Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The Kelpies at Falkirk

Not All Who Wander Are Lost is a line from the poem All that is gold does not glitter, written by J. R. R. Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings.

This week whilst touring Scotland I have been reminded on several occasions of that book which I read in my late teens. I remember it took me months to read and it wasn’t until later in life that the messages within it have begun to resonate with me.

Now I’m not saying we didn’t get lost but it did feel like we took very tentative steps on a great adventure, wandering the great open spaces just because  we could.

Scotland is the place that is full of romance and mythical beasties, you only have to look at Andy Scott’s fantastic Kelpies to see that folklore is at the forfront of most peoples minds when they visit Scotland.

I think that viewing large powerful landscapes makes us try to put our lives into perspective and how we fit into our wider world, and the landscapes I have seen this week certainly have done that.

House Green

Being someone who lives in the South Pennines I should be used to hills and beautiful landscapes but Scotland has places that make you gasp at the scale and the rugged beauty of it all. Even in the rain it is still epic.

We have spent the past few days touring the northern highlands taking part in the North Coast 500. The scheme as the name suggests takes you around the northern coastline of the Scottish highlands and takes you to places that are truly remarkable and beautiful in equal measure.

Now you would think that being August and most places booked solid it would be full, but at times we went hours without seeing another soul and that can be very refreshing.

But it’s not only the scenery thats amazing, it’s the people you meet on the trip, talking to fellow travellers taking the same routes who all have the similar opinion that Scotland really is a magical place.

Ann and Myself have reached the age that camping under canvas is not an option that we would take lightly. If fact I would say that unless armageddon reduces everywhere to rubble, camping is not an option. With that in mind we booked into Inns and Hotels around the route.

All the places we stayed offered a warm welcome and great food for the weary traveller but one place takes that welcome to a whole new level. At the John o Groats Guest House  I met a couple who take customer service very seriously  and then add a sprinkling of magic to make it the best place I have ever stayed in.

John o Groats Guest House
Photo Courtesy of John O’Groats Guest House

The guesthouse in the first building you see when you get to John o Groats and as you can imaging after hours on the road it is a very welcome sight. Mary and Mark greeted us with a very welcome cup of tea and we sat and had a bit of a chat about the place and explained about some of the photographs of people that litter the place. Each photograph representing something very special.

It is the end spot for the End to Enders as they are called. People who walk, run or cycle from Lands End to John o Groats and that is a challenge and a half.

Think about it Lands End to John o Groats according to google (so it must be right) is 866 miles for those who have to avoid motorways. It’s a huge distance to travel and the expressions on the faces in every photograph is of smiley faces full of pride through to abject relief and I take my hat of to each and every one of them.

The guest house has a transient population, most of the occupants like us passing through either onwards to the Orkneys or back down the coast to Inverness and I assume everyone gets the same treatment.

At the evening meal again I was reminded of Lord of the Rings. All of the guests sat at the same table chatting about our homes, families and where we are travelling to next.

I have to say that it’s the first time I have sat having dinner with an Italian CERN Astrophysicist, a Gynaecologist, A Business Consultant and a Teaching Administrator discussing what we all had for Christmas dinner in our respected houses.

Now I know thats not an earth shattering conversation but it confirmed to me that no matter what nationality or background you come from we all have the same pride in where we call home.

I suppose that’s how it used to be before the large hotel chains took over and reduced us all to stay in our rooms watching TV and eating microwave dinners.

The morning after we all met up again, had a huge breakfast and said our goodbyes then we all went our separate ways.

We loaded the suitcases into the car and we headed for the finish line at Inverness Castle.

Now one thing that Ann wanted to see on the trip was a dolphin so as we headed back to Inverness we headed for the Black Isle and in particular to Chanonry Point to try and spot them from land.

I have discovered on this trip that sometimes your trusty Sat Nav can take you to the most interesting of places. We finished up going down a road that led to what appeared to be a graveyard for unused North Sea Oil rigs.

This was very disconcerting, they are huge and these large industrial structures seemed to look almost satanic set against the beautiful surrounding countryside, it came as a brief reminder of what we do to satisfy the insatiable appetite for oil and petrol products.

Eventually we ended up at the Nigg ferry, a very small ferry that left every half hour. After seeing the size of it we decided that it might be prudent to turn around and follow the road around the estuary.

By the time we arrived at our next hotel it was to late to spot anything so we decided that in the morning we would take a boat on the Moray Firth to try and see the local pod. Unfortunately they didn’t want to come out and play so she was a little disappointed.

You can imagine our surprise this morning whilst sorting out the photographs of that one I took of Chanory Point from the boat, I had inadvertently photographed one of them. So that was one happy ending.

The black wave is a Dolphin (no wonder we missed it).

So I am sat here looking out over the Pennines at a rare blue sky thinking of the places I have seen, the people I have met and the delicious food I have eaten, (not been on the scales yet, I will have to build upto that one).

It brought me back to thinking about Tolkien again and in particular this quote ‘If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’

One thing is for sure I think I have left a little bit of my heart up in Scotland and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.


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