‘It’s like a circus up there’ – man in tourist office, Fort William.
There’s far worse places to wake up hungover and aching than the foot of Ben Nevis. Intuition guided me to a good spot behind a large fug of ferns on a Glen Nevis back road. Rain is gently falling, horizontally as well as vertically it would seem, and a thick mist hangs over the head and dampens the ears. It’s no day for scaling peaks, but in the distance I hear groups of men in the distance visitor car-park psych themselves up with Maori-style chanting. I picture David Brent leading them on, clapping and leering.
I head into Fort Bill in anticipation of a special event. The Queen’s Baton relay will be passing through here, aye, on its long and meandering way to Glasgow, but it’s not that. My younger brother’s decided to come up here on a bit of a whim and see me for four days. He’s about to turn twenty six, and feels the need to leave the capital, even just for a few days.
‘I thought I’d gone deaf. There it was: nothing. Silence.’ – Nigel, Berneray.
Look upwards on a lonely evening’s sunset on the rugged Isle of Harris. You may see an albatross soaring aloft in the distance, its wide black and white wings outstretched. Hear, against the lapping of the tides, its hoarse cry into the distance. This albatross is seeking its lover, its lifelong mate, lost some years ago along the coastline of this rugged and bleak Outer Hebridean island. It continues its solitary search, clinging to life through the hope of finding again its other half.
Some of literature’s greatest epics are not journeys into the unknown, but journeys home, or to find a home. The Odyssey of Homer, or the Aeneid of Virgil, are each stories of men’s wanderings in search of the peace and warmth of the hearth. Berneray has given me just the sanctuary I needed. Being away from home has me cherishing it all the more.
‘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.