My first full, relatively well rested day in Scotland and England begins. Yesterday, my first day here, was spent handling necessary tasks of arrival pretty much in a mental fog. Does anyone really sleep on those overnight flights across the Atlantic?

We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and eventually got off the Boeing 757. The walk from plane to immigration is typical of British, Irish and European airports – a long walk down a plain corridor with many turns, down a flight of stairs, and finally into a big room with Disneyland style crowd control fences. UK/EU citizens were directed to one set of officers; all others to another. There were six agents checking through the UK/EU group … one handling everyone else. There might have been more but apparently some public employee union in the UK was having an “industrial action” (i.e., a strike) so several stations were unstaffed. Then after about 80% of the UK/EU group and about 10% of the rest of us were through, the computers went down – so we all stood around for 30-40 minutes while this was repaired. Eventually things got worked out and (once the UK/EU citizens were through) all opened stations started handling everyone.

I got through that with no other hassle and claimed my bags – Edinburgh has free luggage carts so that simplified things. The car rental agencies are housed in a separate pavilion a long walk from the main terminal on the other side of the car park – and it’s not made obvious that that’s where you go. But after asking a couple of people, I figured it out and claimed my car. It’s some sort of four seater Peugeot, about the same size as the cars Evelyn and I drove in Ireland.

My rental PeugeotDriving on the left side of the road is something that pretty much comes back to you quickly after having done it before. Scottish roads are nearly identical to the Irish, though their country lanes are wider. I made a fool of myself getting into a place in the rental yard where I had to back up and couldn’t figure out for several minutes how to get the darned thing into reverse, but eventually figured that out.

Without using the GPS (which I brought with me from the States equipped with European maps and pre-programmed for all the places I hope to visit and all the hotels or B&Bs at which I’ve made reservations), I found my way to the Gyle Shops mall (looks exactly like an American mall with the addition of a supermarket) and the Vodafone store. I bought a small, inexpensive Nokia mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go plan (you buy a voucher and top it off, or do it on the internet, or at a special phone number using credit card); in Ireland I can purchase just an inexpensive SIM chip for the phone and be on a local system there.

I figured out how to call the US – the Vodafone guy gave me the wrong country code, but the T-Mobile down the mall girl had the right one – and called my wife. Then I went to the supermarket (a Morrison’s Store), bought a diet Coke, went out to my car, set up the GPS, and hit the road for Galashiels.

The Scottish countryside here is lovely! High rolling hills, pine and oak forests, fields set off by hedges or stone walls just as in Ireland, but the fields are much, much larger. Lots of black-faced sheep. As I said, roads similar to Ireland, though somewhat wider in the country.

Today (Saturday, 2 July 2011) I am driving a short distance to Melrose to visit the abbey. I’m told there’s some sort of county fair or “ride out” going on there and that I shouldn’t expect to get through the town quickly. That’s fine; I’m in no hurry.

After Melrose, my plan is to cross the border into England (not really a border since this is all the UK – more a cultural, historical artifact than an actual border) and visit Jedburgh, then make my way to Lindisfarne for the next two nights.

Today’s psalm for the Daily Office was one of my favorites and though it really has nothing to do with my plans for the day, I thought I would share it with you:

Blessed be the LORD my rock! *
who trains my hands to fight and my fingers to battle;
My help and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, *
my shield in whom I trust,
who subdues the peoples under me.
O LORD, what are we that you should care for us? *
mere mortals that you should think of us? (Psalm 144:1-3)

I’m certain that those images of rock and fortress and stronghold resonated with the Gaelic folk of Ireland and Scotland (especially rocky Scotland with its granite mountains). A few days ago I shared Donnchad Mór Ó Dálaigh’s 13th Century poem An Aluinn Dún (“The Beautiful Fortress” or “The Heavenly Habitation”) – see Translating Hymns (Part 3), a hymn that builds on those metaphors.

My favorite answer to the question in verse three, however, comes not from Gaels, but from another of the Psalms in which the question is asked in different form:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea,
and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8 – KJV)

Today I go off to drive through the Scottish and English countrysides to consider the works of God’s fingers and those of humankind under whose feet God has put all things.