three sisters – mountains in the highlands
Even though I’m on a “backpacking” trip, I decided I wanted to give up the vagrant lifestyle for a day or two and go on a proper tour. I had seen Timberbush Tours advertised throughout Edinburgh, and quickly became interested in their three day trip through the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye.
Today was the first day of that journey.
Today I was thrilled to meet up with a friend from my undergraduate while exploring Edinburgh. Caroline’s been studying down in Oxford for the summer, and decided to take a quick trip up to Scotland to wander the city – and to catch up with me!
We met at Spoon, one of the (many) cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Spoon’s major claim to fame is more direct than most: Rowling’s brother-in-low apparently owned the cafe pre-Philosopher’s Stone. But whatever its literary history, it certainly had a delicious brunch!
After, we swung by the Elephant House. It’s another cafe where Rowling wrote – and probably the one that’s capitalized the most on her popularity. I can’t make any comment about the food, a I didn’t partake of any. Instead, we snapped a picture of the outside and moved on.
We explored St. Giles and the Walter Scott Monument (SO HIGH. SO NARROW. GULP.). We took a trek to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, then across town to Carlton Hill, then downwards to Holyrood Palace. We finished at Albanach, a pub on the Royal Mile. There we tasted whisky and ate haggis and generally tried everything everyone tells you to try when visiting Scotland. The verdict: whisky, meh; haggis, surprisingly good!
the Walter Scott monument
Caroline went to a film while I returned to my hostel to pack, but we met up after for another hour of socialization and reminiscing. All in all, it was probably my most touristy day in Edinburgh. But it was great fun! Sometimes it’s nice to don the tourist cap and walk ’til your feet bleed. 😉
I’ve been pretty active while in Edinburgh – it’s hard not to be. This is a place where you could convincingly tell your grandkids you had to walk uphill both ways to get anywhere. It’s a city built on several hills, with bridges spanning between them.
But when you take a trip this long you sometimes have to sit and work, even when you’d rather be climbing mountains or exploring castles. Today was one of those days. I still have a lot to do before the end of July, which means I’ll have to take another day “off” my vacation, but I feel like I made a dent in the work I’ve had piling up in my absence.
Of course, when the end of the day came and I was trying to figure out what to post here, I realized I had no photo to share. Unlike other days when scheduled events allowed me to find a good photo, today’s needed to be spontaneously induced. So I wandered.
I didn’t go too far, but I did see a rabbit and what looked like a wild partridge in a park. I also started a poem about fairy circles. Though I (fortunately?) avoided any mystical folks, I discovered an artificial circle of standing stones. Each was labeled with a different part of Scotland – I can only assume each stone was brought in from the named region.
It just goes to show that a city like this keeps its heart all over. Scotland seems to have high self-esteem without much vanity, and I love it. It’s going to be tough to make myself leave.
How many cities can claim they have a mountain smack dab in the middle? I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it can’t be too many.
I didn’t come on this trip intending to literally backpack, even though my belongings all fit in one very nice loaner. I enjoy hiking but in a very distant way. I’d like to be more outdoorsy than I am; it doesn’t help that I spend at least a quarter of the year aggressively sneezing.
But I knew I wanted to climb Arthur’s Seat, because everyone else who’s been here climbed Arthur’s Seat and it’s very much a Thing To Do. Plus, if you can see it (which, from many bridges and streets in the city, you can), you can also see the people swarming like ants along its peaks and crags. It’s not that high.
I enlisted two Swedish girls in the hike, and we set off at the early hour of 10:30 in the morning. The hike itself was gorgeous and invigorating. I firmly believe most anything can be cured by a “hill-walk,” and this one didn’t fail me. I felt considerably better about life, the universe, and everything once at the top.
On the way down, we stopped by the ruins of an old chapel. Beautiful photos all around.
If you’re going to Edinburgh, even if you aren’t athletic, you should do this hike. There are easier routes and more difficult routes, but ultimately none of them are so hard that anyone in a decent state of health couldn’t complete them.
Besides, even if you don’t make it to the top, there’s plenty to see as you meander around the mountain!
It was a rainy and gloomy day, and ultimately I spent the bulk of it in bed, watching Full House. But I did get out for one fascinating literary tour with writer Allan Foster. The rain served me well here: our group only numbered four.
This tour was recommended to me by Gaby, a fellow bibliophile, and it was well worth it. Now to buy some of Mr. Foster’s books…
Today was a busy day for me. As my first full day in Edinburgh, I had a lot of expectations. I explored Edinburgh Castle, which provided amazing views of the city and more history than I could possibly digest in one sitting. It also provided an excellent lunch at the Redcoat Cafe, which I did digest in one sitting – hooray for delicious Scottish meals.
In the evening I decided to attend a literary pub crawl, which provided a hilarious and informative look into the history of Edinburgh’s writers. Best moment? When one of the actor/guides rapped “Ae Fond Kiss,” a poem by Robert Burns.
A fellow US citizen I met on the tour invited me to a ceilidh she had seen advertised, and I just couldn’t say no. In Scotland, a ceilidh is an evening of traditional dance – but think country line dancing, not anything slow or dramatic. I think it ended up being the most fun I’ve had this whole trip, and it meant I got to make new friends to hang with later in the week.
Of course, it also meant I was up way too late at night. But we can’t have everything, can we. 🙂
statue in front of Bath Abbey. seagull optional
Train travel is pretty cool, y’all. We should make it more of a thing in America. Who’s with me?
But really, after spending six hours on a train, you’d think I’d be raving about the speed of air travel. I’m not – I genuinely enjoyed my morning on the tracks from Bath to Edinburgh. If I had been on a plane I would have missed the breathtaking landscapes that first made me realize I’d arrived in Scotland. It helped that a random zone of 20mph travel was required an hour outside of Edinburgh – it meant I watched the sea and sky and rolling hills at leisure.
Of course, once I actually got into Edinburgh, I parked myself at a Starbucks and waited for my hostel to open so that I could go to sleep.
Sometimes you just gotta sleep, and I didn’t get much in Bath – thank goodness I have a single room for the next week.
I have seriously lucked out in my Bath adventure. I have less than 48 hours here, but I befriended a Canadian-turned-local and she helped me find all the best food. Plus, she had tons to tell me about being an au pair/nanny – she made it sound so ideal, I practically applied for a job on the spot. Too bad I have grad school to return to….
Bath is going to get its own, more descriptive post in the future; but for now, here are some photos of the modern city surrounded by ancient architecture.
hot spring at the Roman Baths
This morning my mom left to return to the States; meanwhile, I avoided abandoning the comfort of a Marriott for as long as possible. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to her, for a lot of reasons. Obviously I love her and appreciated her companionship for a week of my trip, but I’m thrilled to start the part that’s more adventure and less tourism.
Not that the tourism we participated in wasn’t incredibly fun and educational. It’s just that I didn’t come to the UK to hop on and off buses or zoom through museums. I came to wander. I came to sit. I came to absorb.
Though for all my grandiose ideas, I was still pretty terrified riding into Bath. I can’t pinpoint what freaks me out about this journey. The anxiety comes and goes, but it does come, and sometimes it’s almost overwhelming.
Thankfully, I’m pretty terrible at quitting, even when quitting may be better for me than staying on. Which means this grand adventure is far from over.
I went to Stonehenge years ago, the summer I studied at Oxford. It was pretty cool, if underwhelming. Virginia was my primary residence at the time, and the state had its own riff on the ancient structure: a fairly accurate replica dubbed “Foamhenge.” As a professor once remarked to me, Foamhenge was much nicer to visit, as there was no highway running nearby, and you could actually touch the “stones.” I didn’t think he was entirely wrong.
But since I was there, Stonehenge has moved its visitor centre. The new centre is a little museum set away from the road, with buses or a cowpath to take you to the stones themselves. My mother and I chose to walk the mile to the monument, and I must say, this improved the experience immensely.
There is something beautiful, something mystical, about walking up to these standing stones after passing through woods and pastures. Though the road still ran along the other side of the monument, you couldn’t see it unless you stood on that side of the stones; it was also easier to ignore, given you didn’t have to cross under it to get to Stonehenge. And it felt right to walk up to the stones from a distance away. It felt far truer than my trip five years ago, and I’m grateful I had my mother as a reason to go back.
Salisbury, the city nearest to Stonehenge, is also a pretty cool place. Most exciting attraction: the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta in existence.