West coast of Scotland
The coast of Scotland is one of the finest in the world. Diverse, rugged, sweetly gentle, lonely, grand, it runs all the adjectives you can think of and a handful you can't. My suggestion for something to do this summer is to visit every beach, nook, cliff, crag or cranny and write about it. A book of Scotland's coastline would not only be a valuable guide but would provide you with a full-time occupation for the summer months.
Ignore the east and northern seas, brushing against your beautiful beaches. Do not swim in the Moray Firth or anywhere near Thurso. The western coastline is more blessed thanks to the Gulf Stream. But nothing warm takes the freezing chill off eastern waters. Pilots from Lossiemouth are warned that to ditch in the Moray Firth in July without protective equipment, your life expectancy is barely half an hour. That's how cold the water is. But your interest is not in swimming so much as beaches.
The cliffs and crags are endlessly worth exploring for their caves and crannies. Enjoy the ways in which the tides can isolate you in moments, stranded on a Highland rock for 12 hours until rescued, or until the tide simply turns and releases you. Revel in the pools left behind by a receding tide and the multiplicity of sea creatures to be identified. As children, and therefore without cruelty, we used to remove two hermit crabs from their homes, leave them a single shell and watch them fight for what remained. Molluscs, crabs and a hundred other slow movers remain in the rock pools long after the tide has gone.
No need to write about these details, but for those of us who love the sea shore, jot down please access routes, special features and nearest food and drink. When swimming off the beaches of Hopeman or Burghead, we would rush to the nearest baker and buy the only thing that could soothe compulsive shivering – a bun, called in those days a 'chatterbite'. Pushed between the teeth, it soon calmed the toothy clatter and along with a cup of tea made the swim feel worthwhile. If we had half the climate of the Med, our beaches would be legendary. But water temperature should be no guide to the splendour of the coastline which brushes it. And you can be the writer of the guide.
The place I suggest you visit is the place where you live. All too often we seem to neglect or take for granted the attractions that are near to hand. If, for example, you live in or around Glasgow, why not this summer act like one of the visitors from around the world who chooses to come here? When was the last time you visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, or the Hunterian Museum, or the House of an Art Lover, or the Riverside Museum?
However, what I have more specifically in mind, is something even closer to hand. This year, particularly in the spells of bright sunny weather we've enjoyed, I've found myself looking around me here in the West End, somehow with fresh eyes. Edinburgh's New Town is a world-famous example of Georgian architecture at its finest. But Victorian Glasgow, looked at carefully, is also something special. Its fine streets, terraces and avenues, its plentiful green spaces, its richness of splendid lofty trees, its wealth of rhododendron bushes with their pink, red or purple blossoms – all this creates a rich and rewarding environment.
Walk along the finely proportioned terraces and look especially at the main doors and entrance halls with their amazing art nouveau glass panels of intricate colour and design. Look carefully too at the numerous huge mansion houses, the homes no doubt in the 19th century of Glasgow's wealthy bourgeoisie, but now divided in our more democratic times into multiple apartments. Their architecture is often striking. So that's my suggestion – spend some time looking more carefully at the world around you.
A couple of weeks in Argyll has been an essential part of our summer for many years. One of the best locations in that area is on the veranda at the Loch Melfort Hotel, looking south-west down the loch, past Jura and Islay, as far as the eye can see. With a slight breeze to keep the midges away, a cold beer and sunshine are welcome extras.
Since summer outings in Scotland frequently depend on contingency planning to deal with downpours, pre-emptive research into the locality of likely havens is a must. So set off on your summer adventure with your hearts high, ordnance maps at the ready, mountain bikes hoisted aloft if you will, but be prepared to take the bibliophile route.
Border towns are a joy anyway, all the more so as second-hand book shops seem to be enjoying a growth spurt these days. You can find them in the most diverse locations, urban and rural, in stately homes, concessions within larger businesses, cafes and barns, often proximate to good homemade cake, and run by friendly, interestingly eccentric and knowledgeable staff.
Shaun Bythell of Wigtown in his 'Diary of a Bookseller' is an obvious exception to the smiley bit, as he not only affects to despise his customers, but publishes his daily takings and costs, usefully illustrating just how eccentric an entrepreneur you have to be to operate in this most fragile of sectors.
So if, as can happen from time to time, the Scottish summer is not in 'God's Own Country' mode, become a Borders bibliophile. You might (a big might) dig up a first edition of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' (c. £44,000) or, on the other hand, simply enjoy the cake, the chat and the search.
North of Scotland
Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase 'the banality of evil', although later, after the years of controversy surrounding her book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, she said that she wished she hadn't. Her idea that great evil can arise from the simple act of not thinking, from the existence of absolute and true irresponsibility, did not go down well among those who need to apportion blame and impose 'justice'. Simple stupidity cannot possibly lie behind evil acts – surely Arendt is wrong.
Brexit makes Hannah Arendt's point perfectly. So, what are we to do? How can we jump ship in this most violent of storms? It's summer, this is Scotland... go north. Leave the barking dogs of Brexit behind and spend time in the most meaningful and intelligent of places, the heart and soul of our land, our history and our culture. Go north and plunge with heart and mind into our Highlands. Collect names, visions, scents and the breezy whispering silence.
Hear the pibroch at Inveraray. Look west from Oban to Mull and imagine the power of Duart on its rocky point. Dare to stop in the middle of Glencoe, after Rannoch, and feel it without wiping tears from your cheeks. Gasp in Assynt and mourn in Strathnaver as the black water runs down to the sea, and get at least some idea of why 'banal' has never been a word that applies to our people. Take your time and let yourself bathe in our land. Remind yourself of what is really important in life.
for Highlands, Islands and North
for Arran and Orkney
for the East and Central