Snapshots of Scotland by James Robertson
I crawled up into my rickety bunkbed and pulled the green covers over me. My camera, my books and a collection of two-minute noodle pots stacked at my side. Proper roughing it in hostel accommodation. But any other time of the year it wouldn’t have been too bad. I could have got some sleep. But I’d chosen to come to Edinburgh in August. Towards the end of August. The last week of the fringe festival.
For a lad obsessed with all things theatre, I felt like I’d died and gone to some strange version of heaven where there were plays and stand-up shows on every corner. The old city was constantly buzzing with energy and life. I immediately thought to compare this to the International Comedy Festival back in my home of Melbourne, but it didn’t even come close. I spent the whole afternoon and evening seeing shows. A historically themed improvisational comedy. A stand-up performance by a quirky Norwegian girl. A light-hearted musical about two serial killers who find love. You name it, they had it.
I had filled the rest of the day up with exploring Edinburgh’s stunning old town, taking part in a guided tour of the cobbled stone streets and ancient alleyways that weaved through the hilltop. I could feel the history seeping out of the walls. Out of the gravestones. Out of the window panes which overlooked the rest of the city below, newer and fresher in comparison.
There was a sense of deathly oppression about the town, as though you knew just from walking in it that many, many people had lived their lives here. And had died here too. Going back to before records began. Before this patch of rock was even given a name.
But then again this was a place of life. Being summer, despite the fact I was wearing four layers in the daytime, the city was clogged with tourists, fringe-festers and locals going about their day. Even the graveyard was filled with people. A graveyard, of all places!
My day and night in Edinburgh had been polarising and completely overwhelming in the best sense of the word. Stunningly old architecture combined with theatrical splendour in a whirlwind as I rushed from each venue to catch the next show. I was exhausted. Which is what made my accommodation all the more irritating. My window was positioned right next to one of those venues. And the shows didn’t stop just because I was trying to sleep.
The next morning, I was up bright and early to catch a bus. The next segment of my Scotland adventure would involve leaving the city behind and heading out into the countryside. As part of a tour group, consisting mainly of tourists around the age of forty, we set out from Edinburgh in a large coach driven by the burliest, most typically Scottish man I had ever seen. He wore a kilt. All of the time.
I was the youngest there, but managed to make friends with some twenty-somethings, hailing from Germany and the Netherlands. Together we glided by the undulating hills, fresh with sparkling green grass. Our first stop was at Doune Castle. A medieval skeleton of a once grand fortress, it is more commonly known as every castle in film and television, with the likes of “Game of Thrones”, “Outlander” and, especially, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” showcasing it. Moving away from the group, I circled round the stone-laid exterior of the castle by myself. I took in every corner of it before getting back onto the bus.
As we drove deeper and deeper into the Scottish Highlands, we saw numerous paddocks populated with distinctive cattle. Draped in a curtain of brown and orange hair, they were termed “hairy coos” by our driver. You cannot try to mimic his method of pronunciation in writing, there is no point in really trying. The maned beasts regarded us without a care through the shower of hair strands that covered their eyes.
Glencoe was our next destination. The site of an ancient battle, it was a stunning valley with rising mountains that sloped down to a wide river that ran through the centre. Words cannot describe how majestic the valley looked. How immense the space felt to inhabit. I walked through the grasslands and by the edge of the river that flowed steadily along. Sheep, the property of whoever it was that was lucky enough to own the one house in Glencoe, ran about, darting away from tourists who walked too close. The vastness of that valley was incredible.
Next was one for the Harry Potter fans. The famous Hogwarts Express, often seen chugging across a viaduct through the mountains, was filmed at Glenfinnan, an area which was stunning to observe from the summit of a small hill. Looking off at the famed bridge, I have to be honest I wasn’t too impressed by it. Not saying that I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, it was just that when I turned around from facing the viaduct the view that greeted me then was far more impressive. A single stone tower, a monument to the Jacobite uprising, stood at the mouth of a gaping lake that flooded the bottom of the valley. The sun shone in my eyes and shocked the lake with glitter.
The day ended as we arrived to our lodgings for the night. I knew we’d be staying near Loch Ness. Just the name made me excited to arrive at the accommodation, but I didn’t realise by “staying near Loch Ness” how close we would actually be to it. Once booked into reception, I walked out onto the patio and almost turned to stone. We weren’t “near” Loch Ness. We were right on it!
The wide expanse of the infamous lake was just at our doorstep. I skipped down to the pebbled shore and walked out onto a small escarpment of rock that jutted out above the still water. All around me was the extending sweep of Loch Ness, stretching out for miles either way. Compared to where I had slept the night before, I couldn’t quite believe that this was where I would be spending the next night of my life.
This was only a snapshot of what Scotland has to offer. In three more days there, I saw so much more, but not even a lifetime could do a trip to Scotland justice.