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Scotland Day Six - Gentleness

I started my day early, I had to catch the ferry back to the mainland and I had my longest drive of the trip ahead of me that day. The ferry ride was peaceful, it was incredibly overcast, but not as windy as before. I stood again on the top deck, this time it was just me and an older gentleman on the other side, watching as the mainland approached.

Once back on the mainland, I made my way first to the place the woman from the bed and breakfast had recommended to me - Duncansby Head. It started with another lovely lighthouse, followed by a huge sheep field. There wasn't really a trail, so I just wandered to the edges of the cliffs, walking among the sheep. I followed the coastline around until I found the view of the sea stacks. It was quite a lovely walk through the fields. It was a windy day again and the seagulls floated all around me.

After Duncansby, I made my way down the south, stopping at a few different castles and coves scattered along the coast. It was a Wednesday, and there weren't many people out in this rural stretch of coastline. Nearly everywhere I went, I was alone.

One of the best stops was the Hill O' Many Stanes. As I arrived, it was getting foggier and foggier. I parked and walked up the hill, and on the other side was a moor that stretched out with rows and rows of stones. The fog was so thick here, I couldn't see all of the stones at once.

The 200 stones sat peacefully scattered amongst the heather. Many of them had grown into the earth, with the earth, aged and moss-covered. They've been resting there for the last 4,000 years. Again, I wondered who had put them there, and what was their significance.

I wandered here a while, completely alone, engulfed in the fog. The quiet of the place was all-consuming, there was no longer any wind as I wasn't as close to the ocean, just silence. The silence wasn't scary though, it was gentle, magical.

I made my way then all the way back down to Loch Ness. I was able to see more of the drive this time, though it was still quite foggy in places. I arrived at Urquhart Castle just as the rain began. I didn't mind so much, it sent most people back into the visitors' center, so I once again had solitude as I walked through the ruins. I wandered around reading about the different areas of the castle. I could easily picture it in working operation, as a home, as a site for battle. I eventually made my way down to the banks of Loch Ness. The fog hung heavy here as well, adding to the mystery of the Loch.

After Loch Ness, I made my way west, heading for Skye. This was one of the prettiest stretches of road. The highlands unfolded in front of me as I drove through valley after valley with gorgeous green mountains rising up beside me. I followed along rivers, one being River Shiel- whose loch to the south I would see in a few days' time. This part of the trip was a revisit. In 2017 I visited the Isle of Skye, and while I'd travel the same roads, I had different destinations in mind for this visit.

Before crossing onto the Isle of Skye, I stopped at Eilean Donan Castle. I had been here before too, but it had changed. Well, not the castle itself, but large parking lots had been built, a visitors center, and a much more robust gate to keep unpaid visitors out. This was my first glimpse at how the boom of tourism has been hitting Skye. It was already closed when I arrived for sunset, but I hadn't really planned to go in anyway. I sat on the banks, again in solitude, watching the sunset over Loch Alsh.

Once the sun was mostly set, I continued for my final hour drive up to the northern end of the Isle of Skye. As I crossed the bridge onto Skye, I started to get texts of the Queen's death. It felt surreal to be in Scotland when she'd died, a mere 80 miles east of me as I'd stood looking over Loch Ness.

I was getting increasingly frustrated by the tourism that had seemed to overtake the island. This place I held so dear from my last visit now seemed to be drowning in tourist traps and restaurants and attractions as I drove north. I saw too many busses and sat in traffic that surely was not there before. It felt like the island had sold out.

By this point the day had been long, I was getting more distracted, night was falling fast. I was about ten minutes from my airbnb for the night when that dreaded left tire fell off the road (shoulders are unheard of in Scotland) and I popped a tire. I was beyond frustrated, upset, and anxious. Here night had fallen, I was traveling alone, and I couldn't get my phone to dial the Scottish roadside assistance number. I luckily had made it to a pull-off (no shoulders, but lots of pull-offs), so at least I wasn't in danger of being hit. I had to flag down a car to ask to make the call, hoping some shop would be open to help this time of night. I was lucky to flag down two nice locals who let me use their phone. A tow truck would be on its way, but coming from nearly an hour away.

I ended up waiting about three hours before the tow finally arrived. Three hours to get more and more frustrated and annoyed. A nice older Scottish man loaded up my car, he was fairly quiet but told me he'd just take me to my Airbnb and I could call for a mobile tire truck to help in the morning. He drove me my final 10 minutes, we listened to the radio as the new King Charles spoke of his mother's death.

Once we got there and unloaded it was nearly 11pm. I made dinner as I watched the news coverage about the queen - the only TV I watched the whole trip.

This day now feels so disjointed, like two separate days really. That entire day up until I crossed the bridge had been so peaceful, and while filled with lots of driving, the solitude and quiet was lovely. It felt like I was really stepping into a deeper place of contentedness and gentleness with myself as I made my way from place to place, stopping wherever I felt the urge to stop.

But I saw, too, that day, the flipside when I neglected that gentleness and presence of self. I had become re-absorbed with the modern world around me, lost in current events and social media, angered by the tourism and consumption of our beautiful places, distracted by it all. So I popped a tire and wasted three hours on the side of a dark road in the middle of nowhere, scared and so angry.

I look at this trip as the before and after Skye, versus the time on Skye, because the next couple of days were filled with me learning the harder lessons. As I'd explored Orkney and the Highlands, I'd had a taste of peace and awe and I'd glimpsed the start to a journey of deeper questioning within myself. It had felt right. How could I find my way back to that?

I wrote that night, around hour two while waiting on my tow truck:

"It's like these age-old worlds, these people and their secrets lost to time have been whispering to me, beckoning me to ask, to seek, to come home. And the answers are probably right here waiting for me if I can only figure out how to just let go and just be.

This gentleness... this path of discovery... it is a slow, methodical, and loving unfolding of my own inner landscape. I am here to learn from these ancient ways, from the earth, from myself, all in conjunction. I cannot learn like this when I'm immersed in distraction. There is a gentleness that is required for me to find balance. And if I'm out of balance, I will know. Tires will be popped, frustration will mount, and I will be forced into stillness. For three hours in the dark on the side of the road, I will be forced into stillness.

And in stillness, I can re-center. In stillness, I can balance. In stillness, I can find my way back to that gentleness."

Skye would be a time of understanding more deeply the stillness that is required.


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