Friday dawned with us in York and the first rain since we reached the UK. It was another part of the experience, and another day of driving …. 6 hours to be precise.
Once we worked out that we were heading south instead of north out of York (I really must get a compass, I haven’t a clue where north is) we got ourselves on the road to Scotland via one or two other places. My map-reader had not improved with sleep and it really is a miracle that evening found us in Greenlaw, Scotland, as planned – drinking Guinness in the local pub, and eating haggis in the local fish n chips shop.
It was Yorkshire Dales in the morning – no sight of Moors – and rich rich countryside into which sheep were stacked as if they were in holding yards. Stone walls abounded, and not just occasionally. They defined the small paddocks and were perfectly built and maintained beautifully. The animals stood in them obediently and with no apparently inclination to move elsewhere, despite the crowded conditions (by Australian standards).
We realised we were in Hadrian’s Wall country and wiggled all over the countryside looking for it. Each place we stopped had a different set of instructions as to how to get there. In the end we reached a town called “Wall”, which was auspicious, and followed our second set of instructions which led us to It – the Wall. It was a very exciting moment. It was constructed in 122AD. Yes, 122, I haven’t omitted a digit. The bit that was still standing was in perfect condition. More would be there still except that it has been pirated over the years for building materials. Amazing. I am talking two thousand years.
We doggedly continued our journey and could not help but notice that the buildings turned in what seemed like very quick time from quaint and decorative to somewhat dour, brown, and no hint of frivolity or decorativeness. My Scottish ancestry forbids me to use the word ‘dour’, but I did wonder why it was suddenly so difficult to hang lovely baskets of flowers from the windows, and paint the houses white. Brown and serviceable, the houses unadorned, the countryside bare and windswept. The people still conspicuously grumpy about the English (and would you blame them?).
The evening smell of Greenlaw in the rain reminded me of the smell of homesickness, a 38-year-old memory. It also reminded me of the smell of Scotland in general – ingrained coke, dampness, coldness and romanticism. Here we are at the top of the world! Here we are in the auld country, the place of my grandmother’s stories, the memories of her wonderful childhood; how could I possibly use the word “dour”?
The blokes in the pub – Benny, Jimmy, David and Bill – were cheeky and delightful. They were also impossible to understand, even when asked to slow down – and said ‘aye’ and ‘ken’ and ‘dinnae’ with spontaneous regularity, as if it was totally natural.
As of course it was.
They all had relations in Australia.
Tomorrow is another day.