What I love about Scotland
By Roddy Gow OBE
A series in which well-known individuals based around the world express their thoughts about the Scotland they know well
I sit down to reflect on why Scotland means so much to me and find my mind travelling back to my earliest recollections and a recurring feeling of déjà vu as if places seemingly visited for the first time had been seen before. Now that I am living in Edinburgh in the New Town and with offices off the Royal Mile, I have a daily feel for Edinburgh as a walking city and of the thriving universities to which it is home.
Coming from a military family where we were often moving and changing homes, holidays were precious. I first remember visiting Scotland as a child. I have memories of Edinburgh in the late 1950s with my father’s mother, a formidable but much loved lady whose second husband had lived in Learmonth Terrace before being killed serving in World War II. Climbing Arthur’s Seat for the first time and marvelling at the city laid out before us like a carpet with the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife beyond, fascinating to a small boy. Riding ponies, early memories of the Royal Military Tattoo which has developed into a global phenomenon since then. Learning from my father of our forebears which he traced back to the Pirate Gow amongst concern of the danger of ‘wild highland blood’ somehow present in our genes. Being told of a forebear Neil Gow, Scotland’s most famous musician, and of his friendship with the younger Robbie Burns. On my mother’s side we were linked to the Davidsons.
There used to be an advertisement for the British Army with the quote ‘It will always be important for me to live a life where the pattern of the seasons,the rise and fall of the landscape,the colours and tones of field and woodland are factors.’ Time in the Highlands of Scotland always recalls that phrase and later, as a professional soldier with the Scots Guards, I would experience the vast spaces of the desert, the great night skies in Africa and the rugged and sometimes lonely majesty of the Cairngorms. My mother’s father,who was an enthusiastic sportsman, encouraged my interest in the great outdoors and facilitated so many wonderful stays during my teenage years. Through him I experienced the beauty of the North-West, above the Great Glen. With my father in tow, I developed a schoolboy’s fanatical desire to see the Loch Ness Monster. In the summer I took the Kyle of Lochalsh train to Achnasheen, driving on to Kinlochewe and staying beside Loch Maree with Slioch towering above it. Travelling on towards Skye and seeing the Coulins for the first time. Separately catching a MacBrayne ferry from Oban and visiting the Hebrides with my father,stopping to visit my godfather,the late Sir ‘Chips’ Maclean, at Duart Castle on Mull and going to Iona, remote and mystical, as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. Hind shooting near Diabaig in the winter with narrow roads almost impassable from snow at a time when electricity had not reached this remote village; where arriving or leaving on the Sabbath was wrong and strongly disapproved of but where I experienced the extraordinary and kind generosity of the villagers in a world that seemed full of potatoes and boiled lamb and the glow of light mantles lit by calor gas; evenings without the television,listening to the soft tones of the Gaelic spoken by my hosts.
Time and tide wait for no man, but for me Scotland holds a fascination. The fast changing world has reignited an interest amongst the Scots in Asia, where in earlier generations thousands of Scots men and women made their mark and there is a chance to re-engage again. It is an exciting time with events being played out against a natural backdrop of glen and mountain, loch and beach. Filled with people fired up with a renewed sense of their identity and a country to which others, like me, return.