from the Borderlands to Snæfellsnes



4 October 2013

Map from Atlas Cosmographicae, Gerardus Mercator, 1596; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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boundary: border, fringe, periphery, perimeter, brink, horizon, barrier,
frontier: edge, limit, bounds, confines, verge, borderline, borderlands


Let's face it, I'm not the most adventurous traveler in the world. As I write this in July of 2014, two friends are on their way to Africa, to climb Kilimanjaro. I envy them, but I'll never do that. Nor am I likely ever to go to Peru, or India, or Vietnam, or even Greece. Travel is a vast smorgasbord, the whole of it far more than anyone can ingest entière. I'm not one of those who spend their holidays in the same cottage at the same beach every year, but I do like my home-away-from-home places--Quebec City, Edinburgh, Plockton--and I don't stray far from the North Atlantic Arc. The most exotic place I've been is the Faroe Islands; my dreams are of Fair Isle, St Kilda, Harrington Harbour, St-Pierre & Miquelon. I find more than enough to explore in my little slice of the planet. There's always another corner to turn, another angle and a different light in which to view the familiar or discover the overlooked.

Nevertheless, I do think it's important to stretch my boundaries, to go somewhere each year that I haven't been before. When Icelandair became the airline of choice for this trip, a layover in Iceland, unvisited for quite some time, seemed obvious. When Win signed on to meet me there, our discussions led inevitably to the remote West Fjords, which we've talked about visiting for years. Whether we might actually get there in early November was a matter of some doubt. We booked our lodgings and crossed our fingers.

It's impossible to go to Iceland without thinking about such adventurers as Eirik the Red and Leif Eiriksson, who literally went where no one had gone before. Eirik founded the Greenland colony (having been exiled from Norway and Iceland in short succession), and his sons pushed farther west still, in search of new lands. When they arrived in Vinland (generally accepted as being modern Newfoundland), they ran into the descendants of people who had migrated into the Americas via the Bering Strait, many thousands of years before. Thus was closed the circle of the human diaspora. The Vinland colony was short-lived, in no small part because of conflict with the locals; but it left its mark.

Speaking of boundaries and conflict, I spent a few days at the beginning of the trip in the border region of Scotland and England. It's peaceful country these days, but it suffered centuries of violence as the two countries squabbled. It seems doubtful that the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence will set off a new round of border wars, but it does make one think about the significance of a meandering line through the desolate Cheviot Hills, one that has shifted and blurred and at times disappeared altogether, as boundaries do.

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Friday 4 October 2013--Icelandair provides as direct a flight as there is from Boston to Scotland. Time in the air is six and a half hours, with a short layover at Keflavik. While waiting to change, I look out and feel the allure of the Icelandic countryside. The stopover on the return trip will be my first visit to Iceland in a dozen years. I'm looking forward to it...but I'll miss Amsterdam.

Land in Glasgow, pick up my hire car, and set out for Edinburgh. The Skoda has an automatic transmission, the first such I've ever gotten here, and I'm almost annoyed enough to go back and ask for a manual. I don't have the energy. I try to avoid driving very far on the first day over, and the hour or so on the M8 is pushing it, maybe. Entering Edinburgh, I get into the wrong lane and end up in a shopping center car park. Pull into a space, shut the car off, and take a nap.

Arrive at the B&B on Ferry Road, check in, and stroll into town. Stop first along Scotland Street, setting for Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series. There is no number 44--the last house on the even side is 42. Then drop in at Cadenhead's whisky shop, at the foot of the Royal Mile, to chat with Mark and Neil. There is sampling involved. Dinner at the Black Bull in the Grassmarket; the Bow Bar is crowded, so I go on a pub crawl...Ensign Ewart, Jolly Judge, the Ox, the Cumberland. Nod off in every one. Leaving via Scotland Street, I chance upon a footpath on a long-abandoned railbed. Maybe not the smartest thing, late at night...I don't even know where it goes. I emerge on Ferry Road, a hundred yards from the B&B. Good luck, that.

Next



Keflavik


Over The Clyde


Scotland Street And Drummond Place


Scotland Street


Drummond Place And Scotland Street


St Andrew Square Tram Station


Cadenhead's


The Black Bull


The Black Bull


Grassmarket


Bow Street


The Ensign Ewart


The Ensign Ewart


The Jolly Judge


The Oxford Bar


The Cumberland Bar


The Cumberland Bar Gents'


Way Home


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