Right now, I’m being tormented by an island.
Every morning for the last few months, it’s the same view out of my bedroom window. A long, curving stretch of beach, a vast strip of blue sea (royal blue in the sunshine, a dull, blue-tinted lead colour on stormier days) - and just 30 miles away, across Scotland’s Firth of Clyde, there’s Greece.
Okay, obviously it’s not actually Greece. What I’m seeing is Arran, the seventh-largest island in Scotland. It’s very easy on the eyes: lowlands to either side, and in its centre, a bulge of mountains rising to the 870-metre peak of Goat Fell, the top of which carries snow well into the Spring. From my perspective on the mainland’s western coastline, it looks a little like a sleeping figure seen in profile, a giant from ancient times that everyone should be careful not to disturb. But me? In other circumstances, I’d be there in a heartbeat.
Having never visited Arran, it’s an enticing view. After looking at it every day for months (weather permitting - this is Scotland, after all), when the Scottish island ferries start accepting non-locals again, I’ll be more than ready to go exploring. But it’s also a trigger for memories of visits to other parts of the world. I have been to Greece, many times, and on a fine day, this could be a view of any maritime corner of it. And Greece is where I was headed, a little over a year to the day, when the first lockdown descended upon the UK.
Scotland is great, but for me, Greece has the stronger hold here. As welcoming as the northern UK has been during this strange, anxious time, I’ve been pining for sea views of the Aegean. Views not unlike the one greeting me every day, weirdly enough.
So it’s a duet, this view outside my window. It’s Scotland and Greece yelling, “Is it time to get moving again? Is it?”
It’s not, of course. Scotland’s lockdown is easing a little right now, but the UK is still only midway through its vaccination programme (my age category is next to be targeted, so I should be getting my first shot within the next month). Elsewhere, the biggest vaccine rollouts in history are taking place, with over a quarter of all Americans fully vaccinated and a quarter of Canadians having received their first jab.
Yet all this is happening against a backdrop of continued lockdowns, in some cases tightened ones because of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. Taken as a whole, it’s terrific progress - but it is most definitely still not time for anything more than continued caution and patience.
For us lovers of travel, this is exhausting. After being patient for so long, here we are, still waiting. Our brains can list all the reasons this is both necessary and absolutely the right thing to do (and remind us about how lucky we are, all things considered, and express gratitude to the incredible work of those on the medical frontlines). But the heart is not so easily persuaded by the facts. Why isn’t it time yet?
In the morning sunshine, Arran is that delicious, faded shade of blue that only comes with distance. It’s a colour I associate with a longing to travel - and I’m not the only one. Here’s writer Rebecca Solnit writing about it in A Field Guide To Getting Lost:
“The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not…. We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing.
I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed?”
“Own your longing”? What, you mean enjoy it? That’s a big ask, when we’ve had to wait this long, under these circumstances.
But perhaps she’s onto something. In a world that’s increasingly “on demand,” where we rarely have to wait for anything longer than a few days, isn’t travel one of the last things that absolutely can’t be hurried? And isn’t that why it’s so thrilling when it’s time to go?
You make your plans, you commit future time and resources to it, and then you watch the days and weeks creep closer to departure - with all that unavoidable waiting intensifying the sweetness of its arrival. In this way, perhaps a lot of the enjoyment of travel is made in that “blue of distance” between the time you decide to go and the moment you actually set off.
(That’s how it works in a normal world, anyway. So this time? It should feel crazy good when we finally get going.)
Maybe while we’re all patiently waiting, as we’ve done so stalwartly since last Spring, we can realise we’re also anticipating: appreciating the good stuff on the horizon, and looking forward to it with a growing sense of eagerness and excitement. Perhaps anticipation is something the modern world needs a little more of: it’s interesting, for example, that on-demand TV & film providers like Netflix & Disney have recently switched from a “binge in one go” to the more traditional “tune in next week for the next installment” model.
That’s what their audiences want (or else they wouldn’t have done it). That’s what we want. We like anticipating good things to come. It may feel deeply irksome at the time, but maybe travel wouldn’t feel anywhere near as special without it.
So now I’m using this beach view a different way. Instead of a reminder of what I can’t do, I’m turning it into a reminder of what I will be doing - and making sure I prepare for it properly. There’s a walking guide for the mountains of Arran to read my way through, and a new tent to test out in the garden.
I’ve got my daily workout and afternoon walks to build strength and stamina, so I can climb those distant mountains without my knees giving up on me. And in the wider sense: I’ve got an international passport to renew, new post-Brexit travel rules to get my head around, Greek language lessons to master, and tentative travel plans for the autumn to pencil into place…
You know, it’s kind of a relief I can’t go anywhere right now. There’s just so much to do.