Now that the Scottish Government has softened and attenuated the “Stay home” advice to “Stay local”, I printed out a map of my local authority area, Stirling, to delineate the limits of my new-found freedom. I am very fortunate. I live at the heart of an area roughly bounded by Crianlarich and Tyndrum in the north west, Killin in the north east, Stirling herself in the south east, and Strathblane in the south west. This area contains a substantial portion of the National Park of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. It is an area of great natural beauty. The Highland boundary fault line cuts a swathe through its middle, a series of mountain tops on higher ground stretching north east from Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro in the west, through the peaks of Stuc a’Chroin and Ben Vorlich, and onwards to Stonehaven just south of Aberdeen.
So where to go? I decided to take a drive to Inversnaid, on the east side of Loch Lomond. Now this is a route I have frequently travelled, because when I was working as a doctor in General Practice, I frequently passed this way, to make a house call somewhere along the route, or, not infrequently, to go to the end of the road and visit a patient at Inversnaid Hotel. A home visit to Inversnaid was from our practice a round trip of thirty two miles mostly on a winding, hilly, and frankly dangerous single track road, quite unsuitable for the touring coaches trying to squeeze past one another at the occasional passing place. It would take two hours out of my day, lovely if I had the time, but not so welcome if I was busy. A compensation was that the hotel would offer me sustenance on the house when I got there. But there was seldom time, and I was usually preoccupied with the patients waiting for me to get back.
So it was nice to make this journey without the pressure of a professional commitment. To think that, for twelve years, this stunning landscape was my office! The Lake of Menteith, the only lake in Scotland (on whose shores, if I remember my Scott, a murderous act of brutality was committed under the auspices of Mrs Robin Roy MacGregor), Loch Ard, Loch Chon, and Loch Arklet. This route cuts through the wooded area of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, but between Loch Chon and Loch Arklet the landscape becomes bleaker, wilder, and more savage. This is the landscape that so attracted Queen Victoria when she made her trip to nearby Stronachlacher on Loch Katrine, another port of call for the doctor on his rounds. Close to Stronachlacher there is a T junction. I turned left and headed along the north bank of loch Arklet, and finally down a steep slope to the east bank of Loch Lomond, and Inversnaid.
With the pandemic, the hotel is currently closed. The pier on the loch was deserted. I took a brief walk south down the West Highland Way in the direction of Rowardennan, passing the waterfall that so impressed Gerard Manley Hopkins.
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down…
Some hikers with American accents asked me for directions. I didn’t meet anybody else.
Then I took a turn down to Stronachlacher and the pier on Loch Katrine, deserted. The tea room was closed. Fortunately I’d brought a flask of coffee. The views down the loch were stunning.
It was good to be off duty, but I couldn’t forget all the memories of past visits. I have a poor memory for names (doctors call it “nominal aphasia”) but all through my journey I found myself passing houses I’d once entered, and identifying them by the pathology within – acute appendicitis, myocardial infarction, respiratory failure, terminal metastatic disease… The visit I remember best of all was one I made on the last night I ever spent on call. It was something of a sting in the tail. I got the call at 2 am and of course it was to Inversnaid Hotel, the furthest reaches of our bailiwick. I drove 25 miles taking the greatest care not to drive off a cliff into the loch. The patient was suffering from an acute asthmatic attack and he was quite ill. I gave him oxygen, nebulised salbutamol, and intravenous hydrocortisone. Then I reached for the phone to summon an ambulance, but the patient refused point blank to go to hospital, saying he preferred to take his chances. So what could I do? I stayed with him for a couple of hours and gave him two more nebulisers. Then at dawn, I had some breakfast courtesy of the hotel. Then back outside, the cold air to wake me up, once more in the company of Hopkins.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
I made a final check on my patient. Reassured by now that he was going to survive, I said goodbye, and drove back east along the loch sides, to go to work.