North of the Water

by Keith Savage · 6 comments


Typical View of the Scottish Highlands

There’s a saying around this part of the Scottish highlands. It goes: “Are you from north of the water?”

It’s a colloquial and kind way of calling someone crazy. What’s the water being referenced? Does it matter? It’s a perfect barb lancing through two apparently different peoples.

My hosts, Chris and Stuart, here at Wemyss House shared the saying with me as we chatted away last night with some whisky before a blazing wood stove. I might have blushed at the story. After all, most folk I meet clearly think I’m from north of the water.

Exhibit A: Quitting a comfortable job in a recession

It’s been some time since I’ve discussed the preamble to Traveling Savage. I worked for seven and a half years at an electronic medical records software company, moving up and through the ranks and ultimately managing large and small groups of people. I made a lot of money – at least by my meager conception of the idea – and a great deal of it disappeared in the vapid activities of the over-privileged.

Despite the salary, there was something unused and restless inside me that prevented me from enjoying what should have been the cushy life. Ultimately, I cast it away for a stab at something my heart desires. The economy was (and is still) crap, my wife and I had a mortgage (and still do), and I would be leaving her to travel alone (but not leaving leaving her). For that, you must see exhibit B.

Exhibit B: Traveling abroad alone while your wife works and pays the bills

In order for me to pursue this dream of Traveling Savage, someone needed to continue working and paying the bills. Enter Sarah, my wife. Now before you get too riled up you should understand that the original idea for Traveling Savage was all her doing, and we both agreed on the final plan. Why not sell the house, pack away our things, and hit the road together? All I can say is that’s not how we wanted to do it. So we played the hand we dealt ourselves.

Generally, Traveling Savage involves traveling alone, Skyping a lot, missing each other, and a certain level of dread as a trip approaches. Maybe you didn’t want that peek behind the curtain, but there’s the naked truth. The demons of Catholic guilt assail me whenever I think of Sarah’s angelic behavior and support. I drive through the most gorgeous scenes on planet Earth, drink ancient ambrosia from aging casks, and sleep in the poshest B&Bs and guest houses. And yet…

Exhibit C: The passion rainbow

This abrupt shift in my life from bewildered moneymaker to idealistic globetrotter was predicated on the belief that following your passion leads like a rainbow to success, the pot of gold. I still believe this. I do. I believe it more now than ever, having met people all over Scotland who have infected me with their passions, from whisky to cars to accommodations. People who love what they do make others love them for what they do. I’ve been carrying on with my head down a bit, hoping to have that same effect on others. All the while coins clink in the hourglass. Even here in northern Scotland where the days are long they eventually end.

So you can see how some might wonder if I’m from “north of the water.” In some ways I think I must have ticked off every box on the Crazy checklist. There’s a lot of hoping and wishing and feeling – words usually whited out on business plans.

Why this post? Why now? There’s another side of me bent on doing things the standard way, filling out the forms, being pragmatic and logical at all times. I subconsciously chastise myself quite a bit. I’m kind of tired of feeling like I’m missing the mark by going my own way. And I’m just realizing that.

Perhaps I am from north of the water. I’d be OK with that.


Kurt WNo Gravatar May 12, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Great post and captures. The Highlands are still one of my favorite places on earth.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 12, 2012 at 3:10 PM

There’s a sense that they (the highlands) allow people to live amongst them.

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Jeremy BranhamNo Gravatar May 10, 2012 at 2:02 AM

Keith, I love your story. I think our personalities are similar (from what little I know of you) and so are our situations. I both envy you and can relate to you. I have a passion for Scotland as well as traveling and all of my travels are solo. I haven’t gone so far as to quit my job but I burn the candle at both ends and make a lot of sacrifices. Last year, I started a new project. And while I take the credit for it, I wasn’t the one who came up with the idea. So like you, I have the support, do the travel, and most of it is solo.

Maybe I am even crazier than you for still working full time, being the bread winner, and doing all of this. I talked about my job situation the other day and I am not in the same position as you. However, I do envy your life a little. But I know how you feel too.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 12, 2012 at 3:09 PM

Hey Jeremy, you know how tough of a row this is to hoe. No reason to envy my life though, we’re both playing the cards we were dealt. I can’t remember if you’re in to malts, but we should share a dram sometime to commemorate our love of Scotland.

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Fellow TravellerNo Gravatar May 10, 2012 at 12:04 AM

You’re doing it right. No one wants to read about travelling couples—we did this, we did that. Your blog is about the singularity of *you*—your feelings, thoughts, responses to the people, places, weather, whiskey. It has an attractive elemental, unconventional quality—just as Scotland does.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 12, 2012 at 3:04 PM

I appreciate the comment, cheers!

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