Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Americans are famously poor at geography, so I like to think that for an American I'm pretty good with maps. And yet, until I found myself in Scotland in early December, I had no idea how far north it is. Edinburgh is almost at 56 degrees North. For reference, Copenhagen, Denmark is at 55. Juneau, Alaska is at 58. Stockholm, Sweden is at 59. Oslo, Norway is at 60. And yet, it was unusually warm and pleasant when I was there. In fact, during the 10 day period I was in the United Kingdom and Ireland, it didn't rain once. The one downside was the incredibly short days - about an 8:15 am sunrise, a 3:45 pm sunset, and only 7.5 hours of daylight. This was both an excuse to sleep in and go to bed early, and an incentive to maximize time.

Edinburgh skyline by daylight, featuring a Christmas market

Same view after dark
The walking tour I took in Edinburgh was one of my favorites - informative, and our tour guide was hilarious, if more than a bit quirky. Here are some of the best tidbits:

1. In the early 1800's, Edinburgh was one of the leading cities for anatomy studies. The Scottish government strictly restricted which kinds of bodies could be dissected for science - mostly those of criminals. This meant that bodies were hard to come by, and there was a thriving black market for corpses. If you were a proper Christian, you probably believed that the body needed to be left intact for the resurrection. Ironically, there were "resurrectionists", or crews of thieves who would go around to graveyards and dig up the deceased. The poor couldn't afford giant marble tombs, so they would put protective metal cages around their loved ones' remains, and even stay in the graveyard overnight (some suggest this is where the term "graveyard shift" originates).

This graveyard is gorgeous
2. Also speaking of graveyards, J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books while she was living in Edinburgh. She drew inspiration from her surroundings. For example, Professor McGonagall was probably inspired by a poet's grave:

And, you can stand on Tom Riddle's (aka Voldemort's) grave:

One can also suppose that she might have gotten inspiration for Hogwarts by looking at the skyline and seeing a posh boarding school next to a castle.

Since renting a car had gone so well in Ireland, I decided to do the same in Scotland, although it was even more of a necessity for accessing the Highlands in the off-season. My hometown of Palmer Lake, Colorado has a flat-topped mesa named Ben Lomond, so I was quite excited that I could visit the (potential) namesake, the original Ben Lomond mountain and the surrounding Loch Lomond. The landscapes are actually pretty similar. 

I set off without a map or plan, and just drove around until I found pretty places to walk. I'd get out, walk for a while, and then get back in my car and drive (on the left side of the road) to another pretty place, until it got dark. I did the same thing the next day, except when I had gotten to the first place I planned to hike, the fog was so thick that I had to turn around and hike more along the lake I had been hiking above the previous day. While driving, I was dancing in my seat and singing along to the epic Irish pub playlists I had downloaded for driving. At some point, the limited data plan I had purchased for navigation purposes ran out, so it was just me, the road signs, and the remaining memory I had about how I had arrived previously.

Time Lapse of a Picnic with Wildlife:
1. Bird makes eye contact with sandwich
2. Bird makes eye contact with me, defiantly
3. Bird attacks sandwich

Highland cow

 I remember some of the neat people I met in Scotland. While hiking, I met a group of school children from a nearby city who were on a week-long field trip in the Highlands. They were curious and asked me tons of questions about where I was from - they thought it was fascinating and so cool that I was from the US, and I honestly told them that I thought they were from a pretty cool place. My warm and hospitable Airbnb host had a "vegan friendly" rental with the cutest dogs. I even met a few Coloradans on one of the trails.

But what I remember most was the elation experienced as I realized that I was one hundred percent content on my own. At this point on the trip, I had been eagerly anticipating returning home, largely to see how things would turn out with the guy I had fallen for before I left and spent a lot of (unnecessary) time missing. Of course, I was also excited to be stateside again and to be reunited with family and other friends. However, as I goofy-danced and sang along to the music in my car, listened to the gentle lap of the lake along the shore, soaked the northern sunshine into my face, and drank in the beautiful views, I realized that I was deeply, truly, to-the-bottom-of-my-soul, satisfied, on my own. With or without the guy (without, as it would turn out, but I didn't know that yet). I was so proud of my adventures, the strength of my spirit, my self-sufficiency, and my growing capacity to truly enjoy life in a way I hadn't before.

I loved Scotland, and if I ever get the chance, I'd love to go back and explore the highlands further.

A traditional scotch, enjoyed properly - poured over ice, with just one drop of water added
Proof that I drove on the left side of the road!

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