Edinburgh, Glencoe & the Isle of Skye / April 25 to May 1, 2015
I've always been a bit dismissive of things Scottish; it always seemed kind of, well, kitschy, all those tea towels, tartans, and bag pipe dirges. Ireland always seemed just so much cooler; I mean Ireland had leprechauns, Guinness and U2....what's not to like?
But of course my impression of Scotland was probably based on the occasional drive through Fergus*, that doctor from Star Trek with a bad Scottish accent,, and a Big Country song that I probably heard a few too many times.
Now that I've actually spent a week in Scotland, however: Wow. I'm changing my mind.
Scotland reminds me of British Columbia, only with sheep. And more rain (if that's possible). Scotland also has stunning fjords, rain, lovely lochs, mountains (albeit small ones, but at 57 degrees North, they were barren and snowy in late April) and did I mention, rain?
Of course, the rain only lasts until it is sunny again and then it gets all snowy and foggy and then, well, rainy. All within 20 minutes. But having lived through a week of Scottish weather helps me make sense of the Scottish penchant for drinking fermented barley. How else could you cope with the long, wet winters?
A four-hour train ride from London brought us right down town to within blocks of the "Royal Mile" and a basic but convenient Air BnB just along the Auld Reekie Trail.
We only had three nights here, but we did manage to see:
- Edinburgh Castle -- a fortress for the Scots, the English, and then...well, it's complicated. But the tour included a glimpse of the Scottish crown jewels, and a great, participatory demonstration of how to kill a man with a pike;
- Our Dynamic Earth: a super, high-tech, very engaging BIG HISTORY museum that covers everything from the Big Bang until the future of Astronomy, with great exhibits on evolution, biology, geology, geography, ecology and climate change;
- Edinburgh Museum: Great for a quick overview of the history of the city.
- St. Giles Cathedral: the patron saint of Presbyterianism, if that is not a contradiction in terms;
- The view of the city from the top of Arthur's Seat, a local highland hill.
From what saw, it is clear that Scotland is steeped in history: a dysfunctional love-hate-story with their island-mates, England, involving: invasions, counter-invasions, sharing Kings and Queens, killing off the same, taking the wrong side in the Civil War and the Reformation (or was that Counter-Reformation?), a failed referendum last year, and now potentially a hung UK Parliament in which the Scottish National Party may hold the balance of power in the upcoming May 7 Election. Seriously, Game of Thrones has nothing on this place.
Here are a few snaps from Edinburgh....
Glencoe & the Isle of Skye
From Edinburgh, we drove north up through a snow storm (!) to Glencoe and then later to the Isle of Skye (recently voted '4th best island in the world by National Geographic magazine' -- who knew? And who knew that they rated islands....).
But a it's lovely island full of coves and vistas and amazing, constantly shifting light. We even saw a few rainbows. You'd half expect to see fairies, if it weren't for all the fog, mist and did I mention, rain?
The whole area is a hiker's heaven, and we managed to get in a few short-walks when it wasn't too wet.
All was fine until we decided to hike up the Quiraing Walk and we crossed that line separating fun from adventure about the time a snow covered trail disappeared into a cloud with steep cliffs all around....We then realized then that we were probably not adequately prepared for mountaineering in a white-out, so we decided to take the low road back to the car. Discretion much the better part of valor.....and walking amongst clouds.
On the road back to Edinburgh, however, we enjoyed clear blue skies and saw all of the snow-dusted hills that we missed on the way up. We passed briefly by Loch Lomond, and then spent another night near town before heading back to London the next day.
So, I was wrong. Scotland is cool. And what we saw has left me wanting to go back. Perhaps during the Fringe? (I'm looking at you, Mike Peng!).
* Not that I have anything against Fergus, Ontario. Some ;of my best brother-in-laws live near there.