On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Scotland: A Bonny Trip

St. Andrews, Scotland
    If on our trip to England the people seemed like old friends, the Scots were a decidedly different breed.  But I liked the Scots with their unusual accent and interesting apparel, whose no-nonsense demeanor reminded me of my Norwegian grandparents.  Less forthcoming than the English, some almost gruff, they no doubt have a long history of being on the defensive, so from our first encounter, we noticed they kept themselves to themselves for the short time we visited there.  I expect it might have taken a while for them to warm up–maybe literally.  It was June, and as we stepped off the train in Anstruther (the closest RR station to St. Andrews), we were assailed by a sharp wind off the North Sea with the temperature 40 degrees Farenheit, spitting rain–and it never really improved.  The Scots acted a little embarrassed about this, for almost everyone we met during those days of harsh weather said, “Last week it was 70 degrees!”
    We had a very pleasant stay with hospitable people at our B and B on a charming crescent, our only real criticism being the pathetically thin mattresses that couldn’t mask the hard springs beneath.  I was used to reading before going to sleep, but the light nearest the bed was high overhead on the wall and too glaring, so when I requested a table lamp, the landlord complied without a comment but with good-natured alacrity.  We got a kick out of seeing him assist his wife at Sunday breakfast wearing his kilt, which he said was his customary garb when he attended church.
    The various staff in the restaurants and stores were helpful, so a little stiffness from the natives was easily forgiven.  We spent one whole day on the road, traveling from St. Andrews through the highlands to Elgin and Inverness.  We stopped along the way at sites of interest such as the Bowes-Lyon House, the late Queen Mother’s ancestral home; and Glamis Castle, mentioned in Macbeth.  As our guide there was showing us a medieval iron mouth guard for a nagging wife, he burst into laughter along with everyone in our group when my husband asked if there were “any for sale in the gift shop.”  (I forgave him, knowing he can’t resist a good joke.)
    On the homeward trek, traveling beside Loch Ness, we marveled at the view and scrutinized the lake for a suspicious outline–to no avail.  Eventually we arrived at Glencoe, the site of the famous massacre by the then treacherous Campbells.  It was uncanny how affecting this place was.  It seemed to be haunted and maybe was if unquiet spirits can be said to remain as ghosts.  At any rate, we were impressed.  We didn’t arrive home until 11:30 PM, driving in what seemed to be twilight, a strange experience, accustomed as we were to the dark nights of a Tennessee summer.
    We couldn’t leave the area without taking in Edinburgh, so Sunday afternoon we set off for the capital, having lunch along the way at a large farmhouse-like restaurant smack dab on the coast.  It was not only picturesque, but also crowded with well-dressed locals, we surmised.  Seated at a small table on the flagstone floor, I had a delicious bowl of mussels in milk.  It wasn’t until later that I discovered mussels and I did not agree, but the view and ambiance had been terrific.  After so much climbing of castle steps on the trip north, and especially my braving the one-hundred-plus steps at St. Rules Tower attached to the ancient ruin of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, we opted for a driving tour of Edinburgh, a quaint and pretty city.
    Altogether, this trip and my other foreign adventures were well worth the trouble and expense, and though I enjoyed them all, I have no desire venture forth again.  Maybe it’s my age, or maybe I agree with Malcolm Muggeridge, who also gave up traveling, saying he’d decided that “travel narrows the mind;” perhaps he meant it squelched imagination or encouraged restlessness.  I've found his mysterious and profound words speak to me, so except for visits to relatives, I hope to find my amusements and edification closer to home from now on.

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