In 1975, my mother packed up her four Australian teenagers and flew us to Scotland, where we lived for the entire year in a small fishing village in the far north-east.
During that year, she took us on little excursions around the region – I remember castles, I remember delicious soup in those castles, I remember stone bridges, I remember grey mist.
And I remember paying not much attention at all to her enthusiasm for the historical icons scattered about the landscape, nor the stories behind them . . . I was more interested in finding somewhere to smoke (usually under one those stone bridges) and rolling my eyes anything at all that might have been of interest to her.
Oh cruel daughter!
In 1975 the world was vast and distance was forever, there was no internet, cell phones did not exist, and north-east Scotland was a splash of isolated communities rarely visited by outsiders.
Yet my mother, who was younger than I am now, piled us into the car for adventures that would light her heart and drove those dark and icy roads alone.
I remember Aviemore – actually I remember three things about Aviemore:
* at the youth hostel where we stayed, the only human inhabitants that mid-winter night, my sisters and brother and I piled every blanket we could find onto our bunks – I had 27 – and still we froze to death;
** despite my disinterest in my mother’s fascination for local history, I swore I could hear bagpipes in those forests and glens;
*** we went skiing: bundled ourselves out of the car, hired skis and – five people who’d never skied before in their lives – we clambered aboard the chairlift that would take us to the top of the mountain. We thought it would stop to let us off; it didn’t. One by one we rolled down the ramp to land in a jumble at the feet of some seriously well-dressed, experienced skiers. I can still recall the look of disdain on their faces: as they stared in horror, we cacked ourselves laughing while attempting to disentangle limbs and skis.
And I remember the treeline – everywhere we drove, my mother would say ‘look at the treeline’. To this day, the treeline is a family joke.
And I remember Glenfiddich – not the brewery, but my mother’s passion for both the palate and the process.
And now, here I am, driving Scotland’s north-east – without planning or forethought – when suddenly I realise I am retracing my mother’s footsteps.
Recently she told me she’d never had a taste for alcohol – until she tasted Glenfiddich.
I call into the brewery for her.
And there, in Dufftown, I spy one of those old stone bridges.
I drive the highlands, mid summer now, and stop on the top to admire the treeline. I am alone at the top of the world, a handful of
black faced sheep staring at me, a wispy rainbow shining from the valley in the distance.
I drive down the mountains to Aviemore, still admiring the treeline, and that is when I realise I have driven this road before – only in the opposite direction and in a different season. I remember the road as icy, dark and slippery; I remember crawling along in the grey sheet mist.
I can no longer hear the bagpipes in the forests and glens around Aviemore – probably because the white noise of tourism has colonised the airwaves and
new settlers have felled the forests for their homes and business ventures.
It is only now, with the hindsight of middle age, that I recognise the adventurous spirit that resides, to this day alive and well, inside my mother.
What courage did it take to pack up her children and relocate to a distant pocket on the other side of the world? To drive narrow icy roads for the sake of a castle?
At Glenfiddich I buy a wee dram and raise my glass to my mother – and the curiosity and courage of women everywhere, who allow their spirit to be their guide.