I just got back from a week-long road trip through the Scottish Highlands. My companion was my oldest friend–we’ve known each other since we were 15. And our birthday is the same day, same year. Which makes us both . . . 35 (for the 17th time).
We drove beside snow-tipped mountains with waterfalls like tapped veins, gushing on all sides. Reddish heather and dark maroon moors flanked us. Ancient castles reared up on the unlikeliest of tiny islands, whispering of betrayal and long-lost love.
The wee inn pictured here met us at the end of a long and winding road. It was built in the 1700s and offered a view of the loch that shifted like a dream.
At some point the snow runoff and horizontal rain meant a road I meant to take looked more like a boat ramp. With flooding on both sides, we splashed our way onwards, as the climbing took us over the pass and that same afternoon we wandered in Edinburgh in 22-degree warmth.
“If you don’t like the weather in Scotland, wait five minutes,” one of our hosts told us.
Say these places out loud: Isle of Skye, Cairngorms, Inverness, Loch Awe, Stirling. A litany of locations, ancient and modern. We saw the bridge the Hogwarts Express travels over, oddly pleasing. Mist rose and fell, hills became mountains became moors became coastlands.
I thought, Is this the landscape of my heart?
The food! Banoffee pie, salmon served seven ways, scones with double cream and homemade strawberry jam, and my favorite: caramel and chocolate-covered shortbread, called shortcake. Oh yeah: a shiraz that haunts me still and don’t forget the gin and tonics!
But the best part was letting the land seep into my soul: the peace, the unexpected gifts at unexpected times, like the castle where we ate lunch and the waiter described his clientele as “brand new.” I thought he meant honeymooners and said, “Just married?” He laughed. “No, no, it’s Scottish, sorry. It means they’re the greatest.”
This poem by the Scottish poet of the month, echoes my own reaction to the stone and water I witnessed on this journey. And my title is taken from another modern Scottish poet, A.B. Jackson.
on the senses
little saints buried saints
finally kissed by the earth
lilies from your parched mouths
from your salt lips
rise white and tall
scented but with which world
tonight your funeral mass
is being chanted again
in the drowned city
its incense fills us
spume and lightning
Alasdair Paterson © on the governing of empires (Shearsman, 2010)