aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Travelogue and Reflections: Farewell to Scotland

Ben Nevis was my big test. I figured I could do Scafell Pike, no matter what, but the big one had me running scared. Now, I had accomplished everything I had come to the UK to do. It was all gravy from here on out.

Ft. William

I got off the mountain reasonably early. I returned to my campsite and took a wonderful, hot shower, shaved, and put clean clothes on. Then I went into town to celebrate with a victory dinner. I found a nice pub and treated myself. I started with an appetizer of haggis. I figured I'd do it just for bravado, but this haggis was different from what I'd had before. My previous encounter with haggis had been cold, sliced haggis, which we had fried up in a skillet like sausage. It was okay, but I wasn't enthused about it. This haggis had no casing (it must have been done in a mold, then turned out); it was moist, like the most amazing meatloaf you've ever eaten. And it was accompanied by a cream and whisky sauce that was very good. For the main course, I had bangers and mash (excellent!). And to wash it all down with, a couple of pints of Dark Island, a porter brewed in the Orkneys. Yum!
Some hae meat and cannae eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and so the Lord be thankit.
– Robert Burns, The Selkirk Grace
The next morning, I packed up early and returned to Fort William to poke about for a couple of souvenirs. I had a whole day ahead of me to do whatever I wanted. I had held it in reserve, in case my first attempt on the mountain went awry.

I resolved to drive down the Argyll coast and visit Kilmartin Glen. My Lonely Planet guidebook said there were interesting carved stones and such there. I had all day, and I figured I might never come this way again, so off I went.

Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin is a small village with an interesting church and something called The Museum of Ancient Culture. The museum also has a nice café. Parking was free – unheard of in GB – and there was lots to see. In ancient times, the glen was part of somebody's sacred space. There is a line of cairns, standing stones, and other monuments stretching in a straight line for miles down the valley. All this was explained in the museum.

Standing outside the museum was a kill – the Gaelic word is derived from Latin cella – a stone igloo about six and a half feet tall that was the kind of shelter built by the old Irish monks when they established a hermitage. This was how they lived. The name of the village, Kilmartin, was derived from the word. The church nearby was dedicated to St. Martin, and the hermit monk who first settled and served there built a kill for himself, and the rest you can infer.

In the churchyard next door, there are several of the best surviving examples of carved medieval graveslabs to see. In the church itself, there are three (mostly intact) carved medieval crosses, which used to stand outside. Very cool.

I ordered some lunch at the café, which included a nice elderflower cordial. It was all very organic. Then I went monument hunting. I managed to climb inside the burial chamber of the Nether Largie Cairn. I contemplated the mysteries of the miniature stone circle that is called Temple Wood.

Finally, I wound up at Dunadd. This naturally defensible hill was the site of a hill-fort from prehistoric times. In historic times, it was also the capital of the kingdom of Dalriada, which was where the Scots from Scotia (that is, Ireland) first came storming ashore to wrest dominion from the Picts. It would have been a beast of a place for a foe to take.

The hill is isolated and the sides are very steep. The main area on top is a stone bowl, rather like the crown of a molar. The rocky rim has been augmented in places with carefully dry-laid stones. The area of the top was maybe an acre and a half. There was a well, now long since dry. In one corner, there was another path up to a natural "landing," and on that landing there was a slab of stone which had been worked by ancient hands. There was a human footprint carved in it, and the outline of a boar. Just above this "landing," there was a final terrace, perhaps forty or fifty feet in diameter, where would have stood the lord's high house, I'm guessing. The view from the top gave warning from far off of anything approaching up or down the glen.

Loch Lomond

It was now mid-afternoon, and I turned my nose toward Loch Lomond for my last campsite. I got to Cashel Forest Camp on the east side of the loch about 5:30, and quickly set up. This was the most expensive campsite of my whole trip: £15.10 for a single night. It was also the only place where I had any trouble with other campers. Two men and a boy came and set up right next to me. They seemed harmless enough, though they were awfully close for my taste. But when bedtime came, they yammered and bleated for two hours. The warden had to tell them to pipe down twice, and I yelled at them twice, before they finally shut up.

Other than that, though, I slept like a baby. In fact, throughout this entire trip, I was more comfortable sleeping on the ground than I have been for months sleeping in my own bed at home. Just as a camping trip, the whole thing was great.

Homeward Bound

The next morning, I got up early, showered and shaved and finished packing for the long trip home. I was back at Glasgow Airport by 8:30 and handed in my car, thus saving a whole day's rental charges. I then waited till almost 3:30 to board the plane and fly home. I landed in Philadelphia and called Deanne, and she told me that Orbitz had called and my flight was going to be delayed. It finally took off about midnight local time, and I arrived in Indy about 2:00 a.m.

Deanne was there to pick me up, but asked if I felt strong enough to drive home. I did, but as we were walking to the car, I said, "We drive on the Right here?" D. thought I was joking. But it felt really strange to drive off on the right side of the road, at first. We were home by 3:30 a.m. Given the time differential, that meant that I had spent an entire 24 hours in airports or on airplanes. It was quite a lost day.

Lessons Learned

The next morning, I woke up at 8:00. Others were in charge of leading worship at church; I was not expected to be there. But I felt like I needed to be, and not only in order to praise God. I needed to be with people, I needed to be loved. It had grieved me deeply that I couldn't find anyone to go on this trip with me, but I mortified the flesh and took it as a pilgrimage in solitude, and God was with me as he had been with those monks so long ago.

But it was St. Antony, the ol' desert hermit, who had said, "Your life and your death are with your neighbor." I wanted to be with people, and if I punted on church, it would be a whole week before I could feel the affirmation of others in a big way. So I got cleaned up and went to church. The first ones to greet me were some little kids, and their love and welcome was obvious. Everyone else was glad to see me, too. I felt greatly loved. It was a wonderful homecoming gift.

So, the first lesson learned: God is always with us. Being alone and being with can both be modes of experiencing him.

Something else I thought about over the course of this trip was the contrast between overplanning and experience. Normally, I don't like to take others where I haven't been myself. I had to do this, perforce, with our previous trip. But I was learning the lay of the land and its people's ways along with the Venturers I was leading, and it was very stressful. This time out, I had enough experience to know how to get the most out of the trip. I didn't overplan my schedule, and I was free to adapt it without worrying about cheating anybody of what they'd come for.

I have no particular desire to return to Scotland (though Skara Brae up in the Orkneys could be a draw), but there's lots in England I'd like to return and poke into. But if I ever go back with a group, I will be a much better leader of that group for the confidence gained from previous trips.

So, the second lesson learned: Quit kicking yourself that you didn't do the last whatever as well as you did this one. It is in the nature of things to learn from experience. Appreciate what you got each time, learn from it, and go on.

Last, I had a strong sense of "coming home," particularly in Durham and Lindisfarne. This had nothing to do with having been to GB before, since I hadn't been to those particular places. It had everything to do with having intellectual – and emotional – contact with a past that I have treasured since boyhood.

I have been interested in the ancient English since I was fourteen years old. That was when I first encountered the seven kingdoms of the English (a notion of history now much discounted). That was when I first desired to master the Old English language. It has drawn me ever since.

I have noticed that many people tend to wind up in denominations whose basic questions mirror the preoccupations of the periods that gave birth to those questions. I have a friend who lives in the Reformation. He reads Calvin's Institutes for his own enjoyment. He is mostly interested in the question of authority, but then, that's what the Reformation was all about. I went to seminary with people who basically were living in the 1890s, when the Holiness Movement was in its prime. Some of my Catholic friends' eyes only really light up when they read or hear or sing in medieval Latin.

For me, the Anglo-Saxon Church is my spiritual home. I see a world filled with used-to-be Christians and unapologetic pagans tearing at the world we all used to inhabit, and I want to go convert it, to find a new way to say the ancient truths that are always true. Such was the task of the Anglo-Saxon Church. St. Cuthbert played a significant part in that story, which is why he is more interesting to me than, say, Augustine or Thomas Aquinas.

The final lesson for me is an affirmation that you really can go home again. Oh, the Anglo-Saxon Church and the culture it ministered to cannot return, but the way I understand life and ministry, which has been so deeply informed by the ancient English, is a valid way to follow Christ. I have an anchor amidst the swirling currents of today's (United Methodist) Church. Perhaps I can't make my Church what I wish it could be; but I can make me what I wish to be (or rather, God can) and that will outlast – and the good that I do will outlast – all the controversies and corruptions that distress me so right now.

Click on a pic to enlarge.

Hermit's kill Hermit's kill
Kilmartin Glen, Scotland
Standing stone Standing stone
Kilmartin Glen, Scotland
Temple Wood Temple Wood
Note spiral carved on stone
Nether Largie Cairn Nether Largie Cairn
Kilmartin Glen, Scotland
Dunadd Dunadd
Site of ancient hill fort, capital of Dalriada
O, ye'll take the high road O, ye'll take the high road
Sunset over Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond in the distance


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