Scotland captured my imagination through its long-standing history, unique culture and widely recognized but narrowly understood traditions. The culture runs deep here and during our time, I think we barely scratched the surface of what it means to be Scottish. I sensed a great deal more pride here than in England which I think reflects the value of tradition and duty instilled in the people. I was immediately struck by how kind the people were and I got the sense that to be Scottish is to be polite, friendly, and just a little bit more grounded.
The first few nights were spent in Edinburgh, both the literal and cultural capital of Scotland. It is the second largest city in Scotland behind Glasgow but has been recognized as the capital since the 15th century. It holds a population of just over a half a million and is just second to London in the UK as a finance hub and as a tourist draw with over a million overseas visitors a year.
We were incredibly fortunate to stay in a beautiful Airbnb in the center of town. The apartment building was built in the early 1900’s and was impeccably designed. The owner of the apartment was incredibly gracious and bought us bread, eggs, butter and jam which allowed us to cook up a few meals. There is something very satisfying about eating in. I think it provides the little feeling of home that we are missing in our lives.
The skyline of Edinburgh is an absolute wonder with architecture of the buildings and cathedrals evoking the 17th and 18th centuries. A large portion of the city sits in this veritable historic treasure trove and it is a real struggle to appreciate any one building as you are almost overwhelmed by the collective charm. We took a fascinating nighttime tour some of the haunted locations in the city of Edinburgh. The most memorable site we visited is known as the South Bridge Vaults and was originally built underneath the city to house taverns and space for cobblers and other tradesmen in the late 18th century. It ended up later being used as storage space for illicit material and a refuge for transporting robbed corpses for use as medical cadavers at the nearby University of Edinburgh. These underground vaults were ultimately shut down, filled in, and forgotten for over 150 years. Discovered in 1985, the vaults are now home to a myriad of spirits who exhibit consistent characteristics and behaviors. There are frequent sightings here and it is widely believed to be one of the most active areas for paranormal activity in the world. I am happy to say that we did not in fact see or sense anything ourselves because in most cases these spirits are believed to have unhappy endings and thus carry a darker energy. As I am sure you can tell, there are many legends and dark stories of Edinburgh’s tumultuous past, it is a city that captures my vision of old Europe in a way that is both whimsical and macabre. To evoke both reactions in one person says a lot about how special of a place Edinburgh is. We plan on coming back soon.
Our group spent a full day exploring the Scottish Highlands meeting the Harry Coo (Scotland's famous cows), touring the Glengoyne distillery and visiting a nearby castle. We then spent a night in Inverness further to the north. While the countryside was gorgeous and we learned a lot – we were so caught up enjoying the time with our friends that we didn’t learn or reflect as much as we normally would have. I felt like I was on a field trip and although I was interested in what we were learning, I was just as interested in spending time with my friends and having a good laugh. Given the fact that so much of our European trip was going to be done solo, we both wanted to soak up as much time with everyone as we could knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing any friends or family for about two months straight.
Every new place we visited from London, to Edinburgh, to Inverness, more and more wedding guests were arriving and joining the group. You could feel the energy and excitement building for the wedding. We were ready to get to Wick to start the festivities and wrap up our Scotland experience. I will always look back fondly on Scotland, not just for what I learned and saw, but for who I spent the time with. // Jeff