I have a chart in mind. It covers Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales and Cornwall.
I am on the Glasgow-Oban train preparing to sail from Oban on the northwest coast of Scotland to Fowey on the south coast of Cornwall aboard the Westcountry trading ketch ‘Bessie Ellen’. During a ten-day passage, we will see all five countries.
The very full, two-coach train leaves Glasgow at 16.27. It is a Friday. Ahead of me three young people are discussing their week – two young men trying to impress the young woman with them. The conversation grows louder as the lager sinks lower. She is bravely trying to look impressed – the whole carriage can see she isn’t. The men are oblivious. We sigh with relief when they step off the train at Helensbrugh.
The train trip is stunning. The evening sun is picking out the peaks and streaming between them where it can, flooding valleys with light. We pass Gare Loch, Loch Long, Loch Lomond and cross to Loch Awe. I follow the route on my phone map. The immediate view is through the window but it is also played out on the map in front of me – anticipating the curves the straights, the towns and villages – Arrochar and Tarbet – Ardlui – Crianlarich – Tyndrum – Dalmally – Lochawe – Taynuilt – Connel Ferry.
I am not looking for romantic Scotland or scenic Scotland but the raw country that carries its history with it. So with Ireland, England, Wales and Cornwall. Forget the ‘branding’, within these parcels of countryside, contained by their magnificent coasts, lie deep wells of human experience – much good, (some brilliant) and much bad, (some terrible).
This passage back to Cornwall will be a chance to wonder about that depth of experience – not just as lines in history but as an accumulation of knowledge, attitudes and skills over the millennia that has led to where we stand now.
It starts at the bar of the hotel, ‘which single malt whisky to try?’ and a long discussion.
‘Bessie Ellen’ is moored south of Oban, further down the Sound of Kerrera. I look forward to joining her tomorrow.
(To be continued)