Friday, August 24, 2018

A Scotland Tour: The Hermitage Walk

When we first talked of visiting Scotland, I thought of castles. I like castles.

I like touring ruins really, looking at fragments of the past, imagining with awe the reflection of a thousand years. I incorporated Irish ruins Christine and I visited on another trip into a novel, and I thought more ruins would surely inspire fresh ideas.

Yet as we made our way along our tour, things other than castles kept capturing my attention. Things older I suppose.

Near Dunkeld, we stopped at The Hermitage, a path created by a duke in the 18th century on behalf of a bard named Ossian, apparently a blind bard, though the epic poems attributed to him were penned by a later writer named James Mcpherson.

I got kind of a non earworm as I walked the path under towering fir trees, struggling with a misremembered lyric because I kept thinking I was in a forest cathedral. It's Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" I was trying to summon up. That mentions a "mountain cathedral," I think.

But forest cathedral applied with a sunny Saturday afternoon's rays filtering through branches and leaves. While the trail is old, the forest had a primeval feel. That's the real connection the Fogelberg tune makes, a "forest primeval."

It was an accurate one there amid ancient trees and stones erupted from somewhere deep in the earth.  And just like being on the deck of a ship looking across a vast ocean, everything else seemed far away, not gone but compartmentalized for a while.

We made our way over a stone bridge and on to Ossian's Hall overlooking a waterfall on the River Braan, listening to roar of the water flow over more of those ancient stones. 

And we sat on stones as well and contemplated for a while and felt our calm restored in spite of the turbulence of the universe. There's more in the world than we sometimes see. 

It's waiting silently, while the things that clamor for our attention fill our view. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Scotland Tour: Visiting The Crannog Center on Loch Tay

On a drizzly morning with enough chill in the air to require my light rain jacket, we walked across a wooden bridge of small, uneven logs and stepped into a shadowy room accented with the smell of wood smoke. 

Would it be a cliche to say it was like stepping back in time?

The Scottish Crannog Center near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, was an early stop on a Scotland tour for Christine and me recently, and it was the first real indication the trip truly was going to be immersive and educational. I had two upper-level British history classes in college, taught by a brilliant scholar, but I'd never really delved deeply into Iron Age Scotland nor heard of crannogs, dubbed artificial islands and constructed on Scottish lochs.

I got a bit of a campfire storytelling vibe as we stepped into the re-creation and sat around the fire pit that would have been kept active at all times in an original crannog.

The early dwellers would have told stories no doubt. There religion's not known, but it might have been element-oriented.

The site's host went on, explaining the underwater archaeology that led to the reconstruction and the work that would have gone into original construction.

The posts, tree-trunk-thick, which supported this structure on Loch Tay would have been driven into the loch's clay bottom and twisted using hand holds to sink the points in and gradually to let the clay close around them.

Then the artificial island would have been built up using wood from a nearby forest. The reconstruction uses thatch that would not have been so easily accessible to the Iron Age dwellers, but a modern supply offered a way to re-create the general look for the site. 

Our host took us outside after that to a number of stations, demonstrating the grinding of grain and the use of a lathe. 

Then he successfully managed fire using wood shavings and primitive tools, something I never managed with a flint and steel set as a Boy Scout.

I hadn't expected the stop, had flipped past it on the itinerary. I'd come to see castles and ruins, but I was glad we'd landed here.

Glad for the glimpse, glad for the understanding of what day-to-day capabilities a person of the time would have had to possess. 

Butcher, baker, builder, woodworker, fire bringer. The Iron Age person would have had to have been all, the host said.

It gave me a vibe I can't quite put into words, an insight and connection to those long-ago people, a vague sense of time's passage though time is impossible to truly perceive. It was long ago, and they were smart, resourceful, brave. 

They perhaps didn't know there were warmer lands or sunnier climes, so they shaped lives as they could. As do we all. 

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