I have been in danger of losing the thread. Summer came along, and as always I had other matters on my mind – a long list of jobs I needed to get on with in the garden, around the house (both inside and out), managing the bee hives, and of course… Escape.
Escape this summer mainly took the form of a long-promised return to Scotland, and we planned 2 weeks on the road in our camper van. On the 16th of July, we made a break for the Border. Brexit was (inevitably) on my mind – I’d watched the British political system melting down in slow motion over two and a half years, and at this stage the only thing I could be sure of was that anything could happen. Broad consensus seemed the least likely basis for any final outcome, and indeed, how final would that outcome actually be? Anyway, it’s possible that the nature of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland may change soon, and it will hardly be for the better.
Our plan – to drive from Clare north over the Border using the motorway system, and then catch a ferry from Larne to Cairnryan in the SW of Scotland. My fellow travellers were my life partner A and our dog Lyra, the only one of us in the full flush of youth. I wanted to find out about freedom of movement, how much we have, and how that may change.
As it turned out, we had a remarkable degree of freedom of movement. As usual, the Irish Border was so frictionless that it was really difficult to spot exactly where we crossed over, the only clue being the change in speed limits from Km/hr to m.p.h. Even the ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’ sign had been unofficially removed. Driving through the countryside of the North is in some ways a primer for Scotland – the imprint of the Ulster Scots is there on the landscape, though the prevailing feeling is still of travelling in Ireland.
When it came to embarkation for the ferry, security was cursory and friendly. Most curious of all, during the whole trip from the Republic to the North, around Scotland and back, we were not once asked for ID. Not a passport, not a drivers licence, not a dog passport.
We don’t like to plan too much, but there were a few threads to our trip. We wanted to check out the parts of Scotland that were historically Dal Ríada (or Dalríata), the seat of the Irish settlement in the early Christian period. More about that later.
Anther possibility suggested itself too. We knew we were likely to be near the Isle of Jura, one of the near Hebrides and the place where George Orwell retreated to write his dystopian masterpiece “1984”. Might a visit be possible?
And then, because our trip would also take us down the eastern seaboard, we were in search of the enigmatic remains of the Picts. Each of these bets paid off handsomely, if not exactly in the way we had imagined.