Solo Adventure: Scottish Highlands

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The best part about solo travelling is undoubtedly being your own boss — spending hours in bookstores, museums, and gift shops, knowing there's nobody wishing you'd hurry up. That said, sometimes it's nice to have others make the decisions — doing the planning and ushering you from place to place. That's why I booked a highland tour (called Full-Day Trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands) through Viator. It was a nice treat to not have to worry about train schedules and maps for a day. 

The day was so uncharacteristically clear for the Highlands, that we managed to spot the peak of Ben Nevis, something that is apparently quite rare. The winding roads beneath mountains and hills brought us from Edinburgh to Loch Ness (and back), stopping along the way to explore the moors, glens, and quaint villages along the way. I didn't spot Nessie, but I manged to snap dozens, maybe hundreds, of photos along the way. 

When I think of bus tours, I think of blue-haired ladies en route to Atlantic City, but this was anything but. Our tour guide was young and knowledgeable, musing about local politics and folklore, and playing Scottish indie songs by Camera Obscura and Paolo Nutini along the way. 

Solo Adventure: Edinburgh

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
― Alexander McCall Smith

Oxford's definition of a blog is simple. A blog is "a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style." A blog is supposed to be casual and entertaining, but above all, it should be timely. This post is anything but timely. It's very very late.

I wrote about the first two days of my solo-trip to the UK back in April, with the next few posts expected to follow shortly after. Between buying a new house and Dad's quadruple bypass, I forgot about them until this post from Hamilton's Needlework reminded me.

I took an afternoon train from London to Edinburgh, rolling hills and newborn lambs dotting the journey. My book of choice was fitting, and a beloved favourite from childhood, The Secret Garden. ("Might I," quavered Mary. "Might I have a bit of Earth?") I arrived in Edinburgh to what I thought was the most stereotypical scene imaginable. An older, but not elderly, man playing the bag pipes in front of the Scott Monument. It wasn't until a week later, when my better half burst this bubble, as I bored him with all 1200 trip photos.

"Do you know what he's playing?"
"No, what is it?"
"The Star Wars theme."

For the next day and a half, I was a tourist, doing the things tourists do in Edinburgh. I started below the city, in The Real Mary King's Close, where the costumed guide took pity on me, snapping a photo of the two of us in a darkened alley that is no longer exposed to the world. The problem with travelling alone is you spend your entire time behind a camera, rarely, if ever, appearing in photos yourself. (Selfies aren't easy with a DSLR, unless you're after a close-up of your nose).

I found a wonderful tour guide in Tanya from 52 Books or Bust, a self-described "Canadian at heart" living in Edinburgh. We met at the tiny and hidden, but sweet, Writer's Museum, and then she took me on a tour of the town, where she indulged my need to stop every five steps to snap a photo. She showed me Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriar's Bobby, with stops along the way, eventually directing me to the National Museum of Scotland, which had a surprisingly thorough (and better than any I've ever seen in Canada) exhibit about Canada's Aboriginal people.

I spent the next few hours wandering Edinburgh Castle, until my camera's battery inevitably died. You could spend days just wandering the winding streets and buildings behind the walls of Edinburgh Castle. One day I'll go back and do just that, hopefully during the Edinburgh International Book Festival which is now firmly placed near the top of my bucket list.

There's something freeing about taking the train from city to city with only a backpack and a camera tethered to your body. You're creating your own stories. Ones that nobody else shares. I worried that the nights would be quiet and lonely, but in reality, after twelve hours of walking, the nights were non-existent. A quick pint (well, maybe two) at the hotel bar, and I was done. Another day of adventure awaited me (one that I promise I'll blog about sooner rather than later).

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