Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"I'll take the high road, if you take the low road..."

It was the strangest thing – flying to Scotland that is. I left Toronto at 6pm, and arrived in Glasgow at 5:45am the next day. It wasn’t so much the loss of a night’s sleep, but the fact that the sunset and sunrise seemed to last for hours as our plane headed overseas. It was like we were trapped in some kind of portal that was sending us through a neverland of cloud tinted with orange, yellow, red and purples. Within half an hour or so of the sun finally going down, it rose again, with renewed bright colours of a new day. Now, you’re probably wondering why the heck I’m going on about the sky, when we’ve all seen a sunrise and sunset... that’s probably because I had nothing better to do except stare out the window of the plane for the better part of 7 hours... The other option was to watch “Bolt” (the wonder dog), which I’ve seen before – with no captions, on a tiny little tv screen in the aisle of the plane with a headset that didn’t work properly... eat terrible plane food, or to read a magazine I already read two hours ago... yep, sunrise was much more interesting!

Scotland – the country, it was amazing. Friends of the family, Pauline and Bobby welcomed me into their home in Dundonald, for the better part of the 2 week stay. They were extremely kind in their hospitality, and took me to see many places in the lush green country of the kilt. Scotland is located relatively on the same latitude as Churchill, but has a very different climate due to the Gulf Stream – palm trees, need I say more? Every town had its own castle, some dating back to the 1100’s, so crumbling castles became a common sight, but still ever neat. I was impressed with Scotland’s turn towards sustainable energy – modern wind turbines spun on rolling hills dotted with sheep... lots of sheep (aka haggis... which is very yummy by the way!)

I spent a weekend on Holy Island, which is the site of a Buddhist retreat. Their Centre for World Peace and Inner Health is open to all faiths is located at the North end of the little island. All I can say is that there is something truly magical about the place. The moment I stepped off the ferry (which really is a small boat that makes its way between the larger island Arran), I walked out among wild Eriskay ponies and Soay sheep that were grazing on the front lawn of the retreat, while sailboats were moored nearby. The animals peacefully coexist with the humans, and are not interfered with, as the island is also an animal sanctuary and nature conservatory. The retreat survives pretty much soley on the crop of the gardens – the meals are rather granola, but very fresh and healthy. I hiked/climbed the two mountains on the island, Mullach Beag (759ft) and Mullach Mor (1026ft) first thing one morning; the top was enclosed in fog, but that was perfectly fine by me – I keep reminding myself of a quote throughout my trip (not sure who said it) “it’s not the end result that matters so much as the journey to get there.” This has proven to be the case time and time again – hikes, life experiences, etc. The hike to the top and around Holy Island was very peaceful, and on my way back to the retreat, I came upon a second herd of Eriskay ponies – a bunch of young bachelors who were on the path in front of me, so I ended up going the last leg of my hike along with the herd of wild horses. I was just slightly put out that I hadn’t seen any mountain goats on my hike. I had some lunch, while there was a brief summer rain, and sure enough, the sun came out, and I discovered a whole herd of mountain goats had settled themselves nearby the retreat. I was truly in my element when I sped after them to start taking pictures – I hung out with them for a little while, braving the dive-bombing seagulls (for the umpteenth time on this island).

Feeling refreshed, I left Holy Island for Aran, and was given a tip by the ferry captain of a place that was terrific for seal and dolphin watching. I waited for a bus heading that way, but none seemed to be coming anytime soon. Not about to miss-out, I stuck out my thumb, and started walking – a kind local picked me up, and took me most of the way, thankfully. Sure enough, it was well-worth the trip!

It was one of my dreams to gallop a horse on a beach, so I signed up for a 2.5hr ride to the beach in Ayr. Most of it was riding along the Scottish countryside roads and through the city, but sure enough, I got my ten-minutes of absolute freedom – another thing to check off my list!

I spent another weekend with some people in Glasgow who have a cottage on Millport Island, including a night in their trailer on the island. One of my hosts, Robin, took me on a 4.5hr hike up a “ben” (mountain) called “The Cobbler”, which aside from its stunning view, has a jagged rock that sits on top of a sheer drop, and has a hole in it. If you climb through and on top of the rock, it’s called “threading the needle”... and you bet, I threaded my needle ;)

I'll finish off this post with another favourite quote that crossed my mind a few times during my trip: "life is not about the numbers of breaths you take, but the number of times that your breath is taken away" (once again, I don't know who said this... but it's good!)

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