The morning train approaches, bringing my micro-tour of a holiday to an end. I find a smile breaks through my mouth, and I reflect on what has been.
The past ten days have taken me through Scotland from West to East, through touching private moments and a dramatic history - both long gone and in the making, through scenery that has inspired and weather that has gloried and inflicted in equal measure.
Beginning by Loch Lomond and culminating at Melrose Abbey I found myself chronicling my journey in sketches (which you can see in Drawings), indulging in a landscape that talks to the imagination and taking the time to immerse myself in a history that just won't quit.
But we began on a very intimate level, with the wedding of two of our good friends, who found in the secluded beach at Crear, where the sea crashes over rocks and falls spent upon the shore, where the water stretches out to the future whilst the mountains of the islands seek to clutch it in their grasp, where the sun bursts through the drama of the clouds to sparkle upon the dancing waves, the perfect expression of their love.
In the celebration of their happiness I found time to reflect on the joy I have with my wife, and though full of the bubbles that accompanied that festivities I found my heart beating a little harder that day.
We then travelled along Knapdale and the banks of Loch Fyne, tracing the mountains peak and trough to the Loch, observing the land and water vie for dominance in the arm-wrestle of the landscape, and stopping for delicious Lobster and scallops for lunch (and samphire, we had samphire too!). Here the vastness of the Lochs form the centre point of the view, but the framing of the mountains, with the forest in their mottled greens and blacks draws the eye to image after image of stunning beauty.
Moving eastward we spent the night in Glasgow, taking time to sleep, to eavesdrop on the almighty row - and reconciliation of the couple in the next room, and to get out into this bustling city that draws upon such a varied heritage, and is full, like most of Scotland, with the debate about independence. 'Yes' and 'no' stickers abounded, and on the day after the second debate opinions filled the air(waves), and although our waiter thought the football might be the reason for an empty restaurant, we had to duck out of the way of a camera crew - anxious to avoid 'B roll' fame. When it comes to the issue of independence I have a selfish reaction: if I were Scottish I would vote yes, but as someone who would be stuck in England in that event I fervently hope they vote no, as I know that what is left would be much the poorer.
In the morning we took ourselves to the Cathedral quarter to look over the Necropolis - a graveyard of staggering scale and a multitude of faiths, not just a monument but a veritable city of the dead. Nearby we took in the museum of religion and the Cathedral itself with its Gothic struts towering upwards, and it's chapels descending lit by the colours of the stained glasses that surround the building. After some sketching and a cup of tea, we set off to Airth, from where we would take in Stirling Castle, Deanston Distillery and Bannockburn.
Stirling Castle is right where a Castle should be. Amongst flatlands rises a rock from the bowels of the earth to form a mountain. Nearby is the easiest crossing of the Forth, and so naturally on top of the rock someone put a castle. You can't blame them, even if there hadn't been wars of territory, power and independence a rock like that is crying out for a Castle on the top. So there is.
The tour around the castle takes you through the days of Scottish Kings and Queens - including the recreation of the Great Hall and the intricate detail of the Stirling heads, through the history of the Castle as a military base, and gives you views over the surrounding lands. The Castle feels regal, wrapped in the Court of the James' and the legend of Robert the Bruce, yet strangely vulnerable - maybe reflecting the amount of times it has been occupied by opposing forces - a victim of its strategic and symbolic value. We had no time to explore Stirling itself, but driving through its Stuart streets to navigate the one way system, we knew we would want to come back to eek out more of its history and ambiance.
Deanston was a birthday surprise. Tucked away up water from Stirling it occupies the site of an old woollen mill, the Victorian building still standing, and forming the base of the warehouses that hold the maturing whisky. There is a romance to the distilling of whisky that always captures me, from the flow of the water to the smell of the air, I find myself entering a new world of scent and taste that stimulates the landscape of my mind. We moved through rooms and scents from the honey of malted barley to the thick sweetness of raisins as the liquor distills and finally the deeper bass of the warehouse as the whisky matures and gives it's share to the angels. If I were an angel, this would be the duty I would angle for - which may explain why I am no angel. After a quick taste we left, cradled in my arms a sixteen year old malt with a deep toffee char to complement the burn of the alcohol as a birthday present.
The memorial to Bannockburn has been refurbished, with 3D interactive displays that present the views of all classes involved in this battle for Scottish independence, taking you through the events in depth - and letting you fight them over again. Fitting then, that as we went through to the coffee shop two older women were deep in discussion about the forthcoming referendum, and odd that they were declaiming the virtues of the union. Outside the centre is the monument itself, with a statue of Robert the Bruce just beyond. As I approached a swam of camera flies appeared around me, so in a fit of peak I retaliated with my sketch book, determined my composition would try their patience more. The statue is dramatic, but at Caroline's prompting the view over to Stirling castle, as it rises from the land around, is more so, so I drew that too. Caroline has come to love her kindle, which makes up for my tardiness in such situations.
From Bannockburn we meandered our way over the Forth road bridge and along the coast of Fife. By the side of the Firth of Forth the sea stretches its way inland, playing tricks with the horizon as the other side appears and fades as the Firth widens. We stopped at Lower Largo to glance at the dreams of Robinson Crusoe, and to have a late lunch, before making our way to Anstruther which was to be our base for the night. Here we walked along the harbour as the weather broke for the first time in the week, provoking waves and sending us scurrying to the pub, where a whisky and gin later we left as the place was closing (or was it just us?) and went for world famous fish and chips - Prince William's favourite don't'cha'know!
The next day we set out for St Andrews, a beautiful town that once was the centre of the Scottish Church, but now gives it's time and energy to Golf and it's university. The ruins of the Castle and Cathedral took us into the past, and the coastline gave us understanding of why the town became such a centre for religion and learning. The presence of Golf was ubiquitous, and the democracy of the access to the old course sat somewhat oddly with the luxury mini-buses that took aficionados from links to lunch and back again. Settling in for lunch ourselves we took ourselves to a student/foody deli and dined on nostalgia for our own student days, and a lovely smoked fish platter.
Arriving back later that day, we took a night time stroll along the harbour wall. Buffeted by the wind and comforted by the crashing waves the town took on a piratical feel and contraband filled my mind as we headed towards the single light that flashed at the harbour entrance. The black sea washing onto the dull light of the sand was the world negative, and like the imp in Twoflower's camera I worried I would run out of black.
Our final day saw us fall foul of the map in Kirkcaldy, finding an exhibition of the Scottish Colourists by luck more than skill. Having escaped the one way system we made our way back across the bridge and down via Melrose - determined we would see all the resting places of Robert the Bruce, and here was buried his heart. Once again I sketched the composition of the ruins whilst Caroline walked the history of the place, before we finished our trip to Scotland with a cup of tea, and the reflection that all the places we had been to demanded a return to explore unfinished business. A reflection that stayed with us as we wove our way through the Cheviot Hills and headed home to sleep.
The train door opens, and I raise an eyebrow, here begins another journey.