Tourist or Pilgrim?

20140716-111359-40439895.jpg
I have been challenged to articulate more clearly the difference between the pilgrim and the tourist.

I think I articulated some of the yearning that I see as part of pilgrimage in my last blog: There is something about the mountains and rocks of northwest Scotland, seen from the sea, which pulled me strongly. I wanted, at least for a while, to bathe in their presence (‘dwell’, that good Heideggerian word, also comes to mind). I had the same kind of feeling with the mountains of Connemara rising out of the bogland last year. The mountains resonate with a sense of eternity, and evoke that good deep ecology maxim, “thinking like a mountain’.

I had a truly wonderful night in Loch Awe. The water was deep and calm, rising to a very high spring tide late in the evening. The seals lay on the rocks looking at me from time to time until the high water drove them away. In the far distance the Quinage ridge showed its different faces with the changing light. Late in the evening, the evening sunlight lit up the rocks so that they shone a deep gold, finally leaving black sillouettes against the twilight sky.

Next morning I left for Stornaway, 30 miles west across the North Minch. The wind was disappointingly patchy, despite the forecast. I arrived in heavy rain with poor visibility, got a bit lost at the entrance because I couldn’t see the markers but soon settled on a pontoon in the marina. Everything was soaked, the rain had even penetrated right through my waterproof trousers.

The following day, after dropping off two bags at the laundry I picked up a little hire car and made my way to the west coast. I wanted to see the Atlantic, I wanted to see the standing stones at Callanish, I wanted to see the golden sands at Uig. And so I did!

Elizabeth and I have always visited stone circles when we can, especially since were were introduced to the Merry Maidens near the tip of Cornwall. These circles carry a reminder, both physically and spiritually, of the ancient ways of being on these islands. We have participated in moving ceremonies at stone circles where we feel we have touched the Earth in a special way. Yet stone circles, especially the famous ones like Stonehenge and Averbury, are also magnets for tourism, so that any sense of the numinous buried, just as in an over-visited cathedral.

I found the Callanish stones particularly strange. The pictures I had seen showed tall, gaunt stones standing lonely against the sky, and I imagined them as being in a wild and remote place. Actually, they are set almost in the middle of a Hebridean settlement, modern houses of no particular beauty straggling across the landscape.

My visit was definitely a tourist experience. Go and see the stones, and marvel at them in a rather superficial way. Take some pictures. If you are with family, take pictures of your family against stone background. Otherwise, try not to get strangers into your pictures, try to take pictures that make the stones look appropriately lonely and wild. Wonder, again rather superficially, why they were put there. Then go to visitor centre for coffee and rather dry cake, wander round the shop and decide there is nothing you could possibly want to buy. Return to car and drive on to next place. This kind of visit doesn’t honour the old stones and it doesn’t honour oneself.

That is a slight exaggeration. I did spend time touching some of the stones, taking in the crystalline qualities of the gneiss rock; I did visit the other two, smaller, circles nearby and spend some quiet time. But there was nothing in the experience that ‘caught me’, and so I moved on, driving my tiny Nissan car like a rolling skate along the single track roads. I drove to the end of Great Bernera–done that; I drove to the Uig Sands–done that!

What I did see, and what I don’t think one would get a sense of without actually being there, was the extraordinary quality of this island, especially of the mountains rising in the south. I am tempted to use the term ‘bleak’ to describe them, but that feels to pejorative; ‘forbidding’ might be a better word–and indeed they do lie across between Lewis and Harris to the south traditionally preventing contact between the two communities. And yet, when I picked up a fragment to take home with me, I was delighted to see the contrasting bands of pink, grey, and white, and the glistening golden glow of embedded mica or quartz.

On the way back, just as I was fretting about too much driving, needing a cup of tea, feeling that my visit had left a sour taste in my mouth, I was struck by the enormous difference between such fragile, short-term, almost pathetic human sentiments and the immense endurance of these rocks, among the oldest anywhere in the world. I had to pull off the road and scribble something in my notebook in case I lost that fleeting insight–again, maybe, into a sense of eternity.

So it was a funny day. I was really pleased with myself when I got back to Stornaway and picked up my two bags of clean laundry.

20140716-111433-40473158.jpg

Advertisements

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Adeline says:

    I like this blog well done Meet Deborah Robinson on the tube she came up to me and said your’re Elizabeth Adeline. I had looked. at her and thought she looked a little like Kianna Macy knowing she wasn’t but made me think of Joanna fondly. But who is Deborah Robinson from way back she said! E xx

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Footnotes2Plato

"The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." —Alfred North Whitehead

fire in the head

26 years inspiring creative & reflective writing

Richard White

explorations in place and time

Seasonalight

light seeking

The New Citizenship Project Blog

Visit our main website at www.newcitizenship.org.uk

Desperado Philosophy

rocks, buoys and riptides

Shiny New Books

What to Read Next and Why

Tidal Cultures

Explorations of cultural and natural aspects of tidal landscapes in the UK, The Netherlands and beyond

dmanzife

Sometimes I want to write things down

Aki Schilz: Writer

Ramblings In a Teacup

Joe Minihane

Travel, technology, lifestyle

Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

dianajhale

Recent work and work in progress and anything else that interests me

westcoastings

Going wild on Scotland's west coast

qualia and other wildlife

Ecological writing between ocean and land

The Dark Mountain Project

Ecological writing between ocean and land

Joanna Macy and Her Work

Ecological writing between ocean and land

The Island Review

the online home for island lovers, writers and artists

%d bloggers like this: