On our first full day in Northern Ireland, we did what all visitors to that region do: pop over to Scotland. The idea originated somewhat spontaneously, a few days before we left for Ireland. I opened a Facebook message from Simon one morning to find this gem:
“If you’re willing to pay for fuel and the weather is good, I can take you to Scotland in my boat.”
Well this was a surprise! Surely our already-crammed agenda could not accommodate a trip to Scotland. But the girls were as stoked about it as I was, and the weather obliged, so on the morning of July 10, we gathered our things and trooped down to the marina.
Simon had informed us that his boat was small: “A dinghy, you might call it. A skiff.” I was still picturing an actual boat, a structure built of wood or fiber glass or whatever it is that boats are made of. So when we approached Simon’s dinghy, I was slightly taken aback.
“It’s a RIB,” he told us as way of introduction. “Rigid Inflatable Boat.”
And that it was. As we clambered in, it was spacious, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not it would actually get us to Scotland in one piece. Nevertheless, we slipped into puffy lifevests and bobbed out of the harbor and into the wild Irish Sea.
At first, Scotland was nothing but a hazy stripe of blue in the distance, Ireland hilly and green and tangible right behind us. But soon enough, we were zipping out over the waves until both Ireland and Scotland were barely discernible from their horizons.
Despite spending loads of time on boats, I still entertain slightly irrational fears. Simon assured us that there were no sharks in the sea, but what about whales? Ebullient, reckless dolphins? The image of us happily gliding toward Scotland one second and a whale breaching beneath the boat and overturning us in the next did not seem entirely implausible.
After a little over an hour, Scotland rose up from the sea before us in all of its green glory. Scotland was another country I’d romantically envisioned, with plush green hills, crumbling castles, and men in kilts running about crying “Freedom!” As it turned out, I wasn’t too far off.
Although there was a small town with a proper harbor to our right, Simon pulled into an Edenic cove first for us to explore. You don’t picture Scotland when you think ‘best beaches in the world,’ but this white-sand, scallop-shaped cove was its own little paradise. Grassy cliffs with narrow hiking paths slicing nearly vertically uphill soared out of the beach. Barely noticeable little caves hid behind moss mounds, their entrances cloaked by gossamer, web-like waterfalls. Needless to say, we took our time hiking up and all over the cliffs for staggering views of the cove from above.
Once we’d had our fill, we sailed over to the harbor, sipping coffee from the thermos on the way. Up the rusty ladder and onto terra firma, we found ourselves in the quaint little seaside village of Portpatrick. Here was an idyllic little town whose shops sold goblin clubs and whose benches were occupied by elderly couples enjoying ice cream cones on vacation, doing little more than chatting and gazing out over the glittering sea.
On our way in, we’d spotted a decrepit castle on a nearby hill, so we trekked up a rather steep path ravaged by prickly balls and thorn bushes to reach it. Dunskey Castle, a relic dating back to the 16th century, seemed like it should be preserved as some kind of heritage site. We all remarked how strange it was that we could walk all over the ground there. It was clear that the castle was an old structure, gradually succumbing to forces of nature, and anywhere else, it would be forbidden to trespass, only visible from behind a rope.
But here in Scotland, one could climb freely throughout the humble interior of the castle, squeezing down holes that once hosted spiral staircases or poking through dilapidated windows.
“You wanted to stay in a castle,” Simon told us. “You could just camp here!”
We did not, but took our time returning to the boat. By the time we hit the open seas, it was close to 4. The route back was not as blustery or wet as the one there; instead, the sky was bright and sunny, the ocean calmer. We spotted a porpoise and, upon reaching Ireland, a long string of catamarans queuing up to get back to their slips after the competition.
Simon towed a few of them back in with the boat before dropping us off at the yacht club for some celebratory beers.
Though the Irish evening was nice, we never tired of answering the question, “What’d you do today?” with “We went to Scotland.”
It has a nice ring to it.