Life is like a walk in Scotland.
We start off by the shore of the loch, taking in the scenery but getting a bit bored of the road with its fast-passing cars. So we scramble down to the edge of the water and start skimming stones, with varying degrees of success but with much merriment all round.
Walking is less fun because the rocks by the water’s edge are covered in slimy seaweed and little streams crisscross our path. This may look pretty from a distance but it’s a right pain in reality and the muscles in my legs are tense as I seek out stable stepping stones. My foot slips. I swear, then I apologise. A friend’s hand reaches out to make my next leap less precarious. It all feels manageable again and we head towards the valley where our climb will begin.
Within ten minutes of walking through the glen, our waterproofs are on and our heads are down, each of us weathering the storm alone. Plasticky isolation limits my peripheral vision and the pitter patter of rain drowns out conversation. As soon as the torrents turn to drizzle, our hoods come off.
Not only does the rain stop but, as we start to ascend the pebbly track, the sun puts in an appearance. Anoraks come off, t-shirts are revealed, and trousers are unzipped into shorts. One of us is smug for wearing sun cream however, after days of never quite needing it, none of us remembered midge protection. We’ll regret that later.
I pause to look back at the view of the silvery loch nestled between the hills, breathtakingly awesome in the ever-changing light as clouds scud across the sky, casting their shadows across the greenest of landscapes. I smile because I always love the way that clouds make the world three dimensional and in this valley the clouds are so low that if I reach out my hand I can almost touch them. If thin places exist, this is surely one of them. Shafts of brightness suddenly illuminate a corner of the panorama and my favourite R S Thomas poem comes to mind.
…I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past…
Breathing in the moment, I take some pictures to try to capture the scene’s painfully elusive beauty but know, with sad acceptance, that I’ll delete many of them later because the magic will have refused to be pinned down. I zoom in and pan out, and suddenly someone’s jumping in front of the lens, giggling with self-amused delight at getting their face in the photo.
I’m well and truly back from my foray into the transcendental and realise that my feet are looking forward to a rest and I smell of sweat. In some contexts that’d bother me, but here it doesn’t really matter anyway. Everyone else smells too.
Are we there yet?
Here’s to the person who brought biscuits to keep us going.
Someone promises us that the reservoir we’re heading to is just around the corner and I have a flashback to a teenage holiday where I’d heard that line before. Only that time we got wetter and wetter in the Scottish downpour and the reservoir wasn’t round the next corner, or the next, or even the one after that. It wasn’t the happiest of family outings, though definitely one of the most memorable. That experience taught me to believe it when I see it.
But sure enough he’s right and suddenly we have reached our destination. At first we think the fishermen on the dam are shooing us away, but they’re just saying hello. We watch them cast their lines as we tuck into our packed lunches, shoving crisps into sandwiches and eating our fruit before our Kit Kats. Someone grins with pleasure while unwrapping a roll that’s cannily filled with chocolate spread. I swig the peaty urine-coloured tap water with city reserve.
We say how lovely it all is and chat about how reservoirs and dams are built, pooling half-formed knowledge based on memories of geography lessons and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Then we take some curated group and comedy shots to post on Facebook later, proving whatever it is that we want to prove to ourselves and the world.
Hooray that the homeward stint is downhill.
Sometimes we walk together, sometimes alone. I rest to take some more photos and look up to find I’ve been left behind. Enjoyment at solitude becomes momentary panic, but there they all are again and I can continue to lag behind contentedly. Sometimes we walk in companionable silence, sometimes we laugh and banter. Sometimes we whistle or sing. Sometimes conversation strays into deeper territory and there’s the peace that comes from saying what you really think and feeling like someone gets you.
A car goes past in the other direction and I wonder where they’re going. Step up onto the bank and nod a friendly greeting to the driver. Get excited at passing yet another field of Heilan’ Coos; the novelty just hasn’t worn off yet.
The local brewery is just a few minutes from the place we’re staying but we decide to have a cup of tea and/or something stronger there en route. As ever, pit stops like these make any journey that little bit more manageable and, in this instance, our day’s exercise completely justifies it. I tuck with happy resignation into my chocolate and beer cake.
We hope the rain holds off until we get home but, of course, it doesn’t. The sky darkens again and the heavens open. I think it’s brightening up, someone says with fake optimism, and we chuckle at similar experiences of family holidays when each of our mothers seemed to possess the same ability to see blue sky when the rest of us couldn’t, packing up a thermos and a picnic rug regardless. I wonder how much this deeply-instilled, wishful-thinking stoicism has shaped our ways of coping with what the world chucks at us now that we’re grown ups.
I can’t spy any blue sky at the moment but past experience suggests that this downpour will come to an end at some point and the rational side of me knows that somewhere behind the clouds the sun is still shining, even if I can’t see it or feel it right now.
As the saying goes, some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. As we enjoy our holiday in Scotland and return to normal life tomorrow, I like to think we’re walking in the rain.