Yeh’ll take the high road, and Ah’ll take the low road.

by katharinecambridge

And ah’ll be in Scotlan’ for ye! (Get it? Not afore ye, but for ye, because you’re reading my blog.)

A thistle: the symbol of Scotland.

According to the tourism website VisitScotland, “Legend has it that a sleeping party of Scots warriors were saved from ambush by an invading Norse army when one of the attackers trod on a thistle with his bare feet. His cries raised the alarm, the roused Scots duly defeated the invaders, and the thistle was adopted as the symbol of Scotland. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence for this, but Scots, like other nations, love a good story.”

I spent the weekend in Edinburgh, the Capital of Scotland. From now on, when someone tells me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine,” I will think of that city. Man oh man, it is gray! Those clouds don’t go anywhere. When the fog lifts in your town it goes to Edinburgh, has a drink, talks to the other fogs that live there permanently, then comes back.

On the bus ride to Scotland, we stopped at Fountains Abbey. I took many pictures, but for your sake I only put a few here. By a stroke of luck, or perhaps a miracle, the sun burst through the clouds for a half hour. The mood completely changed, and although the monks did not envision their abbey in ruins when they built it in 1132, for me the blend of nature and decaying structure has a heightened religious power.

View from the end of the path.

Unfortunately these pictures don’t give you a sense of how tall these pillars are.

Trying to assume a nun-ly countenance.

Look at the difference the sun makes!

Does this not remind you of the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring?

Here is an Alan Lee illustration of the Mines of Moria to help remind you. More like the Abbey of Moria!

We Cambridge folks stayed at the University of Edinburgh – just down the street from the main drag of the city – and had free rein over the rest of the weekend.

I spent the first afternoon at the Scotland National Gallery, which had a gorgeous array of European portraiture (including one of Rembrandt’s selfies) and Scottish paintings.

Botticelli’s Mary and Jesus. 1490

Una and the Lion, painted by William Bell Scott. The story is from Edmund Spencer’s ‘The Faerie Queen’. I love lion imagery. 1860

Saint Bride by John Duncan. LOVED this one. Scottish artist. You can’t tell how gorgeous the pink clouds are, or how detailed the angels’ clothes are. It was also large. 1913

Outside of the art gallery a bagpipe player was performing, and my group stopped to listen. He was so, so, cute. And an excellent player! Later in town, I realized that many cute Scottish boys play the bagpipes, and they must be part of some larger organization that plants them here and there. All cute.

Click on this photo and gaze upon him!

Edinburgh is a city with both 12th and 18th century architecture, and at least one building from each century in between. I spent most of my time walking up and down the Royal Mile, which is the street in Old Town that leads up to the castle. There are shops and pubs and street performers and churches and a healthy dose of hustle-bustle.

One part of the Royal Mile.

Recognize this?

It’s the Tardis from the hit British series Doctor Who! The police box is his time traveling device.

The Susan Boyle Musical? I Dreamed a Nightmare! Leave that poor woman’s life alone and let one moment of televised beauty be enough.

Initially I was surprised at how theatrical/artistic the city Edinburgh felt, but then again it’s the host of the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival (one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world.) There were men painted as statues outside of cathedrals and a guy dressed Braveheart-style as William Wallace who tried to rouse tourists to his cause. One of the cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter was in Old Town, as well. There was even a Museum of Childhood, but I ran out of time. (Rather like childhood itself.)

The castle! This is what the word foreboding looks like in my mind. Walking underneath it was almost frightening. I could easily imagine the panic of arriving here as a captured soldier, knowing you were to spend the last moments of your life imprisoned within. Those rocks probably had many brains bashed upon them, and they did not appear ashamed about it.

On Saturday I took a bus to Killin to go hiking. We stopped in a town called Callendar, which was dutiful in its responsibility to be quaint and quintessential. The local men wore caps and sweaters and looked at our tourist group with appropriate disapproval. Luckily, I got to separate from the main crowd and peek into some of the shops by myself. Something that surprised me: Scots like their stuffed animals. I saw lots of fuzzy owls and hedgehogs in the store windows.

Wee border collies! Probably real working doggies.

The walk itself was beautiful, but wet. It started to rain right as we began hiking up the hillside for a view of the loch, and before the end my jacket was soaked through.

Whoever first said “ye’ll take the high road” knew the high road was extremely difficult to walk.

That night Joel and I got dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant, and wandered around the city as the sky darkened. We actually ran into two of my future roommates – Emily and Iva – who are currently studying in London. They had decided to visit Edinburgh on one of their free weekends, and we happened to be on the same street! I was duly but appreciatively made fun of for my Northern California kismet theories. 🙂 I forgot to take a picture but I will when I spend next weekend with them in London.

Time it was, and what a time it was… ***

Another photo of the Fountains Abbey. I can’t help myself!

*** Simon and Garfunkel