The Lake of the Elms

“Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.”
The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond

It’s July and we’re in Scotland and the summer is poor, but my host is fantastic. He’s full of fun facts and bits of information that you never really use, unless you’re like me and you like filling your head with all that useless stuff that you can bring up at random in the middle of a conversation. When he asked me if I wanted to go to the lakes up north, I joked about going to see Loch Ness. He told me she wouldn’t be there because we weren’t going that far up, but I got all the tales on the myth anyway. I listened to him, his soft Scottish accent, as he drove the car down the long, long motorway that seemed so much smoother, so much cleaner than I’ve seen them in England. Even though the road is like a snake, bending and twisting, the car’s glued to the road.

Loch Lomond is a twist of Lac Leaman, which is Gaelic, and it means ‘Lake of the Elms’. I tell him this as I gaze up at the tall trees, standing like a million spikes, as the mountains hide behind thick layers of fog and mist. It’s incredibly damp and wet and it’s almost as if the clouds are hanging particularly low – low enough that we’re in it. I didn’t know at that point that every major trip to see Scotland’s nature, we would always be ‘in the clouds’. I can’t say that I minded – it adds a mythical mysteriousness, something ethereal and folkloric, and in my memory Scotland is now shrouded in a veil of mist and mystery.

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We stop somewhere at a small parking area and though there are three more cars, I don’t see or hear anyone else. The only thing I hear is the sound of rushing cars against a barrier of deep, natural silence. The kind that’s so thick it echoes in your ears, like you’re holding a seashell against it. It’s a shame the main road goes right through. However, once we’ve made it about half a mile down the footpath, the car sounds die down and there’s the sound of rushing water and a soft, gentle howling wind that’s tugging at our rain coats. The grass is wet and before I know it, our shoes are wet too.

The air is so clean, I can hardly describe it. Humidity is high but it’s cool, if not bordering chilly, and with the partially hidden views due to the mist and fog, I don’t mind at all. As the low-hanging clouds move asunder, they expose the mighty hills and the trees that accompany their horizons. I try to study the houses I see along the shoreline, but they’re too far away to be properly observed. I imagine living here, in this mystical land, waking up at water’s edge, the view from your bedroom window at times obscured by mist. The only people passing by would be people on their boats, sailing or rowing their way around the large lake. Perhaps I’d keep some chickens. Mace and I could go for a swim every morning during summer. I’m sure life would be peaceful, if not somewhat secluded with the nearest supermarket, I’m sure, several miles away. Still, it’s a small discomfort if it means moving here, living here. I would not work, though, I would just sit outside, on my porch maybe, and look at the magic of nature. We’d wander until we knew the lake and its surrounding lands better than the layout of my own house. Perhaps I’d buy a boat and we could float across the waters whenever we wanted.

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Instead of lingering in my thoughts for too long, Mace, my host and his dog and I continue. We walk the pebbled shores and I watch how Mace dips his feet in the water. The lake stretches out into the distance both left and right and I am amazed at the magnitude of this piece of nature – it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. It makes me feel like the tiniest human being on the planet, surrounded by the epic grand scale of Mother Nature, which in her turn makes me feel so large. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. I just haven’t quite figured it out yet. It’s something along the lines of ‘you’re here, you’re present. This makes you tall. But you’re not tall enough to match the riches of this planet that have been here since day one’. It’s almost like seeing the sea for the first time, not being able understand how far left, how far right and how far into the beyond it goes, only this is different. The sea is like a single line, this lake has curves and bends and turns, and hills break the flow as they meet the water’s edge at random times.

My host tells me a little about some plants and flowers we cross as we wander, and occasionally a bird soars over our heads and he’d be like ‘Oh, that’s an eagle’ or a sparrow, or some bird which name I have forgotten. The trees here are so tall, despite being so close to the lake. In the middle of a field of some sort of tall-standing reed, we come across a hotel. K tells me about its history, that it’s been here for a long time, now sold to some chain hotel business. He suspects the hotel will soon loose its original authenticity, taken over by plain and modern facilities and decor. But, he says, it could go the other way around. Not to far from the hotel, another hotel was build. New, more modern and equipped with fancy and state of the art rooms, the old hotel might not even make it. It’s a shame, he says. Area like this, it deserves more than that. We return to the car, the elm forest rising as we leave the lake behind us and close in on the hills, and I contemplate his words.

A place like this definitely deserves more than that.

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