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Published: July 19th 2021
Greetings! I write this one from Sheffield this time. I don’t think I’ve ever written one from my home city before, though I guess times such as these are rather unusual and unprecedented. I write once more on the eve before a big trip – my biggest trip since summer 2019. I am excited to be getting back on the travelling road again, after such a long time away from it. I have indeed done some short trips over the last 17 months, but this upcoming one feels a bit more major, a bit more exotic, a bit more back to normal. Tomorrow I head to Scotland!
In theory, I could spend the summer visiting a number of places around the world, as the world is starting to open up again once more to tourism and to British tourists. In practice, an overseas journey at this time seems fraught with bureaucracy and headaches, in terms of proof of vaccination status, tests tests and more tests, queues at borders, and having to get my head around another country’s restrictions, when I have yet to get my head around my own country’s ever-changing and u-turning rules, laws and guidelines.
Scotland is notorious for its midges, I go prepared (I hope!)
Last summer, a number of British people headed overseas, mainly to European destinations, only to find they were given days to get back to the UK as the country’s status changed from green, to amber, to red, and back again, having to rebook tickets and make cancellations, to avoid having to quarantine upon their return. It all appeared rather shambolic on the government’s part to say the least, and I have no intention of wading through their ridiculous red-tape at this stage.
So I decided a few months ago to arrange my major summer trip this year in a relatively far-flung region of my own country, whence a flight is not needed, but where an exotic flavour can be experienced, and a new history, culture and even language can be delved into. I have thus planned four weeks of travelling around Scotland, starting tomorrow in Edinburgh, and making an anti-clockwise semi-circle up the east coast via Aberdeen and the Cairngorms, to the northern tip via Inverness and Loch Ness, and then down the west coast via Fort William and Ben Nevis, to finish my journey in Glasgow. I am excited.
Many people have recommended I spend time on
the islands of Scotland, but I shall leave these for another journey I think. This time, I would like to really get a feel for mainland Scotland, our distant cousin and neighbour, and save island-hopping for potentially another time. There seems already much to explore on the mainland. I have twice visited Scotland prior to this trip, but both were only very fleeting trips.
My first visit was when I was a mere 21 years old, and I had planned three nights in Inverness and Loch Ness, taking a 12-hour coach journey there and back again from Sheffield, changing buses in Glasgow. This was intended as a warm-up for a month’s interrailing around Europe which I had planned for the following month, and I wanted to get a feel for backpacking and youth hostelling, before I hit the continent. It was like a practice, a warm-up, and I remember thoroughly enjoying it, finding my freedom out there on the road, and perhaps it was this little trip which had me bitten for life by the travel bug.
My second visit took place seven years ago, also a short trip of only four nights, flying up to Glasgow Airport
My Travelling Companions
Dusting them off again after a travelling hiatus
from London Gatwick, and spending a lovely four nights on the Isle of Arran, and the nearby Buddhist island of Holy Isle. This was amazing, and a great time of healing for me. I had just finished my first year of a two-year part-time MA degree in Religious Education, whilst teaching full-time, and my soul felt exhausted. I had a dream prior to my visit, of an island, with small hobbit-like houses along the coast – the dream filled me with peace, and I felt like this place existed. Not long after, and to my amazement, I happened to see this exact place I dreamed about in a TV documentary on the Buddhist island of Holy Isle, just off the coast of the Isle of Arran. Within days I had booked my flights and accommodation, and whilst staying on Holy Isle itself I saw these hobbit-like houses along the coast, which turned out to be lodgings for Buddhists, monks and nuns seeking a solitary retreat and meditation. The only difference to my dream was that what I saw was a mirrored version – my dream saw the sea on the left and houses on the right, whereas in reality it was the other way round. Nevertheless, I felt this trip was meant to be, and I felt my soul was truly healed by this place.
So I have fond memories of my two prior trips to Scotland, and I am very excited this time to be exploring much more of the country, for much longer.
I have spent the last few months doing my usual forms of travel preparation. I have been reading about Scottish history, listening to Scottish music, and learning a smattering of Scots Gaelic (and noticing some incredible things in common with English, such as the use of “a-” when using the continuous verb form in both languages, as in English when we sing “a-wassailing we will go”). I have also been catching up with some Scottish films, including the Disney-Pixar film “Brave”, two films of ventures north of Hadrian’s Wall in “King Arthur” and “The Eagle”, and the controversial “Braveheart”. Firstly, I love a Disney film giving a stylised impression of a country, and “Brave” very much hit the spot for me there. Secondly, the two films of venturing north of Hadrian’s Wall seemed to link my travels last summer in Northumbria, and along the very wall itself, with my travels this summer, venturing beyond the wall, into the deep, dark and distant depths of the Scottish forests, mountains and glens. To me, there is something very beguiling of the building of Hadrian’s Wall, marking the Roman boundary between civilisation and wilderness, and I’m excited to travel beyond it and get a feel for such a wild and tempestuous place as Scotland. Finally, when I first watched “Braveheart”, I couldn’t help but notice its anti-English sentiments, for which it has often been criticised. This second time watching it, I was able to see beyond the story of the Scots versus the English, and see more the story of freedom against tyranny, something which is very poignant to my mind in the world today. Indeed, perhaps the Scottish folk in the film were able to join with the English people of the Middle Ages, such as in Robin Hood’s day, in standing up for truth and justice, against corruption, oppression and exploitation of the poor. In the film “King Arthur”, I also saw a unity of the peoples of this island of Great Britain, united through their differing languages and origins by their devotion to this beautiful island against external forces and threats. I do hope that when I visit Scotland, I can experience beyond the anti-English stereotypes which often seem to pervade from there, and see a British unity, at one in our experiences of this beautiful island we both call home.
So it is with excitement and enthusiasm that I begin my journey tomorrow, exploring a country which appears both knowable and exotic. I hope to learn more about the country of Scotland and its people, and once again pick up the unbound freedom that I experience while on the open road, particularly after so long of having been tied up, bound and restricted. I like my base and routine, but I also need my travels and explorations to completely feel myself and whole again.
As with previous longer journeys, I plan to write up about my travels in blog entries as I go - I am taking my trusty travel-laptop with me.
So I look forward very much to being able to write about my travels and adventures on the road this summer, and to opening myself up once more to the freedom and excitement of exploring the amazing world that is out there.
All the best, and until my next entry, most likely from Edinburgh in a few days’ time.
Bye for now 😊
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