Have you ever wanted to read someone else's diary? A friend's private impressions, musings, or confessions? Scotland—and Cape Wrath, particularly—made such an impact on me, I'd like to share some of the observations and impressions I recorded during my September 2010 trip.
3 September 2010
Well, I thought I knew this town. After a series of flights from Salt Lake City to Houston and from Houston to Paris, I landed here in Edinburgh around 11:30 am.
I took a bus from the airport, and I thought I was coming in from the east, but actually the bus approached from the west. The castle took me by surprise.
This is my third time to Edinburgh, and my visit supports or reinforces the old adage about third times. Of all my visits, this one, so far—you have to remember, I’ve only been here a day—has been the best. It’s all in the weather. The sun basted everything. Perfect temperatures. Short-sleeve shirt weather. And it’s supposed to remain through the weekend.
A couple of times since I booked the airfare, I wondered if I should be doing this. The doubts are gone, now. I’ve been walking Edinburgh’s streets for the past six or seven hours, and I’m more conscientious, more deliberate, and a little more outgoing. Perhaps my mind has been awakened by new things—and some old, familiar favorites. I am away from my routine, that productive and efficient numbness. If I were to stay in Edinburgh, would my mind eventually distill all the energy out of all this exciting novelty? Perhaps there’s a lesson here on being satisfied in your own surroundings and finding ways to make your life interesting and meaningful.
I returned to a few of the places I’d seen last time: the Royal Mile, the Bar Roma restaurant, TGI Friday’s, Princes Street Gardens. I walked past the Northern Lighthouse Board offices, but I didn’t stop. Lorna Hunter and her husband are on holiday until Tuesday. I will probably stop by toward the end of my journey.
While at the Royal Mile, I stood near a web cam that Ken Passarella had found, and I phoned him. So, thanks to technology, Ken and others could speak to me while they’re watching me on the web cam. It was kinda fun.
I feel like I’m supposed to be here. The days ahead are filled with more travel and more friends. So I must take advantage of them.
I’ve had very little sleep, and I’m fading fast. Need to call Jen, if only to say “I love you” and “Goodnight.”
4 September 2010
…So I’m in a pub on Grassmarket called The Last Drop. Centuries ago, in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh, they held public executions. So “The Last Drop” is only appropriate. The logo has an image of a hangman’s gallows.
Interesting, then, that a Grassmarket pub in my novel is named “The Maiden” the term of endearment for a guillotine used in Edinburgh’s public executions.
So I’m in here taking notes. Get the fine points of a Grassmarket pub into the book.
The Last Drop is a little smaller than I imagined The Maiden. The wood throughout is dark, and the rafters are covered with American dollar bills, British pound notes, Euros—virtually every country that spends money is represented here, glued to the wood, end to end like poorly milled toilet paper. These are mostly around the bar. The bar area glows with an ocher tint of hanging yellow lights. Every table has a burning candle with melted wax covering the long necks of liquor bottles, as if, by some sedimentary process that took much longer than a few nights. A variety of pictures—paintings and line drawings—depicting bygone Edinburgh hang like mute observers, fixed to the wall, watching, but withholding judgment on the music video, laughter and raucous talking. It all mixes into a din with occasional bursts of laughter, mostly from a group of women.
Beer and ale taps line the bar, gleaming chrome with steel handles. The benches have worn upholstery with a brown line across the top where, over time, shoulders and arms have taken their toll. There’s a brick arch that you pass beneath to move into another area of the pub. This place probably sits perhaps 60 people, max. More cackling from the women. You would have to raise your voice to be heard by someone sitting across the table from you. The men’s restroom is labeled GENTS…
…I spent a few hours at Edinburgh Castle. The place brims with Scottish history, along with some tremendous artifacts. After spending so much time there and looking at so much of Scotland’s military history, I’m tempted to try distilling Scotland’s national personality. Perhaps a better term for someone in my line of work is “branding.” What is the single most salient thing about Scots?
My error here is that Scots cannot be defined by their military history alone. Scots—and most other nationalities—are much more complex, much more diverse than that. So perhaps we need to go deeper to find that glowing nugget that truly defines a Scot. I won’t attempt it here. I just think the culture—with all its tradition, music, and color,—rocks, big time.
5 September 2010
…I just got off the train from Edinburgh about two hours ago, and I’m sitting in the restaurant of the Red Cliffe Hotel. I’m staying at the Ardconnel Guest House, but John & Elizabeth, who run the place, suggested I come here for dinner. After a roaring night at The Last Drop, I needed some quiet time. The Red Cliffe Hotel restaurant is Scotland on a low simmer. Very peaceful. Very relaxing.
I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Cloudless skies followed us throughout the train ride up from Edinburgh through the Highlands. For nearly four hours I saw a continuous mural of farmland, rolling hills, and wall-thick pine trees. Occasionally, patches of heather would move past my view like a wind-driven purple mist. The Highlands are like Huntsville or Morgan County, only without all the development.
6 September 2010
Unfortunately, today I gave Calum Macaulay the scare of his life.
I rented a small car this morning, and at that moment, my vacation turned from a pleasant tour of the Highlands to a journey spiked with danger: an American driving a British car on the streets of a Scottish town on a Monday morning.
I made it to Calum’s B&B, but I took a wrong turn, then got lost and had to find my way back to the correct street where Calum was waiting. It was a baptism by fire. But I hadn’t felt so alive in weeks. And I figured my way around—on the left side of the road, mind you.
I was doing fine, well into the Highlands. But about 14 miles from Durness, we were on a single-track road. A car was coming our way, and instead of pulling over to the left, as I should have, I pulled to the right, as my American instinct took over, right in line with the oncoming car.
I feel terribly about this. I think my thoughtless reaction sent Calum’s heartbeat into overdrive...I apologized profusely. When we return home, I think he will drive.
…Calum and I had dinner at the Smoo Cave Hotel. Earlier, I had phoned David Hird, the Cape Wrath minibus driver, and he met us there. A wonderful man, very obliging. During a controversy that is too circuitous to explain here, David helped Calum and me get proper lodging for the three nights we will be here.
He took us to a pub, and we met two men from the Northern Lighthouse Board who will be working at Cape Wrath tomorrow. I also met John Morrison, the same ferryman Jenifer and I saw 15 years ago. I recognized him immediately.
We are dealing with near-galeforce wind. It was so strong that they couldn’t cross the Kyle of Durness at all today. Let’s hope it settles down tomorrow. David said, “I hope you deal well with disappointment.” We’ll see. We are to be at the ferry landing at 9:30 am.