Technical White

31 Dec 2007

Carbisdale Castle, Scotland

It's faster to walk across the fields to the main road than to wait for the bus to take the long way, so on Christmas morning, that's what we do. There's no snow but every surface is covered with a beautiful frost. Each crystal is a perfect rectangular prism, maybe half a millimetre across and three high. The cool sun produces long, soft shadows. I'm going to call it a technical White Christmas.

As the bus passes a frozen river, I'm thinking "I wish I was driving, so that I could stop here". Evidently our guide is thinking the same thing, because she does stop, and we all pile out and rush down to the shore. The sheets of ice have cracked and been pushed up on to the bank in huge plates, so I can see that they're two inches thick. The whole river is covered. I step on to one and it creaks - and it's very slippery. Someone throws a thinner piece out into the river and it shatters like glass.

Before the evening party kicks off, one of the guides demonstrates proper kilt-wearing and sword use. A real kilt has almost nothing in common with the 'dress kilts' you can buy on the Royal Mile. It's more like wrapping a thick brown curtain around yourself. Having dispensed with the pleasantries, he waves an assortment of sharp things around, pausing to take long gulps of lager. He's proud of the Scottish reputation for violence and more than a little psycho himself, and I can't tell how much of it he's putting on for the audience. It seems to be too caricatured to be real, but if there's one thing I've learnt on this trip, it's that all stereotypes are true.