I knew I was in Scotland when I could hear the sound of the bagpipe playing in the distance. Though it was the first time I had heard this instrument being played “live”, yet it felt welcoming and strangely familiar. I reached Edinburg in the wee hours of the morning with a bunch of friends. We took an overnight bus from London, and eight hours later we were in the bagpiper’s land. On first sight Edinburgh appears very similar to London, although it is smaller and less crowded. It was only when we began our trip to explore the city did we realize that Scotland is indeed drastically different from London. To start with, Edinburg is definitely much, much colder! We were wrapped in layers but we still could not beat the cold. Secondly, the city is replete with multiple castles, some of which are surrounded by lakes, which gives it an old-world charm. And of course, you can hear the bagpipe (almost 24x7!) played by friendly bagpipers wearing the traditional kilt.
Day 1 of our trip began with the tour of the majestic Edinburg castle. Perched on top of a small hill, the castle overlooks the city. It makes a pretty picture, and reminds of a bygone era. I felt part of a gorgeous fairy tale, and pictured myself loitering inside a happy kingdom without a care in the world... Cut to reality, I am standing in the queue to buy the ticket to enter the castle. It is interesting that they ask almost everybody which country do they belong to. Once I get the ticket, I rush to enter a different era. The castle is huge. Each room stores different memorabilia – there are costumes of kings and queens, lots of guns, and artefacts. We walk around different sections, observing, reading, and soaking everything in till we could walk no more. We head to the cafe inside the castle, where I order carrot and coriander soup. It was not so delicious but definitely healthy as I felt fresh and charged-up post lunch!
We then walk around the ramparts of the castle, and reach just in time for the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. In the olden days, the gun was fired everyday so that sailing ships could check and reset their chronometers, as accurate timepieces had not been invented then. This tradition is followed even today, and barring Sunday the gun is fired everyday at one o’clock. Of course, now this is hugely popular with the tourists and not sailors! It’s a fascinating ceremony. We gather around the cannon and wait with bated breath for the clock to strike one. The area was crowded, with tourists from all over the world standing patiently to witness this unique ceremony. We notice one of the castle guards getting ready to light the cannon. And then boom it went. It did not make a lot of “noise” as we had anticipated, though we could see a fair bit of smoke surrounding the cannon. Everyone who witnessed the ceremony clapped, and we joined in too. It was surreal and impressive, and we felt part of history.
It was dark by the time we left the castle. The walk down the cobbled streets of Old Town was breathtaking. There were not too many people around and it almost felt like walking down a haunted street. We were aware that the ancient houses and churches of the Old Town are rumoured to be frequented by ghosts. So we rushed to the safety of a patisserie nestled along one of the cobbled lanes and tried some amazing cup cakes. For dinner, we desperately craved for Indian food. Finding an Indian restaurant in Edinburg is not difficult. We found one near our hotel, where we relished butter chicken and rotis. Once we were back to the hotel, we couldn’t help but notice how quiet the city is. There is pin-drop silence and apart from our own voices we could only hear the sound of cars whizzing past the road below. I wonder if I would ever get used to this eerie silence.
On day 2, we began the day-long tour of the Highlands. We hopped on to the designated bus, and our driver cum guide (his name was Neil) led us beautifully along the way, playing songs intermittently and enthralling us with Scottish history and culture, the wars between kingdoms, and food too. Neil’s “lectures” were interspersed with humour that left us in splits, and thanks to his innovative narration the ride did not feel dull at any point during the long bus ride. He also took us to his favourite bakery and suggested the delicacies we must try. Wasn’t that a lovely gesture?
The drive from Edinburgh to the mountains left us speechless. We could see sheep grazing on the green meadows. There were cute, little houses all along the way. The scenes were straight of a classic English novel. I am pretty sure this is where Jane Austin and Emily Bronte got their inspiration from. With picture-postcard views all around, I can’t help but get lost in the surroundings. I am thinking of Wuthering Heights, Emma, Pride and Prejudice... Suddenly Neil asks us to look to our right. We spot a beautiful castle ¬- I want to go inside it and dance and sway like a princess. But time is short and we need to move on. Next, we stop at one of the lakes (or “lochs” in Scottish). It is surrounded by a small hill, and the water in the lake is absolutely still. A local family is out on a picnic, and they have brought their Scottish Terrier along. I take out my camera and click the terrier against the backdrop of the serene lake.
Then it’s time to explore one of the great bens (“mountain” for Scottish) that overlooked a beautiful glen (“valley” in Scottish). It’s another picture-perfect setting. This land is so blessed! The valley is not so green at this time of the year (it was mid-October). The vegetation has dried up and turned yellow. We could see miles and miles of “yellowish” land far into the horizon.
Our main reason for booking the Highlands Tour was Loch Ness. We knew it was our next stop when Neil asked us whether we believed in Nessie. Some people did raise their hands. A while later, Neil parked the bus at the parking for Lock Ness. We had to walk a bit to reach the lake. We almost ran and scampered to get ahead of the rest until we were standing in front of a vast expanse of calmness. The lake is colossal, and the tranquillity around it soothed our senses. The water was clean and bluish in colour. I sat on the edge of the lake and pondered over the myths and legends associated with the lake. It was an overwhelming experience. We then try our luck in spotting the mythical Nessie and wonder whether this legendary monster exists. There are many small shops around the lake, catering mainly to tourists. I bought picture postcards, key rings, and a small bottle of Glenfiddich as souvenirs.
Once the highland trip was over, we had to rush to the bus terminus that would take us back to London, and then to India. It was a short trip and I hadn’t seen enough. I want to see more, do more, explore more - may be try the famous whisky straight out of the distilleries or run down the green meadows singing “The hills are alive...” Till next time, so long Scotland...