A Scots Trilogy

I envisage writing a book which will feature three Scottish islands. What these islands may be and when they will be visited, I haven’t the remotest idea. All I can say for the present is that the first of the three is complete. In fact, it was the next thing I wrote after An Italian Journey, so that gives you some idea of how long ago it was. It is about a long weekend we had in Skye and the following extract describes the moment when we are just about to arrive in Skye, over the bridge, unfortunately, not the sea, as the song has it. At the time it was the most expensive toll bridge in Europe (though residents got a discount) and it's not so very long either, as some bridges go, using Eilean Ban, the island in the channel where the naturalist Gavin Maxwell lived, as a link between the mainland and Skye.

I am happy to report that since our visit, the toll has been scrapped.

The sun is slanting from a tear in an overcast sky, bathing the graceful arc of the bridge in an ethereal light. The waters of Loch Alsh are shimmering with a silver iridescence, whilst in the distance, the humps of the Cuillins, like some primeval creature from the deep, form a contrasting dark backcloth. It looks as if it would be almost transcendental to cross that bridge.

It only takes a few minutes to complete the crossing. At the other side, it becomes immediately obvious that nothing transcendental has occurred. The Jaguar is still a Jaguar and I have not sprouted wings, although my shoulder blades are decidedly itchy. The sainted Iona is still La Belle Dame Sans Merci and has not been promoted to angel. We have not arrived in heaven, but Skye and, would you believe it – it has started raining. But in spite of the rain, if the scenery of Skye is half as good as it is reputed to be, it may serve as heaven yet, as Milton’s Satan didn't quite say.

Imagine a town so small that it doesn’t name the street, just give the houses a number. Number 17, that’s where Mrs MacPherson’s house is. It doesn’t look big enough to be a B & B, but it is. She shows us up to our room. It may be pink but it’s a nice enough room for all that, affording a view of the bridge (which is more than I can) and if you look down to the right, along Loch Alsh, away in the distance, you can see the mountains of Kintail reaching into the sky.

A couple of boys are kicking a ball about on the piece of tarmac outside the house which serves as a car park for Mrs MacPherson and her neighbours, as well as doubling as a football pitch obviously, though why they don’t go and play on the broad strip of grass across the road, I don’t know. I wish they would and watch to see if the ball goes anywhere near the car. If we’d taken my mother-in-laws’s Corsa I needn’t have bothered about this. Jaguars are just trouble.

It’s still far too early to go out for a meal. Mrs MacPherson does not do evening meals, but she does do religion. We are sitting in her sitting room and I am looking at the contents of her bookcase. You can tell a lot about people from their bookcases. That’s how I know Mrs MacPherson does religion. There are titles such as Studies in Christian Life and The Holy Spirit. There’s a Bible too. There’s a surprise! But there is a surprise actually because all Jesus’ words are printed in red.

There are some ordinary novels too. I am sure they will be very good books too and very improving. There are also some yachting magazines from which I deduce that Mr MacPherson has a boat. Let’s hope Mrs MacPherson puts it out for us.

On top of the television there is a framed text: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord – Joshua 24 v 15. Help! I’m off upstairs to put the booze in the suitcase, which I’m then going to lock. She’ll probably go into our room at some time when we’re out and I’m not taking any chances. She may not be against booze and she may not be a snooper but you never know with landladies, especially religious ones.

As I come down the stairs again I notice a cross stitch on the wall which I hadn’t noticed before: Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging – Psalms 20 : 1. Oops! Little does Mrs Mac suspect she has half a distllery and a brewery upstairs in the pink room. I know who will be raging if she finds my hoard. We’ll have no board, nor lodgings either – we’ll be out on the street.

And someone else I know is not going to be best pleased with me either if that happens.