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  • Writer's pictureLaura

A journey in the dark: We drove all night...

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Scotland. What a trip it has been. Highs and lows, everything in between.

We really saw Scotland, we saw so much, maybe too much at times. Honestly though, it has been amazing and I’m really sad to be leaving. As I sit here writing this I should be sleeping before a 12 hour journey home but I can’t sleep because I need to reflect upon this last week. I don’t know whether this is something that you do but whenever I go away, it takes me a long time to adjust and even longer to process after the trip has ended. For those who have read the last article about social anxiety and ‘that night’ on the loch, I feel I should maybe give you a brief update on this. If you haven’t read it (and want to), feel free to take a look and come back in a bit to read this next story.

After the ‘long night on the loch’ things got better. The next night was quiet, then the weekenders went home and we were finally able to enjoy the last few days of the trip. There was a bit of a hangover with it all admittedly. I felt a bit awkward after the panic attack and then the staff mentioned that they wanted to read the article, which was also a bit awkward but it’s fine. After all, this wasn’t an issue with the place or their hospitality, and these stories need to be told to raise awareness about social anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I think that this thing of feeling ‘bad’, ‘awkward’ or even guilty after having a panic attack is something that has been ingrained within us. A way of making us more self-controlled, where in situations where we lose ourselves and need help from others, this then makes us feel that we have failed in some way. But that situation was outside of my control, and when it happened I was frightened, vulnerable and so upset at the prospect of having to leave early. Thankfully we didn’t have to, and I can now share this next story.

This one is a bit different. It is another story of the night but it’s one which shows the importance of reflection, having time for ourselves and being away from the wider world and its daylight stare. So here it is. In true form for us it doesn’t hold anything back so apologies in advance. Hope you like it.

We drove all night.

We drove all night. We knew it was going to be a long one, and we decided some days before that leaving in the night would probably work best. Especially with snow warnings coming in thick and fast, not only for the Highlands (expected that) but now for Wales and home too which wasn’t expected. Unlike other blog posts which I’ve written in retrospect of the event, this one is a bit different and perhaps a bit messier. This includes the shots taken throughout which are also grainy and messy as they were taken in the dark on the move, but that’s the story. Everything I wrote was in real-time through different segments of the journey. I was sleep deprived after an hour of napping and a 4am start the day before, and writing on the move has left some of the notes a little rough and ready. But I think that’s what makes this one what it is. I want to share it with you because it’s raw and real, the good parts and the menial moments, as well as the not so good parts.

Midnight: Starting out

It began with a midnight breakfast, a police officer and a herd of rams. Literally in that order. The ‘day’ started in the middle of the night at 11:40pm. We had the midnight breakfast of cereal bars and whatever else was left over, loaded up the car with the last of our things, and thought at several points ‘what the hell are we doing, we don’t really have to do this at this time’. But we did. After dropping off the lodge keys, almost falling flat on my face on the grass (now covered with frost), and sending the departure text to the people of the place, that was it. Off we went.

Within not more than two minutes of leaving, my car was like ‘no, I’m not in the mood for moving right now’ and decided to freeze up the windscreen. It was like -2 degrees, the temperature gauge was asleep, and we had to pull over and just wait for her to wake up properly. We had pulled over in a small pub car park just around the corner from where we were staying - I kid you not, we could have walked it in less time. J got out of the car to try and sort the frozen wipers, when next thing you know the lights from the hotel come on and out walks a police officer with a stern stare. I sat there thinking, great because you know, the night hadn't even begun yet and the last thing we needed was car checks, driver checks or whatever else. He stood glaring at us and then out came a notebook. I’m still in the car, J being J is quite chilled out about it all and carries on just clearing the wipers and windscreen. Just when I’m sure he’s going to come over and book us for something, J gets back in the car and says ‘alright?’. I ask him what the police officer said, and J said just that, ‘alright’. I was confused but relieved, and then J explained that he wasn’t a police officer after all but a security guard for the pub. Say no more, drama averted.

The car is now warmed up and ready to run. We now leave the village and just outside about another mile on now, we encounter a herd of rams out for a midnight walk along the road. White flashing horns everywhere, honestly there must be at least ten of them. We’re used to road herds living in Pembs, but this is quite eerie in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. With it being so dark also quite worrying that they could be hit by other vehicles on such a narrow windy lane. We follow the rams at 5 mph for a few miles, it’s like a parade with the car lights lighting up their movement and synchrony. We’re looking for gateways, fields, a way to help them off the road when next thing we know they disappear around a corner and just vanish. Can’t see them anywhere, can’t see where they have gone except one that got left behind some miles back at the side of the road. To be honest it’s quite creepy. I can only assume that they must have scaled a hedgerow somewhere. I’ll never know.

We’ve had to take the route to the A9 because of the ice and snow on the mountain roads. It’s so dark that even J gets a bit scared when we stop at traffic lights in the middle of nowhere - he locks the car doors and says that someone might jump in. Honestly, it might sound ridiculous reading this in the light of day, but everything is different at night. Anything feels possible at this moment.

A night time photo of a road and a red traffic light.

2:39am: Stirling

Pit stop at Stirling Services. Rapid in and out this one. It was much quieter than the stop we did here in summer ‘21. There wasn't music blaring today which I was grateful for as at this time of day I just need quiet, in fact, I need quiet most of the time. What I love about these services is the sight of Stirling Castle as you come off the motorway. Can't see much of it at this hour but it's there, and its light is beautiful.

A photo taken at night wth Stirling castle lit up in the background.

A photo taken at night wth Stirling castle lit up in the background.

It’s 2:41am now. Routine is dismissed and everything is about moving, travelling, and reflecting. Everything looks different at night, we’ve driven past so many places that look like mere shapes or shards of light, they are hidden away in the darkness and in the night, at this time, creativity flows...

3am: Glasgow

A photo taken at night showing a motorway. Motorway signs to Carlisle, Moodiesburn and Glasgow. Warning sign reads: Yellow warning snow forcast.

Reached Glasgow at 3am. Lights, bridges, wondering how many people are awake in this bright city right now. Not sleeping although I try. There’s just something about being awake in this quiet chapter of night, it’s a sensory bliss seeing all of the lights without traffic. Just the road ahead and the dark surrounding every object. Just saw the towers. They were so bright, like huge golden statues lighting up the landscape.

Night photo of highrise tower blocks in Glasgow.

Night photo of highrise tower blocks in Glasgow.

This time of night is so beautiful to travel. I cannot sleep on this journey because I don't want to miss a moment. At night it’s so quiet. Usually, when we’re awake in the night it’s due to pain or illness, or work. Some form of exertion. But these road trips are leisure, when we are travelling home or away we get to see the world differently than before. It’s just amazing.

Heading for Carlisle now, but first the Lowlands.

03:40: the lowlands

I refer to this section of the journey as the Lowlands when really and accurately it's the Southern Uplands. It's just I've always called it the Lowlands since young, it's magical here. As we move through the hills some words start coming to me.

Dark mountains of the Lowlands,

Rising in the night,

Light may be absent,

But you are alight,

We may not see everything,

But I know that you’re there,

Darkness is not defeat,

From your eyes and your stare,

You watch the road,

And its vessels on their way,

But the mountains of the Lowlands,

Forever you will stay.

Black and white photo of empty motorway at night.

Writing in this section of the journey is bliss, it’s one of my favourite sections of the road. Whilst we may have had sunrise the last time we did this road trip in summer '21, this winter trip is also amazing in a different way.

Closing in on Gretna now, this last leg of Scotland is always an emotional one. Comes from childhood memories of waving my Scotland flag (yes I had one) in the back of my parent's car at every vehicle I saw with Scottish flags and signs.

I always cried as we passed over the border. I don’t tend to now but it makes me think of those years. This section of road is quiet and dark, Scotland is about to release us from its beauty and we’re both pretty tired but still hyped.

04:26: Gretna

Refuelled. Spilt coffee all over the floor in the service station, well J did. The two ladies were really nice and chatted a bit about their stocktake that night. I find it easier to chat with people like this when it's quiet. I admire those who work through the night as admittedly I’d be terrible.

Black and white photo of empty road at night leading into Gretna services.

Black and white photo of motorway services with Waitrose sign.

Starbucks self serve coffee machine.

Photo taken at night of someone holding a take away coffee cup with empty road in background.

We’ve just checked weather updates and it looks like Pembrokeshire is going to be the worst hit, so snow to snow it seems. When we planned this trip I envisaged being snowed in up in the Highlands, never thought it’d be an issue on the other side. Crazy times, crazy life and nature doing its thing.

05:13: The Lakes

Over the border into England now, next up are the lakes. It’s busier here. The bustle of England motorways is almost immediate after the border. You tend to see that few miles that are a no man’s zone and then it just hits. Closer to the lakes now, nice bit of road in the light. Roadworks are a bit intense here, there is a lane closed. Sunrise is on its way; the sky is starting to glow but it's still dark right now. Twitter tells me that it’s snowing a lot down south. A quick chat with a man from Pembs who sends an update about snow and a picture of a snowman he's made. Nice chap.

Photo of busy motorway at night.

Photo of empty motorway at night.

Dawn photo.

05:35: Kendal

This is surreal, to the left I have the start of a sunrise, and to the right, I have the moon. And a beautiful moon it is, it’s full and bright, creating trails across the motorway; it’s gorgeous. I shoot in so many directions at this point. I’m getting tired but sunrise is coming - need to see this.

Photo of empty motorway at night.

Dawn photo of hills and clouds.

Photo of a cloudy full moon taken from inside a car.

Dawn photo taken from motorway showing hills.

Photo of a cloudy full moon taken from inside a car.

06:06: Lancaster (Forton)

The Pennine Tower is next, my absolute favourite. This is where I really geek out so feel free to stop reading here. I’m absolutely obsessed with this place, I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s a landmark of social history. I know it means a lot to so many.

At this point, we planned to shoot it with the sunrise, having never seen it at this time of day before now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that way as we are unfamiliar with the southbound side and run straight into the lorry park. No turning back so I leap out of the car onto a frozen grass verge, but the result is that I get the moon instead, and a beautiful moon it still is.

The entire theme of this road trip and documenting it has been nightfall, and night, so it makes sense that she was brought to me today with the moon by her side.

Dawn photo of Pennine Tower at Forton services with lorry in foreground.

Dawn photo of Pennine Tower at Forton services with cloudy moon behind.

Dawn photo of Pennine Tower at Forton services with cloudy moon behind.

It’s a bit tense in this car right now, J is exhausted and getting grouchy. We both are; so probably going to take a little break now. Not too much to report until Wales now so time to sleep for a while. We’re driving through what my dad calls the 'bad bit', although right now it’s 6:17 and quiet. So perhaps not so bad after all.

07:23: Chester

Didn’t sleep. Spent this time working on an edit of the tower that didn’t turn out quite right so I’ll return to it again with fresh eyes. Beautiful as shot though. It’s feeling weird now. I’ve been staring into my phone for hours and now I’m eyes up everything is light, feels as though I am exposed when it’s this light. The darkness of night comforted me earlier, now I feel a bit lost. I feel as though I’ve had a blanket ripped off my head and all eyes are on me. Too many people around; too much noise.

Got the beanie out and hood up for the services. I felt bad as I had to leave J to get breakfast as all of the workers are in there and the day is now starting up. J didn't mind though, he actually prefers to be alone in these places as it's easier for him to navigate it all without my anxiety on top. A loud plastic car ride is in there making a noise, it’s horrible. Messages from friends and family about the snow are that it’s there, but not too heavy as yet. None here so far. I doubt we’ll see it until Pembrokeshire. Dreading it tbh. Anyway, onwards...

Empty carpark at Chester services.

08:01: Welcome to Wales

Welcome to Wales. Traffic, traffic, queues. This is feeling horrible now, the nice part of the trip is left behind back in Scotland. I feel like this every time we reach this point, likely tiredness but it’s more than that. It’s a sensory experience of overwhelm combined with that. It’s bright and there are people everywhere.

When you have been awake for hours already seeing the night through to the day you don’t know how to be when the day hits. Because you haven’t transitioned yet, you are still there in the night whilst the world has shifted and the things of day are here and loud.

Photo of 'Welcome to Wales' sign taken from inside a car.

Black and white photo of busy road

We're in North Wales. I look out of the window to seek the moon in hope but it’s gone. The night is spent and all that is left is the day ahead, waiting for me to transition into it. No more moonlight until the next night comes. So now I write with a bit of gloom to be honest, but hey, we’re closer to home and home is a good thing too. I just wish the dark hours had lasted a little while longer.

08:24: Shropshire

Shropshire; I don’t want to be here long. My place of birth yet I have no connection to the place now other than family and memories. Some I don’t wish to recall. So the sooner we move on from there the less chance I’ll have to start thinking. Yet the traffic is still bad, 8:24 now so in the thick of rush hour. Horrible.

Photo of roundabout sign showing Shrewsbury, Whitchurch, Welshpool, Gobowen and Oswestry.

09:23: Woke up in Wales.

Fell asleep. Woke up in Wales and it’s snowing, thick flakes coming down. It was nothing like this in the Highlands - strange weather system going on. We’ve still got a few hours to go and we’re both very tired now, but we’re getting there. The traffic has eased now with rush hour over and we are on the windy rural roads into the heart of Wales. Just had a nice message from one of the people of the place in Scotland, hope to go back next year. It was beautiful.

Just drove past a road accident. There is one car smashed up but the police are there and thankfully everyone seems ok. That’s the first accident we’ve seen and we’ve driven miles this week. It's a white landscape now, it’s different to Scotland, and carries a weight with it. It’s thicker and hazier. In Scotland, it was more like a crisp hail.

Photo of snowy road with tree in foreground.

Photo of snowy road with trees in foreground.

J: Why do the logs need to go in both directions?

This relates to following a log wagon on the way up to Scotland last week, we were stuck behind it for miles. Now we are travelling through the same area and there are more of them. Strange world.

Chopped trees/logs on back of a lorry.

09:55: The mountain bit (A44)

The 'mountain' bit, mid-Wales. Heavier snow here, probably the worst bit we've seen so far. Driving slowly, parts of the road are white. Now the focus is on getting to the coast. Been on the road for around ten hours now, and the last stretch coming up. Nothing to report here other than snow, thicker than the Highlands.

Black and white photo of a snow covered empty road in Wales

Black and white photo of a snow covered empty road in Wales

Down to the coast. Snowing lighter now so time to stop with the weather talk and reflect. Everything feels different now, I feel I have moved into the day a little more and I’m reflecting on the beauty of the last week. All of the trails, the mountains and the places, it was so much. We did so much with the time that we had there. Now we have to shift back into life, work, and routine, walks are looking to be a thing of the past with the forecast for the next few days. It's all a bit depressing really. Anyway no more weather talk, stop.

Photo of a tree with snow falling.

10:30: After Aber

Just stopped for a quick break. It’s getting intense everywhere now and I’ve decided this is now a good point for the written journey to end. I’ve realised that road trips like this only have that magic in those early segments in the dark. That’s where creativity flows and words come easier, because there is less external stimuli and less visibility.

When you cannot see everything, this leaves the mind to wander and personally I find that’s a great place to be. When it’s quiet and everything is dark, you can truly be yourself. You can be autistic, you can be obsessed with a service station or a motorway, it doesn’t matter because without other people there to judge and scrutinise you, you are who you are. Just you and nature. Your world.

I wrote this blog post today with very few ideas in mind. I didn’t write it as a travel guide or a how-to-do something. I guess in that respect it’s quite self-indulgent, but what I hope I can share is a story of the night. How having that space in the dark, moving onwards, travelling to a different place, is a thing of transience but also a place of being who you are in the moment.

Every section aside from Sterling was written as I got to each place, the photos were all shot in the moment. That’s the point of this story, a reflection of travel through the night, something to look back on and maybe I’ll learn something from it. I’ve just had a cry as it sunk in, 'shit, I've left Scotland'. I said earlier that I don’t do this any more but this time I did. I allowed myself to. I love Scotland so much, it’s so special and has a deep personal meaning for me. It’s not even just about what it is today in terms of its beauty as such, it’s the past, my childhood and my family.

Scotland in childhood, many happy years and memories growing up. The first shot is taken at my grandparent's place somewhere in Banffshire, the other two are in Cullen. My dad tells me that this was where I had my first paddle in the sea.

I hope you get to take your own journey through the night at some point. It’s long and tiring and doesn’t come cheap, but once in a while when it can happen it’s so powerful for reflection and a great thing to do. You may be a bit cranky for a day or so but it's worth it.

If you made it to this point thanks for coming on this journey with us. A huge thank you to J also, as this was way more fun for me than it was for him as he did all of the driving. I did offer to and I'm grateful for the space to write in the night. It doesn't happen very often.

Have you had any great moments whilst travelling through the night? Share your stories in the comments below or feel free to come and connect with us on Twitter.


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