Scotland is another Country

My early holidays as a young child were camping trips taken with my parents and my two brothers to locations around the British Isles, staying at farms-there was no such facility as a camp site-and pitching tents in a corner of a field.

We travelled, all five squeezed into one of the various small vehicles my father procured-starting with a little, old black Ford. Packing was an art form in which only my father amongst us was skilled [apparently]. The tents [ex-army acquisitions] went on to a roof rack together with our ex-army kapok sleeping bags [camouflage design] which had been cut down to child size by my mother on her treadle sewing machine. Then there was a ‘Bluet’ cooking stove in a tin box plus all our enamel plates, cups and dishes. Any leftover space housed our clothing-shorts and T shirts plus one jumper-oh and pyjamas of course.

We would have to get up in the dark, small hours to undertake the journey, since motorways had not been conceived and stop in lay-bys where my father would get out and set up the Bluet to make tea. My mother struggled with the stove, pumping to get the spirit fuel going and famously throwing it over a fence when the flame shot forth terrifyingly. Much later, having reached the destination he had selected [Wales, Devon, The Peak District, The Lake District] we would stop at a likely farm and request a space for our very basic tents-an arctic ‘bell’ tent and a home-made construction from poles and sackcloth he’d cobbled together to be our ‘toilet’ tent. He would dig a neat, square hole and erect a seat made from 4 struts and a timber frame-to sit on and carefully backfill and replace the turf after use.

Once we travelled to Scotland, an intrepid adventure for the time. My memories are dominated by the mist and drizzle that masked every view, the night we slept in a milking parlour due to the inclement weather [I could feel the drainage channels through the thick kapok of my sleeping bag] and the eyrie, plaintive bagpipe melody drifting through the fog over Culloden Field, where a brutal and bloody battle was fought.

We camped in the Highlands with a view of Ben Nevis. My father fulfilled his burning desire to bathe in a mountain stream by moonlight, an event which, for some inexplicable reason we were all taken along to witness but had no appetite to share; the Scottish weather not lending itself to this kind of romance.

We know the outcome of Scotland’s attempt to sever the umbilical. Scotland seemed foreign enough to me then, without the need for independence and still does, in the same way that the USA feels foreign. There is more to unfamiliarity, to foreigness, than a different language.

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                I’m not sure of the exact meaning of ‘broadening’ the mind, but if it has something to do with stuffing facts, experience, skills and knowledge into it then it must be true that travel does this. But to learn anything by travelling I don’t feel it is necessarily a requirement to trek into the Antarctic, to climb Everest, canoe up the Amazon or swim with dolphins in Florida. While it is desirable to wander far and wide, I think it is entirely possible to broaden the mind with a simple stroll around the block, whether your neighbourhood is a suburban housing estate or the village green. All you need is to be naturally nosy and have voyeuristic tendencies.

                To wander an area on foot, wherever it is, presents a multitude of questions. Who lives here? How do they earn a living? What do they do in the evenings? How do they travel? What kind of tastes do they have? Where did they get their kitchen units? Do they garden? What do they grow? What on earth made them choose to paint the front door cerise? Why do they have net curtains? Why don’t they have net curtains?

                It is helpful to anyone wishing to pry if the subjects have neglected to pull the curtains and left all the lights on. I love this. I especially love the basements of residential London streets, where they may have converted the space into a kitchen or a living area or a playroom, a library or a dungeon.

                We have travelled more ‘on our own doorstep’ here in the UK than in any year I can remember since I was a child. This is in part due to family events, of which there seem to have been many and divers, and also due to the summer weather, the first for many years not to be beset with rain, wind and low temperatures. We have visited all four parts of The British Isles.

                The British countryside is beautiful. The trees, especially are graceful, majestic giants in full leaf and laden with their seeds or fruits.

                We are in the Yorkshire dales in the aftermath of a family gathering; staying on the periphery of a small market town, where many of the homes’ entrances open directly on to the street, their windows allowing plenty of nosing to take place. As we walk I conduct a casual survey of the inhabitants’ attitudes to tourists’ prying eyes. Many have wisely installed blinds or net curtains, but some provide ready-made interest in the form of a display; shelves of antique toys, a beautiful plant, a revolving glass mobile, a partly written love poem in an ancient type writer.

                The spell has broken and it is raining, reverting to summer as we have come to know it. In a couple of weeks school will be in and it will be time to head south in search of warm weather without the hoards. Next month, Southern Europe. Santé!