Days 72-73: Isle of Man

‘You go home, put on the TV, put your feet up, make some dinner, go to bed, wake up, and then you die!’ – Jeff, Douglas.

I awake on Sonya’s sofa in the west end of Morecambe. The morning sun bursts between and beneath the sitting room curtains, distributing a calm and cheery aura about the place. With Sonya’s early-teenage son Zack, a sharp-witted and funny companion in our conversations, we head out into Morecambe for a spot of breakfast. As we pass along the sea-front, Sonya points to where fairs, swimming pools and other proud mainstays of the Morecambe resort once stood. Unlike Scarborough, there’s no conspicuous absence of these glories. The strange thing about Morecambe is that after spending time here, it seems unlikely that there ever was an overextended and wildly ambitious resort here, for good, or for ill.

Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness, I think I’m gonna cry…

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Day 46: Thurso to Durness

‘Stay with life’ – Father Michael, Tongue.

Thibault and I awake in our separate quarters of this mostly-refurbished flat in Thurso. It’s an unloved town on Scotland’s northern coastline, and the end of the line of the railway route that runs from Inverness to the very end of the land. I stayed up late the previous night talking to my partner on Skype and then writing. The alarm wakes me up several hours too early, but it’s no good: time to get up.

We breakfast on bananas and shreaded wheat. Our warm host, John, pops back in from the other nearby flat he’s doing up, and conversation kicks us all awake. The morning’s subject is midges, a terrible scourge of the north western part of Scotland. Thibault tells us about one man he heard about who became so crazed from midge bites that he began to scratch away at his face and arms, inflicting terrible wounds, until he had to be sedated in hospital. I’m frightened for the days ahead, and John offers to give me a lift to a nearby fishing shop where there should be some kind of better protection beyond a trucker hat, flapping hands frenetically, and DEET cream.

Thibault boards a bus back to Inverness, off to continue his walking across as yet-unknown parts of the Scots hinterland. John and I drive through Thurso’s small town centre. There’s a prominent church and a small area around a few streets with some grubby shops, but much of Thurso is of an ugly dark-yellow/brown brick or of pebble-dash. Low-levelled narrow streets continue on an improbably long scale with ugly houses and shops. The town’s dirty appearance gives the impression of wearing beer and sand spattered sunglasses.

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Day 44: Shetland

‘Aye, there’s people in the country. But I’ve never been there’. – George, Lerwick.

I’ve gone off the map…

There’s been a gradual imperceptible transition from what felt like normality – retail parks, major supermarkets, traffic lights, dual carriageways, petrol stations, Greggs’ the bakers, mass unemployment and a depressing concentration of abysmal overpriced housing – into a smoother stream of forests, fields of heather, and great gliding spaces of well … nothing I’ve ever been prepared for.

The name of this beautiful wildflower scattered across these fields where red deer cross, untroubled by cars? The origins of these great rising bens, touching the skies like the vertebrae of fallen giants? Or the geological explanation for these eye-boggling gorges and glens that tear through the terrain like a hyperactive seismograph?

To a person familiar only with the largest of cities, all this is disturbing me, seizing me up, shaking my imagination, a violent ventriloquism. At times it’s too bleak to be pleasant, but the mind is twisted and transformed by it. Beauty becomes a kind of normality.

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