I remember the twisting landscape on the way to the jetty. Leaving Ullapool, overshooting the destination only to loop back on ourselves via the loosely drawn roads. The land ahead was flat, behind was hill littered, and you could see the tarmac snaking through like an S. The coast line still obscured but pulling us closer and closer to the shore.
This was a land of snaking s’s, shores and sand and scenery and the Summer Isles… scaling feelings and mountains came together for me, then. I was scrambling my way out of an eating disorder, a mix of some progress and some back sliding. Following an inner S road, twisting and turning, destination life, or death. Starvation or survival.
On the island, I was sharing a home with strangers who asked their questions – would you like some toast? Some cereal? Something? And noted when something was nothing. Strangers who walked, by torch light, home with me for that week. Toads calling, stars glimmering, paths slippery. And wished me a good night. One like I was his daughter, unaware he was seeing me as a toddler in those fleeting exchanges, but I held that sentiment close. The other, like I was her teenage daughter, concern spilling over. That week, they spoke with such care and concern for me.
That week with strangers was a salve.
On my way up to Scotland, on my way up to the Summer Isles, the train journey wound from York to Northallerton to Darlington, Durham to Newcastle. Then picked up the fracturous outline of the north east coast. At Edinburgh I switched trains, not too much lingering then a list of train stations to wrap your tongue around;
- And Ladybank
Heading further north, the autumn haze glossed over the land, golden fields and the sun highlighting the dust that hung around the purple heather. The vast tall sky, stretched up reaching for the heavens, but it’s aspirations were squashed by heavy grey clouds. The dark air that pressed down on the land had been pressing down on me for so long. Oppressing my lungs, making living, breathing, an effort. My blood was treacle and my heart hurt with the effort of pumping it. I had been living with anorexia and depression for so long that I couldn’t remember another way of existing.
At Perth, another change. So many changes on the journey north. So many changes needed to find my true north. Suspended raindrops blurred the land with sky. Wispy clouds clung to highland rocks as we wove our way through the Cairngorms to Inverness. Purple and gold hillscapes flickered past the train windows. White houses. Green forests. Grey rivers. A landscape of texture – soft ferns, prickling pines, hills undulating, rocks protruding. Ruins pull you into memories, yours and the memories of the ghosts who haunt the land.
Inverness brought with it a bookshop trip. A treasure trove of second hand books, my safe place. If nothing else, I always know I can enter a bookshop and buy myself a brief moment of groundedness. The certainty that knowledge brings. The feeling of being surrounded by information, research and other people’s stories would help me feel a small glimmer of hope that my story, my book, would have it’s own ending. Unclear whether the ending would be happy or not didn’t matter, just that this drowning would end. Sadly my bag was full so I left with a couple of postcards instead.
The bus from Inverness dropped me at Strathpeffer, where I sat, hoping that I’d planned the journey right and the next bus would turn up as the timetable suggested. My mind already planning what to do if not. Anxiety running riot. But it did, no emergency plans were required. Finally I arrived in Ullapool. A long day of travel had taken me 420 miles from home, and ended with another bookshop. I would be staying opposite this particular bookshop on the overnight pause in travel.