Our study abroad began in Scotland, but I first had a plane layover in London. My preferred and chosen window seat offered me a sweeping view of this great city not long after the sun had risen on it; with my nose nearly squished on the glass like an eager three-year-old, I could see the dirty Thames twisting through the compacted streets and aged-but-modern buildings. After weeks of deadlines and finals, work and moving, it finally sank in where I was going and what I was doing. I’ve read about you for year, I thought to the river. And now it was actual, fleshing out before me the closer we sank to the earth.
Then it was straight to Edinburgh—the home of many fine writers, but I suppose known to my generation most as the place where J.K. Rowling wrote the bulk of Harry Potter. From our (quite nice) hostel we strode through the streets, relatively obvious as students with our backpacks hitched to our shoulders; as hikers with our rainbow-array of windbreakers; as Americans by the way we writhed and nearly skipped with just-concealed excitement that would inevitably gain enough momentum, passed between us like a current of electricity, to spring out one of our heads in the gushing release: “Guys—we’re in Scotland!” Everyone, myself included, reinstated our location with wonder at least twice. We were so happy to be there you could have stuck us in a mud hole and we would’ve squatted, grinning at each other, in utter content.
One of our professors is far past six foot and a few of the girls are equally model-like in proportion and stride, leading our group at such a hurried, brisk pace I was afraid to stop and tie my shoe in fear of being left behind (an expected speed that would continue for the hikes). So in this flurry of giddiness, we visited Edinburgh castle . . .
. . . hiked Arthur’s Seat (and left our mark) . . .
. . . and attended a Scottish play where the heavy Scot-brogue was occasionally indecipherable—even with posted subtitles, written and spelled unhelpfully in accent. Though there were a few times when the Scottish audience chuckled and our American spot stayed blank and quiet, the play (The Sash) was filled with history, beautiful folk songs, and a compacted but full taste of Scottish culture.
Friday morning, when we got off our coach to hike to our next hostel near Loch Lomond, it was raining. We had yet to really see the sun, and we’d already braved and smiled away cold wind, but this was the first time it was decidedly wet. However, we were neither deterred nor worried. We’d been told it would probably rain while we were there. We were prepared with waterproof pants, jackets and shoes, umbrellas, backpack covers, and above all, Mormon optimism. But as someone remarked three fourths of the way through the hike (spoken lightly through gritted teeth): Nothing is truly waterproof.
After a seven mile hike that took four hours navigating mud puddles and slick rock, I was wet everywhere but my right foot—and the only reason that was dry was because my shoes were doing a pretty good job of staying waterproof (my left foot had sank into some slimy water deep enough to spill over my ankle and marinate my foot in a newly soaked thick wool sock).
Even so, for the first half I stayed warm through exertion and enjoyed the lovely forest landscape around the south coastline of the lake. The day before we’d made a side trip to St. Andrews and walked the Scottish seaside with essayist Christ Arthur, seashells crunching beneath our boots. If nothing else we were certainly seeing some of the best of Scotland.
After four hours, wet and shivering (I’m pretty sure my bones were wet), we arrived at a hostel I can only describe as quaint. Isolated, right on the bank of Loch Lomond, it looked like Frodo or maybe Jim Hawkins was inside cutting vegetables, waiting for adventures.
We were scheduled to hike to the top of Ben Lomond the next morning—but also scheduled was snow for the top third of the of hike and winds up to seventy kilometers. Add to that our shoes and jackets—in our muggy rooms that smelled like a dank pirate cabin—which had yet to dry, and the hike was cancelled, the day turned over to reading and writing and singing on the bonnie, bonnie shores of Loch Lomond.
[**I have a video of us singing this which I’ll post at some point, but right now it’s too much of a beast to load to this precarious WiFi]
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes
When the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond
Where and me and my true love were ever wont to gae
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
Chorus: Oh, ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
‘Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen
On the steep, steep sides of Ben Lomond
Where deep in purple hue the highland hills we view
And the moon coming out in the gloamin’
The wee birdies sing and the wildflower spring
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping
But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring again
Though the world knows not how we are weeping
Of course, when we got tired of prettily singing on the banks of Loch Lomond, we decided to jump into the icy waters of Loch Lomond. [**I also have a video of this, but suffice it to say . . . it was freezing and I only stayed in about ten seconds. It isn’t, if you’re wondering, where the Loch Ness monster resides, but we’re pretty sure we saw his little brother Lyle].
So that’s Scotland—highly condensed. Already we feel like a small family—we’re together all of the time, conquering difficult things and beautiful things alike, all the things that create bonds, experienced at exhausting but wonderful speeds.
More to come as we enter . . . the Lake District!