Slow Travel: Time Out in Angus, Scotland
Sometimes house sitting can take you to the strangest of places. I’ve been looking after people’s pets and homes as I travel for around six months now, taking positions in various spots around the UK. As I have a car, I’m not too fussy when it comes to location, so I pick house sits in the vague direction I need to be and work everything else out from there.
That tactic is what lead me to a little town named Monifieth, and a fat Beagle named Lilly.
The Scottish county of Angus isn’t often visited by foreigners. Situated north of Edinburgh, just above the university town of St Andrews and below Cairngorms National Park, it’s a blind spot in terms of tourism. Having spent two weeks there myself – in Monifieth, which is just east of Dundee – I can’t say there’s a huge amount to do, but I found that the isolation was exactly what I needed.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, I’m currently putting together a print journal called A Year in the UK & Ireland, due to be released at the beginning of 2016. As you might imagine, it’s quite a lot of work, so I took this two-week house sit in Angus as an opportunity to get my head down and power through a number of the journal’s 20+ long-form articles.
Some days, I felt like I was living some version of a Hemingway dream: a writer cooped up in a house in the middle of nowhere, tormented by every sentence.
That was the romanticised view of the situation anyway. In reality I was working my way through my extensive range of leisurewear and timing my work perfectly so that I could catch Millionaire Matchmaker at 7pm on itvBe. (I aim to look tasteful from a reader’s point of view, but I have a penchant for atrocious TV.)
Let’s take a minute to talk about rotund Lilly, my only companion for these two weeks. Here she is:
She doesn’t look that fat in that picture but trust me, that girl’s got some chunk.
Lilly was a typically stinky Beagle who would prod my feet with her paws while I was eating my dinner. She had a habit of refusing to get into the car at the end of a walk; keeping 10 feet away, staring intently at you and running further away every time you took a step towards her. If dogs could smirk, Lilly would.
More than once, I caught her eating her own two-day old shit in the back garden.
I know, she sounds like a grotesque and obstinate animal, and she was. But when all’s said and done, she’s got a Beagle’s face, which means you can only really tell her off for up to five minutes before you look at those little eyes and melt into a million pieces.
Just don’t ever let her lick you.
We became quite the duo, Lilly and I. We quickly formed a routine, and aside from her obnoxious behaviour at the end of them, her beach walks every night were the highlight of my day. After hours of writing and emailing, those walks were a precious opportunity to cut myself off from the modern world.
Lilly would gleefully tear across the beach beside me, her Dumbo ears flapping in the wind, and I would find some much-needed time to reflect; on life, on work, on beautiful Scotland.
Sometimes the most satisfying travel experiences are when you’re away in a new place, but not moving. (My blog’s name seems rather ironic now, doesn’t it? I said sometimes.)
My stay in Monifieth allowed my experiences in Scotland to breathe like a good bottle of red wine that needs to sit for a while after opening. As I nipped to the shops or Lilly and I ventured to beaches and across the Angus Glens, I started to understand life in this little pocket of the UK.
I observed as locals in town popped to the fish and chip shop to grab dinner for the family on a Friday night. I stood in the queue at the tiny Post Office and watched as a hunched-over old lady picked out birthday cards from the humble selection. I passed by other dog walkers up in the hills: “We never see sunshine like this in October!” they told me.
Fairly unremarkable interactions, but these little glimpses of life shown to me each day put the pieces of Monifieth and Angus together like a puzzle. Life on the road – moving as often as I do – is hectic at the best of times so it’s often easy to miss every piece of a place.
Staying still, even in unexpected locations, can reveal more than if we circled an entire country and ticked off all the sights. And the memories of those trips are etched deeper in our minds.
I certainly won’t be forgetting chubby Lilly any time soon.