Day 35: Alva to Dundee

‘And then one day I realised, I was running just to keep up, and that I’d be doing this for the rest of my life. I decided, I had to make the opportunity to get out.’ – Nick, Dundee.

There is no feeling like the freedom of facing an open road.

Imagine waking up with only a vague idea of where you’ll sleep the following evening. Your heart is tugging you onwards, but you have only the loosest of plans about you’re heading.

You’ve set out with a couple of clues: this town or that town are said to be pleasant, and are fifty or sixty miles away. They could be reached in a day, weather permitting. Yet you have no map, nor any real need to get here, or there, or anywhere. You could travel in any direction, and lay your head wherever is quiet and comfortable. To get to these places you must talk to and ask strangers. Indeed, the characters of pubs, street corners and market places have become your only guides for travel tips, local information and insights into everyday life. It is the strangest kind of life I have ever had. I think that, despite the misfortunes and all the bloody steep hills, I’ll come to miss it.

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Day 34: Edinburgh to Alva

‘Freedom isn’t free’ – Jamie, Stirling.

After a good night’s sleep in Edinburgh, I get up and potter about the high piles of intriguing books in Chris’s flat. In one, I find the words of George Borrow, that

‘There are no countries in the world less known by the British than these selfsame British Isles.’

Before I left, me and my partner spent a few hours trying to learn the counties of Wales and Scotland. Almost all of them I had never heard of. Can you locate Ceridigion, Angus, Clackmannanshire or Rhondda Cynon Taf? Whilst much of the towns and landscapes of England have been familiar to a degree, as I look out on the map of Scotland, I feel nervous and excited. Education and popular culture has woefully underprepared me.

I read in another excellent book, The Isles by Norman Davies, that confusion still remains over what we even call ‘British’ or the ‘UK’. In actuality, Britain is not an ‘island nation’, but made up of many. Unless it depends what we mean: is Britain a shorthand for the political state of the UK, or the geography of Great Britain (as I most often use it), or the ancient Britons, or some historical aspect of the British Empire? Most often, it’s not spelt out. Speaking of the British people as a historical entity is also confusing, particularly when the union has only been around for about 300 years. Popular history often takes the Tudors to be British, when in fact they were monarchs of England but not Scotland. Based on the lessons of the national curriculum, few if any of us could name or explain the life of a Scottish monarch.

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