Scotland: “eye” is for what one can see
Brand (he comes up the track, starts to descend, pauses halfway on a projecting crag and looks down into the depths)
Now I recognise the spot!
Every boat-shed, every plot,
land-slip bank, the fairway birch,
that brown pile there, the old church,
elders by the river-side, —
childhood memories that abide.
But I fancy it’s more grey,
smaller, too, than in my day;
and the over-hang, protruding
more than it had ever done,
shaves another sliver, gaining
on the strip of sky remaining,
leaning, threatening, dark and brooding, —
stealing yet more of the sun.
(sits and scans the distance)
The fjord. Did that seem, to my mind,
quite so ugly, so confined?
Patch of rain. A yawl ahead
running on a homeward reach.
South, the part the outcrop’s shading,
there’s a shack, a quay for lading,
then a farmhouse, painted red.”
From “Brand” by Henrik Ibsen, Act I.
If you like Norway then Scotland’s not too much a stretch. Pines, cold lakes, and small fishing villages hugging the rocky coasts, so much was familiar. In fact we took an epic one day bus tour (12 hours) and got to see pretty much the representative sample. Perhaps it was akin to the Norway in a Nutshell? The different was that in 12 hours you could drive over a remarkable breadth of Scotland that I don’t think would be possible in Norway. However, the payment was a thorough lashing of the kidneys on roads so rough they would be unacceptable in the Kingdom of the North.
Our small coach held about 30 passengers. The driver, Kenny, was also host, tour-guide, mascot, and hall monitor. Don’t be the last to board! Traveling North from Edinburgh we quickly bid adieu to the lowlands and began to climb. Our international party went higher and deeper into the Highlands, west of Cairngorms National Park. I was surprised how quickly most signs of human habitation atrophied. The customary cabins of Norwegian wilds were absent in like terrain; the difference between a landholding nobility and not.
The River Sprey was a welcome sight, not as visually impressive as the mountains but more famous. Scotland’s highest distillery straddled the river, like so many others that turned the swift water into spirited water.
Loch Ness lived up to its reputation. The sky was mostly cloudy though the sun managed to sneak in a ray here and a beam there. The effect on the vistas was delightful. The 90 minute stop facilitated a 60 minute ferry ride; 30 minutes to Urquhart ruins and back. A monitor in the cabin showed the depth and sonar images. Only the incredibly deep bottom with a few blips of salmon registered on the screen. Later, Kenny lamented that we were but six minutes late in seeing the monster. I’m sure he always says that.
Paralleling Loch Ness, towards the southwest, I could have been forgiven if I thought I was back in Norway, driving along the lake Mjøsa. However the absence of tunnels to smooth the route reminded me I wasn’t home in Norway. Perhaps evidence of the Scot’s legendary thrift?
On to the sea we drove. Another lake, Loch Lochy, a scale model of Ness. As we lost elevation so did the cloud deck. At the rain capital of Scotland, Fort William, we stopped for a break. In the mists hid the upper reaches of the tallest mountain in all of Britain, Ben Nevis. A formidable hulk, the mountain recently claimed two experienced climbers. Their bodies were recovered during our stay.
Refreshed and back aboard the coach, we climbed again, to the famous Glen Coe. A valley famous for epics sights, of crying mountains, beasts, and of backdrops for Harry Potter. But also infamous for the Campbell massacre. No place is fitting for a slaughter, yet the horrors of that winter morn seem too fantastic were not they true.
Climbing more, we reached the plateau and an alien world of peat and heather. The earth protested human incursions by wrinkling the road so as to rattle my teeth and test my spine. And finally as the sun fell behind the mountains so did we. Kenny steered down the river valley past Tyndrum and eventually back to the lowlands.
It was a rather melancholy ride from the lowlands to Edinburgh. The music selection was mornful; darkness fell over our route. Few of the riders were chatting, many appeared to nod off. The culprits were weariness, a smooth road, and stimulation capacity. Sad too was the end because it was over; that is, my stellar views and experiences with the family had just become memories, the past.