Walking across Scotland

In the late summer of 1990, I was crossing the English/Scottish border by train on my way to the Outer Hebrides. I wanted to visit the enigmatic and rarely visited Standing Stones of Callinish. This was to be the culmination of my first trip to Europe, which had started in the Black Forest of southern Germany and continued on to Switzerland where I had been mountain walking between small, isolated villages at the base of the Matterhorn.

As I gazed out the train window, I found myself being pulled in to the landscape of this lowland border region. Low hills rolled on and on into the distance in a mesmerizing pattern of soft, green waves. Though not nearly as dramatic as the jagged peaks of the snowcapped Swiss Alps or the blue filled basins of northern England's Lake District, this place was having an effect on me. Something was moving within me.

I walked into the small passageway where the train cars connect and where, at this stage of railway history, one could open a Dutch door to the outside. As I breathed in a mix of Scottish air and diesel fumes, I felt myself drawn inexplicably to those distant green hills.

This area of Scotland is to international tourists what we in the States refer to as "fly over land" - places we pass over on our way from one coast to the other. Foreign visitors bypass this part of Scotland on their way to the better-known highlands of whiskey and Loch Ness monster fame, leaving this area to the indigenous Scots, Scottish tourists and North Yorkshire vacationers. So why was I having an emotional response, with tears welling up and streaming down my face as grazing sheep and green hills rushed by at railway speed? Why did I feel for the first time in my life that I was "coming home?"

That question partially was answered when I returned to the U.S. and my work in a hospital. But the deeper answer would remain a mystery for a while longer. I knew when I felt that pull, hanging out over the Dutch door with the wind in my face, that I had to go back to this unassuming landscape to find a reason for my emotional response.

After a few days back at work I met a patient with an English accent, and we talked about my first trip to his homeland. I didn't tell him about my experience on the train. My patient told me that for more than two decades he had studied family names and their regions of origin in England and Scotland.

When he asked my family name I replied, "My name is Strange." He immediately responded, "Oh yes. Northern Yorkshire and the southern borders of Scotland." "What?" I asked, astonished. He explained that a large concentration of people named "Strange" live in that region.

I walked out of his room with the hair standing up on the back of my neck and had to lean against a wall. My thoughts swirled back to the emotions I had experienced on that train as I tried to make sense of what I had just been told.

Eighteen years later, with two false starts in between, I walked alone for 17 days through those rolling hills in southern Scotland. And found more than I had expected.

About the presenter:

Ron Strange has mountaineered and backpacked hundreds of miles throughout California, the Southwest and Baja California. He has hiked the John Muir Trail solo and currently is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in sections from Mexico to Canada.

He spent more than 25 years visiting and photographing archaeological sites on a circuitous path from the Outer Hebrides to the Lions Gate at Mycenae in Greece; from the American Southwest to Baja California; from the solstice sites and standing stones of North America to Ireland and the Orkney Islands, and to the Paleolithic caves of southern France.

He is interested in the origins of religious activity and how that appears in archaic art and ritual. His travels will continue this year back to southern France and northern Italy to study the sites of the cult of the Black Madonna and the Holy Grail.

When not traveling, he has worked on the potato harvests in southern Colorado, as a teamster truck driver, masonry tender and tour bus driver. For 30 years he has worked in the surgical intensive care department in a hospital in San Diego. He currently lives in Port Townsend. He has served on the board and program committee of the San Diego Friends of Jung, a group interested in the psychology of Carl Jung, for 25 years. He continues to study in this area.

This week's presentation:

"Walking Across Scotland: Coast-to-Coast on the Southern Upland Way"

By: Ron Strange

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 12

Where: Sequim High School cafeteria, 601 N. Sequim Ave.

Admission: Adults, $5 at the door (18 and under are free)

Traveler's Journal is presented by the Peninsula Trails Coalition as a fundraiser for the Olympic Discovery Trail. All the money raised is used to buy food for volunteers working on trail projects. For more information, call Dave Shreffler at 683-1734.

Next week's presentation:

"Glimpses of 'Home:' Insights of Three Foreign Exchange Students"

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