"A Scottish Journey: Personal Impressions of Modern Scotland" by James McEnaney is an interesting, thought-provoking book. The author sets the scene in his introduction, telling how as a young English teacher at Arran High School in 2012 he taught a course featuring "the great Scottish writer and poet, Edwin Muir, whose work I had first encountered as a teenager. It was through teaching Muir's poetry that I first discovered 'Scottish Journey', a record of his impressions as he travelled through the country in the mid-'30s, from Edinburgh to Orkney via the south, Glasgow and the Highlands... It occurred to me at the time that a modern version of Muir's book, examining both the striking similarities and profound differences between his Scotland and ours, could be something worth pursuing... In 2017, five years after it had first occurred to me I started to make tentative plans." The author goes on to explain the factors that led him to adapt Muir's actual route, leading to the development of an itinerary that would allow him to "complete my own, personal, Scottish Journey."
The author set off to complete his 10-day odyssey on the back of a motorcycle in spring 2018. As anyone who experienced that spring will know, it turned into a meteorological battleground, as winter returned for just one last hurrah, and then for another, never wanting to release its grip. Once, a lifetime ago (39 years ago, anyway) I spent four months covering over 18,000 miles on the back of a motorcycle travelling around Great Britain researching a book for Penguin Books. I know just how profoundly the weather can change the experience of motorcycling, and I never encountered anything half as bad as the conditions that sometimes greeted James McEnaney. But he'd arranged accommodation, often with old contacts or friends-of-friends, well in advance, and had little option but to press on.
The book that emerges is part travelogue, and part political and philosophical discussion of modern Scotland. It is well worth reading. The author concludes: "Yet above all... Scotland... is vibrant and exciting and very much alive, a tartan patchwork of the past, present and future of the country woven together by all those people who have ever called it home and the others who will. When I think back to that journey it is that image, the one bursting with energy and expectation, that comes to mind and, in those moments, I believe that a better, brighter Scotland, of which I caught so many tentative, tantalising glimpses, might just be on its way."