My mother gave all her sons Scottish names, and, while there is the remotest chance some part of the family passed through Glasgow in the late 19th century, there is no known Scottish blood in us. Simply, my mother was a Romantic, as am I . I grew up reading Scott’s Ivanhoe, and Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, as trapped by childhood as Stevenson was by illness, but also as enthralled. A trip to Scotland was almost a deferred childhood rite of passage, and I was not once disappointed.
Scottish lore is an amalgamation of legends tied to places, so riding the highland crests, walking the shores of this Loch or that, standing quietly on the field of Culloden all had a resonance to the stories I’d read and the heroes I’d imagined. The biggest surprise, however, in the compressed time of modern travel, was to leave the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, stand on snow capped mountains, bear the winds at Cuith Raing, see northern ice across the water and then descend by switchback to island ports bathed in mist or sun. Even an inundating rain and a difficult inn-keeper in Oban didn’t distill the adventure, and the sun came out after we’d ferried to Mull, heard tales of lost sheep at the smaller terminal to Iona and stepped ashore, perhaps as St Patrick did, albeit ours was probably a better boat.
And last, to the child still in me, there were the castles and cathedrals that stood in various patinas of age and sometimes ruin. To me they stood, if not as in the days of Ivanhoe or Macbeth, than at least as in my childhood imagination. And I walked in them, adventure swirling. Or maybe swinging Errol Flynn style.
I need to go back one day to venture north to John O’ Groats and the Orkneys, places I did not see, and, perhaps to St Andrews. I didn’t play a single round of golf last trip, although, thanks to the generous purveyors of Scotch whisky tastings, I think I have the 19th hole covered.