Unknown stranger appeared out of the darkness on a Scottish island. She knew she had to be there for him

Skara Brae was a prehistoric stone settlement on the Orkney Islands.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
07 June 2022 Tuesday 07:21
118 Reads
Unknown stranger appeared out of the darkness on a Scottish island. She knew she had to be there for him

Skara Brae was a prehistoric stone settlement on the Orkney Islands. It is an archipelago at the northernmost tip of Scotland.

One figure stood out among the stone buildings of 3,000 years old, holding a cup and chatting with the sun.

Rachael was an early 20-year-old history graduate. Growing up in the Scottish city of Glasgow, Rachael's imagination was captured by her history classes at Orkney's Neolithic archaeological sites. It was a dream to work as a Skara Brae tour guide.

Rachael would take tourists to the UNESCO World Heritage Site during the summer heat. On this particular day in March 2013, however, there were no tourists. Rachael, instead, was enjoying the calm as she gazed out over the vast expanses of blue ocean.

Rachael explains that she can clearly remember gazing at the sky across the sea and cliffs and seeing it change to a beautiful, lilac-y color as the day was ending.

Her deepest thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her radio in her pocket.

"My manager called me to inform me that there was a visitor, and to be on guard so I could put down my cup of tea."

Rachael agreed and made her way to Skara Brae. She spotted a single figure walking towards her as she looked down the path.

The person approached Rachael and she saw that he was dressed in black with a feather-covered hat. Rachael was immediately intrigued.

"It was a magical feeling to just see someone in the distance. It's that magic feeling that makes you feel like you know them, but it also makes you wonder if they are magical and interesting."

Anthony, an American college student studying abroad in Edinburgh, was the mysterious man with the hat. Anthony, like Rachael was fascinated by history.

Anthony tells CNN Travel that he planned a trip to Orkney to view the Neolithic tombs and stone circles, as well as the best part of Skara Brae.

Anthony was traveling with a friend from Edinburgh. He caught the ferry from Aberdeen. Both were exhausted by the time they arrived in Orkney. Anthony was determined to see the sights as soon as possible. However, Anthony's friend decided not to go.

Anthony hoped to be able to see the prehistoric buildings from close by if he headed to Skara Brae in early evening. This was an alternative to looking at them from far away, which is what most people recommend.

"So, when I saw her, my first thought was, 'Dammit! That's not going to work out. There will be someone there. Anthony says, "I can't sneak into."

His misgivings soon disappeared when Anthony and Rachael introduced themselves.

"Everything changed. Anthony says Rachael brought the site to life. It made the place feel real and human, as opposed to the crumbling piles of stones.

Rachael was excited to talk to someone passionate about history and offered to guide the American stranger around the prehistoric village.

The two of them walked around the stone structures and talked about Skara Brae's history. Anthony said he was "enchanted” by Rachael's ability to bring the site to life.

He says, "It's no about stones. It's about people. And about stories."

"Needless, to say, we lost track of the time and I was completely smitten."

Rachael says that they noticed a connection when Rachael was able to hear her radio buzzing. Her manager was telling her to return when the site was closing, as night was falling.

"I should be with him"

Anthony and his friend wandered around the local grocery store later that evening. He walked down one aisle and found Rachael. They were seated arm in arm. It was evident that this was her boyfriend.

Anthony says, "I was pretty crestfallen." "It didn't matter. I was only there for the weekend. What was my real purpose? Establish a long-term relationship with an Orkney tour guide.

Rachael also remembers that moment. Although she wasn't surprised to meet Anthony again, living on a small island makes these kinds of moments more common, her surprise at her reaction to the moment of serendipity was quite unexpected.

"I only briefly said hello to Anthony and his friend. Then, I can clearly recall getting into my boyfriend's vehicle and driving to my flat on the Island. "I clearly remember seeing Anthony, carrying his backpack, walking by the window.

They met and Rachael noticed the disappointment on Anthony’s face.

Rachael says, "I knew in my heart that I should be with Him, I shouldn’t be with any other guy, I should have with him," today.

She snatched the thought from her head, knowing that Anthony would soon be returning to Edinburgh and Wisconsin. He would probably never be seen again.

As time passed, she accepted that fact and enjoyed the memories of their evening walk around Skara Brae at night.

"I had always retained a select group of visitors because I had a special connection with them, either something they said or how they interacted with the village. It was just me or their type of person. In my mind, Anthony is now in the top five most interesting Skara Brae visitors.

Anthony was able to recall his conversations with Rachael, both in Edinburgh and later in Wisconsin. Their meeting had a profound impact on Anthony's work.

He says, "Thanks to a particular tour guide, my research focus had shifted from Neolithic Britain towards Neolithic Orkney."

Anthony also sent Rachael away.

"It was a travel tale -- one of the most memorable -- but that wasn't all it was."

Second chance

Anthony returned to Orkney in the fall 2014 to continue his research a year and a bit later. He visited all of the island's Neolithic burials and plotted solar alignments using a detailed map provided by the UK's Ordnance Survey.

He recalls that he spent over a month on the archipelago riding a bicycle with an OS map and a compass.

Rachael was now working at Skara Brae and Rachael switched to Maeshowe, an Orcadian archaeological spot.

She had split from her boyfriend the year before and was now enjoying her time with her friends, taking in the beauty of the island.

Rachael also valued her own time, especially Thursday mornings spent flipping through Orkney's Orcadian newspaper.

Rachael was sitting on her couch reading the paper one Thursday. Although the publication had many local stories, one article stood out to Rachael. The story was about an American tourist who discovered a message inside a bottle. He was wearing a cap with feathers in it and holding the bottle while smiling.

Rachael couldn’t believe it. It was exactly like Rachael. It was actually him, the Skara Brae man.

Anthony was now done with his solo bike ride and was reunited with his college advisor who was visiting Orkney to visit his student for a few more weeks.

Anthony's professor wanted him to visit Maeshowe so, the day after the newspaper article was published the two headed unwittingly to Rachael’s place of employment.

Anthony says, "I will never forget walking into that visitor center and seeing her there." "It was the strangest thing, but I remember her voice more than anything."

"Then, basically, freak out ensued because -- 'How can you be here?' It was just too much.

Rachael also recognized Anthony.

She recalls that the visitor center was an old mill building. He ran up the wooden steps and kinda swept in. He opened his jacket and pulled out tons and tons of tickets, leaflets, passports, etc. and threw them over the desk."

He said he wanted to book tours, so I asked his name. Then he gave me his name, and I was able think of the same name in the newspaper. It must be him.

After a few minutes, Rachael began to run the tickets through the till. She looked at Anthony and decided to speak.

She said, "I believe I remember you from the past." "At Skara Brae."

Anthony felt relief, surprise, and excitement.

He says, "That was a wonderful moment."

Anthony and Rachael still felt the connection they had a year ago. Rachael's coworkers picked up on this chemistry. Rachael was not supposed to lead guided tours on that day. However, her colleagues changed the schedule so that Rachael would show Anthony and his professor around Maeshowe.

Rachael says that Anthony's knowledge of Neolithic Orkney led to them doing the tour together.

They worked together as a team and shared their knowledge of the history of the site.

Rachael laughs, "My coworkers were all calling Anthony my boyfriend." "They were being silly and were like, "Who's that guy following me around like a puppy?"

Rachael asked Anthony his number after the tour. It was so coincidental that she couldn't pass up the chance to see him again.

Anthony was delighted, but he wasn't certain if Rachael was asking Anthony out as a colleague historian, as a friend or as something more.

The two of them met later that week, going to a local cafe for lunch, followed by a walk along one of Orkney’s windswept beaches.

Anthony says, "The spark of connection was just here." "We talked for two and a quarter hours."

They went together to see a movie in a pop up cinema set up in a church in Stromness, an Orkney port.

Anthony says, "We were as close as we could possibly be sitting, but not acknowledging it."

He then brought up the subject.

He said, "It's hard to be friends."

Rachael says, "That was very cute."

They were married soon after that.

"We never did casual dating like 'Oh, let's see what happens.' Anthony says it was always "This is us, this is us. We're going to find a way that makes it work."

Transatlantic romance: How to navigate

Now, Anthony and Rachael realize that they didn't know what it meant to be in a relationship with someone living across the ocean.

"This was the first time I traveled to America. It was Orkney to Glasgow, then Amsterdam to Amsterdam, then Detroit to Detroit and finally Milwaukee. Rachael says that Anthony's mom lives in Milwaukee, and then to Milwaukee. "You can picture what it was like for me when I arrived."

The two of them met every six months for the next few years in various locations, including the USA, Canada, and Scotland.

Rachael says, "I think my family were quite worried that I was confused. That I was kinda getting my hopes up regarding this quite outlandish idea that probably wouldn't turn out."

Anthony says that his mother was "Team Rachael" from the beginning. "My friends were extremely skeptical. Every single one of them was skeptical about this working.

Rachael was determined to make it work, despite the challenges of distance. Anthony proposed to Rachael just a few months after their long distance relationship.

Rachael had hoped to propose to him while he was visiting Wisconsin waterfalls. Rachael was accustomed to the wild climates of Orkney but Wisconsin winters were a different level. It was not as though she had the right clothes to go on a snowy hike.

Instead, he proposed in the privacy of his bedroom.

"He just sat down by the bed and said, "I love you Rachael. Will you marry me?" Rachael agrees.

"And, of course, it was obvious that I would say yes. It was magical. It was amazing. It's also a little surreal."

They traveled further distance before they were married in May 2016. The intimate ceremony was held at the prehistoric standing stones at Stenness in Orkney.

Rachael says, "It was very windy and cold, but that's kinda like the spirit Orkney being with us at that time."

Rachael's relatives and friends were among the small group of people who attended, but Anthony advised them not to travel that far. Two of his closest friends surprised him by flying in from North America, which he later regretted.

Rachael married Anthony via a pagan handfasting ceremony. This is a Celtic tradition in which the hands of the couple are tied together to signify their union.

Rachael was in the middle, while Anthony was in the center. Each wedding guest was given a velvet bag and asked to take one.

Anthony says that everyone in the ceremony had a part to play. "But it was also cool that we were able to write the whole ceremony."

After the speeches, the couple enjoyed a dinner with speeches.

Anthony and Rachael didn't get married immediately to solve their long-distance problem. After honeymooning on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, they had to split again to arrange visas.

Rachael and Anthony eventually moved to Wisconsin. The couple lived there for several years before moving back to Scotland in 2020.

Full circle

Anthony and Rachael now live happily in Edinburgh in a cottage at Dalkeith Country Park. This historic estate and park is also where Anthony was an exchange student in 2013.

Anthony says, "Sometimes life is full circle like that."

Rachael and Anthony both work at an insurance company. However, they are passionate about archeology and history. They love to travel together and explore Scotland's rich history sites. Rachael volunteers at an Edinburgh museum, while Anthony tweets about archeology via his @RileyFlintSpark Twitter account

The couple reunite nine years later, after meeting for the first time.

Anthony says, "I don’t necessarily believe that fate,” but he adds, "I think this was something people said to me repeatedly: "Oh, it’s fate." It was hard work.

Rachael agrees that it was hard work. "But some of these things were quite miraculous," Rachael said. Some connections are hard to believe could just be chance.

It's very emotional. It allows us to reflect back on all the things that we have been through. There were definitely some good times and challenging times. As everyone goes through, it was clear. It just proves that magic is real to me.