When we were kids our parents used to routinely drive us all to one of several family favourite weekend haunts. Nearly every sunny summer weekend would be spent lazing around in perfect privacy, with picnic lunches and the opportunity to get wet in a freezing cold, Scottish river. Utter bliss!
Whenever I got the chance to vote on destination I would inevitably chose ’Red Rocks’! Less than half an hour by car from my childhood home in Dalclavorhouse, Dundee, the place we knew as Red Rocks was actually just a patch of smooth red rock, surrounded by almost impenetrable woodland, just off the base of a road bridge. Like the majority of our favourite family haunts, my father had discovered it during a geological field trip.
We would park in a small lay by just off the bridge. Grab armfuls of picnic boxes, blankets, towels and swimming gear and hike a short way down steep banks and along an overgrown track through the undergrowth. Finally we’d squeeze underneath some low hanging branches to emerge onto a wonderful, almost flat plane of smooth red sandstone at the edge of a gloriously dark, iron-rich, fast-flowing Scottish river.
My mother would settle into a dip in the rock with a book while my father, siblings and I would spend the day digging into rock pools to find eels, damning rivulets, messing about with fire, dipping our faces into the river with a pair of ancient dive goggles, climbing trees, and drying ourselves off after a swim by laying out like kippers on the warm rocks. Utterly glorious!
During the first few years of my marriage, Ben and I spent many a weekend trying fruitlessly to find similarly private places to spend family weekends. In England, it is nigh on impossible to set up a family picnic, light a fire, or even swim in a river without coming upon other people. If it’s a nice spot, it’s either subject to trespass or well-known by a thousand others.
Scotland’s concept of ‘wild camping’ is truly glorious and a gift which I took entirely for granted as a child. I grew up assuming that anyone had a right to pitch a tent anywhere and that, as long as you were sensible and took heed of environmental safety, anyone could light a fire anywhere! How naive was I! There are so few places in the world where this is legal.
I shall never forget the abject disappointment I felt when I realised my kids would not be able to have the same kind of family weekends that I enjoyed when I was young.
I guess I just need to be grateful for those memories I have, thanks to my parents.