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Scotland Day Eleven - Everlasting

How do you finish something? I’m not sure I’ve ever been good at it. I have many books sitting on my shelves with bookmarks holding my place at the last chapter. When I do finish a book, something I’ve been trying to hold myself to do more, I mourn when I reach the end. Flipping that final page feels so hard for me, and it takes me weeks sometimes to find a new book that feels like it may have some chance to live up to the last.

In true ‘me’ fashion, I’ve left this final chapter, my last day in my Scotland trip series, to sit and simmer for many months. So long, now, I doubt I can possibly do justice to the anticipation I’ve inadvertently caused. I’ve sat down many times to write it, never quite feeling ready to end it. I’ve written parts of it overtime, bits and pieces that come to me when I see a fog roll in, or as I read a poem that mentions lush green fields. And when I do sit and write, this is always there. Even if I’m writing about something else for the day, this final day of Scotland is there, nudging, beckoning me to write about it, to finish this. But it has also seemed to keep asking me to leave more space, to see what appears with more time. I get caught up in the what-ifs of endings, of closing out something that feels so big. What if I think of another tidbit to bring into the story. What if time does teach us more and I should have given it longer, lingered more.

On a trip, there is no waiting, no delaying, no bookmarking the last day and putting it on the shelf. Time marches on, often too fast, carrying us along with it until we arrive at the ending that is inevitable. 

That is how my last day felt. I’d been carried along, time feeling both incredibly slow and incredibly fast. I’d stretched with it, backwards to ancient lands and people, and forwards to glimpses of what it all could be, what I could be. But nevertheless, time brought me to where I stood, on that last morning, alone on the banks of Loch Awe watching the sun rise. Though, I wasn’t completely alone, many sheep milled around behind me, eating their early breakfasts. 

I watched the sun come up behind the mountains, casting a crimson and pink glow all around, reflecting off of the still waters, bathing Kilchurn castle in a warm light and burning off the lingering fog. I wished the fog would linger though. I wished it would wrap me up and I could stay there, time frozen within it, nothing to do but sit and take in this scene, forever. 

Instead, I sat in the quiet, still a bit antsy, taking photos and trying, desperately, to capture this moment and freeze it. How do I say goodbye to this land of moss and rock, to the ferns and marsh and glens and rivers. 

I put the camera on a timer and wandered to the edge of the loch, bending to touch the still water, watching it ripple out around my fingertips. The name of the loch was not lost on me - Awe. It was truly a place of pure awe. It begged me to be still, to just look, listen, be. Breathe it in. 

As the sun rose higher, I sat and tried to reconcile leaving and the ending that would not postpone. It was upon me now, returning back to normality was awaiting me at the end of this day. But for now, I had this time, this day to take hold of.

I lingered as long as I could, but eventually made my way back across the pasture and back to the bothy I’d stayed at. I made myself a cup of tea and a bowl of oats and sat in the window seat, overlooking the main street of this tiny town wake up. The residents would greet each other good morning, reaching down to grab their newspapers off the street, some carrying their tea in their mugs, even from my seat in the window I could see the heat spiraling up out of the mug and into the air, just as my breath had at the lochside that morning. It was like a town out of the past. I longed to just move into this small apartment and live out my days here with them. 

I packed up and made my way on, taking the long drive to get to my final destination. I drove south, heading to the town of Inveraray first. I stopped in at a cafe for a second breakfast and tea - it was my last day after all, I had to make the most of it. I sat in the bustling cafe and wrote. I eventually wandered down the main street, stopping in at art galleries here and there, making my way to the small pier at the end, over looking Loch Fyne. A boat sat there that seemed to have been docked for ages, a rust line slowly creeping up its sides. I too, wish I could just dock there for ages. 

I drove on through beautiful hills, starting to climb in elevation. As I peaked up over the pass of the mountains, a turnoff to the right lead me to an overlook called “Rest and Be Thankful”. I parked the car and hastened out, mesmerized by the valley that opened up below. 

An older man, walking slowly on a cane came up beside me as I looked out. 

“Good morning” he said in his Scottish lilt. “Hello,” I smiled back. 

“Oh, you’re American! I hadn’t expected that.”

I asked him why, and he said my hair was too red for most Americans he’d met. I thought that was funny, as I'm not really a red head, and I assumed I sticked out like a sore thumb as a tourist with my camera slung around my neck. Maybe the land had made me a bit more Scottish. 

He told me he always stopped here on his way through, as people have for hundreds of years. Though now we have it much easier, arriving in a car not on foot or horseback. After the steep climb, one would have to stop, rest, and take a moment to be thankful for their safe ascent and the beautiful land stretched out below.

He took a breath, wished me a safe journey, and was on his way. I looked out across the valley, still dragging out every goodbye. What a wonderful sentiment this place held. We don’t seem to pause after difficult assents often. We don’t rest, in our culture, we don’t take a moment for acknowledgment and gratitude of where our journey has brought us, where our bodies have carried us. What a beautiful thing, to celebrate a point of culmination and arrival, before carrying on to the next. 

I headed back to my car and descended into the valley, now bound for the banks of Loch Lomond. I stopped in at an area on the western edge of the massive loch. I scrambled down the rocks to a small beach, finding I had it all to myself. The sun had come out, so I found a rock to stretch out on. The loch had gentle waves coming in, providing a soft rhythm in the background of my thoughts. I looked up at Ben Lomond, its tall gentle slope rising from the opposite banks and stretching up to the nearly cloudless sky. I started to feel more peace here, an acceptance of the closure that was happening. The waves kept their beat, the gentle breath of the Loch asking me to breath with it. The sun shone on. It would all be okay.

I drove on a bit further, stopping in at a larger beach, walking along it and collecting rocks and crystals. The southern shores of Lomond were much more touristy than I had expected, I quickly drove on, not wanting that kind of energy in my day. I stopped in at the Lake of Monteith, hoping to get a glimpse of the priory that sat on the island in the center of the lake. I knew this would be my last moments among the ferns, in the quiet and solitude in Scotland. I cherished them.

I then made my way to Doune Castle, an unintended stop, but one I’m so glad I made time for. It was incredibly well preserved. The thick stone walls and great halls were incredible to walk through. It was so large, you could get lost in its 700 year old corridors. I could image what fifteenth century life would have been like here, much more than the other castles that had aged and crumbled. How incredible to see a place that had stretched and held together through time. 

I drove on to Stirling then, my final destination for the day. I checked in at my B&B - my host had told me to let myself in, as she’d gone to Edinburgh to pay her respects to the Queen at St Giles' Cathedral.

I climbed up to Stirling castle, wanting to look out over the city and over the land for my final sunset. Similarly to Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle sits up on a high crag forged by a volcano hundreds of thousands of years ago, so the climb is quite exceptional for a city. I followed the old stone city walls up and up. The castle was closed by this time of day, but the cemetery that expanded around it was open. I made my way through its many rows, glimpsing old headstones and memorials. I found a bench to sit on and watched the sun set one last time over my beloved Scotland.

This trip held so much for me – it still does, as I mull over the lessons it brought me. I revisit it all so often, still finding more meaning from the trip and hoping to keep it all alive in my memory. And here now, I can see what I couldn’t quite comprehend there that last evening.

I couldn’t see that this was a beginning for me, not an ending. I couldn’t have known then the spark this trip would create in me, and the decisions and changes I would make because of it in the months to come. I had a hunch that this trip would live with me for a lifetime, but I didn’t realize just how present it would be. That week and a half and all that it held live in me still, reminding me of all I uncovered and have yet to discover. The trip opened a new path for me, or maybe it really just revealed the next steps of a path I hadn’t realized was in front of me all along.

As I sat among those gravesites of ancestors long gone, I was reminded of the vastness of time, but also of the small piece of it I was here to witness. I looked out over that final field, remembering all of the land that had stretched before me that week at the Hidden Valley, at Birsay, at Quiraing, at Duncansby. Reminded of this beautiful gift we are given – this Earth – our inheritance and our destiny. What we come from and to what we will return.

As I sat there, it seemed time and earth and life and death and belonging were woven together in front of me, messy, yet extraordinarily beautiful, asking me to continue this seeking, asking me to draw deeper into the entanglement of life itself. I felt my time slipping away with the sun over the horizon, but I felt some peace too, knowing I had been here, fully.

Endings are never truly endings. The stories and lessons live on within us, shaping us forevermore. I was brought to this place to witness and explore the mysteries of this land and its people, while simultaneously explore mysteries within myself. I had traveled and learned of people and places and customs long gone, and yet, their memory still lives on in the land. Their stories and meanings have been shaped and reshaped with time, ever-changing and ever-lasting. And so would my own.


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