The Highlands & Loch Ness

Loch Lubnaig

Loch Lubnaig

I felt the call of the Highlands this weekend—and suddenly I know why so many medieval romance novels are set there.  They are mystical and majestic, full of history, but more than that, they are primal.  They spoke to me on a profound level; as soon as I stepped foot in the mountains, I felt something—a pull from the Earth I’ve not felt before.  Of course they were already quite beautiful from what I saw on the drive, but once we stopped at Loch Lubnaig—and I touched the freezing water—some fairy magic was transferred. I got the Highlands.  I imagined stories I could tell; I saw characters coalesce in my mind almost instantly.  It felt like a writer’s high.

We stopped a number of places—Glen Coe (the “valley of tears”), where members of the Clan MacDonald defied the King and refused to pledge loyalty so they were all slain in their beds; the Three Sisters, a trinity of mountains also in Glen Coe (but a different part), that were wreathed in mist and rain; and of course Loch Ness.  I can’t be sure, but I saw a shadow which might have been Nessie.

Loch Ness

I loved Loch Ness.  I took a boat tour, and learned some fascinating facts about it, among which there is more fresh water in Loch Ness than all of the lakes in the Lake District in England, and the loch is so big you could fit all the people in the world in it.  (I don’t know how that would work, but I’ll take the tour guide’s word for it.)  Also, the loch is very deep and inky dark, so dark that you can’t see anything except by sonar after 25 meters, because there’s so much black peat in the water light can’t penetrate.  It’s basically like the loch version of a black hole. It was bracing and freezing to be on the water, and the wind actually buffeted people sideways on the top (open) deck of the ship.  I could have cheerfully stayed on the ship longer though, if that were an option, despite the wind and cold, because it felt right to be there—part of that magic I mentioned earlier.  Of all the things in Scotland I wanted to see, Loch Ness and the Highlands were the “Scotland-est.” (If you were to ask me before I left Atlanta what I think of when I think of Scotland, I’d answer “Loch Ness and the Highlands.”)  I’d always imagined going these places, and the reality did not disappoint.  I’m really glad I accidentally booked myself on another bus tour to see these places, because one time is not enough.

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Yesterday I finally dragged myself to Edinburgh Castle. I say dragged because I really didn’t want to go—if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all, right?—but also I had to literally drag myself up this huge stairway—Peter Somebody’s Staircase—because I took a wrong turn down Victoria Street and landed at the foot of the castle, instead of just walking the Royal Mile like I meant to from the bus stop.  Ah well.  My

calves are still sending me hate mail.

Mary Queen of Scotts

The castle was windy and cold—my favorite weather, especially in summer—and amazingly high above the city.  You could see all the way past the North Sea.  I liked seeing the Crown Jewels (a crown and a scepter, as well as the Stone of Scone [pronounced “skuun”] also known as the Stone of Destiny, the stone upon which monarchs are crowned which was stolen from Scotland by England’s King Edward in 1296).  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the jewels—I don’t know why—because they were kind of cool, though maybe not as ornate as I had expected.  Mary Queen of Scots was born at Edinburgh Castle, so after looking at the Crown Jewels, you got to walk through her rooms.  There was a room which had Mary’s family tree on it…it reminded me kind of like Sirius Black’s family tree mural from Harry Potter, adorned with beautiful and elegant portraits from her family.  You also could look into the birthing room, which frankly was literally the size of a closet.  There was also a lovely and ornate tapestry (and/or bedspread) she had made, but I didn’t get a picture of it because there were too many people in front of it and it was a dark room.  But the needlework impressed me.

Scottish National War Memorial

I also scoped out the Scottish National War Memorial which was dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who died in WWI.  It looked like it should have been a chapel, not a war memorial.  Maybe it had been at some point?  But the sign said it was made in 1927 for the memorial’s purpose, which kind of amazes me because it looks like it was built part of the castle, if not originally, certainly more than 95 years ago.  I also peered in at the Great Hall, and perused the History of War Museum, and I can categorically state the only thing that interested me about the History of War was seeing the medals from the uniforms the men wore.  Some of it looks like jewelry.  And I love me some jewelry.  But the history of war leaves me cold—and with the exception of a brief nod to women as nurses, women’s role in the war(s) was ignored.  Overall, I’m not sorry I went to Edinburgh Castle, but between seeing it and Sterling Castle last week, I’m about castled out.  I appreciate their historical qualities, but they are surprisingly unromantic buildings (yes, yes, I know they are built for military purposes, not fairy tales), and seeing them in real life demystifies them in a sad kind of way.

Millennium Clock Tower, National Museum

Backtracking a little bit, Friday I went back to the National Museum of Scotland.  I had intended on going to the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture instead, but when I got there, the guard told me it was closed because it wouldn’t have an exhibit until the end of July.  I was glad I went back to the National Museum—I got to see things I missed and enjoyed my leisurely walk through the collections.  Something I hadn’t seen the previous time I visited was the two-story Millennium Clock Tower.  If I had been on the first floor, I think I would have filmed it going through its various songs and chimes at 1 p.m., but I missed some of it and wasn’t at a good spot to film anyway.  It’s a wonderful clock though, with four levels—a Crypt, a Nave, a Belfry, and a Spire, to correspond to the way a medieval cathedral is constructed.  Apparently, it was built in 1999—but just like the War Memorial, it looks older than it is.  I really enjoyed looking at it, and seeing various parts lighting up as it rang.

Another thing I saw that was very interesting was their extinction/climate change exhibit.  You would never see such a indictment of things like oil and pollution in a governmentally-supported museum in the States.  Oh, it was critical of human destruction of the planet—and so bald about it.  I mean the exhibit just points out all over the place how human selfishness causes animal extinction events and how we are probably going to end up with a planet that is beyond saving.  Can you imagine if this were the Smithsonian?  Republicans would go bananas.  But I loved it.  It’s a devastating exhibit, of course, but I really appreciated its in-your-face predictions of climate doom. We need truth like that.

One thing doing so much on the weekends helps with is keeping my loneliness issues at bay—you can’t be too lonely when you’re tramping all over the wilds of Scotland as well as the less-wilds of the city of Edinburgh.  So I think I’m doing a little bit better with feeling disconnected and discouraged than I was earlier, which is a good thing, especially since I still have several more weeks to go before I return home.  I still miss folks, and the days are still too long.  But I’m coping.

Hope you like this latest batch of pictures.

A church in front of Edinburgh Castle. At the lower right you can just see a Fish and Chips seller.

Field Marshal Earl Haig statue

View from the castle

I love the clouds in this picture. What you can’t see is just how steep this incline is.

The royal palace with clock tower

Upper ward courtyard

A handsome horse statue on the left side of the War Memorial

A debonair lion on the right side of the War Memorial

Ben Nevis, the highest point in Great Britain, with snow

The beautiful Highlands

This scratched off part of the hill is where Nessie apparently tried to escape the Loch but unfortunatly slipped back into the water because the hill is so steep.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness canal

Loch Ness (I think)

The Three Sisters, Glen Coe

Mountain in Glen Coe… the tour guide said “Geroff, and getcher Instagram pic.”

More Edinburgh Castle

I like the angle I took this pic of the arch.

A Highland bridge, no longer used for trains

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Piano painted by Phoebe Anna Traquair, National Museum of Scotland

Embroidered triptych by Phoebe Anna Traquair

Big Ass Fish (Kirsten, it tried to bite me!), National Museum

Mass censers, National Museum

Detail of Millennium Clocktower, with a tiny JC in the reflection, National Museum

Detail of the Millenium Clocktower, National Museum

Helen and Kate Storey dress, with X-ray of lung, 1997, National Museum

L: Plaque, the Virgin & Child, Italian,late 15th C., National Museum R: Plaque, the Virgin & Child, Italian, 17th C.

Grape goat, Michael Powolny, ca. 1907-1910, National Museum

The hall of animals, mostly extinct, National Museum

Giraffe head. I think he’s grinning.

Busts, National Museum. But I mostly like the atrium design apparent here.

Airplane in the Hall of Technology, National Museum

Another view of the atrium, National Museum

Bull figurine, National Museum

Cat figurine, National Museum

 

My First Week in Edinburgh

I was reminded yesterday that when you’re in a new country, everything is interesting. Based on my experiences so far, I don’t know about that.  For me, I have mainly spent the first week in Edinburgh adjusting to the crazy amounts of daylight (4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and the daily wind and rain.  (I’m so happy I brought a lined raincoat, and I Amazoned a new umbrella since I forgot to bring one.)  I have spent a good amount of time locked up in my flat, preparing for my class, but I’ve also taken some long walks, trying to get the lay of the land.  And I have drunk a metric butt ton of Scottish Breakfast Tea.  Which is like English Breakfast Tea, only it uses a really complicated dialect. 😊

Friday, I did a cursory visit to the National Museum of Scotland, which is a fantastic natural history museum with a huge atrium and tons of natural light.  I will go back and do a “deeper dive” in the exhibits, but I mainly looked at the science/technology hall, the hall of design, and the world cultures hall.  I visited the museum with the coordinator of the Scotland Study Abroad program, and we didn’t have a lot of time there because he also wanted to go to Clarinda’s Tea Room, on the Royal Mile, which was fussy and frilly (in the best way) and full of tea-related décor.  I had a scone with butter and preserves.  I was expecting more of a biscuit, but this scone was sweeter than that, but very crumbly.  Afterwards, we walked back past some bagpipers and drummers and Richard went his way, and I went mine…right into a freak storm.  Imagine a day where it’s bright and windy and gorgeous.  And then come the clouds like a galloping herd of gazelles.  That storm soaked me to the core, and of course I wasn’t wearing my raincoat.

In the rain, a man with a large backpack bumped into me (don’t worry, he wasn’t a pickpocket), and then as I passed the Museum again, he put his hand out for me to shake it and asked who I was.  I was so shocked, I told him.  He said his name was Sam and he was looking for a Tesco (a grocery store).  There was one right around the corner, and I thought he was going to go toward it but he went the opposite way.  It was a little strange.

Saturday, I tried doing laundry and found the washer to be beyond my intellect level.  Then I went for a walk in Holyrood Park.  There’s an entrance close bywhere I’m staying, so I walked over to it, and it turned out the entrance was a steep set of stairs down to the street (Queen’s Drive), and about 10 steps down it, I said to myself, “Self, if you go down these stairs you’ll have to come back up,” and while I was debating this shaggy sheep dog came out of nowhere.  He looked pretty good so I wasn’t worried he was lost, and then as if from mist, his owner appeared.

“Rolo,” he said, “quit botherin’ th’ lass.”

“Oh, he’s not bothering me,” I said, putting my hand out to pet Rolo.

“In tha’ case, quit botherin’ me dog.”

With that, the man and Rolo passed me going down the stairs, and after being flummoxed for a little bit at the surprising turn of events, I followed at a discreet distance.  I walked up the hill a ways (not the big hill, the one that puts you on top of Arthur’s Seat), and then down a grassy knoll.  I tried taking some selfies, but it was so windy my face was all scrunched up and my hair had its own postal code.  I sat on a convenient rock until I was ready to face the 400 steps back up to the park entrance.  I’ll have you know I died about 6 times on the hike back up the stairs.

Yesterday, I spent the day reading for class, but all day I wanted to go to church.  I just couldn’t get motivated for the 9:30 Mass.  Fortunately, St. Columba’s church had a service at 6:30, so I walked south till I got there.  It was definitely a no-frills service… no music and a homily that contrasted our relationship with God and the Trinity to this kid at his grammar school selling stick insects (don’t ask). It was a tenuous connection at best.  I was glad I went—it let me see a different part of town.  Next week I think I’ll try St. Patrick’s.

So, that kind of catches you up on my visit so far.  Not overly exciting, but I’ll have more exciting plans in my future I’m sure.