Monday 17 October 2005|
We must leave early this morning, and so we eat alone, the three of us, in the dark breakfast room of the George. The first fifteen miles or so out of Inveraray are a splendid stretch of Highland road, around the head of Loch Fyne, up Glen Kinglas, over the pass known as Rest And Be Thankful, and down Glen Croe. Then itís along the shore of Loch Lomond and over Erskine Bridge, and before long we are at the airport. I make sure the lads get checked in all right, bid them safe journey, and go on my way.
First things first: I get lost coming out of the airport. The signage here can be frustrating to an American, especially in the urban sprawl of Glasgow. Iím used to having directions attached to the route signs, like ďI-91 NĒ or ďUS 20 WĒ. Here, you get ďA726 KilbrideĒ or ďA736 BarrheadĒ. If you donít know where Kilbride and Barrhead are, and canít spot them in a hurry on a map, youíre in trouble. The GPS helps with direction, but I become so disoriented so quickly that Iím not sure what direction I want.
Finally, after a tour of Paisley which is far more thorough than the one we had of Edinburgh, I pick up the A736 and head south through Barrhead (so thatís where it is). Outside Irvine, on the coast, I pick up the A78 southbound, and then the A77. I pull into Ayr, thinking I will find a room for later this evening. Itís not too far from the airport, if you donít get lost. But after circling around town for half an hour, I donít feel really good about it, and leave. Iíll go back to Glasgow tonight instead, and get a room in one of the small hotels on Renfrew Street, and have my last pints and drams at uisgebeatha, over by the university.
I continue south, through Maybole and Girvan and Ballantrae and Cairnryan. It has been overcast up to now, and as I enter Stranraer, it becomes misty and foggy. I have a quick look at the town, and then push south again. Down the A716, along the fog-wrapped coast, through Drummore, and onto a single-track road. I drive across a narrow isthmus and up onto a little headland, dangling like an appendix in the Irish Sea. The road ends at a parking lot. Directly in front of me stands a white lighthouse in the mist. I have completed my journey from Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway.
The tip of the Mull is a tiny nature reserve, but a few acres in size. I enter the little visitorsí center and look at displays explaining the history and geology of the place. When I step outside ten minutes later, the sky has miraculously cleared. It is a beautiful, sunny day, with little cumulus ships sailing by on the azure sea overhead. I walk past the lighthouse and down a long flight of concrete steps, to the foghorn, now disused, on the cliff. This is as far south as you can go in ScotlandĖN 54į 38' 03.7", W 4į 51' 20.7". Itís only about 450 miles from here to Herma Ness on a straight line, but it seems a world away. And yet, the stark moorland here would not look at all out of place in some corner of Shetland.
Itís said that you can see four nations from here on a clear dayĖEnglandís Lake District to the east, Ireland to the west, the Isle of Man to the south, and, of course, Scotland beneath your feet. But the horizon is hazy once again, and I can see none of those, save the one I touch. I look hard, as if, by furrowing my brow, I can make Man emerge from the mist. I think of my father.
On the long drive back to Glasgow, I consider that this really hasnít been the best possible use of my day. I wonít be back until evening, and Iíll have spent most of the day in the car. But I donít really care; it was important for me to do this, for reasons I canít really explain. For once, the destination was more important than the journey. I smile as I think back to the day I struggled against the driving rain at Herma Ness; it was worth it. Tomorrow I will go home and face a deferred reality, but just now I can think about Shetland and Craigellachie and Plockton and Islay and Ron and Bobby, and feel in my heart that it was a worthy voyage. That's all you can ask for at the end of the road.