We have just returned from a wonderful ten days in Scotland. The trip was not part of our original summer plans, rather it was a hasty rethink prompted by a wretched pandemic.
From late May to early October we would normally be in our house in France. Last summer we managed a visit squeezed between two Covid confinements. This year our trip seemed doomed. Springtime announcements by both the United Kingdom and the French governments told how travelling to France was unlikely. By late April a decision was made – if there was to be no French holiday, Rohan and I would go instead to Scotland, a country we know well.
While in Edinburgh, we once again went to Jupiter Artland, an estate just outside the city with statues and installations dotted around fields, woods and outhouses. The displays were even better than I remembered. It would be impossible not to be moved by Anish Kapoor’s installation in which a rounded, funnel-shaped hole in the ground conveys a feeling of infinite depth. Similarly captivating was Anthony Gormley’s ‘Firmament’; a giant man made of welded steel bars crawling on his knees.
Neither, however, was as demanding as two short cartoon-type films made by Rachel Maclean. Their theme is men’s grossly unfair treatment of women and girls and they carry the warning: “The films contain triggering and/or sensitive material about self-identity, self-harm, body confidence and contain graphic sexual imagery and strong language.” Rohan found them so upsetting she left within minutes. I managed to see them through and the powerful truths told still haunt me.
As memorable as Jupiter Artland was the ‘Galloway Hoard’ in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition is about the discovery of treasures from the Viking era buried in Scotland around 900 AD and unearthed in 2014. The star of the hoard was a lidded silvery vessel 10 cm in height and diameter which was found wrapped in layers of linen, wool and silk. The vessel, of which only a copy is displayed, is enigmatic. Apparently the wool was woven around two hundred years before the hoard was buried, the silk was from China and the vessel itself originally came from Central Asia. What was going on?
Edinburgh also played host to a meeting of the Plateau Society. For twenty five or so years, four of us have met regularly for a meal and a chat. Meetings last up to three hours during which in turn we – that is Jeni, Jackie, Rohan and I – talk about the issues that face us. The concept of the ‘plateau’ was something we developed at the outset, originally more focussed on careers and professional activities but later also encompassing everyday aspects of our lives. Set-backs and periods of stagnation are discussed and assessed by the group from the plateau perspective – thus the challenges are seen as opportunities, chances to pause, regroup and better understand. Failure simply doesn’t exist in the plateau-sphere!
I have always found the discussions invaluable. But there has been an added dimension; meetings are very different from those with which I am familiar. Here, we are given time to talk thoughtfully without interruption about matters that are sensitive and probably rarely expressed elsewhere. Moreover, discussion is grounded in caring friendships. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the style of the meetings was set by the women who met before I joined. Discussion like this amongst men would be rare; being present each time is both an eye-opener and a privilege.
While Edinburgh stimulated the mind, in Ullapool it was the spirits that were lifted. Standing on a hillock just north of Ullapool and looking across the sea to the Summer Isles offers one of the best views I know – anywhere. But, even more uplifting is a spring a short and difficult walk up a valley on the path to some ‘Bone Caves’. Here, out of an otherwise innocuous looking puddle, hundreds of litres of water gush every minute (see illustration). Up hill, the valley is dry; below is a fast flowing mountain stream. For the umpteenth time I sat and looked on mesmerised. It was magical and to see it again was one of the reasons for coming to Ullapool in the first place. The visit was, however, tinged with sadness. With my ageing knees I am finding walking on rocky terrain increasingly difficult and I was very aware that I might never see my treasured spring again – I just hope I’m wrong.
Our trip to Scotland was a delight but one laced with sadness as walking is becoming more difficult. Moreover, the trip may prove a luxury. It now seems possible that we will get to France after all.
For helping write this blog, I would like to thank Jeni, Jackie, Rohan and Vivien
The illustration shows, in the foreground, a round puddle that is actually a spring (Fuaran Allt nan Uamh) from which gushes enough water to create a fast flowing mountain stream, the beginnings of which are seen above.