Fàilte gu Alba
I’ve said it once already, and will no doubt repeat it ad nauseum before the fortnight is out; Scotland is beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that when Harry Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’” started playing on the radio on my drive from Edinburgh to Dumfries and Galloway, I started quietly sobbing behind the wheel, and almost had to pull over and put myself back together.
One of the first things that caught my eye, if you don’t count the natural beauty that comes as standard, was the wind turbines on the landscape, almost beckoning me to trace their meandering lines across the countryside. There is something so calm and even, and somehow reassuring about them, that I find myself looking for them now when I am out in the car. This photo was taken on the road from Eaglesfield to Waterbeck:
I have since discovered that, in November 2018, wind power produced enough energy to account for more than 100% of Scotland’s monthly electricity demands for the first time, making it a world leader in the area of renewable energy. I am duly impressed, as you should be.
Waterbeck, my first port of call, is all storybook hedges and stone and spires and nests. There are actual winding lanes and trickling streams, and what looks like a distant castle on the horizon. Here, the houses all have their names on plaques, and are dressed in ivy and topped with chimneys. And their inhabitants wave.
The directions for my temporary home, The Coach House, were, as written:
“Pass the old fashioned telephone exchange and you will come to a small stone bridge. Indicate left at the bridge and then the parking for The Coach House is directly on your right on a gravelled drive. If you get to the church – you have gone too far!!”
The Coach House, if you will. I feel like a character in a novel.
I am already familiar with driving in the area, and no longer need my GPS to find Eaglesfield, and Eastriggs, and Gretna, and Annan. And I am becoming accustomed to the odours of smoke and manure, and the company of the small birds that swoop and dive alongside the car, and bathe themselves in the soil on the edges of the road.
It has strengthened my belief that driving in an unfamiliar country communicates more to you about it, and possibly yourself, than you might expect. I mean, if I wasn’t driving, how would I know that Scottish drivers, in this part of the country at least, are some of the wildest, riskiest, most impatient buggers I’ve ever encountered? Not prepared to go at least 60mph on a narrow, winding, country road? Then prepare instead to be overtaken with gusto the next time there is a 5-second straight. I have just accepted that pulling over regularly is a part of life here for me, and now just do it as a matter of course.
Then, there is the radio. Of note was the passionate call-in debate about the merits of putting spikes on trees to prevent birds from pooping on the cars below. “What do you expect from a vegan bicycle-rider?”, said the car enthusiast who had endured the distress of pulling an old MG out of a garage filled with chooks, “he might as well chain himself to Jeremy Corbyn.” I had an unexpected hand in the game the next morning when I discovered this:
I am also given ample opportunity here to indulge my love of motorist hand signals. Nothing warms my heart quite like being on the receiving end of a thank-you wave after letting someone in, and I offer them as often as is appropriate. They wave a lot here, and nod, and encourage you to pass their tractors, without realising that you are actually perfectly happy moving at tractor-pace, and seriously doubt there is enough room for you to do so safely. I am looking forward to Islay, where I shall participate in this waving culture with wild abandon.
New to me this time around, as a solo traveller, is the talking, which I do regularly in the car. To be fair, it is usually, “oh, shit!”, or “you won’t fit!”, interspersed with the occasional, “oh, my” and “so lovely!”, but I am noticing a tendency to voice my thoughts and, if this is the onset of madness, I am enjoying it immensely.
I visited Hadrian’s Wall, dating back to AD 122 and built by actual Romans, and again experienced the sense of overwhelm that first enveloped me in Mexico City, as I stood before Aztec ruins. There are books to be read and historical items to be seen beneath glass in museums, to be sure, but there isn’t anything quite like standing on the same earth upon which a Roman soldier stood almost 2000 years ago. It took my breath away.
The weather is warm, and I appreciate that Scotland is putting on a show for me, without realising that I prefer to not need air-conditioning in my car. I know it is a performance, because its merits are lauded in conversations all around me. The barmaid from the Samson Inn, where I stopped for a post-overwhelm lunch, confessed to ducking outside for regular sunning, and a couple of cyclists asked if they could drink their pints on the ‘sunny bench across the road’. I ordered a Cumberland Sausage sandwich, after reading that the sausage has ‘protected, geographical indication status’, meaning that it has been ‘produced, processed and prepared right here in Cumbria’. It was a good sausage.
I like the feeling I have that Scotland is somehow my own, despite me not having set foot here for almost 35 years, and only briefly then. I want it to be familiar. I want to position my childhood of Scottish ditties and pipe band rehearsals within it, and to hear people speaking as my father did when he conversed with other Scottish expats. This is the legacy of family, the thread that connects us and says, ‘this is my homeland/your kin/our custom, and it is a part of us.’
Fàilte gu Alba.
Welcome to Scotland.