Monday, September 10, 2007
Thoughts from the cold, windy tent
We’ve been riding up the West Coast of Scotland and it is as stupendous as described by contemporary biking friends. We’ve seen rugged mountains, heather everywhere, highland cows –pronounced “haelen coooos”, herds of wild deer, tourist buses from Skye south, eerie landscapes and castles, tourist information boards which explain the different ghosts you might see, and which of those are friendly or not.
Water, Water everywhere. From light blue ocean lit by the glint of a sun ray sneaking through the clouds, just visible between rocky peaks coming down out of the misty hillsides. It is visible like an unobtainable oasis. It doesn’t even warrant thinking about finding that sunlight as experience in the highlands teaches that the sun is occasional and wonderful and to be enjoyed when touched upon you, but never worth searching for. (short of a trip to Spain, of course). The weather has not been bad, but not good either. We end up wearing our rain suits eventually everyday, then leaving them on until we come to our tenting place. Another source of the water, is the numerous Lochs that offer up stunning scenery of tranquil surface reflecting sheer walls of rock with heather and ferns clinging to their sides. The fresh water Lochs are fed by the numerous rushing streams, crisscrossing the countryside, winding back and forth in their bogs, they in turn being fed from springs emanating from the ground or cascading from edifices high up the hills.
The clouds are quite unlike the clouds over Ireland which are dull and flat and gray bottomed, seemingly bored with their usual everyday activity, like a factory worker on a shift. “hi, George”, “hi, Ralph” the clouds seem to say to each other, clocking in for another faceless day of hanging over the Emerald Isle, spraying down whatever insides they have picked up in the evening from the Atlantic and getting ready to do it again the next day. But nor Scottish Clouds! The clouds are magnificent and alive, whirling, twisting, closing, touching, forming and reforming. You look up and form a notion as to their type as you ride along, then are sidetracked by an ocean view, a ruined church,
or some natural beauty; when your eyes return to the sky they have reformed leaving one to doubt ones own memory as to how recently the heavens were checked. They cling to the mountains like tendrils, rush through passes with an icy sting that feels like a ghoul going right through you, they rise and fall, caught in the same currents that push your motorcycle around the one lane roads. At one point today the entire sky became light and wispy on a blue background and seemed to me to be reflecting the waves of the ocean below it over a canvas thousands of miles square.
We inquire about local hostels or wooden huts in the campsites, but everything has been booked. Although not overrun with tourists, the facilities are full with the ones that are here, many, many of whom are motorcyclists who know a good thing when they roll their throttle through it. Tonight we stay in Scourie, at a campsite overlooking the bay that is run by elderly but friendly Angus McKenzie. When I introduce myself as McCrea he immediately knows the history of my clan, that we are known as “the suit of mail” to the Mckenzie’s, long have we been their protectors. His mothers family are McCrea’s, and he recounts how many of them left the local area in the early 1800’s displaced by the English. He laughs as we finish up and says we are probably related in not too distant past.
The town of about 500 has a wedding on in the town center. There is an announcement in the once a week town paper which is a double sided 8.5 x 11 which apologizes that they couldn’t send out invitations but everyone is invited, just bring a bottle and enjoy. We walk by to observe, and a lovely waltz is being played by fiddle, guitar and flute. Kids run around outside in the dark as the informal but beautiful reception continues inside, and more and more locals walk up the gradual hill to join in. There is such a beauty and elegance in a small town simple get together. Real warmth and sharing, that we often miss in the formalities and banalities of the big city.
At lunch the day before at an ubiquitous white tavern/hotel on the side of beautiful bay I talked to the proprietress about the malt whiskeys. She said the locals only drink the blended whiskeys, the foreigners and tourists partake of the dozens of single malts hanging about the bar that Scotland is famous for. I tell her I’m glad I’m not a big drinker, and particularly not fond of whiskeys. She laughs in a knowing way.