Reflections. Travelling to the Highlands. Meet the old boss… Showers or orgies. The miserable owners of mobile homes. Coming to rest.
It’s been over a month since I returned from Scotland. That’s more than long enough to thoroughly romanticise a place. It’s all endless valleys and rolling hills, shades of a winter sunset, and jagged or domed mountains and cliff side lanes that twist like rivers, a contrast to the Roman roads of home.
Truth is though, it might actually be as beautiful as I remember. The Highlands are a long way removed from the atmosphere I was raised in, the dry tedium and mostly grey expanse of the capital outskirts. I’ve been thinking of using the last of my savings to travel there again, somewhere in the north west. The main draw is the feeling of being undisturbed, free to wander, able to look at a landscape for joy. A place where the lochs look like huge drops of dark glass.
I was disappointed when I first crossed the Scottish border. We’d been in national park for the last couple of days and so losing that to the motorways and industrial towns of southern Scotland was depressing. I wondered if it was a poor omen. We past the grey tenements of Glasgow and sighed, continued through dying towns, places like Bonnie Bridge, where the age lines of the infrastructure show on the faces of the residents.
At one point, crossing a roundabout between blocks of terraced housing, I looked out the window and noticed a group of local kids—strangely formidable looking kids, the sort of mini-teens you might cross the street to avoid—all wearing the same one piece costume. A surreal moment. Older people wore tracksuits or jeans with mismatched tops and large coats, looked at you suspiciously and had gaits that betrayed their economic standing.
It’s not that I disliked these people but rather that to see clones of the poor and working class people I lived with, was disheartening. It dawned on me that it really is the same everywhere. Here are the Scottish poor, same as the English poor, maybe slightly poorer.
You realise that Who lyric is only half right, ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’ That’s only one side of the story.
We past these areas and kept moving, always northward.
As we moved into the wilderness, we found that people were often quite surreal. At least we recognised the residents of Bonny Bridge. Those were our people, they just had different accents and even shittier public services. A few exchanges stuck out as odd; we’d been driving for a while and were getting hungry but I wanted to get a shower before we stopped anywhere for food. It’d been a couple of days, I was probably pretty flagrant.
There was a campsite not far away, so we drove in, found the toilet and shower block, then parked up and started looking for a member of staff. Before we got very far, a serious looking man exited a caravan and walked toward us.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked, in a tone that suggested his offer was more a matter of etiquette than desire.
‘Just wondered if we could use the showers? We’ll p–’
‘We don’t do that here,’ he replied. The inflection in his voice was like we’d asked if he could direct us to the nearest BDSM orgy and would he and his wife care to join.
What the guy was really telling us was, Yes, we do showers, and No, you two can’t use them. That’s fine. Strange levels of hostility in the evergreens of the Highlands though. Unusual surprise and distaste. A couple miles later, we found a campsite that was down for that sort of thing.
There were other weird interpersonal incidents too. Maybe it’s us. Barely out of our teens and bumbling around the Highlands. Nearly everyone else we past seemed to be over middle age and touring in some high-tech, high-insurance, high petrol use mobile home. Not long after escaping the tourist magnet of Loch Ness, we decided to stop off in a clearing next to Loch Maree, populated mostly by just that type of camper van.
As we drove by, we noticed the eyes of their occupants follow us—us in our crappy car, them in their multi-thousand pound luxury road vehicles. We parked up amongst them and I started rolling. Occasionally, we’d look towards the adjacent camper, each time we caught the man inside pulling aside the curtains and peering at us. He looked scornful and turned away whenever we smiled or tried to wave at him. A strange man, maybe 50 years old, white flannel shirt, stony face and trimmed beard.
Having come across so many oddly moody folk already, we found the whole thing pretty funny. Shortly, and amongst much laughter, we wound down the car’s window and placed a rain mac in the frame to act as a curtain. It’s interesting how much resentment the crime of youth breeds. Or maybe it was the crime of pot smoking. I don’t know. That, along with being young, and the crappy car, maybe that’s a whole bunch of red flags for a certain group of people.
This… this brings us back to log 09, where we smoked and listened to Frusciante’s new album, the expanding Highlands before us.