone pulls in front of me onto the two-lane road. I can’t brake in time, plus there’s a car behind me that won’t be able to either. Miraculously, there’s a rare strip of side road here, and not some cliff, so I swerve onto it. One of those split second decisions—if I’d braked, it would have been a nasty crash. But I bump along that little strip, thinking the whole time I’m going to crash. Somehow, I maintain control and bump back onto the road. Up ahead, I stop at a pull-over area and the car behind me pulls in too to make sure I’m okay and generally share in the OMG-WTF-was-the-dude-thinking. Shaking from spent adrenaline, I check my rental car and all looks okay so I head onward.
Being a super-pro now at the whole ferry thing, I pull on and take the short ride across to the Isle of Bute. It’s so short of a trip they don’t raise the ramps all the way up.
Then I take whichever road winds along the shoreline, stoically ignoring the call of exploring Rothesay or the sign for Mount Stuart, an ornate Victorian palace built for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. See what I do for the sake of research? 🙂
The roads eventually bring me to Kilchattan Bay and the end of the line. A sign for a nature trail promises it will take me nearer my goal, so I grab a late lunch at a little cafe there and then start my hike. Immediately, the landscape is even more dramatically gorgeous than the bay itself and what I’d seen leading up to it on this isle. A geological formation has made rocks crack and form into long rectangles, some volcanic black, and pocked with yellow lichen and pools of green algae. Tons of places too, for my characters to shelter but not quite what I had envisioned yet, so onward I go. At one point, a friendly English pointer bounds up to me and keeps me company as if we are old buds.
Its owners eventually catch up and we chat until they turn off at the end of the main trail. I forge ahead onto a smaller trail, snapping pics left and right.
Eventually, I reach the tip, and as I make my way around the hillside, an amazing vista greets me, which unfortunately doesn’t translate well into pictures because the late afternoon sun is directly in front of my phone. It’s a small bay with a gray-sand beach, crystal clear water, complete with a lighthouse and rugged hills topped by green grass and yellow flowers. It could work for my scene, but the bay is wider than I’d written.
I descend the far side of the hill and trek around the beach, where some campers have grounded their boats and are setting up tents. Once I reach the other side of the crescent-shaped beach, another small inlet appears, which would work even better. I hike as far as I can before running out of path and risking a twisted ankle.
As I gaze back at the inlet, I feel a rightness. This is it. It has the small beach head I’d written, a cliff with enough of an indentation to shelter them and block the westerly winds. There’s some scene adjustments I’ll need to make, but it gives me enough of an idea of the landscape here to work into the scene. And, holy moly, what a gorgeous spot it is!
I Facebook message my two Alpha readers, since they’ve read the rough draft, and send them a quick snap of the setting and put my phone away. I then hear some strange sounds and talking and I pull my phone back out—I’ve video-called them from my messenger bag. So the three of us video chat on the south end of the Isle of Bute, which blows my mind not only because they get to share the find with me, but because it’s so unusual for me to get a signal in the less populated areas of Scotland.
By the time I make it back to the hotel, I’m exhausted and have to scrounge up a dinner via a food mart because the pub’s closed for the night. But I’m also feeling incredibly lucky that yet again, I stumbled onto the perfect setting I’ve been wanting for my scene. Now I can relax on my last day and enjoy the Roman reenactment at Dumbarton Castle.
About the Author:
An avid reader herself, Angela Quarles writes books she’d like to read–laugh-out-loud, smart romances that suck you into her worlds and won’t let you go until you reach The End. She is a RWA RITA® award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary, time travel, and steampunk romance. Library Journal named her steampunk, Steam Me Up, Rawley, Best Self-Published Romance of 2015 and Must Love Chainmail won the 2016 RITA® Award in the paranormal category, the first indie to win in that category. Angela loves history, folklore, and family history and combined it with her active imagination to write stories of romance and adventure.
Find Her Here:
Some Like it Plaid By Angela Quarles, out now!
When Ashley Miller sees a Craigslist ad for an all-expense paid vacation to Scotland with a handsome Highland “escort”, she’s all over it. Worn out from working two jobs to pay off the debts her scam artist ex-husband left her with, she just needs a friggin’ break already. Rolling, misty mountains of the Scottish Highlands, here she comes!
But one minute she’s sipping a latte and the next she’s zapped to the 2nd century and promptly informed she’s managed to wed her handsome Highlander without even an “I do.” Oh, hell no.
After a devastating tragedy, Connall’s tribe is left with few marriageable women. When his Druid priest suggests a place filled with bonnie lasses, he of course agrees to go fetch one for himself. But nothing prepared Connall for his sassy new wife, nor his tribe for a woman determined to see equal rights for all women.
Now the men are threatening revolt if he can’t rein his young wife in, but it might be too late. The women are demanding the men get “woke”—which of course makes no sense because they already woke that morn—and give women “the vote,” whatever the bloody hell that is. Despite all that, Connall can’t stop wanting to convince his wife to get naked, and he’s starting to wonder if he’s been bewitched.
Only the more he gets to know her, the more he starts to think she’s just what they needed. If only he survives her next demand…