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Loch Lomond
by Margo Fallis


Rain, Rain, Go Away

They say it always rains in Scotland. During a month long visit to my homeland, it did indeed rain every day I was there. I wasn’t about to let this discourage me. I’d waited forty years and traveled five thousand miles to my homeland and nothing was going to stop me from enjoying every moment, come rain or shine.

My mother had graciously agreed to accompany me on this journey. After two weeks of non-stop rain I knew she was wishing she hadn’t come. She didn’t appreciate the rain. "This is why we left Scotland in the first place," she mumbled under her breath as we fought our way against gale force winds, sleet and dismal fog, to the top of the hill. There, we were rewarded with a majestic view of the ancient Edinburgh Castle. Of course, the rain didn’t stop. My mother shivered and complained the entire day. Our clothes were soaked right through to our reddened, chilled skin. Every day so far had been the same. In fact, the entire trip could be considered a disaster, except for the one glorious day that made it all worth it.

Against my mother’s wishes, but at my insistence, we took the bus up to Balloch, a small village on the shores of Loch Lomond. Since it was still pouring and I could see nothing but the raindrops sliding down the windows of the bus, I read a book about the area. "Mum, we can take a boat cruise around the loch."

She looked at me with that ‘fed-up’ look. "In this weather? We’ll either get seasick or sink."

I ignored her negative remarks and continued reading. Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater loch in all of the United Kingdom. It is twenty-four miles long, five miles wide and up to six hundred feet deep. I was surprised to read that there were thirty-eight islands spread among the loch. Mum worked on her crossword puzzle book, not saying much. Occasionally I’d hear a sigh of displeasure from her. "Thanks for coming with me, Mum. I know you’d have rather stayed with Auntie Nellie and watched television."

She looked at me, trying to think of something to say in reply. Finally she muttered, "I hope we don’t drown."

When the bus stopped in Balloch, we made a dash for the first shop we saw. "Is there a pub nearby?" I asked a woman.

"Aye, but it’s closed. Not many visitors in this weather. We’ve got some sandwiches in the back if you’re hungry," she said. Mum and I were famished. We took the sandwiches and stood outside the door, under the awning.

"The bread’s dry and stale and the cheddar cheese is old." She lifted one of the pieces of bread. "Wouldn’t be surprised to see mold. Let’s catch the bus back to Edinburgh before this day is a total loss," Mum complained.

"But Mum, we’ve come all the way here. Let’s take the boat cruise. Come on, Mum," I urged. She mumbled a few words under her breath and tossed her sandwich leftovers into the trash bin. I did the same. We washed the taste of days old bread out of our mouths with a bottle of Ribena, a sweet black current juice, and headed to the loch. All the rain had caused it to overflow its banks. We were forced to walk through puddles.

"I doubt if the boat goes out in this sort of weather," Mum hoped.

"It says in my book that it operates every day."

We arrived at the dock. There stood the ‘Maid of the Loch’, a fine looking steamship. "I can’t believe there are other fools out in this rain," Mum moaned, seeing several people already on board.

[This short film was shot at Rowardennan by David Hunter on Loch Lomond in 1979, shortly before the paddle steamer “Maid of the Loch” was taken out of service.   He used his 16mm Bolex camera and dubbed the film to VHS in the 1980's. By the way, the music is from “Scottish Rhapsody,” composed by Ronald Binge.]

I paid for our fares, overpriced as they were, as I felt obligated, since Mum didn’t really want to go. We climbed on board and found two chairs on the deck, which I had to wipe puddled raindrops off before we could sit down. There was an overhang, which protected us from the dripping rain that continued to fall. Mum immediately took out her crossword puzzle book. I grabbed my camera and started taking photos. "This is beautiful, Mum." She didn’t look up. I ignored her. I was delighted to be here. The mist hung above the loch like a vaporous specter and stretched its ghostly fingers up the mountainside. "You stay here, Mum. I’m going to walk around."

The engines started up, causing the decks to vibrate, which knocked the pencil from Mum’s hand. I picked it up for her and headed to the other side of the boat. It chugged away from Balloch. Even though it looked like a sorry little town in this rain, I imagined it would be quite quaint in the sunlight. The rain had lightened up somewhat and the mist had lifted. I could see ferns, bracken, yellow-flowered gorse, and even a few pink rhododendrons. To me, they were resplendent. It was a splotch of color in an otherwise dismal scene. My camera clicked through three rolls of film as we sailed past the islands, along the rocky shores, and over the deep, dark waves. I made my way to the back of the boat and stood at the railing. Several people were near, bundled up in their warmest coats. Though the air was chilled, it felt fresh and invigorating to me. As I looked at the peaty hills covered with thick masses of foliage, the words to the famous song, ‘Loch Lomond’ entered my mind. I started singing softly.

"By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond;
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonny, banks of Loch Lomond."

I wasn’t sure if I was singing the right words, but it didn’t matter. Just then the others on deck walked over to me. "Were you singing?" a woman asked. I nodded, feeling somewhat embarrassed. "Can I sing with you?" I could tell she was English by her accent.

I started singing the song again. She joined in. We sang verse after verse, as best as we could remember them. Soon her husband and the others joined in. We had a gala chorus, standing in the rain, singing our hearts out, as our boat glided across the waters of Loch Lomond. I saw my mum come around the corner. She was curious and wanted to investigate what was going on. Obviously she’d heard the singing. She put her crossword puzzle book into her bag, pulled her hood over her head and came towards me. Smiling, she took my hand in hers and started singing. Her voice was sweet and melodious.

"Oh ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before ye,
But wae is my heart until we meet again
On the bonny, bonny banks o’ Loch Lomond."

My heart filled with the pride of my heritage as the words bellowed from my mouth. Mum started to smile as she sang. It was the first time since we’d arrived in Scotland that I’d seen her happy.

As we headed back to Balloch, we continued singing other Scottish tunes. Never had I felt so proud to be Scottish. I felt the spirits of my ancestors swirling around me, joining in the singing. Our voices echoed off the hills and across the deep loch.

My mum was a different person on the drive back to Edinburgh. Instead of grumbling about the weather, or burying her head in her crossword puzzle books, we talked about our ancestors. Mum told me stories of how she and her mum had come to the Trossachs, (the name of the area Loch Lomond is in), and how much fun they’d had. Every memory was delightful and treasured.

This is why I’d come to Scotland. It wasn’t to see the castles, nor to eat haggis and shortbread, but to feel the spirit of my heritage; to feel Scottish. I knew in my heart and soul that this was the land of my ancestors, the land I belonged to- my home, Scotland.


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