Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


A bonny day at Loch Lomond

Oh, you'll take the high roadAnd I'll take the low road, And I'll be in Scotland before you. For me and my true love, Will never meet again, On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Early Friday morning, with rain pelting my umbrella-less head and the sky in a grey-faced snit, I set out for the long-imagined banks of Loch Lomond. With cup of hot chocolate in hand, I curled in a train-seat as far back in the carriage as I could, and watched the miles slip by until I arrived at the station for Balloch, and made my way down to where a little boat waited to carry me up the Loch.

When first we sailed, the storm sank down to the surface of the water in a dance and lilt of mist. Nothing could be seen more than a few feet off and I began to despair of getting my fill of the scenery with which I long to shape my story. But half way to our landing point of Luss, a thin, pearled light began to dissolve the darkness and soon, the storm withdrew its brooding face. Slopes of startling green blinked through the fog and a high, sapphire sky sliced through the rain.

I left the cabin on the boat and perched against the rails in the prow of the boat, loving the cut of it through the rippled, inky water, the sting and spice of the cold wind, and the slow, but constant widening of the air as the storm withdrew in ponderous dignity. I began to write feverishly, for the landscape around me was just what I had come to Scotland to find. A sense of place is vital to any good novel to me. In my story, the earth itself is as much a character as the human souls rumbling about in my head, and it was to meet this land, to touch and taste and hear the great heart of this place, that I have come my long way from home.

To give you an idea of what I saw, I'll just record the jottings I scribbled in my notebook. Haphazard, unedited, but what I snatched in the moment.

"Remember," I wrote, and proceeded to list:

-deep, undulous charcoal of the water

-hills like a curious face behind the veil of mist

-the vibrancy of the green fields and the navy swathes of fir forests slashing up the hills

-the way the land advances and retreats through the mists, seems to speak, then lapse into silence, so that you feel enclosed in an echoing world of faces and voices you tilt forward to hear, but can't quite catch.

-the rain like a force of assimilation, so steady, determined, soaking, as if to make you one with the lake and sopping ground around you.

-the fresh green right next to the hoary brown patches of rock or the velvet deep of heather - like a child head and an old man's  bent next to each other.

-the sense that the land is never wholly to be known because it is so swift to change and always seems partly hidden. When the mist dips and lifts, what you see is always changed. No wonder this is a land full of folklore about slipping into different worlds!

-the lilt of the Scottish accent - such wonderful trills.

I finally arrived in the tiny village of Luss, with curved streets crowded with grey stone cottages all with riotous gardens and walls and windowboxes and beds of flowers. I found one of those red Scottish roses and remembered the old poem, "o my luv is like a red, red rose..."

After a ramble, I found a tea room where they served me "Edinburgh Royal Blend" black tea in a pot with heather and green plaid stripes. With sandwich in hand and an hour to write, I set to work. There's so much to be written when one has such scenes to fill with stories.

When the last sip was snatched, I ran for my boat, for the day was coming to a close, a ship had to be caught and a train after that. I am housed with the loveliest hostess in the world, and she had a dinner of fish and chips and veg, and yes, strawberries and cream on the table when I stumbled in after my venturesome day. May I just say that Venetia is one of the dearest people in the world, and I will treasure every minute I have in her home.

And now, I'm off for a cup of  tea, and another writing hour.

You take the high road, and I'll take the low...