When we landed, I realized the weather was similar to where we had just left, Alaska. It was chilly and overcast, leaving an empty and painful feeling in the air, the same feeling I remember experiencing so many years as I child growing up in New England; as the leaves bled with such beautiful colors, I remember aching constantly, but in a way that wasn’t all bad, more in the way that reminds you you’re alive because of how much you physically feel inside your chest. Scotland, a place of history and mystery and a place I could happily someday call home. Our first adventure was a bit silly as we asked a few Scotsmen how to get to wherever it was we were going at the time, somewhere in Edinburgh. My husband, not the tiniest of men, was hunched over in a small two door European rental. Situated on what felt like the wrong side of the car, I clenched the handle while passing any other vehicle on the road. The Scotsman laughed as we entered a one way, clearly coming to them to ask for directions. After explaining where we were to go, one gave out a chuckle as he said “remember to drive on the left side of the road sonny.” I’ll never forget his accent or the red in his cheeks. We spent our New Years Eve ringing in 2013 at the Hogmanay Street Festival on the city streets located just below the castle. As a child, there isn’t much more exciting than fireworks burning in the night sky, but as a 23 year old I was lucky enough to experience that again as the fireworks illuminated the black sky and the regal statues that seemed to protect the castle itself.
After our time in Edinburgh, we made our way in our cramped Euro car through The Cairngorm’s National Park. For anyone who has the opportunity to visit these beautiful hills, please do. I felt like I was plucked out of Mel Gibson’s infamous Brave Heart and strategically placed where I could feel the most of what the land had to tell me. Our time in that beautiful park was short, but I dream of being back in those hills again someday.
After our time in the beautiful hills came to a close with the setting of the sun, we made our way from the Cairngorm’s to the legendary Loch Ness where we were greeted by the Urquhart Castle. Not only was the castle old and bursting at the seems with stories to be told, but it made me feel like I was home in some strange way. I walked around the outside perimeter and into the small grassy area that someone decided was once the garden. Inside this grassy square was an appropriately placed stone bench facing the loch. I sat for a moment and imagined the hardships of the men and women who once lived here, fought here, died here. The cold whipping in around my neck, and it wasn’t the kind of chill you shake after a moment out it, it was the persistent kind that stays and gets to your bones. How did these men and women live here, function here in such an unforgiving place? Any windows for ventilations meant a certain night of unshakable cold and what I would imagine to be an ominous howling of the wind. Battles were fought and won at this castle, but men were imprisoned here, suffered here and died here. This ground I was standing on seemed so sacred to me, so easily noticeable. Not like at home in the states where the thought of another human dying where I stood hardly crossed my mind, unless you found me in a graveyard or at a memorial; or if you caught me on a more nostalgic day wandering the old streets of New England, wondering about every crack in the hand-stacked rock walls. It was humbling sitting in that garden, walking the halls of this castle and I remember hoping to make it back there again in hopes of seeing the Loch Ness Monster, but he was the least on my mind that day.
I have many more images of our time in Scotland an many more stories in regards to my personal attachment and nostalgia for the things that went on there long before we ever arrived, but I think many of those emotions and thoughts are better left untold, as long as it be known that they existed. I hope that who ever might make it to that beautiful place has the time to sit, listen and reflect in the same all-consuming way that I did. I hope that if you walk the streets of Edinburgh, hike the Cairngorm’s or feel the pain of the old castle walls, you’ll imagine the life that occupied long before your visit and pay it a moment of respect. I’ll make it back there one day if the universe allows it and if I’m so lucky, I will do the same, again.