When I boarded the train in Inverness on the morning of January 25, it was still dark. It was Robert Burns’ day. I had seen signs everywhere in Edinburgh and in Inverness. It was a day dedicated to one of the famed poets of Scotland. Celebrations and gatherings abounded. I’m sure I could have stayed the night in Inverness and found lots to do, but I wanted to head north.
And the day was a perfect day to travel.
Here is some of what I wrote in my journal:
“I wouldn’t have guessed it, but the land is even more beautiful as I head north. The sun is rising. The hills are dotted with white sheep, and stone cottages amid clumps of trees reveal themselves. How have I waited over 40 years to come here?”
I thought about the pride that Scotland took in Robert Burns and the pride he had in Scotland. I thought that since it was a day for poetry that I might compose one myself, so I wrote Beyond Culloden.
As we moved closer to Thurso, the last stop for the train, most of the passengers departed. There was a young man who sat a seat or two up from me who was studying some charts who remained on the train.
When we reached Thurso, both he and I departed. I headed to the Thurso Information Center and found the same young man there. I would later learn that his name was Ethan and that he had an extended pass on Scotsrail and was traveling all over the country to make sure that he got his pounds worth out of the pass and to see more of his home. He was heading to Wick to take some pictures before heading back to Inverness. The charts were time tables for the train system, and he was keeping a meticulous track of his progress.
As for myself, I was considering my options. Should I stay in Thurso the night after a 4 hour train ride or push on. At the information center, a nice lady told me that if I caught the next bus that I could probably make the next ferry heading out of John O’ Groats. I headed to the bus stop, and that’s where a lovely young lady named Olivia.
Olivia is Polish, but she’s attended university in Edinburgh where she is studying landscape design. She was traveling to the Orkney Islands to work on an independent school project. She carried a pack, a camera bag, and tripod bag, which I thought, at first, was some sort of case for a small guitar or larger violin.
Olivia was quiet but friendly and, over the course of our bus ride to John O’ Groats and then the ferry trip to St. Margaret’s Hope in the Orkney Islands, I got to know her a little better. Her mother works for the government of the European Union, and her step father is an American. She isn’t sure if she wants to start her career right after university, but she does know that she wants to move in with her boyfriend in London. He’s beginning his career as an English teacher. They met at a literary club party in her first year at university. She attended an International High School in Brussels, and what she told me of that reminded me of the International Baccalaureate Program at Sumter High School.
When we were on deck during the hour long ferry ride, I asked Olivia if I could take her picture. She smiled and held up her camera and said, “I feel more comfortable on this sign of the lens.”
Once we disembarked, I took the bus to Kirkwall, while Olivia headed to her lodging in St. Margaret’s Hope.
I imagined what Robert Burns would have thought of this young Polish woman whose brown eyes matched her rough leather jacket, whose dark hair curled and fell about her gray woolen scarf, who enjoyed sharing a cup of coffee or a bowl of pea soup as much as she enjoyed just quietly looking out of the window as the countryside flew by, who was preparing to start her own life and chase her own dreams.
What would have made of young Ethan who took every opportunity he could to strike out and see the country he calls home, to know it and appreciate it in all its glory.
I think Robert Burns would have found as much poetry in both young people as he did in as grand a sight as Falls of Foyers or something as common as a wee mouse.