Do you dream an impossible dream? Do people say to you, "You can't do that - it's crazy!"? So what if it is? Life is too short to live without dreams. Mine was once to fly hot air balloons. I pursued that dream, walking away from a promising career in radio and television, and I've since owned 4 balloons, earned a private and then commercial pilot rating, and through 25 years of flying, logged almost 1,000 hours in the air. I still enjoy ballooning, but retired from active flying last year. Why? Because I have a new dream - a dream to move to Scotland, and it's a dream I began to pursue seriously one year ago today...
Friday, 25 April, 2014. British Airways flight 1482 touched down in Glasgow, on schedule, at 1:30 p.m.; I was in SCOTLAND! Even now, one year on, it sometimes seems like a dream. I was in love with Scotland, I had declared my intention to immigrate - to make Scotland my home, yet I'd never set foot there, but that was about to change...
A decade old TV drama I discovered in 2013, "Monarch of the Glen," first awakened within me a long dormant awareness of my Scot ancestry (dating to my 8th great-grandfather, Robert Gabriel Barnhill, Glasgow, 1627) and then flamed a passion for Scotland that continues to burn stronger with each passing day. Having binge viewed the programme's seven seasons in so many weeks, I found myself needing a daily fix of Scotland so I took my budding passion to Twitter, and there soon discovered the monthly Twitter chat, #Scotlandhour. Life has not been the same since!
#ScotIandhour is a monthly chat about Scotland, its food, drink, lifestyles, culture, scenery, attractions, history, and more. In short, it was my nirvana. I quickly became addicted to #Scotlandhour. I was a sponge absorbing every bit of Scottish minutia I could find.
I'd already begun hatching a plan to visit Scotland. I'd embarked on a healthier lifestyle to get into better shape; it had been more than 10 years since I'd been on a plane and/or traveled abroad. Getting to Scotland became at once my inspiration, my motivation, and my ultimate reward. Meanwhile #Scotlandhour was my virtual monthly passport to the land of my dreams. I was meeting and making friends there - people who must have thought this Texan, who proclaimed himself "Texan by Birth, Scot by Ancestry," was more than a wee bit daft (crazy). I'm not sure which came across more on #Scotlandhour - my tenacity at pursuing my dream, or my daftness, but travel writer Lisa Wilson (Henderson) was an early believer and supporter of my dream. She is one of those I first met online who is now a fast friend. She told my story in The Scotsman and within a day it had been tweeted and retweeted seemingly around the world. Such was the reach and impact of Twitter and #Scotlandhour. Apparently more than a few found reading about a daft Texan who dreamed of moving to Scotland highly entertaining. (I suppose the article convinced some that I was indeed daft, but most were supportive of my pursuit of my dream.)
Read Lisa (Henderson) Wilson's story here.
With help and suggestions from Lisa and many others on #Scotlandhour, including its founder, Dougie Baird (another new dear friend), my travel plans quickly went from a one-week visit to Scotland and Ireland to a three-week "tour de force" of Scotland! (My ancestors, like so many others, moved from the Scottish Highlands to the Ulster Plantation in Ireland in the mid 1600s before finally immigrating to the USA in the early 1700s.)
•Week 1 - I based in Kilpatrick, just outside Glasgow, and overlooking the Clyde from the Old Kilpatrick Hills. I toured Glasgow, visited the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies (opened to the public for less than a week at the time), toured the Isle of Bute, took in a night of theatre in Edinburgh, and co-hosted that month's #Scotlandhour!
•Gavinburn Cottages, in the Old Kilpatrick Hills above the Clyde was my base for my first week and would become my "home in Scotland" hosting me on a 3 trips to day (Updated 5/17).
•The Kelpies, massive equine structures of tribute to Scotland's heavy horses like the Clydesdales, had just opened to the public when I visited.
Click each image to enlarge.
•Week 2 - This was my initial dream come true, to see the place that had set my Scottish flame alight. I stayed at week on Ardverikie Estate, aka Glenbogle, in the Scottish Highlands, the fictional home of the McDonalds in MOTG. Touring the many filming locations in "Monarch Country" was unforgettable. This is my Scottish "Ground Zero."
•Glenbogle (Ardverikie Estate) was my ultimate destination, the rest of Scotland mere icing on the cake!
•A visit to Cillie Choirill Church & Graveyard, a Monarch filming location, was the most reflective moment of the trip.
•Week 3 - Onward I went to the Isle of Skye. I'd become enamored of Skye through photos shared by newfound friends on Twitter. I had to see its Tolkienesque scenery. It did not disappoint. It was during this week I also took delivery of a bespoke bracelet, handcrafted by Skye jeweller Nick Shone. Meant to commemorate this first time in Scotland, the nameplate design was mine, with my name, Glen, in Gaelic (Gleann) flanked by the Texas and Scottish flags. Nick executed the brief to perfection, adding his own unique touch of a buttonhook closure crafted from a bit of Scottish stag antler - a real "Monarch of the Glen."
Skye's landscape did not disappoint!
Click on each image above to enlarge.
I suppose the title of this blog post is a bit misleading. It had taken me 60 years to get to Scotland, and ironically I was back in a mere 7 months, this time for 4 weeks, including spending Christmas and Hogmanay in Edinburgh. As I write this I'm a mere 90 days removed from having last stood in Scotland and I'm already watching for an opportunity to make a 3rd trip as soon as possible. Immigration remains my ultimate goal but it will not be easily achieved. My naïveté about the legalities of moving to another country has met with a full dose of reality, but I don't give up easily. (Maybe I am daft?)
People travel for a variety of reasons, to get away from everyday routine, to see a part of the world previously unknown to them, to experience different cultures, to sample exotic food and drink. I traveled to Scotland for all of those reasons, and to answer a more burning question; was Scotland my "destiny," as I had come to believe it was, or was I, as some must think, truly daft? 2014 was a "Year of Homecoming" - a catchy theme to promote Scottish tourism, and it proved to be exactly that for me. I've never felt more at home anywhere in the world than when in Scotland. Question asked, and answered.
Is there some mystical ancestral pull at work here? I've certainly not traveled back in time and met my ancestors, but I would if the opportunity presented itself. My two visits to Scotland have left me with indelible memories of sights seen and experiences enjoyed, and with an ever-growing sense that it is where I want to make my home.
It's been a year since I first set foot in Scotland, and not a day goes by that I don't dream of that magical land. No matter how many times I may visit (or eventually reside there), my first trip to Scotland will never be forgotten. Like a first sip of an exquisite liqueur, the taste lingers and tantalizes long after the drinking is done.
It could be that I will never realize my dream of moving to Scotland, but it won't be because I haven't tried. Already the dream has enriched my life in many ways that I could never have imagined, not the least of which is the host of Scots that I now count among my dearest friends.
So what is your impossible dream and when will you start chasing it?