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Western Oz Words: Return Of The Migrant

“As we neared the mainland of Orkney, a company of seals appeared alongside the boat, dipping and skimming through the water…’’ Margaret Dunn journeys from her home in Perth, Australia, for a holiday in her native land, Scotland.

Like many others who migrate from their homeland to live elsewhere, there comes a time when I feel the need to visit old familiar places, and the family and friends I have never lost touch with. It’s a long way from Perth in Western Australia to Scotland, but the thought of eight weeks of touring around was an incentive.

The long flight took me straight into Glasgow, where I spent five days before trekking on to Edinburgh, which was to be my base camp. Meeting up with family and friends in my old haunts, I felt as if I’d hardly been away.

But other places, other voices were calling. My excellent friends in Kinross eat and drink well – a ‘dram’ is always on offer. So is their lively conversation and sharp Scottish humour. One day we went exploring the East Neuk of Fife and the small resorts there; lunch at Crail and a walk on the beach at Anstruther. It was fine and sunny, but cool from the North Sea breezes. Scottish summer!

Then it was time to make for Inverness, by bus. Kinross, conveniently, was on the bus route. Who would not enjoy this magic voyage through the Grampian Mountains. The cloudy skies, with only occasional glimpses of the sun, in no way diminished the grandeur of the high lands, the lochs and woodlands.

Late afternoon saw us into Inverness bus station where my friend, Sheena, a native of the town, was all smiles and welcomes. Five minutes walk brought us to her small flat on a quiet street by the River Ness. By the time we had our tea and the inevitable dram, and caught up with all the news, we were thinking about our programme for my holiday. I had reckoned on perhaps five days there, but Sheena had other things in mind. There were so many great things to do: the local pubs were buzzing each night with a feast of Scottish music from local musicians: a visit to Forres and Findhorn just along the coast, staying overnight with friends.

Then, the piece de resistance: “We’re going to Orkney – I’ve booked a bed and breakfast for three nights.”

So here I was on this bus, taking me from Inverness to John o’Groats: another stage on my great adventure. We left the bus station at 7.30am, sleepy and subdued for the first stage but becoming more lively as we trundled on, ever northward by the Moray Firth, seeing spaced out small communities, mountains, streams, lochs - up to our date with the passenger ferry at John o’Groats, hoping for a smooth crossing to Orkney.

This most northern community of the British Isles seemed small and bleak to me: a place to be always leaving from. The ferry was in, ready to take its next load of 200 passengers. The lounge with its rows of seat was crowded and we settled in a corner at the stern, sheltered from the breeze. A small crowd was gathered there, glad to be off the bus and enjoying the slight dipping motion of the boat. The sea was in a good humour with little frothy waves sprinting along; restless clouds overhead on their way to somewhere, letting through flashes of sunlight.

Over at the stern rail, a little ceremony was taking place. Two elderly ladies were kneeling there, a Scottish flag with its cross of St Andrew draped across the rail. A tall young man in dark jeans and an Aran sweater stood by them, playing a lament on his bagpipes. We learned that this small group was from Canada. The brother of the two ladies had requested before he died that his ashes be scattered in the sea at this place. The piper was his son. Passengers stood a little way off until the ceremony was over and the ladies moved inside.
The piper stayed on to watch the wake of the boat and perhaps say his own farewell.

Then a passenger asked him if he would play for us. No coaxing was needed. The pipes came to life with some fast, lively pibroch, bringing more people out from the saloon – no-one had expected this entertainment on the normal ferry run. The recital ended with a slow, sad lament, reaching into the hearts and memories of those listening. I’m sure we all felt privileged to have been part of this particular trip.

As we neared the mainland of Orkney, a company of seals appeared alongside the boat, dipping and skimming through the water. Perhaps they had also been drawn by the music. A fleet of buses was waiting to take the passengers on to their particular destinations, some returning home, others going on to explore this magical land of the North. My friend and I climbed aboard the bus for Kirkwall where we would lodge for our visit. The driver was also a guide and as we edged round the coast road by Scapa Flow, told us of the naval battles and great dramas that had been acted out there. We studied our book of tourist attractions and ancient sites to visit. By the time we came to Kirkwall I felt I was indeed in a foreign land. After a good night’s sleep, we would be ready to set out on the next adventure of my Great Northern Journey.


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