Sunday, December 07, 2008

The islands at the end of the world

It's always tricky to try to name your all time favourite place, there's always a paragraph in the Sunday papers where people talk about Dunkeld or Princess Street or some blasted heath 100 yards from a concrete time share complex. So I asked myself where mine might be and there are of course numerous contenders, all of which reflect different aspects of my 53 year penal term spent vainly getting used to bits of Scotland and it's quirky geography. So in a moment of abstraction and sausage sandwich chewing I remembered where it was and most likely always will be.

In fact it's very easy to find, get along to the east end of Cellardyke in Fife, past the old drying greens and the remains of the outdoor pool and look out towards Caplie Caves along the coast. Some where out there the sky and sea and land meet and when I first saw that spot - as a very small boy, it seemed to me like the edge of the world (and possibly the end). I knew nothing then of maps or the Fife Coastal Path or the North Sea or Norway, I just knew that over there was a magical place some how way beyond my understanding, a big world defined by a hazy grey line that was somewhere and nowhere. Strange, probably dangerous and always unknowable, if I didn't know myself a little better I'd say it's almost as close to a proper spiritual experience as I've ever come - but in a geographical way.

I still think of it that way, I ignore the fact that Crail is nearby, that Kilrenny is over the hill, that the Firth of Forth turns into the North Sea and that the world is (most likely) world shaped. When you get a bit older, a look through your own eyes, as they once were, is rather refreshing and often a lot better than the current view. I need to go back there one day and stare out to see...
Anstruther lifeboat leaving harbour 1955, my uncle Alex Keay is pulling on the rope in the bow. The original can be seen in my daughter's bathroom in Aberdeen (things get passed around a bit in this family).

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