We knew as soon as we entered the door that we were the odd ones out – a dimly lit room, with a huge bar running along its length, filled with tables and chairs and people and dogs and beer and conversation. And a strong air of intimacy, like you just entered someone’s living room while they were discussing things only meant for their ears. We hesitated, the six of us to take a step forward. Till one of us decided to go to the bar and request for a table, and was told that this room was reserved for locals, most of whom met every day to catch up over a drink, and the main bar was out front for all guests. As we took a step in that direction, the bartender laughed and said “No no, don’t go, of course you can sit here. You guys are more than welcome, everyone is”. We looked at each other for affirmation to stay on. And thus began this night in Balloch, a long night this one.
A few drinks later we eased into our surroundings, people smiled at us when eyes met. Someone said that there was live music in the main bar in thirty minutes and we decided to move ourselves there and grab a table. Crossing a narrow passage, we entered a much larger room, but cozy and rustic all the same. We settled at a table and as I looked around while gulping my Scottish ale, it seemed obvious that everyone knew each other. People were entering the bar each minute, and everyone waved to everyone else, knew their name, made some conversation or cracked a joke. Like an extended family get together. It must have been obvious that we didn’t belong to the town, and some people came over, asked where we were from and what we were doing there, welcomed us, made jokes and conversation flowed as freely as beer. It didn’t seem strange at all or intrusive, I think it was the warmth that did us in :-).
Travelling exposes you to a lot of different types of people, cultures and mindsets. Some people are curious to meet an “outsider”, some aren’t too thrilled about it, but a major chunk is, for lack of a better word, “indifferent”. In a good way though – that they will be nice and helpful if needed, but will let you be, accepting you as passers by in their town and nothing more. But not in Balloch. I wondered that night if these were people for real? This warmth and enthusiasm was so genuine. And rare. Like we were guests at their party, and they wanted us to walk away with the time of our lives.
The band arrived and started setting up, and suddenly there was traditional Scottish music and singing and dancing. People clapped and sang, and men and women danced and laughed and drank. And then someone started pulling at my elbow, and the elbows of my girlfriends, and in a second we were all on the floor, in the midst of other women. They danced and we followed and everyone hugged and drank and danced some more. I think we repeated this pattern many times, I guess I lost count after a while.
We left late into the night, and on the way back I reflected on this evening. How ironic it was that I hadn’t given this small unassuming town of Balloch more than a passing thought in my head before. How ordinarily had the evening began, and how unexpected it had turned out to be. How glad I was that in that split second we decided to stay on. How the people you meet during your travels are probably the most memorable part of it. And would I ever visit another town like this, and meet other people like this and feel this truly welcomed and special? I wondered.
I posted a small video of the night on Instagram here.