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
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
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
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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