I left early after staying out late. The coach was leaving at 6.30am. I was the first one there but the last one on. I didn’t have the right ticket. It was the wrong coach company and the next one wasn’t due for another hour or so. The driver and his supervisor had a chat. We’d joked, I’d meekly accepted my fate, and they eventually took pity on me and let me on. The other two passengers didn’t seem to mind too much.
When we stopped at Glasgow I nipped out for a ‘comfort break’, and when I came back a big handsome Spanish man was sat in the seat next to me. His name was Nick and he was Greek. He apologised as, being tall too, he understood the benefit of having two seats to spread yourself out on.
The driver, on the other hand, was a short angry man. He was receiving conflicting instructions, and the ‘fucks’ were flying as we made our way out through the city in the rain. I offered Nick a sweet and he began talking for the next eight hours or so. He was fast and furious at first, but after a while he settled into a rhythm and all was well. The journey passed quicker for it. Nick was frustrated in his job, stuck up in Scotland when his girlfriend was in London. He had a lot of energy, lots of ideas, and he shared them all with me, two or three times – at least.
When we pulled into London we marvelled at the sunshine and early evening crowds as the coach crossed Oxford Street. It was both familiar and wildly exotic at the same time. There were girls, lots of them, in short summer skirts. You could be forgiven for thinking that it had been October that morning up in Inverness. But here it was early July, and for once the sun was doing what it was meant to do at this time of year.
Nick & I said goodbye, and I was alone and on the homeward stretch. It was just a quick nip from Victoria to Vauxhall, then back home to Kingston. On the train, I reflected on what I’d learned on my trip:
First, a happy man just walks and simply enjoys the sights, smells and sounds of his immediate surroundings, rather than contemplating the meaning of the universe before taking each and every step.
Second, when you’re lost, most people will point you in the right direction, even if they’re not sure that it’s actually the right direction.
Third, spontaneity is over-rated and planning is under-rated.
And finally, getting somewhere is just as interesting as arriving there.
So, I was home after being away for 10 days. Not that long really. In that time I’d skirted around nuclear power stations, said confession for the first time in over 25 years, and had shed a tear at the voices of angels. I’d marvelled at mountains, been blown away on headlands, and had been spoilt by unspoilt beaches. I’d managed to hitch in one of the most far-flung parts of the mainland. I’d drunk with thirsty, lusty, lost souls in Inverness. I may even have killed a seagull.
Yet nothing compared to getting back home and getting a big hug from my wife. Then, walking into the back room and seeing a ‘Welcome Home’ banner hung up by the kids. They were sleeping innocently upstairs: dreaming of Dad, the Great Adventurer, and, more to the point, wondering what he’d bought home for them as a present. Later I found out that Millie had hung up the banner for Charlie, as he’d spent one whole night away camping with the cubs.
And that was it, a trip that felt big at the time, but was actually quite small when I look back on it six years later. I’m going to set off again one day. I need to complete the journey up to Cape Wrath: to hit the end of the road, peer over the edge, then turn around and come straight back home again. Tick it off the list, then stay put. And sometimes, I think that’s the biggest move of all.
Cape Wrath, 24/24