Part one: Gretna
Slubice, Rasesti, Marienborn, Portbou. Frontier towns have a unique atmosphere; settlements where things start and finish. It’s a cliché to think of them as dusty and desolate, with dogs lying on baking-hot tarmac and indolent guards flicking fag ash while leafing suspiciously through your passport. In 35 years of travelling and photographing, I’ve crossed many European borders, elation and relief turning to suspicion and apprehension as I arrive in one-horse towns with bars of ill-repute and people to match.
Not much of this applies in Schengen-era Europe of course, where borders have become invisible and travel largely unrestricted. Goods and people move freely, unhindered by security checks and inspection. Sometimes the old customs buildings still stand, abandoned and still. The frontier town has taken on a new, less threatening guise.
If Scotland votes Yes in 2014 and becomes an independent nation once again, the historically-significant border town of Gretna might well be an official entry/exit point to Scotland. Famous for eloping English couples and skirmishing Border Reivers, there is an ambitious plan to construct the Star of Caledonia, a 121-foot landform and sculpture which aspires to create a kinetic gateway to Scotland.
All this inspired me to visit Gretna and explore whether the place looks and feels like a traditional frontier town.