When we arrive at our flat outside of Arbroath the owners ask us what are we doing here, politely, which is a fair question, and I mumble something about coming from Newcastle by way of Amsterdam and touring 90 days around the UK so we can stay out of the Schengen because we’re living with my mom in Germany, and they pause and nod and go quiet the way most do when we say that.
I go too long without anything to eat because we were tired coming in and agitated, I was, and said I’d go out in the morning to the store for breakfast stuff but then got distracted with the Internet and the blogging, and the wonder of how the morning light came about in a subtle, black-to-blue fashion, and got over-hungry and filled myself with oat cakes standing at the sink, smearing them with the complimentary raspberry preserves, all of it dainty and crude at the same time.
And then I went through the Guest Book later, the handwritten notes in different languages and people from France, Germany, the UK, Florida: all of them rhapsodic about the estate, the local history and so on, and feel a schmuck for treating it as just a pass-through here, when for so many others it’s a real destination with so much to see; they come here to celebrate important birthdays, return to it as their special place.
We go to Glamis castle, the setting for Macbeth, but the castle wasn’t a castle when the actions took place in the play, it was a hunting lodge, and it seems Shakespeare wrote it as some political maneuvering to appease his new king, a lover of rich, Scottish heritage with a fetish for witches, because we’ve discovered the Scots seem very superstitious about things, even slept sitting up for fear the devil might mistake them as corpses lying down and steal their souls, which is why their beds were so short, they slept with their backs on their headrests and pillows to prop them from falling forward. And in the private chapel we crowd in and I sit toward the back, near a chair they keep clear for the ghost who’s rumoured to haunt here, the one King James V had burned at the stake as a witch for he envied and feared her.
Our tour guide in the castle Euan is distinctly nerdy about the history and for this I love him, and gravitate closer, and realise Lily is the same, as she asks questions with a slight giggle and shaking voice, so enrapt with the history and possibilities of it all, the ghost stories and paintings of the Queen Mother who spent her summers here: you can see the sharkskin suitcase she used in a painting from 1923 and even touch it, and the sharkskin was thought to be waterproof and good for journeys by boat, in case it got dropped in the water.
We get lost going to the castle, we go off-route. The navigator leads us under tunnels and into fields, and the sky gets confused with the ground in the grey slate, with splashes of colour from the trees here and there, and Dawn and I both feel elated, gloomy, creative, ripe for something meaningful in our Northwest way, how the fog makes the colours go abstract and this may be the only time all of us are driving to a castle in the middle of nowhere-Scotland at the end of October in a car we bought in Germany.
We get an Arbroath smokie then, haddock smoked over oak and beechwood in an oblong pit until it turns golden-brown, good for a chowder they call cullen skink soup, served with artisan bread and butter, everything with butter, and we’re going the wrong direction from Germany if we think we can lose weight here with the lorne sausage slices, black pudding, pork sausages and hash browns — but I make a leek soup with milk and oatmeal, bacon rashers as a garnish, spring onions, and find a Speyside single malt that’s aged eight years in oak barrels, and put a dent in it, wake wondering where I am, what day it is.
At night the rain is like the rain from a film set for a scene on the deck of a boat where everything’s fucked, it’s raining sideways, blowing rain, and the wind has the trees animated like elephant trunks or Greek monsters with multiple heads, the way the limbs sway and bloat and leer, and despite the ill nature of it there’s a part of me that wants to run out and just disappear into the wild, wants to be consumed by the dark.
Some Scotches start sweet and end dry I read — they’re classified by regions from the Highland malts like Speyside, flavoured by the wood in which they mature, like old sherry casks with European oak, imparting a dried fruitiness — or the coastal malts, north of Inverness, — the inland malts, the island malts, the Lowland malts, and so on. I thought I could come here with a month to learn and really own Scotch, and now that feels foolish and impractical, a kind of hubris.
We go to a new movie theatre in town to watch the film Pan and we’re the only people in the theatre, and order tea in a ceramic cup, a bottle of beer, and sit in opposite ends from our children until the action gets too dicey and they come to sit and snuggle with us, and we clap on our way out and take pictures of the sun setting around 3:20 GMT, as shown below.