Wednesday, June 10, 2009

from Scotland: three bridges

First living on the islands, now leaving the islands and highlands, rolling back as if it were all a movie reel that is now spinning in reverse.

Our last night up north is at the Braeholm, the b&b that welcomed us when we first arrived on that windy evening in Skye. Tony’s off to teach on the mainland in the morning (are the British Isles “mainland”?), but his wife and son are here, greeting us with the breakfast foods we’ve come to love (and they get an extra high grade for offering fresh fruit, in addition to the large pieces of smoked salmon with the eggs, and home made jams from Skye berries. That, on top of muesli or porridge.)


Kristen, our hostess, speaks with such a strong Scottish accent that I am sure we are finally in the home of true Scots. And we are. But not from Skye! Skye people move away for work, mainland people come back and set up homes and new businesses. The Isle is a way of life and not everyone likes its laid back airs.


You’ve been here four years? Your son is a Skye boy then!
Actually, they don’t let you give birth to your first here. They make you travel to Inverness where there are proper facilities, just in case. So he was born there. But he’ll be going to school just up the hill.

Life in Skye. After a while, do you take the scenery for granted, sort of like the living room carpet?



We walk to the bus stop one last time and now we are crossing the bridge. We are no longer on island time.


We have many train connections to make (all on our cheap senior day pass!). The first is on the line that took as here just a few days ago, right to the water's edge.


But now we're rolling back, returning to Inverness. This is the most scenic stretch – through the heart of the Scottish highlands.


There is a tour group of Scottish seniors (they love to explore their own country; none of this stay home and watch the telly stuff – you see groups of seniors on buses, trains, in towns and castles – trotting up and down in groups, waiting at stations, moving in sync, happy with all that is bright and beautiful around them) and I glance to look at them. They're taking it all in, carefully, reflectively.


And we, too, are seduced by the scenery. For once, Ed takes his face out of the tattered magazines that have traveled with him from home, through the Great Glen Way, dunked in the waters of the Spey, stuck in his pants' pocket on the Isle of Skye. Because if you look out long enough, you'll catch a glimpse of a fleeing stag. Or of an RAF plane zipping low, right at the water's edge.




At Inverness we don’t pause: we hop on the next train out – to Perth. And this one is a roll back to an earlier set of days as we yet again speed along the River Spey, past Aviemore – where I waited for my man on the boat to come back. Oh! Snow fell on the hills in our absence! How can such a small country have so many different weather systems passing through it all at the same time?


And finally in Perth, we change to the train for Edinburgh. We go over yet another body of water, on a bridge parallel to this one…


…the bridges that all of us northbound travelers take to put us in the sometime heathered and sometime forested hills of the Highlands.

It’s evening in Edinburgh. Dinnertime. Except Ed has had enough of eating out. Do you mind if we just get bread and cheese and bring it back to the room?
How can I mind – he’s been good about meals, my occasional traveling companion who like nothing better than to hunt down odd foods in a refrigerator at the most irregular hours.

And so we amble out, on the streets of the city that is ripped by tram construction and still covered by the soot of history.


We’re staying near Haymarket, in a nice guest house at the edge of a rather scraggy side of town (but who can really tell when all looks hellish out there on the broken up streets). Our trip to the local supermarket brings out my loathing for these big food stores. If Ed wanted interesting cheeses, we weren’t going to find them here.

I suggest we head in a little toward to the commercial heart. Along the way, I’m lucky enough to ask a person who knows food.
There’s just the place! Not too far. I go there myself for the good beers that they sell. Past this square, around the next two circles of houses, down the hill, across the bridge and to your left – Peckham’s.

And so we go down, just as he tells us…


… until we cross that bridge – not anything as magnificent as the Skye bridge, nor the one over the Firth of Forth, but a bridge nonetheless, my bridge not to nowhere at all, but to the wonderful little shop that sells great cheeses and wheat biscuits and breads, and my favorite Scottish shortcake for dessert.



And on the shelf, we spot them – dark and light, Black Cuillin and Hebridean Gold – for us, the king and queen of beers, from the Isle of Skye.

Up we climb now...


... with too many cheeses and too many crackers and breads, up to the rubble of the torn up city to the quiet of the room that, unfortunately, does not have a view onto the highlands.