I’m not sure when my attraction to the idea of The North first began. It was a strange fascination for a mythical wilderness on the margins of the world untainted by the corruption of civilisation. It felt like a pure place where I could truly be free. Of course I knew deep down this was nonsense but my dreams of The North maintained a hold on me I could not break. It felt like my destiny. Edgar Allan Poe wrote:-
“I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule –
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of space – Out of time.”
I love that phrase, “wild weird clime”. It reminds me of David Lynch’s brilliant film Wild At Heart. A land where anything is possible. A land where our pains are healed by the wind. A place where a troubled person could reinvent herself.
My first experience of The Highlands of Scotland was a four day car tour with my parents when I was twelve years old. We camped in a little orange tent. We lost our way somewhere near Glen Coe, ended up sleeping in the old Humber Sceptre as my father was too exhausted to drive any further. At dawn I woke up stiff and cold and was astounded. There was a magnificent water fall just a few yards from where we’d pulled over, obliviously in the dark. The air was fresh and clean in my lungs and I felt more alive, a thrill like electricity when I climbed out of the car and heard the rush of the falling water.
My father, however, was not impressed. I remember him saying over and over, ‘what’s the point of all this empty green space? Why don’t they build something useful here?” My mother did not react much at all. She always lived in her own head and could have been anywhere most of the time.
At the age of sixteen I had a boyfriend in Glasgow. I visited his family one summer. It was hardly a romantic wilderness but a tough council estate. We ate fish and chips and toast with marmalade for most meals. The people were lovely and welcoming. I discovered sex on the banks of the Clyde, whisky and the poems of Leonard Cohen (but not all at the same time). I enjoyed being free from the demands of my parents. This experience reinforced my positive associations with Scotland. I suppose it was inevitable I would move there one day.
Check out this interesting article for more about our cultural fascination with the north:-