Olivia in Scotland: Not Throwing Away My Shot

Hello! Are you ready for a long post?

As you may remember, I spent a lot of the beginning of my time in the U.K. traveling back and forth between London and Edinburgh. Well, since then, I’ve stayed entirely in Scotland and explored more of this country. Let me tell you, it’s amazing. I did try to slow down a bit these past few weeks, but when I look back at all I did, I see that I’ve really still been going pretty nonstop. I guess that’s the nature of study abroad; I don’t want to throw away my shot to see as many of the sights of Scotland as I possibly can. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to in Scotland in October!

October 8th-9th: I traveled through the Highlands with a bunch of international students to the Isle of Skye! This was the most scenically stunning trip I have ever been on by far. I mean, just look at this:

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From the Old Man of Storr which we hiked up on Saturday. The view was absolutely incredible. 

On the way to Skye, we made a lot of stops to see the sights of the Highlands. One of these was Loch Lomond—yes, the one from the song you might have heard before (the “you take the high road and I’ll take the low road” one). From there, we rode through the Highlands (on the same road that James Bond drives on in the movie Skyfall) to Glencoe. This was the site of Scotland’s famous Glencoe Massacre, and for me, the misty mountains there still carry an air of mystery with a touch of the ominous. With its three mountains called the Three Sisters, it is a starkly beautiful place.

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You couldn’t see the tops of the mountains because of the mist and it was eerily cool. Also #spiderpride in Glencoe 

One cool thing I did happened when we stopped for lunch at Fort William. I actually ran around looking for graveyards. That probably sounds pretty weird, but my parents told me that I had ancestors who lived there way back when, so I decided to see if I could find any of them! I didn’t have much luck, but I did see some names on their World War I memorial who could be relatives of ours. That was still a pretty cool feeling.

I’ll mention one other stop we made on the way to Skye: Eilean Donan Castle. It’s located at a point where three lochs converge. We didn’t go inside the castle, but this is definitely among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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You might recognize this castle if you’ve seen the movie Made of Honor. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. 

Once we got to Skye, I had one of my favorite moments of the whole tour. We stayed in a hostel called Saucy Mary’s that had a bar in the bottom floor. In the bar that night, a band called Iron Midden played (yes, that was their real name). They were a traditional Scottish folk band and they were absolutely incredible. Here’s a sample of one of their songs.

The next day, we rode up to the North of the island, hiked the Old Man of Storr, ate fish and chips in Portree, and made a lot of other stops throughout the island before heading back to Edinburgh. Everywhere we went on this trip was just do beautiful. If you have the opportunity to do a tour like this, GO!

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“What are men to rocks and mountains?” -Jane Austen 

October 14th-15th: Because I was showing a friend around the city, I finally did some of the more touristy Edinburgh things that I hadn’t done yet! We went to Edinburgh Castle where we saw the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny which was once the throne of the rulers of Scotland. We also walked along Princes Street where we saw the Scott Monument and walked up Calton Hill where we got a lovely view of the city, and the next morning we went up a bit of Arthur’s Seat for the sunrise.

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Arthur’s Seat(ish) at sunrise! (I say “ish” because we didn’t go up very high; that hill is steeeeep.)

In the middle of this, we also took a day trip north to the town of Cupar where we went to Cairnie Fruit Farm. It was fun being in a part of Scotland I had never seen before; there were lots of gentler hills rolling away for miles around. The fruit farm itself had trampolines, pedal-operated go-karts, a corn maze, and a yummy café, so my friends and I had a lovely time.

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Pumpkins + friends = a good day!

October 19th: I started making use of my Historic Scotland Membership by visiting nearby Craigmillar Castle with my friend Rachel. This trip illustrated one of my favorite things about Edinburgh—it’s a great city, but you don’t have to go very far until you reach nature again. Craigmillar Castle is only about a 20-minute bus ride away, yet it’s in the middle of open fields and has lots of trees around it. This castle is interesting because, although it’s a ruin and doesn’t look very big, there are a lot of twists and turns and it’s easy to get a little lost. Also, my friend Rachel and I found a room with amazing acoustics, so we had to try singing there.

 

October 21st-22nd: I went to a light show at the Royal Botanical Gardens on Friday night with some friends from my church. This was really unique and fun! It was actually more of a light-and-water show as they did things like this that combined the two with music:

Then on Saturday I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Art and went on the Potter Trail! Although it’s not as large as other national galleries, I really enjoyed the one here and its wide range of art. It was especially cool to see a few paintings of Edinburgh throughout the ages. Now, what is the Potter Trail, you might ask? Well, it’s a free walking tour that takes you to every location in the city that has something to do with Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the series here and got her inspiration from some of the things around her so there’s plenty to see. The highlight? The grave of a “Thomas Riddell,” the name inspiration for Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Lord Voldemort.

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I was pretty excited to be standing at Voldemort’s grave. #potterhead 

October 28th-30th: I traveled up to St Andrews to visit my friend Susy from Richmond. It’s only about an hour’s train ride away from Edinburgh. The small town atmosphere was a nice change from the city. We went to the East Sands Pier, saw the castle with its impressive siege mine and countermine (which we went down into, although it’s not for the claustrophobic), and went to the ruined cathedral and climbed its tower where you can look out over the town.  For such a placid, peaceful place, it actually has quite a bloody history.

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Bloody history or no, the view from the pier is beautiful!

We also went golfing at St Andrew’s world-famous Old Course! Well, not quite at the old course, more like right next to it. They have a putting green called the Himalayas where people who have no idea how to golf can go play mini golf for just a couple pounds, so it was perfect for us. Other than spending time with my sweet friend, my two favorite things about the trip were 1.) the Malteser hot chocolate that I bought at North Point, which is the café where Prince William and Kate used to meet for coffee when they attended the university, and 2.) this beautiful recreation of a movie scene that we caught on camera. We went to West Sands, the beach where the first scene from Chariots of Fire was filmed, and, well, you see what happened.

October 31st: A few friends and I took a road trip to Linlithgow to visit Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle. My favorite of these two was Linlithgow Palace. There’s a beautiful loch right next to it with all these little boats on it, and there was some beautiful fall foliage on the trees around it. I loved how the palace had lots of very large windows; the architects seemed to realize that they should just let the natural beauty of Linlithgow speak for itself.

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The view from one of the big windows! If you look closely, you can see some white stuff on the water- those are swans.

Lastly, we stopped by Blackness Castle. This one isn’t very large, but its location on the North Sea definitely made it a worthwhile stop for me.

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Blackness Castle with friends! It’s a beautiful spot.

So, that’s all the places I traveled to in the month of October! I’m in love with Scotland. I love the landscapes and the people and the history. I hope I get to explore it more and get to know Edinburgh better in the time I have left here.

Till next time! Slainte mhath! (That’s “cheers” in Gaelic.)

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