This year saw two phenomenal vacation trips for Robert and I. You’ve already heard a little about our trip to Hawaii, via my recommendations post. The second trip was the much-anticipated trip to the land of heather, Scotch, bagpipes, tartan and thistles.
Robert’s family has been holding fairly regular family reunions, these past few years. The first was, technically, for Robert’s sister’s wedding. The Macgregors all gathered in Maine for several days, and I joined in with that year’s exchange student following a hectic journey north that, no joke, included a plane, train and an automobile.
Since that trip, I’ve also accompanied Robert to the reunion in Colorado (two weeks after Dad passed, which meant I was likely not the best travel companion), and a trip to Prince Edward Island (which saw its own, “interesting” transportation issues…which we won’t get into here).
During the PEI trip, Robert’s uncle Don had broached the possibility of everyone gathering in Scotland in two years. His youngest son, Duncan (can you get a more Scottish name than Duncan Macgregor?) and his family lived in Inverness, and Don thought it would be nice for everyone to cross the pond for a two week excursion.
Since Robert and I had already taken a week for Hawaii with Mom, we planned to join the rest of the team for the first week, in the Inverness area. The size of the contingent coming from the States and Canada necessitated renting a house for a week in the Highlands. We ended up staying a little north of Inverness, in the town of Alness.
The week leading up to our departure, I felt a little ill-at-ease, and I couldn’t figure out why. I don’t love to fly – I feel a bit nervous until we land – but I am not afraid in the way some folks are. It’s more a matter of not being able to just pull over if something goes wrong. I fly a great deal for work, though, and the unease in the pit of my stomach didn’t feel the same. Two days before we left, as I was getting ready for work, it clicked.
I have done a fair amount of travel in my life…most of it around the Lower 48, but that’s a pretty significant amount of land, when you stop and think about it. I’ve been to Alaska several times (always in the winter), I’ve been to Hawaii twice (always in May), and I’ve been to Canada more times than I can realistically count. My family’s reserve is in Canada. There are some differences between the two countries, but not enough to make me uneasy. And, even when traveling to Alaska and Hawaii…I’ve always been inhabiting an indigenous space. Native Hawaiian culture is entirely different from my Eastern Woodland tribes’ experience, but still…they are indigenous places. Regardless of where I have been, up until now, I have always felt at home.
And, for the first time in my life, I was leaving “home.” Even though Mom’s family emigrated from Wales way-back-when, and Dad loved bagpipes and Scottish festivals, I did not grow up reading about Scottish history. I didn’t have a deep connection to the country’s long history.
Once I realized why I felt so off-kilter…well, I won’t say everything got better, but understanding the root of my anxiety definitely helped me accept the uncertainty of travel.
The day we landed, Robert and I picked up our rental car (we got a free upgrade, as thanks for our patience) and headed north-ish, from Glasgow to Inverness. We stopped a couple times along the way: at a roadside inn near Ardlui for some lunch; at the cemetery in Balquhidder, to pay respects to Robert’s Macgregor ancestors; in Fortingall, to see the oldest tree in Briton (because I’m a nerd). The sun hung low in the sky as we turned our car away from Fortingall and headed down the extremely narrow country road that would, eventually, empty us out onto the highway. Of course, we had at least an hour of driving on that winding road, often time the only car in sight.
The nature of the road we were on necessitates taking it slow – so as not to turn a corner and surprise an oncoming car/sheep/bicyclist/hiker – and we were happy to oblige. The only word I can think to describe that section of the drive is magical.
As the last little morsel of sun began to creep behind the crags that pass for mountains, we found ourselves on a bit of road above the surrounding scenery. Robert wanted to get a picture of the beauty around us, so we pulled as far off the lane as we could and stepped out of our little car into the coldest summer wind I’ve ever encountered. (It gets pretty blustery in the Highlands on a good day, and we were definitely heading into the evening).
As Robert set up his tripod, to capture the fading light, I stood and looked out on a scene that has joined a very special list of “Most Beautiful Things I Have Ever Seen”.
The moor spread out around us, rolling gently only to dip dramatically in random patterns, as fresh springs cut through the terrain. Wide swaths of heather were broken up by gorse (most of it not blooming) and moor grass. There was a patch of Scotch thistles in front of me, waving in the same wind that tossed my hair and dress about. As shadows deepened on the moor, I caught sight of a herd of red deer. A stag turned his head to watch me before bounding across a stream to another patch of moor grass. The tune Wild Mountain Thyme drifted through my head, and I found myself humming it as I watched the deer and the clouds. I thought of my father, and his penchant for playing the same bagpipe tape on repeat for hours at a time, and I cried as Robert hugged me, on that beautiful hill in the middle of nowhere.
It was one of those perfect moments – the kind where it feels like the world around you has pulled out all the stops to make sure you sit up and take notice, as if to say “This world is beautiful. This life is wondrous. Remember it.”
And so, I leave you with a selection of our trip, in the hopes that you might find time to sit and enjoy, and remember that the world can be beautiful.