It’s ridiculous, really, that I hadn’t been to Scotland. I love travelling. I love the excitement of exploring new places, of filling my senses with new sights and scents and experiencing new cultures. I’ve been to some fascinating places: India, Israel, China, Africa, Mexico. And there are lots of places I want to go to, places I’ve never visited: Peru, Thailand, New Zealand. But somehow, in all the fun I’ve had travelling, I forgot about Scotland.
Some places you visit fill you with a sense of belonging there, even if you’ve never been before: there’s some kind of connection you can’t explain. I remember visiting Africa and the scent of the sun warming the land as I stepped from the plane was incredibly familiar. When I visit Dublin or the west coast of Ireland or Liverpool, there’s always a welcoming feeling, like I’ve come home. When I go to Europe, I’m always conscious that I’m European. But for some reason I can’t explain, I never really thought about Scotland that way, although it’s really only just up the road.
I suppose first of all that I never thought of going there because I have no real connection to Scotland. There are no Scots in my family history that I know of; I have few Scottish friends and, if I’m honest, it’s the warm weather that often attracts me to a place and I know Scotland has a reputation for being cold.
But last week, all that changed forever.
I flew to Inverness. It took an hour: the same amount of time that it took me to travel to the airport. So, of course, the Highlands are on my doorstep. Why did it take so long for me to realise that?
The people were welcoming and friendly. I hired a car and took off towards Loch Ness. That was when it all fell into place. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. As I drove towards the place I was staying, mist was rolling on the loch and the surface of the water was calm, a sheet of glass. I slept in a bed that was so big I needed a ferry to cross it. The view from my window was of fog shifting around pine trees in a palette of so many colours that I couldn’t find words to describe most of them. Then there was the water merging with the sky, the mist and the mountains.
I drove to the Isle of Skye the next day and just kept catching my breath as I rounded each corner. Snow-capped mountains, stretches of water, trees and hills and a landscape any artist would be challenged to paint and represent the sheer beauty. Skye even has a beach and a walk to the top of hills so high you can see the Hebrides.
The next day, as I took off to the west coast I was greeted by a wild boar trotting cheerfully down the road on my side. Of course, I slowed down to let him continue. The sun shone and the frost glittered on the grass and in the hedgerows. Again, the views were stunning.
I decided I had to write a novel set in Scotland and, because the air is so pure and the ambiance so calm, ideas were flowing faster than the whisky in the lodge where I was staying.
So I went out for a night ramble to take in the local stories and places. Castles, circles of stones, waterfalls, everything still and spectacular under a star-crammed sky and a low-hanging moon: ideas came thick and fast. And then I drove into a glen filled with deer, their eyes shining diamonds in the headlights, their antlers raised and their faces calm in contemplation. The serenity was overwhelming.
When I flew back from Inverness, I was changed somehow. My head was full of thoughts like ‘ When can I go back?’ and ‘Why don’t I live in Scotland?’ and ‘I want to go again with family and friends so that they can share the experience too.’
I can only imagine how fresh Scotland will look in the spring, or how exhilaratingly cold the Highlands are in the depths of winter under snow. The autumn is a stunning time to visit Scotland and, like most addictions, I suppose, it starts with an overwhelming first experience quickly followed by the desire for more. And I could easily become addicted to Scotland.
I am currently thinking about an imaginary trip somewhere, soon, but my destination is now fraught with confusion. I might go to Majorca or Scotland, or Portugal, or Scotland. I am possibly going to France in the summer but I may go to Scotland before then, or afterwards, or both. I plan to go to South America some time but I will definitely go to Scotland before then, at least once. You see the problem?
It’s a place I can’t imagine ever having too much of. I have no idea why I left it so long to visit. But I loved it, everything about it, and it won’t be long before I go back to visit the Highlands again. I think I left a little bit of my heart there…