The mist today near the Dochgarrock lock on the Caledonian Canal…there are two larger hills/mountains completely obscured behind the one you see here.
A deep, deep sigh. It’s essentially over, for now – tonight is my last night in the Highlands. Tomorrow evening, the latest possible train to Glasgow, and a B & B in Paisley near the airport; Friday morning, an early flight to London. Sigh.
Today, I walked and walked, for nearly eight hours, dreaming grand, wild dreams. I’ve been uncannily blessed with great weather and beautiful blue skies since I’ve been here. Today it rained, but that was fine. Scotland’s skies are equally beautiful when they’re moody, at least to me. I started out on the Great Glen Way, with periodic pleasant drizzle, but after a couple of miles, nearly to the top of the first great hill (and finally out of the Inverness suburbs), I turned and went back. I could see what was headed towards me. Before I got halfway down the mist came and blanketed the hill. I don’t have boots nor a compass with me, and the mist can be incredibly thick and the path was steep and slick with mud. So, I have some sense after all. Instead of the hills, I decided to follow the wide towpath along the Caledonian Canal, to where it meets the River Ness, and view the mist from below; if it came down to where I was, I’d be on a wide, easy-to-follow path. It never did, but it moved through the hills all day, revealing mountains and making them disappear. For a long while, it stopped raining. I passed the Dochgarrock lock just as the Jacobite Queen, a Loch Ness tour boat, was lowered down to river level. I got to watch that. Then I went as far as the path would allow, not quite to the place where the river meets the canal. As I turned to loop back to the towpath, this fellow was waiting for me.
I considered picking him up and kissing him; he might have turned into a prince who’d make it possible for me to stay here forever, but I don’t think that’s a Scottish story. Besides, he looked a bit dour, and gathered himself to jump when I reached for him, so I kissed my finger and put it on his head, and he simply hopped away; and so, I’ll be on that flight.
On the way back, it poured down thick, sheeting rain for two long periods. I had about four miles to go when it started, so I just kept on. My jacket and hood kept my upper body dry, but my heavy jeans and shoes got soaked, and then after the rain, the wind kicked in. My legs got chilled, and my ankles, then knees and finally even my hip joints started to seize up. Aging bodies are no fun. I was limping along by the time I reached the B & B. During a long, long, long hot shower (wishing for a bathtub) the sun came back out, and I went and treated myself to a good Indian dinner and watched it slowly set behind some thunderclouds out on the firth.
This has been an exceedingly important visit for me. I did everything I proposed to do; I have my photographs and sketches and research notes, but I have so very much more than that. I had no idea when I wrote the grant that my life would be at a profound crossroads; I just knew I needed to return to Scotland.
I haven’t written about Eilean Leodhais, Lewis, yet. Or rather I have, for myself. But I don’t want to publish it. What happened to me there reached right into my core and that’s for me alone. I’ll write about it and show you photographs soon.
But a large part of my love for Lewis was due to the fact that I made two friends there, or rather, I was befriended in the kindest and warmest of ways, and I need to thank them, from the bottom of my heart. Barbara, who ran the B & B, made me feel as if I were visiting an old friend, not renting a room. Her family has been on the island for generations. She told me tales of my family names, told me, “you will find relatives here”.
And there is Angus, a Gaelic poet (who are still rightly called bards here). We met on the boat over and he just sort of took me on; he spent a day driving me all around Lewis and down into Harris a bit as well; he showed me where he was born, the house he’s just built on his father’s croft land, lochs and stony mountains and vast blinding white beaches where the sea is a heartbreakingly beautiful clear Carribean blue; we went to my touristy desires, to Callanais and the reconstructed black house village (even though they were almost the same as the house where he was born). He told me countless and varied tales of the island, answered every question; we talked nonstop, all day. We saw another pair of houses that are turf-roofed, just like the place where he was born had been; these had just won an all-Europe competition for the best new green design, and we ended up at the end of the world, at steep fierce huge rocks near the butt of Lewis, that break the waves of the Atlantic, arriving at full speed from Canada, the U.S. He drove me to the pier on the day I left, and waited and waved to me as the ferry pulled out of the harbor. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone kinder. For the company of these two fine people and many other reasons, I did not want to leave. At all. And so it was so very good to have Angus there to generously wave me on my way; when someone troubles to see you off, it means you are welcome back.
What Orkney started, Lewis finished. Somehow, I’ve been healed. Even coming back to Inverness, finding free wireless in my room, and reading about the latest firing at Columbia is put into its very petty perspective.
I have one of my goals now, and that is to come back, as soon as I can, to spend as long as I can on Orkney and on Lewis, grant or no grant. So: really it’s not beannachd liebh; it is chi mi dh’aithghearr sibh.