Apologies for the severe lack of updates recently- I've been very busy settling into university and college at Edinburgh, exploring my beautiful new city, and even squeezing in a few side trips to Glasgow, Perthshire and Oktoberfest. Edinburgh is an absolutely wonderful city, and I am falling more and more in love with it every day. Every time I wake up and look out my window to Arthurs Seat, the dormant volcano outside my bedroom, hear bagpipes in a pub, see someone actually wearing a kilt (people actually wear them in real life, not as a joke, who knew), have a shot of whisky, eavesdrop on someone talking with Sean Connery's accent or walk along the Royal Mile and catch a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle resolutely defending the city from imaginary invaders, I feel like I'm walking around in a fairy tale city, or at the very least, in a postcard. Then I catch a whiff of the haggis cooking in my college kitchen and come smack back down to earth.
I've just back from an absolutely magical weekend trip through the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye. My lovely friend Rowena and I decided to do a backpacking tour to see a bit more of our adopted country, and it was just such a fantastic trip. It's autumn in Scotland at the moment, and travelling through the beautiful craggy mountains, dramatic valleys and windswept wills with the trees turning gold and red around us was a pretty special experience. We met some lovely people and had such a fantastic tour guide- full of stories about Scottish myths and legends, ancient battles, fairies kidnapping children to enslave them as their private musicians and jesters, women being turned into mountains to preserve their beauty and of course, the ubiquitous, kilted, dreadlocked Braveheart.
Our first day of travel took us up through the Highlands and past Loch Ness. Sadly, there was no sign of the Creature- but no shortage of myths and stories about it. I'm not entirely sure I believe in the Loch Ness Monster- that might be partly due to the fact that I picture it as a cross between the Flintstone's dinosaur and Barney, but I do definitely like the idea of some ancient creature lurking at the bottom of the lake, chuckling away at the tourists wearing their ridiculous Nessie hats and scanning the lake with binoculars rather than looking underneath them. I think my favourite explanation for Nessie is the idea of her being a kelpie- a creature that dwells in the sea or in a lake, that can come out of the water, turn into a talking horse, and offer lifts to tired travellers. When they gratefully accepted (probably thinking, you beauty, a talking horse, I'm rich), the kelpie would gallop into the loch (water) and devour its prey. Charming.
Just after Loch Ness, we visited Eileen Donan Castle, the second biggest reason for me choosing Scotland as my country of exchange (the first is, obviously, Sean Connery's accent). I'm told I got just a little bit too excited as we approached the castle- I vaguely remember screeching and pushing some very slow tourists out of the way in my quest to get to the drawbridge. The castle is just absolutely magical, and every little bit as beautiful as I hoped it would be- serendipitously, we arrived just before sunset, so I got to see the castle all beautiful in the daylight, and then floodlit as it slowly got darker. I'm not ashamed to admit I most definitely pretended I was a Bond Girl, walking across the bridge to my wedding with Sean Connery- just practising for when it actually happens.
The second day we spent driving around the Isle of Skye, drinking in the breathtaking views. Our first stop was at a famous stone bridge in the mountains- very much of the type you could see an ogre or a giant defending from a prince in a fairy-tale- where our guide promised us the secret to eternal youth. According to Neil, all we needed to do to get lifelong beauty was to dunk our faces in the river fed by the Atlantic Ocean for seven seconds- apparently the fairies had blessed that very spot, and the water had magical powers. For some reason that's still beyond me, the next thing I know I was face down in the river, slowly feeling my nose turn blue and my mascara run down my face. I think its fair to say that when Rowena and I finally lifted our heads from the river, the eternal beauty that was promised to us was not immediately apparent- mud in the eyebrows and eyeliner on the chin does not a Princess make.
My highlight of the weekend came when we visited the Fairy Glen on the coast of Skye. According to legend, it is forbidden to sing or whistle in the glen, as it attracts the fairies, who apparently love music. If they hear you singing in their home, they will enslave you for about 50 years, and use you as their own personal musician. Apparently the way to tell a fairy is that their eyes turn black when they look at the moon- which sounds a little bit more demonic than the fairy godmother/I will get you to the ball Cinderella type fairies that I grew up with. Scottish fairies don't sound all that nice actually- they seem to be quiet prone to lifting people off the ground by their ears and dumping you in a tree, drinking all your milk and mimicking the sound of a door bell. Tricky little things!
So what are some of the other fun facts I've learnt in Scotland? On the Royal Mile, Scotland's oldest street, there is a fountain that used to run with wine. You probably wouldn't spend that much time there though, because it was also where they used to pin the ears of those caught stealing in the market. Apparently thieves had a choice; they could either remain all night nailed to the fountain, braving the Scottish winter, rotten fruit and drunks, or decide to cut their losses, tear off their ear and go about their business just a bit lopsided. One month in the 1600s there was a collection of 46 ears left on the fountain!
Edinburgh is also the city that inspired the book Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson was inspired by the tale of Deacon Brodie, a cabinet maker, locksmith and Edinburgh city councillor who led a secret (and highly successful life) as a burglar. Brodie, in his position as locksmith, would make all the locks for the most prestigious houses in Edinburgh, and would then steal back there a couple of weeks later in the dead of night to help himself to the homeowner's treasures using his very own key. In a quirky twist, Brodie was such a highly respected member of the Edinburgh trade guilds that he was asked to head the committee charged with investigating the spate of burglaries throughout Edinburgh. He was able to keep up the pretence and lived the double life for years and years before he was eventually caught and later hung- on a gallows that he himself had designed. And it was only at the public execution that Deacon's six mistresses became aware of the other's existence! Whatalad.
My favourite character in Edinburgh so far though is Half-Hanged Mary. With a rough sailor husband forcing her to move away from home, she started an affair with a local Innkeeper and became pregnant. Not wanting anyone to find out about the affair, she concealed her pregnancy until the baby was born prematurely, but then it sadly died. Maggie got arrested for concealing her pregnancy (weird) and was taken back to Edinburgh to be hung. After the execution she was pronounced dead and was driven off to be buried...until the cab driver got a rather nasty surprise when the top of the coffin was lifted up and Maggie sat bolt upright and enquired where she could get a good drink. The law decreed that she had served her sentence (and was technically dead) and she lived for the next 40 years next to the gallows where she should have met her fate, and took to giving condemned prisoners their last glass of whisky before their execution, with the wise words "Don't worry about dying... It didn't end up too badly for me!"
LOTS OF LOVE,