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  • THE FIRST time I remember “the experience” (to be explained later, I promise) was April 1973. My late wife and I were traveling through the Scottish Highlands in a rented Volkswagen beetle we’d picked up in London several days earlier.

    By way of Oxford, Stratford, Derby, Chester, Lancashire, the Lake District, across the Border into the Cairngorms (where people were still skiing), we fetched up at Inverness and bedded down in a cozy inn.

    The next day, which dawned crystal-clear, blue-skied and reasonably warm, we set out along the north shore of Loch Ness, a mysterious, long, deep, dark hatchet-chop in the face of the earth, legendary home of a prehistoric sea creature that must have been taking a coffee break when the dinosaurs became extinct.

    We turned north toward Loch Duich, the sea-loch that leads to Kyle of Lochalsh and thence by ferry (now a bridge, how boring can you get?) to the Isle of Skye. The perfection of the day and the magnificence of the landscape – Hamish MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and the Flood – overwhelmed me about the time we reached Eilean Donan castle.

    “My dear,” I said to my traveling companion, “I have to stop the car. My visual circuits are overloaded. I simply can’t take in any more picture-postcard scenery just now.”

    It was (OMINOUS MUSIC, PLEASE, MAESTRO) The Experience...

    Too much beauty. Too little time. When that happens to me – as it has from time to time since then – there’s nothing for it but to (a) stop, and (b) take deep breaths, (c) if possible, walk about, feel the terrain underfoot, pick things up and look at them closely, and (d) take more deep breaths.

    So, I parked the car at Eilean Donan Castle, almost a visual cliché it’s so bloody picturesque, and wandered down to the water’s edge. It was grand to put a wee bit of the Ould Sod beneath my leather soles.

    Loch Duich is a sea loch, meaning that it has an opening to the ocean, and, therefore, tides. At this moment, the tide was out, and the waterside rocks were covered in seaweed. Slippery, decaying seaweed, as it turned out.

    In a twinkling, my feet shot out from under me, and down I went, on my bum, my back, and my elbows, in some of the muckiest half-rotten aquatic vegetation in all of Great Britain, I’m sure. My pants, my new Shetland wool sweater, and my pride were all much the worse for wear. But I’d saved my camera, and I got the picture.

    Sensory overload: cured.
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