I love Scotland, but I am not so in love with Fife. Fife is where we live now and it’s okay. But I don’t get excited when I see the landscapes here. I’m sure there are those who are charmed by its lovely little harbours along the Forth, the fields of golden wheat and barley, the almost Scandinavian style of architecture. But I don’t see its charm, and I think I know why.
A million years ago, when I was just a teenager, I went away to boarding school. I was 14 at the time and really looking forward to being away from home. The school – St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Virginia - was beautiful, sitting on the banks of the Rappahannock River, white buildings – some old, some new – lining the water with old trees dotting the grounds. But something was missing. I didn’t know what it was, but there was something about that place that I didn’t like. Sometime during my second year there, I figured it out.
You see, I was raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, at the foot of Afton Mountain, a peak of the Blue Ridge. From the moment you walked outside the house, there it was, rising before you. In the spring, the mountainside would be dotted with the pink and white of dogwoods, the magenta of the redbud. In the fall, the mountains seemed to catch fire – blazing with yellow, golds, reds. It was beautiful and I loved it then and love it now. But Tappahannock, despite its beautiful river and old trees, was situated in a flat area of Virginia. There were no mountains or hills nearby. I felt exposed. Somehow, growing up in the shadow of that mountain, with the Blue Ridge on one side of the Valley and the Allegheny on the other, I felt protected.
Now, when I see the hills of the Highlands or, as we drive through England, the hills of Cumbria, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, I feel more at home, protected, embraced. I imagine that is what I love so about the Highlands. But along with the majestic peaks of the Highlands, there are rugged coasts, where villages lie between mountain and water. Nothing could be more beautiful.
So, while I understand the pride of the natives of Fife (which is the Kingdom of Fife because it was an area the English did not take over), I can’t love it. It’s too flat. Its few hills don’t protect and embrace. Instead, they stand alone and small. Give me the hills of the northwest.