When I was growing up in London little did I realise that I would end up living in the Scottish Highlands. I’m not sure how it happened but maybe a place mat was the key.
My family used to have a set of place mats with scenes from around the UK. I remember there was a rustic one of the Cotswolds but the one that caught my imagination was the one of Glencoe and its wild looking mountains. So much so, that no-one else was allowed anywhere near it and my name ended up written on the back of it! Every dinnertime I used to look at this photo and somewhere deep inside my subconscious it must have triggered a desire to visit this faraway place.
My first trip to Scotland was in 1985 to take part in a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award expedition on the Isle of Skye. This was also my first time in Glencoe as we drove through it on the way to the ferry over the sea to Skye. I was amazed by the mountains towering above both sides of the glen, much more dramatic than the place mat could have ever portrayed and a real-time geography lesson (always my favourite subject at school).
I have visited Glencoe many times since my first view of it, exploring its wilderness and climbing its mountains including the Aonach Eagach ridge that takes centre stage on the place mat.
I’m not sure why but, even though there have been many place mat sets bought and used since, my parents kept the one of Glencoe. And now I have it. It’s a bit battered, as you can see, but it’s a cherished souvenir of my childhood.
I’m not sure if it’s why I ended up in Scotland or have a love of mountains but it makes a good story.