Thursday, June 09, 2005

Our trip to Scotland

This is my entry for this month's Blogging for Books, from Jay Allen's The Zero Boss:

In September 1992, we left for a three-week trip to Scotland. Unfortunately, so did Hurricane Charley, which meant rain, rain, and more rain. We had chosen September because everyone we had talked to had said that it was the most beautiful month of the year in Scotland.

I remembered that as we stood under a tree in a park in Edinburgh, trying to find protection from another torrential downpour, so strong that it pierced through our GoreTex jackets. The rain bounced on the pavement and wet us through up to our knees.

We had planned to travel through Scotland and, by God, we were going to, rain or no rain. Travel through we did, but we didn’t see much of it. Loch Ness was a mass of fog, so dense we couldn’t see the other side. At Eileen Donan castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland, the wind was so strong we had horizontal rain. We saw only the bottom of the Cuillins, their tops lost in fog and clouds. Oban was so cold, the first thing we did was buy wool hats and gloves.

Two weeks into our trip, pretty much demoralized, we arrived on Skye island, and our B&B, which was cold and damp: the lady of the house didn’t start heating the parlour until five in the evening, and there was no heat at all in our bedroom. Too late to search for another place, we stayed.

About 24% of Skye residents speak Gaelic, the ancient Celtic language, but it is a dying tradition. There are more Gaelic-speaking people in Nova Scotia, Canada, than in Scotland. We had a nice chat with the owner about that, after she’d asked about our trip so far. The amount of rain didn’t seem to faze her. Still, hopeful, we asked her if she’d heard the weather forecast for the next day. She barked a laugh and said: “Just look outside!” It poured rain.

“You can’t let it get you down,” she said, in her thick accent. “There’s a Ceilidh, tonight, at the community center. Why don’t you go?”

The Ceilidh, a Scottish gathering of dance, song and music, sounded perfect. We expected a local group, when she added, “The band is from Canada, so you should feel at home. The Rankin family. Do you know them?”

We did, and found it ironic that we had come so far to hear a Canadian band. However, since it was a choice between the Ceilidh or a damp parlour, we decided to go.

The community centre was a converted barn, with a stage at one end and wooden benches in front of it. The floor, bare wooden planks, resonated under the dozens of pairs of shoes. It seemed that at least three or four villages had converged into the centre: teens, old people, couples with children, farmers dressed in woollen sweater and Wellingtons, couples in suits and pearls, they all took their seats eagerly, calling to each other, joking, laughing.

When the Rankins came onto the stage, everyone focused on the show. They were fantastic; the band sang and danced with so much energy, you could almost imagine they’d been bewitched. The Rankins have paved a Celtic highway around the world, preserving Gaelic folk songs and making them part of their repertoire. Maybe they felt the history of the island and it energized them, or maybe they felt that these people, in this converted barn, were the most appreciative audience, because they could understand the songs.

About two-thirds through the concert, Cookie introduced one of the songs: “This is a song about what is lost to us. A song about losing the past because the language is lost. If you know this song, please join me in singing it.”

She began to sing, a capella, in Gaelic. The melody was melancholy and poignant and even though we couldn’t understand the words, we could feel the emotion it conveyed. Then, one by one, all around us, people began to sing under their breath. Their faces were reverent and sad, and as the song continued, their voices rose like a prayer.

Rain didn’t matter anymore. Neither did the fog, or the cold. We had been given a precious gift: to be part of a people, their history, their regrets, and their hopes. I carry it as my most vivid memory of Scotland.


Sheryl said...

What a sweet story.

vicki said...

I really like this travel post-it's beautifully written in a way that allows me to see Scotland through your eyes and want to go there, too. Great entry for B4B- good luvk!

vicki said...


Frances Nash said...

i loved that story