Day 37: Stonehaven to Ballater

‘I think things are changing, where it won’t be normal for people to lock themselves in their little homes, with their TVs, all alone. People need each other.’ – Joe, Banchory.

For the first time in my life, this morning, I watched the dawn break out and filter through the trees. Its gentle golden light streaked across the fern leaves surrounding me, and permeated the tent with a rich and uncanny glow.

It’s also the first time I can remember going to sleep without setting an alarm. Since the age of 11 I’ve adhered to the harsh disciplinary regime of the all-too-early wake-up tocsin. Before that my mum would wake me up for school. The terror of 07:00 on the alarm, the anxiety of worrying you won’t drop off, and over-thinking the moment where consciousness becomes sleep. Or the misery of waking from a great dream half an hour before you must get up, sorely interrupted. How I hate the tyranny of these clocks!

At first I’m worried – will I sleep all day and get disturbed by a local farmer? No no. Instead I discover that I sleep in occasional bursts, as many of us do. It’s the dawn that wakes me at around 4am. I have another snooze and then rise as the sun gets warmer around 8, I think.

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Day 36: Dundee to Stonehaven

‘No, but where are ye heading?’ – Richard, Montrose, asks me this repeatedly and keeps forgetting the answer, over many beers in the Royal Arch pub.

Now I knew Scotland would be quite special, but these landscapes are starting to take the biscuit. Aside from the jerry-built crassness of the occasional industrial satellite town and its barrack-like social housing, the terrains and built design are unremittingly beautiful and spell-binding. There are houses and public structures built to last, not built to pass, and by some magic spell the misguided callousness of 1960s town planning has largely been avoided.

Even Dundee, a town that people on the road have struggled to report much good about, comes along with many a pleasant surprise. The previous evening I swept over the wide River Tay, immortalised in the bloody awful poetry of William McGonagall. I’m alert to distant lights on the other side signalling a harbour and a bustling town dense with life. Time in the hostel threw me against the diverse stories of Dundee’s visitors and, after a pleasant enough sleep in a dorm full of student backpackers, I get up and wander about the town’s high street.

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