Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.
I just returned from my 18-day journey in the United Kingdom. One weekend in London, one week traveling Scotland, and one week traveling Northern Ireland. My heart is still there and truth be told, it might always be. I kind of thought it was a myth that travel changes you, but it really does. Yesterday one of my coworkers said to me, “You look different. Did you meet someone on your trip?”
Yes, yes I did.
I met myself.
I had intended to keep a daily record of everything we did and everything we saw but since we were on the go a lot of the time, writing everything down became an impossible feat. Instead, I did keep a little journal of thoughts and impressions and favourite memories that I’d love to share with you. Rather than an orderly, cohesive narrative, I’ve opted for pictures and abstract verses which, I believe, better reflect our meandering journey.
London was a riot. Just kidding. We were well into our Scottish leg of the journey when all of that craziness happened in London and didn’t even know it had occurred until we were at the Glasgow Airport. To be honest, London was probably my least favourite part of our trip. Not that it wasn’t exciting to tour Buckingham Palace and see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Fleet Street and the Strand (where Virginia Woolf went to buy a pencil) and see places you’ve read about in countless English novels … but it was overwhelming.
If I was to go back to London, I wouldn’t go back in the summer. The crowds, the people, the noise … let’s just say that after 3 days in London, we were all totally ready for the serene Scottish countryside.
And then there’s Scotland. The country that has stolen my heart. We started it off in Edinburgh, my favourite city.
Edinburgh, magical Edinburgh, where I came alive, where I played. Where I climbed endless steps and peaked in countless alleyways and wandered and fled the rain. Where a group of us Canadian vagabonds met at a jazz bar and experienced live music so good it hurt (jazz/funk covers of Radiohead, Massive Attack, Snoop Dogg, The Clash, etc.). Where I tried haggis (I didn’t like it) and Scotch (I didn’t like that either!) and spent two days exploring the magic that is Old Edinburgh.
I woke up one morning on the top bunk in our hostel facing an open window with a view to kill of Edinburgh Castle. The sound of pouring rain and the memories of a musical, magical night. The distant wail of bagpipes and thrum of drums. It was cool and I snuggled deeper into my sheet pocket. God is in the rain. It was my favourite morning.
The Stone of Destiny–taking back that which is rightfully yours.
In Scotland I was wild, in Scotland I was sexy, in Scotland I was free. I loved London but I’m not a city girl and I’m okay with that. In Scotland something was broken free in me and loosened and unfurled somewhere along a winding stretch of country road.
We drove (correction: Lynda and Rachael drove and I sat in the back seat because I was the baby and too afraid to test my driving on the other side of the road) from Edinburgh to Inverness through undulating paths. The beauty of Scotland’s countryside stretched and spilled open in front of us and all I could say was wow, over and over.
Rolling through the countryside, we were serenaded by Peter Katz and the Curious, Phoenix, The Killers, and Scotland’s own Amy Macdonald. This is the life. There’s a reason why so much beautiful literature comes from this land. Inspiration flows like water and as we drove down Highland country roads I was filled to overflowing.
A moment at Urquhart Castle (from which we had to be escorted out because it was closing): I need to be here.
Lines of poetry rolled, hill after hill, wave after wave, onto each other.
I wrote in my journal: Scotland’s cast its spell. It wraps itself around my heart, a tree’s root hugging a rock–nature nurturing and returning to itself.
Scotland feels like home.
I felt cold sea air kiss my tired, travel-weary face. I danced with Highland Scottish farmers until the wee hours of the morning and belted out Radiohead lyrics with other Canadians whilst the best live band ever showed us how Edinburgh gets it done. I dreamed vividly and let inspiration cascade over me like a wave. I felt peace break the tight frightened coil that shelled me and I spilled open somewhere in the sea.
We took a ferry from Inverness to Stromness, on the Orkney Islands in very far north of Scotland. I spent the entire hour and a half-long ferry ride out on deck and this is where I began to come alive.
The wind whipped around me and I thought, “I would’ve made a good pirate queen.” There’s no other place I feel quite so alive and split open and caressed and washed clean than on water. I could’ve laughed and cried at the same time because of all the things God was speaking to me and breaking off during a simple hour ferry ride. What cannot be expressed in language can best be expressed in how I felt–alive.
I like to think they come for what Orkney can truly give them: the dearest freshness deep down things — sign on the ferry to the Orkneys
I think we all loved Stromness the best–the slow place of life, the water, the stillness, the safety, the magic. Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stemness, Old Man of Hoy. A place of good energy, Lynda said.
One of my favourite moments was walking in Stromness at twilight, tea in hand. Friendly neighbourhood cats came out to be stroked and followed me for bits of my walk. I walked through groups of men speaking Gaelic; when you pass they nod politely and say “Ello, love!”
On the walk, I experienced more profound moments of peace. Moments where it all comes together, where everything aligns itself and rights itself … the things that normally distract and worry you disappear with every step.
Later, Rachael and I stargazed on a wet hill (which is where I probably caught a cold). As we stretched out and took in the wide expanse of sky, she sighed, “This is the life.”
From Stromness we took the ferry back to Inverness where we spent another night. Then we drove back down through the Cairngorms National Park to Glasgow and caught a plane to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
At first I was reluctant to love Ireland as much as Scotland, but I also had a nasty cold which overtook my sinuses at this point so I was cold, damp, sneezy, and grumpy. We spent a few days at Lynda’s aunt’s cottage in Ballycastle and slipped into timelessness …
I got rid of my cold here by going to bed at 9 p.m., taking lots of Lemsip, reading trashy British magazines, and multiple healthy doses of the magic that is the Irish countryside.
Oh, the lyrical rolling hills of Ireland. I knew you’d affect me, I just didn’t know how much and to what extent.
Two days in Belfast with a wicked cold, herring, cod, and mackerel, and Irish hospitality and then riding up the coast from Larne to Ballycastle (and many other Ballys in between!)
We went on a Black Taxi Tour of West Belfast. Murals, tensions, walls still dividing the Protestants and Catholics. A weird sick feeling on the Protestant side and the violent, anti-Catholic murals. Small boys playing with toy guns. Beef and Guinness pie at the Crown–the oldest bar in Belfast, followed by a pint of Guinness with a shamrock in the head. Intense talks about the Troubles at breakfast with the Belfast-born, Protestant-raised hostel owner.
In Scotland I fell in love with the wild and sexy country; in Ireland I fell in love with the people. There are no words to describe how lovely, welcoming, friendly, and sweet the Irish people are. We were invited to Lynda’s cousin’s wedding and her family made me feel so welcome and part of the family straight away. I fell in love with one of the cousin’s three little girls (aged 12, 11, and eight) and bawled my eyes out when I had to say goodbye to them. I witnessed and took part of a beautiful Irish Catholic wedding ceremony and danced the night away with the wee girlies.
As happy as I was to come home, I do believe I left parts of my heart scattered across the Scottish and Irish countryside and in the sea, and in Belfast where I felt truly loved and (dare I say it) validated.
I don’t know if the emotions I’m feeling right now are post-vacation blues, jet-lag, or if I really belong in the United Kingdom. I’ve been waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning ready to start the day and not knowing where I am. When I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes I panic and wonder where Lynda and Rachael are and why I’m sleeping alone.
In the meantime, I’m holding fast to everything I learned: peace in the Orkneys, self-love in Scotland, and community in Ireland.
I will be back …