‘Most people will just look at the headlines of the Mail or the Sun, but not at the detail.’
‘Or where it comes from, and who is saying it.’
‘Ideas and opinions will get raised in conversations in pubs, not through the TV or reading. ‘How do you reach that, how do you influence it?
Smiles in exasperation. ‘I don’t know!’
– Baz, talking to me outside Tesco Extra, Dumfries.
I awake in a room at the Eglinton Hotel, given freely by Ray, its landlady, the previous night. Dalmellington has charmed me, and I’ve spent one of most pleasant evenings of this trip here, surrounded by warm and friendly company and glad to be out of the rain. Fatigue is kicked me over though. I’d stayed up late writing again, and end up sleeping well over my alarm. It’s time to check out, and I have to hurry out of the hotel. I pedal out, and manage to find a quiet cul-de-sac on the edge of the village where I catch my breath and watch the slow progress of the traffic out of the village. A man watches it too from a window, and we share for a moment in the most absurd of spectator sports.
The countryside leaving Dalmellington has been farmed with cattle, as has much of Ayrshire, and it gently slopes here and there with a pleasant though familiar aspect: green, farmed fields give way at their peaks to the beginnings of gentle mountains, marked with bursts of trees and shrubs. Further along, the road drills through a valley, small mountains sloping into the distance. It’s a relatively quiet road and there’s no threat of rain today. I pedal along gently, slowly building up a pace.
‘He said, “we’ve got to call out the assessor”, and I said, “nae yous fucking won’t, that’s my horse!”’
– Ray, Dalmellington, on calling out the fire brigade to rescue a beloved 30-year old horse, neck-deep in a quagmire.
I awake after a reasonable enough rest in a youth hostel in Port Charlotte, on the north-western edge of isle of Islay. The island’s shaped like the three legs of the Isle of Man, a triskellion that points in three different directions. Port Charlotte sits on the left foot, Port Askaig on the right, and Port Ellen on the bottom. In the centre is Bowmore. The shape of the island corresponds surprisingly like the Celtic symbol for birth, beginning and nature, three swirls that connect. Perhaps Islay truly is a wild and magical isle.
The morning sun adds some evidence to the hypothesis. The bay is gorgeous, the golden light of the rising dawn skittering against its gentle flow inland. I’m also pretty sleep deprived, which adds its own intoxicated edge to perception. Writing up my notes takes me deep into the early morning hours. Lorna, the hostel manager, asked me how I can manage the cycling, drinking, conversations, and then writing it all up in the same day. I’m unsure either.
Either way, people are becoming increasingly perceptive of who I am, and more quickly grasping the reasons why I’m travelling, or the necessity of re-exploring and re-defining the cultural and social history of these islands. Maybe I’ve dropped my guard, or maybe it’s something about the random fortunes of who I’ve met, or something special about Scotland. I can’t decide.
‘The boss man’s here, watch out!’
‘Yeah, I’d better do some work.’
– Punter to a barmaid, Brodick.
Taking a week’s break from cycling has been a really good idea.
For one, I’ve been able to piece together notes with photos and get up to date with the writing. But homesickness can build up cumulatively. For some, there’s a need to express and experience tenderness and affection. Among strangers this is occasionally possible, but returning home, seeing my family and my partner, has been a rejuvenating tonic. And returning to London? Well in a funny way I love the place too, but that will require some explaining. I’ll save that for the end of this journey. Right now, I’m heading back up to Glasgow on a ridiculously cheap coach, returning to the city where I left my inspiration, along with a sleeping bag, tent, and bicycle.
The motorways are filled with delivery lorries bringing stuff hither and thither. One has skidded and slid over, the driver’s supply of caffeine from countless energy drinks perhaps failing him at some unlucky moment. The coach gets caught in one glut of traffic after another, and a mere ten hour journey stretches to around thirteen. To complete the misery, I have a hyperactive kid behind me tapping and kicking the chair. It’s the kind of testing exercise that would send a bodhisattva on a killing spree.