The Reluctant Traveler Travels Back in Time

After today, for the next two Sundays, I will be traveling. First I go to Utah to visit Bryce and Zion National Parks, two of the many Southwest locations I have not yet seen, then to Washington D.C. for work.

In the meantime, I’ve been scratching my silver haired-head to decide what to write for today. Flipping through the brain-file of many trips—of all sorts, now—I pulled out my 1981 journey to the British Isles.

First, dig around in the basement to find my journal. I love to rearrange the furniture, but this often results in forgetting where something now resides. Found the journal the first place I looked. Next, photos. I carried a Nikkormat SLR with me, a venerable camera, all through England, Wales and Scotland. Half of my film was grossly underexposed, due to airplane x-ray machines of the day, and the old semi-automatic starting to fail. Found the photos in the first album I pulled from the book shelf.

I’m going to tell about only one place in my GB trip, partly because it was the only part of my trip where it didn’t pour rain, and all my photos came out sharp and clear.

Iona is a small island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. One travels through the Isle of Mull (made famous in Robert Louis Stephenson’s Kidnapped), after ferrying from Oban on the mainland. Let’s say that for some time I had been possessed by Scotland and everything Scottish, especially by the story of Columba, the Irish warrior monk who was exiled to the isle for fighting on the losing side of some irreconcilable dispute between tribes of Ireland. Our family carried, on my father’s side, the Morrison name with pride, as both my father and myself ended up with Morrison as our middle names. My father was and sisters are true gingers – red hair, freckles and fair, fair skin.

Notes from my journal told me a different story from what I have told myself all these years.

Excerpted from Europe Chronicle:

My trip from Orkney on has been beautiful . . . . as if Reverend Patterson [I have no recall of who this person was] left me with a prayer of a glorious journey. And I have found it.

On Mull . . . .

The Isle of Mull. The Garden of Mull. The eastern shores are wooded; Douglas fir, I think. And only Craighnure on the northeast coast the major village. North lies Tobramory, the largest town on Mull (400 people, the driver proudly informed us. [The population has grown to a staggering 1000 in the past 37 years]). Mull itself, at least the Southern portion of the Isle, is a glorious place; the hide of a mountain lion, pockmarked, scarred, yet covered with a mantle of tawny/golden fur rippling in the westerly wind. Mull. Water falls, rainbows and every shade of gold and yellow that can be named, plus a few nameless ones, as well . . . . [In those days I was an ellipses fan] cracked by sea locks and inland lochs, peppered with sheep and more sheep, and wily, wooly cattle, and red deer. Mull, land of rough sea winds and high-shouldered mountains. Bens, the Scots call them in the singing language of the Gaels, the “wee lochs”, “ all for nought”, “cheerio”, “aye”; all come from the cheeks and noses of the Scots, carven like the glacial rocks of Mull.

Perhaps it was the sun; yes I think it was, and yet the sun I had on Orkney did not quite flavor the vistas with the brilliance it did on Mull.

Even the wide canyons and sky-scraping mounts of Mallaig did not touch me like the ride across Mull—even the grassy, golf-link smoothness of Iona did not call me.

I thought once Iona called me. Now I know that it was Mull.

Iona’s commerciality repelled me; although, as I have noted before, the potential for exploitation is not fully realized anywhere in the U.K as it is back home. I preferred the north point of the Isle, called St. Columba’s Seat, or Beach of the Seat, said to be a favorite retreat of the monk. It was a rocky, limpet shell-strewn stretch of land below a shelf of grass grazed so short by the sheep that it resembled a golf course, even down to the sand traps.

But Mull, so wild, so free, so isolated, reached only by ferry. Unexploited.

Could I stand such isolation,alone? TV and radio are here. I would have to have electricity for my hifi [This was a a few years before the personal computer revolution], but an old church converted to a home with solar panels so intrigued me that I stared long into it.

[There follows musings about the fantasy novel that I was working on at the time, never finished, long filed away]

I met a nice English couple, the MacNabs, on my way home from Mull on the ferry; we spoke of Scotland and vacationing there, and they said June was the best month.

This guesthouse, [Oban} the best I’ve stayed in yet. Except for the shower.


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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Reluctant Traveler Travels Back in Time — 2 Comments

  1. I was on Iona in 1971. The reconstruction of the Abbey was still a WIP and home to a summer camp for ghetto kids from Glasgow, many of whom had never been outside their city, or more than a square mile within the city. To see their wide-eyed awe was the best part of the trip. Three days of rambling through ruins, encountering ghosts, and dancing at the caeligh made the trip magical and the most memorable of the six months I was in Britain.

  2. Thanks for the lovely photos and a wonderful introduction to this place! Isn’t it fun to rediscover your younger self and thinking, as well as revisit your travels?