Bittersweet Memories

…continued from Breakfast with Bruce

Stirling.  I had first come to this village in Scotland when I was twenty-five years old.  I was wide-eyed with wonder on my first European adventure and had made my way north via train from London.  Stepping onto the platform, I had laryngitis and about the worst case of homesickness of my life. Over the two days I spent wandering the hilly, crooked streets of Stirling, I explored castle ruins, walked around the base of an extinct volcano, had breakfast with the dead, and, in general, fall in love with the place. One photo will always represent Stirling to me:

My Bench in Scotland

My bench.  Sitting on a rocky outcropping in the shadow of Stirling Castle, this is the spot I spent eating breakfast each morning.  I’d stop by the local bakery, pick up a fresh baked delicacy and make my way up the cobblestone streets to this spot, which happened to be in the middle of a 16th century graveyard.  There I’d sit, with an unparalleled view of the castle and the beginning of the Scottish Highlands beyond, with nothing but a few ghosts for company.

Fast forward almost twenty years and I found myself back in Scotland for the second time.  Of course I had to visit Stirling, so after my early morning stop at Bannockburn, I jumped back in my rental car and soon found myself driving up a winding cobblestone street that ascends to Stirling Castle.  After several hairpin turns between high stone walls and a rather long drop, I finally found my way into the parking lot at Stirling Castle.  Lucky for me, I’d beaten the crowds and found a close spot and was soon soaking up a view I hadn’t seen in twenty long years.  A lifetime ago really.

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I made my way up the embankment to the castle gates.  I’d toured the castle thoroughly last time, when I was much younger and a lot less jet lagged, so I merely ducked my head inside the gate to say hello and headed back out.  I took a few moments to suck in as much of the cool highland breeze as I could before heading to the other side of the parking lot.

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Looking down on the cemetery below, I was happy to see my old bench, still in its spot across the way on it’s jagged perch.  Twenty years had passed and here I was again.  Staring out across to where I’d found myself a long time ago.  It made me emotional for some reason.  Maybe it was all that had happened in those twenty years – loved ones now gone, the hope and promise of my youth now slipping into middle age, time passing. I had the weirdest feeling that I was somehow looking over the chasm of time at a younger me, sitting there, like I had all the time in the world.

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The same graves were there, maybe with a few more.  The castle was still standing, maybe with a few more loose stones.  Scotland seemed unchanged somehow, but I was much changed.  Until this moment, I didn’t realize how much.  Twenty years ago I didn’t hesitate to hike up the steep streets to the castle from the lower part of town.  Now, my legs couldn’t seem to bear the thought of crossing the cemetery just to sit on my bench.  Somehow it seemed fitting.  As much as you want to, you can’t go back – you can only remember…

…and memory is oh so bittersweet.

…the journey continues with Bonnie Doune

All photos by author.

 

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