Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Highland Serendipity I

Serendipity precludes repetition. I cannot think of a word that can replace serendipity, weather repetition, and still maintain that wonderful element of surprise. Maybe I don't need to. Such a state does not exist. Or does it?
I arrived in Scotland with no expectations. No anticipation. Just the belief that it can't be bad at all. The idea of a road trip had germinated in my mind a long time back. That was before I had to face the prospect of actually going broke. And jobless. When I did agree to join some others for that road trip, I wasn't so sure. But I couldn't have given it a pass - old habits certainly are like secret fears, they never completely die.
I did not have a driving licence. Procastination. So I did the next best thing, navigate. With hindsight however, I can say, it was the best thing.
Three days, two nights. Edinburgh - Inverness and back. A few lovely detours and exploratory drives.
Which brings me back to the topic of discussion. Serendipity.
I had to plan the trip in one night. Not a difficult proposition normally, but I also had to conclude my master thesis the same night. So I was a bit rushed. A small entry in the Lonely Planet mentioned the village of Balquhidder (pronounced Bal-wh-idder) where you could find Rob Roy's grave. I really don't get too many moments in my life that I can label evocative, so for lack of choice I shall select this as one. It immediately brought back old memories of a torn book that had been in my collection for a long time. My early teen attention span had never accommodated it. And then on a bored afternoon, I found myself looking grudgingly at that book with a deep blue and black cover. An adapted version of Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. I turned the page. And was hooked.
Years later, I didn't recollect the story. Just the feeling it had evoked. And that was strong enough to make me want to go look for Rob Roy's grave.
I was with a group of people who were open to do anything - so I had no problems convincing all but one of them as to why we were driving to an obscure village to look for the grave of a person they couldn't really care a lot about. The one exception was my daughter, who really did not mind the detour, but wanted to know why people would want to visit the grave of anyone. She popped this question to me after she had observed me run around the tiny village of Balquhidder, trying to pinpoint the grave in question. Telling her I have no idea was too honest for my liking. So I did what I usually do with her. I digressed. As we walked towards the Balquhidder church, I gave her the spiel about how I had felt, as a little boy, when I had read the book. And how I just could not let this opprtunity pass by. And how you can never be sure what you discover when you set out to do something like that. Showing a patience that only she can, she just walked along and enjoyed the moment. And then we were there.
Well, it was just a grave. Even if it was Robert Roy MacGregor's. The stone said 'MacGregor Despite Them' and I could not explain to her why. I tried to make the moment as solemn as I could and then we were back in the car. The next stop was just to the place where the village road rejoined the highway we were on. Lonely Planet recommended a bar there called the 'Rob Roy Bar' as a "nice place to stop for a quick guinness" or words to that effect. So that is exactly what we did.
We were lucky to reach there just before the place opened, considering that they were closed most of the time during the holiday season. We were settling ourselves in the cosy bar with our drinks when I observed a couple of books hung with strings on the wall next to a laminated newspaper clipping. The clipping had a picture of a familiar looking elderly man holding up a book next to a young woman. It was a report about a local hotelier who had written two books for kids. He had just penned down a story revolving around their pet hound, which he used to narrate to his daughter at bedtime. Now the little girl was a yound woman, and the story was into the second book, part of an intended trilogy. And the man in the picture, I realised, was the same one who had just poured me my guinness.
Excited, I called my daughter over, and she immediately settled down to read the book, which was left there for just that purpose. The story was set in these parts of the highlands and it involved the lore of Rob Roy. It even had a sketch of Rob Roy's grave done by the author, my daughter pointed out excitedly. As I sipped my drink and glanced at my little girl, immersed in her reading, the import of the moment hit me. Rob Roy was captivating her in exactly the same way that he had captured the imagination of a young boy many years back. The warmth of the fire place filled me up as I felt like I had just discovered El Dorado, or Utopia...or both.

Highland Serendipity II

Hungry as we were, late afternoon on the second day of our trip, we didn't stop at just any place. We wanted to eat some place that was local, very Scottish. On the road from Drumnadrochit to Inverness, we drove past this place, and then something made us take a U-turn. Thank God!

The small little joint was absolutely amazing. Run by a couple, the wife is the chef and the husband serves, the place had cosy interiors and a great feel about it.

And the food was absolutely delicious!

As we were leaving, extremely pleased at our find, I mentioned to the chef how we did not stop any place else as we wanted to eat at a traditional Scottish place. With a smile, and just a tinge of pride, she told me that we were really lucky as this was the only original Scottish restaurant in the entire highlands. When I calculated the odds, the only word that came to my mind was 'Serendipity'! But then, for the traveller who travels with an open mind, every moment is serendipitous. And thus, repetitive, for one who travels a lot and yet manages to keep an open mind. That brings me back to my original question - is there another word?