Before I visited Scotland I read some blog post on the internet where this person was talking about a concept called Deep Scottish Love. Basically DSL is the feeling you experience when you visit Scotland and fall completely and madly in love with basically everything. It took less than a week of exploring Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands before I was starting to come down with my own case of DSL.
The minute I got off the train in Edinburgh I was awed by the beauty of the castle and medieval buildings which looked as if they were carved into the side of the rock face. I couldn’t help but stop and marvel for some minutes on my way to the bus stop, the setting sun casting reflections as if mistaking the buildings for a tranquil pool of water.
The minute I got on the bus I met a friendly local, who chatted to me about the beauty of Scotland, and urged me in earnest to visit the Highlands while I was here. At this point I wasn’t 100% sure that I was going to have time, and was hoping I could squeeze at least a small trip in. I chanced upon a seriously good Nepalese restaurant, and treated myself to a £15 meal (way above my normal backpacker dinner budget).
I went on two different walking tours of Edinburgh, one was by day, another was a ‘ghost tour’ by night. The day tour was informative and interesting, the night tour hilarious; both tours were freezing. Did I mention it was snowing again? The night tour featured gruesome stories of Edinburgh Old Town – public hangings, starvation, mutilation, grave robbing – and a walk through the crypts in Greyfriars Kirkyard. The graveyard is also one of the places J.K. Rowling would frequent, and is home to dozens of character names featured in the Harry Potter series.
I spent a lot of time just walking around Edinburgh Old Town. There are tiny alleyways called Closes, interesting buildings wherever you turn, and most of the time you have a view of the Edinburgh Castle. Pubs galore sell whiskey, pints, and haggis, and there is a really relaxed vibe everywhere. The whole place was just cool, welcoming, and rich in history. Fun fact: Edinburgh Castle has a cannon weighing 7 tonnes, which used to fire 180kg balls up to 2 miles. It could only be fired 10 times each day due to the heat generated from each shot.
After a few days in Edinburgh, I booked a tour to the Scottish Highlands. I’m not normally one for these tours, but the area covered in such a short space of time was just too good to pass up. Though the tour was rushed, I am absolutely so happy that I was along for the ride. I really feel like I lucked out with our guide, Ewen, as he was so stereotypically Scottish. He spent our travel time telling stories and local legends, talking about Scottish politics and the environment, and playing Scottish music. Unfortunately for the 75% of our group whose native tongue was not English his accent was, well, really Scottish (read: they didn’t know what he was saying most of the time). Reflecting on my trip I would have to say that at least half of my DSL came from Ewen’s narrative, and from Ewen himself. I love Ewen.
Driving through the Highlands was beautiful. At first the landscape reminded me a lot of New Zealand, but the deeper we ventured, the more unique it became. The tiny towns we would stop in for home made cakes and soups seemed less rural than the rural towns back home. And they’re small, so small. I believe there are regulations as to what type of structure you can build, so the even the newer houses looked like the old ones, trapping the countryside in a timeless symphony.
And then I woke up on the Isle of Skye.
The Isle of Skye was the highlight of my entire trip to Europe. I stayed in a small town called Portree, which with just over 900 inhabitants is the largest town on Skye. Portree itself is beautiful, almost surrounded by ocean and cliffs. Never more than 5 minute walk from the water, the whole town smells of the sea. I spent the early mornings walking around Portree before our day trips around Skye. If I had thought the Highlands and Portree were beautiful, then the rest of Skye was something else.
These are just a handful of the places which took my breath away. Most of the time it was raining, cold, and very windy. But I think that added to the experience. The monstrous cliffs, formed by enormous chunks of ice breaking off from the mainland thousands of years ago, made me feel like I was standing at the edge of the world. I felt an existential humbling as I walked out to the lighthouse at Neist Point, perched on the edge of a cliff, staring out into endless nothing. It’s not hard to see why people once thought the world was flat. As I stood on the wall of the lighthouse at the end of the world, in that moment I understood how people feel when they visit New Zealand and see something as beautiful as what I was experiencing on Skye.
To see more beauty of the Isle of Skye, I would highly recommend you watch this video of Danny MacAskill doing some ridiculous things on a bicycle. Coincidentally, I bumped into a guy named Danny at Neist Point, here’s a picture of me with him and Ewen.
All too soon I was back in Edinburgh and it was time for me to move on. Sometimes I wonder if I should have cancelled my flight and spent the rest of my trip in Scotland – I really loved it that much. I wonder if Ewen will read this one day and discover how much I loved his corner of the world, like a true Scotsman he uses the computer about once in a blue moon. I said my goodbyes and thanks to Ewen as I grabbed my bag from the van. “Aye.” He replied, “Nay bother.”