I stood bewildered at the bus stop reading the words This stop is no longer in service. But I had just bought a ticket at the bus station and this is where they told me to go…I tried to remain calm, but my bus was due in 5 minutes and there wasn’t time to walk back to the station to ask questions. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a voice beside me says “Tell me where you are trying to go and I will see if I can help you.” He already had his smart phone out looking up my bus number before I could finish my sentence. After a few minutes of fruitless searching on his phone, I happened to look up the street just in time to see my bus pulling up to the curb one block up and on the opposite side of the street from where we were standing.
“There it is!” I shouted.
The kind stranger patted the back of my pack, like you might lovingly encourage a horse to run, and said “Run in front of the bus and wave your arms in the air. Safe travels!”
I hardly had time to thank him as I galloped down the uneven cobblestone like a bag lady with a limp, but I made it! It started to rain while I stood in line to board the bus and another man offered a gesture of kindness. He tried to speak to me in what I recognized as Italian and I shook my head to show I didn’t understand. Then he popped open his umbrella and motioned for me to come underneath it. I shyly obliged, feeling touched by his generosity. We stood huddled under his umbrella until we both boarded.
Later, during the two hour drive north, his wife leaned over her seat and asked me a question in Italian. I could tell she was uncomfortable so I made the motion for being cold, hoping I had guessed correctly. She nodded enthusiastically, returning the gesture of rubbing her arms and shivering. I reached into my bag and offered her my jacket. At first she refused it, but upon a second offering, she took it gratefully. Her husband, the man who held the umbrella for me, turned around and gave me a big smile and thumbs up. My heart swelled and I felt so glad I could return the kindness he had shown me.
Meanwhile, the tall bus was careening around corners on an insanely narrow two lane road at a speed that caused the vehicle to wobble side to side. There were two old women sitting next to me across the aisle, gabbing away. I kept using them as a gauge for whether or not to be afraid for my life, but they seemed unphased, so I turned on my music, strapped on my seat belt and snapped my motion sickness wristbands on. The only thing left to do was take in the breathtaking scenery zooming by outside the window. There were vibrant lettuce green hills scattered with bright pink clouds of blooming wildflowers, pastures dotted with grazing sheep, and fields of plants that were a deep aqua green at the base and a light sage green on top. Watching them billow in the wind, rippling color across the hill nearly brought tears to my eyes. Then as we screamed around a bend, my eyes beheld something even more beautiful. A carpet of velvet green hills led down to a silver blue sea, shimmering in the sun and perfectly calm without any waves. Near the water’s edge sat a crumbling foundation of a castle or other ancient building. It was something out of a dream.
Little did I know that Pittenweem, a small fishing village perched cheerily by the sea along Scotland’s Fife Coast, would bring me to my knees in reverence.
I am staying with fellow couchsurfers, Michael and Tara, a sweet couple from New Zealand, in a little cottage across from the harbor which is still heavily used by Pittenweem’s fishermen. The main street of the village leads to an ancient chapel decorated in circular flower-like stained glass and skirted by an old graveyard with tombstones from the 1600’s. The homes are either white washed with colorfully painted doors, or bolder hues of turquoise, gold, purple and various shades of blue. Most of the homes have red tile roofs, due to Scotland’s past trading with The Netherlands, I read online. Almost all of the town’s buildings have baskets of colorful flowers hanging out front, and I have seen three bicycles that have been turned into little gardens. I can walk around the whole village in about 10 minutes. Small alleys with steps lead from the harbor and glossy ocean to the main street and then further down, the mouth of the Fife Coast Trail which connects five villages together, north and south of here. Michael and Tara walk a couple miles each way to do their grocery shopping, since the neighboring village has a super store. Pittenweem has only one tiny grocery store connected to the pharmacy and the post office.
From the edge of the sea, I can look north and see rugged cliffs covered in waving grasses and dark rocks scattered below at the lip of the shoreline. It is so gorgeous, I cried watching the sunset on my first night here. I feel as if I have arrived home. As a girl, I always dreamt of seeing Scotland. Now that I am here, I can’t imagine leaving. I want to marry the North Sea so there will always be a reason to return. I may be an odd bride for such a graceful sea, but I promise to never forget the passion I feel in its presence. Here, I am whoever I want to be. In the quiet, slow-paced life of Pittenweem, I can feel my wings unfolding.
Over dinner of local smoked salmon, oat cakes with creamy, fresh butter and a cup of hot black tea in the little tavern, I wrote postcards trying to share a little piece of this gem of a town with my loved ones. Although I have caught a bad cold/flu and have had to postpone my flight to Amsterdam, I am happy to be staying here a few more days. I was in bed all day yesterday, but even a glance out my second floor window overlooking the sea cheered me up and probably did something unseen to help me heal quicker. I went to the pharmacy to get something for my swollen throat and it was like seeing a doctor while standing at the cash register. The man asked me about my symptoms and then gave me his recommendations. I am amazed at how simple and inexpensive it is to get medical attention here.
When I am feeling better, I am going to see the cave after which Pittenweem is named (Pittenweem means cave in Gaelic). The story goes that a saint or holy man took residence in the cave which has a natural spring in it. People from surrounding areas would come see him to get healed and the saint was said to have done some miraculous things. Eventually, a community sprung up around the cave and a harbor was built, enabling the town’s economy to grow. The cave has been preserved and functions as a little chapel for ceremonies and gatherings. Anyone can see it by asking for the key at the only coffee shop in town.
This place is nothing short of magical! I am most likely the only American staying here and everyone has been so kind to me. They seem surprised that I would travel all the way from Oregon to see their little village, but I assure them how worth the trip was to get here. I feel so grateful for the kindness of strangers, the beauty of Scotland and for the love and support of friends and family while I have been sick. Now to rest so I can get over this cold and go for a hike by the sea.