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Our son the lawyer makes front page news

So our son the litigation lawyer made the lead story in yesterday's Globe and Mail. OK, he turns up near the end of the convoluted yarn. But I had no idea that back in 2005, when he was a law student, Carlin was involved in such cloak-and-dagger skulduggery. He has been practicing now for more than a decade with Duvernet, Stewart, an amazingly successful boutique firm based in Mississauga.
But here is Globe reporter Mark MacKinnon, writing of 2005 and looking for Boris Birshtein: "After trying, and failing, to deliver the documents at two Toronto addresses, the law student, Carlin McGoogan, made the 75-minute drive north to Shanty Bay, a quilt of elegant farm and cottage properties on the western shore of Lake Simcoe. Faced with a gated driveway and what he described as a 10-foot-high fence at Mr. Birshtein’s home there, Mr. McGoogan taped Alon Birshtein’s statement of claim to the iron gate. This fall, 13 years later, I found myself following in the student’s footsteps. . . .
Like Mr. McGoogan before me, I found myself with only the Shanty Bay address left to try. So I rented a Chevrolet that I hoped looked nondescript, and headed north from Toronto on an early autumn afternoon. I found the property exactly as Mr. McGoogan had described it – but on this day, the gate was open, though dense forest obscured any view of what lay beyond. . . ."
Today, answering my email queries from a ski hill in the Eastern Townships, Carlin revealed that on another occasion, he did get into the mansion at Shanty Bay . . . and even spent time in the steam room. All this was news to me. Speaking as a father, I can say only that at such revelations, the mind reels. But click here for the MacKinnon yarn.
Ken McGoogan
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The Devil made me jive with Margaret Atwood

The Devil made me do it. I knew it was wrong. I knew I had no business inviting an iconic Canadian writer out onto the dance floor. I knew people would hate me for it. Who did I think I was? But a little voice told me to go ahead and ask her to dance. Graeme was there, standing tall. Sheena was there, camera in hand. 
But I'd better come clean. We had danced together at least once before, Ms. Atwood and I, at a meeting of the The Writers' Union of Canada. This was back in the day. 1985, I think it was. Things were different then.
Now it was 2011 and I had reason to be wary. We were voyaging around Scotland with Adventure Canada, having a blast, and had ended up in this community hall on the island of Jura. George Orwell had lived somewhere in this vicinity. Here on Jura, he had discerned that Big Brother was always watching. Coincidence? I thought not.
But I shrugged off all that and plunged ahead. I mention this in what you now learn is my "year-ender" because I grow skeptical about the way browsers function. My stats tell me that my all-time most popular blog post, with 17,300 viewings, is entitled A younger male writer crosses swords with Margaret Atwood. I ask you: have more than 17,000 people cast their eyes over my divigations? Or does that total derive from an algorithm that automatically counts "one" every time it chances upon "Margaret Atwood." So, yes, this is a test. That, anyway, is my story.
My other greatest hits are also all included in last year's greatest hits, which featured voyaging in the Northwest Passage, my book Dead Reckoning, and Let's Invite Scotland to Join Canada.  I remind myself that this means not that I have been less entertaining this year than last, but that "all-time" is cumulative, and so it takes more than one year to reach the upper echelons of even these modest heights.
But now I refrain from adding a second photo to this post. The Devil insists that I could justify an image of the cover of Dead Reckoning. No, I say, and stand firm. People would accuse me of being shameless and worse and that . . . that would hurt my feelings. For the rest, I would add: Merry Christmas! Happy New Year. Party on!

Ken McGoogan
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Researching the Highlands inspires magical paintings

Faithful readers will know that I have been researching a book about the Highland Clearances. It is called Flight of the Highlanders: Canada's First Refugees. And it will be published next autumn by Patrick Crean Editions / HarperCollins Canada. But this post is not about that. 
This is a post about Sheena Fraser McGoogan, with whom I have spent the past few years traipsing around the Highlands. While I scribble notes, she sketches and takes photographs. 
Then, when she gets home, she heads out into her back-yard studio, where she mixes and matches and magically transforms her gleanings into colorful acrylic paintings. 

Usually, Sheena paints large if not massive. But in the past few months, she has turned her hand to producing a few small gems -- twelve inches square. Here we see three of them. I have been authorized to offer these up as possible Christmas presents at a sale price . . . wait for it . . . of $350 each. If you covet one, or OK, three for $900, contact  

Ken McGoogan
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Stone village in Orkney proves one of a kind

A massive storm swept through this region and so we remained tied up in Kirkwall. In retrospect, this looked providential. We were able to visit the Broch of Gurness and the town of Stromness, and those of us who had not yet managed to explore Kirkwall got to visit St. Magnus Cathedral, with its John Rae memorial and gravesite, and the dazzling Orkney Museum. At least eight people sallied forth to check out two distilleries -- Highland Park and Scapa. They returned expressing satisfaction.
Local guides joined Adventure Canada staff aboard the buses and added colour and context. We got out to the Broch of Gurness, arguably Orkney’s most under-rated archaeological site. Here an Iron Age dwelling tower stands at the centre of a well-preserved stone village, offering a unique experience that extends into the Viking era. Visitors can get right down into the site and poke around in the ruins of ancient people’s houses.

This is vastly different from walking around outside even the wonderful Skara Brae, where you are forced to become the 21st century observer. At Gurness, you scramble over inconvenient slabs of rock and march up a winding causeway to duck and plunge through an awkward low doorway. More than one visitor predicted that ours will be the last generation to enjoy Gurness with such freedom.
We drove also to Stromness, home to 2,500 inhabitants (Kirkwall, the capital, claims 8,500). Everyone loves the atmosphere of this town, the main street winding along the coast, the sporadic views of the water, the cobble stones in the streets. Three times a day the NorthLink Ferry glides into the harbour from mainland Scotland to deliver and collect cars and people.
Riding in buses, we visitors enjoyed the open, panoramic views of the big sky, the rolling hills, the expanses of water. In Kirkwall, St. Magnus is famous for obvious reasons. But the Orkney Museum across the main street . . . that’s a happy surprise. Here we encountered the Picts, the Celts, the Vikings, the Lairds. So much history, so little time.

Ken McGoogan
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Yo, Orkney! Skara Brae to Clestrain

People were living at Skara Brae before Egyptians built the pyramids. By the time other neolitithic folk started work on Stonehenge in England, they had resided here, facing out over the salt water, for three to four hundred years – and even had time to abandon the site. To stand here today, in the 21st century, gazing out at surf-worthy waves, proved both humbling and awe-inspiring. More than one person incidentally gave thanks that our expedition leader had decided we would overnight at the dock in Kirkwall, rather than plunge out into what would certainly have been one horrendous night on the water.
But what a place is Skara Brae – the best-preserved Neolithic village in northern Europe, and a site that offers an entree into the daily lives of people who lived 4,500 years ago. Here they cooked, there they ate, and here, just here, they curled up and slept. Today, as well, while rambling around with Adventure Canada, we visited the nearby Ring of Brodgar, a world-famous circle of standing stones, and passed by a recently begun archaeological dig between the two, the Ness of Brodgar, that points back even earlier, to the Mesolithic era of 7000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers roamed these hills.

Roll on to the Hall of Clestrain, which overlooks Hoy Sound near Stromness. Birthplace in 1813 of Arctic explorer John Rae, this listed building is now the focus of a restoration campaign led by the John Rae Society, which is determined to turn Clestrain into a world-heritage centre. Three buses shuttled passengers from one location to another, while other visitors rambled around Kirkwall, visiting St. Magnus Cathedral, which contains a gorgeous memorial to Rae, and also the explorer’s grave, situated behind this magnificent 12th century edifice.
Rumor had it that some travelers indulged in serious retail therapy, and suggestive evidence turned up in certain newly observed artifacts. Come evening, two Orcadians came aboard. Andrew Appleby, president of the John Rae Society and a professional potter from nearby Harray (the Harray Potter), invited people to visit his studio, where he throws pots. And native Orcadian historian Tom Muir, president of the Orkney Story-Teller’s Association, entertained with a series of entrancing tales that ranged from the dark and foreboding to the sublime and sorrowful. His was a tour de force performance.

Ken McGoogan
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Outlander lives on the Isle of Lewis

We arrived on the Isle of Lewis around 6 a.m., precisely on schedule, and tied up at the dock so that passengers could walk off the ship. That we did with voyagers organized into six groups. We piled into three buses in the morning, the same three in the afternoon, and everyone got a chance to ride the island in a circle with no stress, no bother. Clockwork.
This was our Adventure Canada voyage around Scotland last June.
On our bus we had a wonderful guide named Doro, short for Dorothea, who had an answer for every question, no matter how arcane. The Dun Carlaway Broch dates from around the final century B.C., making it one of the last to be built. It remained in use, probably as both castle and vertical farmhouse, until the Vikings arrived in the early 800s. My favorite story about the broch derives from the 16th century, when the Morrisons of Ness took refuge here after getting caught raiding cattle from the local MacAulays. The Morrisons blocked the broch entrance, which was designed for that purpose, but Donald Cam MacAulay scrambled up the outer wall, threw down burning heather, and forced the would-be thieves to stumble out to meet their fate.
The Callanish Stones are the largest assemblage of such mystery objects in all Europe. Dating back 5200 years, they are not only older than those at Stonehenge but are arranged in the shape of a Celtic Cross and are also readily accessible. No cars roar past on nearby highways. And if you have no fear of being shunted off backwards in time, Outlander-style, you can reach out surreptitiously and touch them.
Even so, on Lewis, I got the biggest kick out of visiting the nine houses at the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, which hark back to the 17th century. Here we see how the vast majority of Highlanders lived for centuries. The village highlight is the working blackhouse, which has been reconstructed to the year 1955, when inhabitants adapted and incorporated many of the features of the more modern “white houses” that arose after the end of the Second World War. A local guide named Mary, who was born and raised in this village, provided an evocative depiction of life during this period of transformation.
Before leaving Lewis, passengers got to visit Stornoway. Home to more than 7,000 people, it is by far the largest settlement in the Hebrides, and offers a range of shops, services and amenities. Many passengers visited Lews Castle and enjoyed its wooded walks and museum experience, which included multi-media atmospherics and a collection of several of the original Lewis Chessman. A bookstore on Cromwell Street enjoyed a run on Lewis-related books by mystery writer Peter May . . .  and on facsimile chessmen. 

Ken McGoogan
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Voyage around Scotland proves magical

           Savoring the sunshine view from the high hill in St. Kilda. Exploring the Blackhouse Village on the Isle of Lewis. Getting right down into the neolithic Broch of Gurness on Mainland, Orkney. On our Scotland Slowly voyage with Adventure Canada last June, the magical moments kept coming. As it happens, I wrote the logbook. AC has just published it and I find myself revisiting the whole experience.
On Day One, we sailed out of Oban not long after 7 p.m., with the waters calm and the sun setting among the islands. The arrival and boarding had brought the usual challenges.But more than half (116) of the passengers had sailed previously with Adventure Canada and that made the process of boarding easier than it might have been. Once on board, we made our way to the Nautilus Lounge, where we proceeded efficiently through the zodiac briefing. Then came the mandatory lifeboat drill and staff introductions. Expedition leader Matthew James (M.J.) Swan elaborated on the next day’s doings – a visit to Islay – and then we headed for our first white-linen-tablecloth dinner.
 Next morning, having sailed overnight from Oban, we boarded zodiacs off the coast of Islay, always with the sailors’ grip. We roared into Bowmore near the distillery that has made the town famous, home to one of the celebrated peaty whiskies from these parts. On landing, we climbed into buses for a ten-minute ride to the first historical site of the voyage: Loch Finlaggan. The Great Hall here, which for almost three centuries served as home to the Lords of the Isles, is now little more than two triangular end walls made of stone. But it was from here in 1164 that Somerled, the great sea lord of the western isles, organized his momentous invasion of the Scottish mainland.
The story emerged at the small visitors’ centre and in a series of plaques at the site. It begins in 1153, when in a major sea battle off the coast of Islay – just a few miles north of Finlaggan – Somerled defeated Godred IV and forced him to retreat to Norway. A decade later, in 1164, Somerled led an ambitious invasion of mainland Scotland. This was a crucial moment, the first great clash between two Celtic-World cultures – Norse-Gaelic and Anglo-Norman.
But soon after landing near Glasgow with tens of thousands of warriors, Somerled was slain – probably by the lucky throw of a spear. His massive army, whose troops included a large contingent from Dublin, withdrew in disarray. Finlaggan became home to the Lords of the Isles – descendants of Somerled, led by the MacDonalds -- who ruled the western Scottish Isles until 1494, when mainlanders under King James IV put paid to their independence.
From Finlaggan, we voyagers traveled by bus and van to Islay House Square. Now a five-star hotel, Islay House was formerly home to a Campbell laird. Out front, what was once a thriving courtyard is now a scattering of shops – and visitors took full advantage. Back on the ship, we enjoyed a whisky tasting before adjourning to the dining room for the captain’s dinner.
Day three found us visiting Iona Abbey, where that scholarly warrior Saint Columba arrived from Ireland, built a monastery, and established Christianity in Scotland. The monastery became arguably the most glorious edifice in the country – though the people of Orkney champion St. Magnus Cathedral. Iona became the burial site for many Scottish princes and kings.
A storm had rolled in during the morning as if to challenge our visit. Gusting winds and light rain had impeded our morning zodiac cruise to the island of Staffa. Some passengers had hoped to get inside Fingal’s Cave, famously the locale that inspired a celebrated composition (The Hebrides) by Felix Mendelssohn, as well as subsequent visits by well-known figures and even an on-location orchestral performance. The wind prevented entry, as it so often does, but the cruise proved invigorating and the island itself, created through three distinct volcanic eruptions, is geologically unique and spectacular. Incredible to think, as geologist David Edwards later relayed, that in 1772, a farming family was eking out a living on the rocky island. A few winters appear to have brought them to their senses, and they were gone by 1800.
Rumour has it that in June 2019, Adventure Canada will again circumnavigate Scotland.
(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan . . . except the one in which she appears)

Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.