19 October 2012

Land o' Cakes, Frae Maidenkirk to Johnie Groat's

A friend recently came by to visit and was kind enough to bring me
a souvenir from her journey to Ayrshire—the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

 It is a cloth-bound volume of his complete poems and songs.
The silken cover is Royal Stewart tartan.

 In addition to the wealth of delicious poetry that awaits me within its leaves,
the book is also filled with lovely images of Burns
and remarkable photos of the various places associated with him.

It also has poignant images of the people who inspired his verses,
such as his wife, Jean Armour—"the Belle of Mauchline".

Scotland has always held a soft spot in my heart.
While I have never been to Ayrshire, which is on the west coast of Scotland,
I was lucky enough to visit the east coast, staying for a time in the city of St. Andrews.
The journey by rail from Glasgow to Dundee took me through a landscape
that was very reminiscent of New England—
towering fir trees, a craggy coastline to the east, and blustery unpredictable weather.

 Once I'd arrived in St. Andrews, the castle ruins were evocative
of all I'd imagined Scotland to be since I was a small child.

 Scotland meant racing through the heather with Alan Breck in Kidnapped...

 ....or escaping by the skin of my teeth with David Balfour in Catriona.
(Both by R. L. Stevenson.)

During my stay in St. Andrews I climbed St. Rule's tower to look out over the Bay,
and then wandered through the cemetery that surrounds the long-demolished Cathedral.
 I was also lucky enough to stroll along East Sands, the band of beach which skirts the town.
(West Sands, on the other side of town, is famous for the opening scene in Chariots of Fire.)
And now I have this lovely book to add to my own souvenirs,
as a reminder of a place that for me is a magical fusion
of poetry, deposed Queens, and story book heroes.

"No one in Scotland can escape from the past.
It is everywhere, haunting like a ghost.

To a Scot, the past clings like sand to wet feet,
and is carried about as a burden.
The many ghosts are always a part of them, inescapable."

—Geddes MacGregor

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