The Road to the Isles


bltr5-heatherOur coach driver was a Glaswegian named Eddie who kept us entertained and informed throughout the trip to Scotland. How I loved the feel of the coach wheels turning under my feet and watching the fields with their cattle and sheep flashing by. I love that movement of going forward, of going somewhere, a new adventure, to see what is around the next corner, who will I meet, and what will I experience?  I must keep on going forward, forward, like Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘The Explorer’

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes         
  On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated—so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—
  “Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

What lies behind those mountains?

bltr5scotlandSitting behind me were two women who never stopped talking the entire trip. I thought I was listening to teenage girls in a high school corridor gossiping about their friends instead of women in the sixties and seventies. It was next best to a soap opera.

Our first break was at Wetherby, Eddie said “You have all passed the first L&G bladder test!” After a three quarter hour break we headed off to the border.

The wheat was in the process of being harvested, with great bales of hay lying in the fields bltr5gretnagreenhandsdrying out for winter.  We drove through light rain, the windscreen wipers squeaking as
they scraped the raindrops off the glass. We passed Leeming where on a previous trip we had stopped. I felt sorry for Eddie as he negotiated roadworks with a lot of heavy vehicles blocking the way, but he made good progress and we felt quite safe with him.  We headed off on the road to Penrith and turned off at Richmond.  This was a lovely drive across the Yorkshire dales, where white sheep dotted the green hillsides. I imagined that Bach could have been inspired by a scene such as this to write his Cantata “Sheep may Safely Graze.” Ponds settled in the hollows and fields of oats and barley were ready to be harvested.  We passed Thorpe Farm with tree lined driveways and stone walls – sparse hedgerows bisected the hillsides. A shepherd was on his quad bike hustling the sheep, quite a far cry from the days of sheep dogs.  We passed ruined cottages with greenery draped over the vacant panes, looking decidedly neglected.

bltr5scotsbridgeThe overcast skies with sagging grey bellied clouds ready to burst at any moment, accentuated the bleakness of the dales, as they became more sparsely treed. We then headed into the Lake District. Eddie stopped to fill up the tank with diesel, it cost £365.78 to fill the coach; he had to fill it twice for duration of the trip.

Eddie told us a bit about Scotland as we headed across the border.  The Outer Hebrides (a Gallic word for a group of islands) are the furthest reaches of Scotland. Lewis is the largest and oldest landmass in this archipelago. The Romans called Scotland, Caledonia, Bretton or Britannia. The Pict tribes that lived there wore tattoos and spoke the Pictish language related to the Brittonic language of people living in the south both of which originated with the Celtish language. If the Roman scribes had not written these things down very little would be known about the early inhabitants of this region, they lived north of the rivers Clyde and Forth. Scotland was also known as Alba. The languages now spoken are Scots English, Polish, Urdu, Gallic, Welsh and Irish Gaelic, and on the west coast of Scotland and Edinburgh and Glasgow a Doric or Brettonic language is spoken.


The Romans built the original border, Hadrian’s Wall, to try and keep the Picts out of England, they only spent forty six years in Scotland as they could not cope with the conditions or the Caledonians. They also built the Antonoine Wall between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde, It was started in AD142 and was built with turf and wood with a ditch on the northern side. It ran for 63 km across Scotland and was 5 m wide and 3m high. After only eight years the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s wall.

br5scot-flag-large888In the 13th century, the famous warrior, Robert the Bruce, ( 1274-1329) was known as the head of this Kingdom and fought to maintain Scottish independence against English claims to the Scottish throne.  He was crowned King of Scots in 1306 at Scone. He defeated Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, a great milestone in Scottish history. The Scottish flag is the St Andrews white diagonal cross on a blue background, it is also known as the Saltire, and forms part of the Union Flag.

We arrived at Gretna Green, one of the world’s most popular wedding destinations. It bltr5gretnagreenbecame famous for its “runaway marriages”. In Scotland sixteen year olds were allowed to marry whereas in England the laws of the land required parental permission to marry under the age of twenty one. Marriages were officiated by the blacksmith over an anvil. Gretna Green was the first village over the Scottish border where the local blacksmith could perform the ceremony over his anvil. This is now a symbol of a Gretna Green wedding.  Today it is a poplar venue for second and third marriages.

Watch out for next month’s post for the continuation of this story……..

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