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Scottish trail

Serene: Urquhart Castle ruins, on the banks of Loch Ness. Photo by Kanika sharma

The trip that I had made in-between the spring and summer terms of my study was one that I had been told repeatedly, by many, not to miss. And so, intrigued by earlier narrations, and awed by pictures, I decided to shake off the residues of exam-related stress with my friends in the beauteous environs of Scotland.

The first stop of my Scottish sojourn was Edinburgh. One of the wisest things  we did upon arrival was to take a free walking tour of the city. Overenthusiastic guide by our side, we strolled down the old part of the city which, incidentally, is the best part to explore. The city’s most striking feature is that of the old town branching out into ‘closes’. These are narrow alleyways that run off both sides of the Royal Mile, a street that extends from the Holyrood Palace at one end, and culminates at the Edinburgh Castle on the other.

The Royal Mile is in fact a combination of streets that succeed one another, starting from the Castle Esplanade on the west end, and ending at the Abbey Strand on the east.

Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate make up the middle.

Walking through High Street, the city’s focal point, one would stumble across a heart shaped pattern built into the cobbled path. This Heart of Midlothian marks the position of the Old Tolbooth, a building that once served many purposes, including that of execution and torture of criminals. Locals spat upon the heart shaped area as a mark of disrespect, an act that many still indulge in to this day.

Beside the heart is the Mercat Cross, where proclamations were made, election results announced, and punishments meted out. Even to this day, the results of general elections as well as the succession of the new monarch are announced at the cross.

St Giles Cathedral lay just ahead; a beautiful, majestic building that stood rather peacefully, despite the bustle that surrounded it. The cathedral contains the Thistle Chapel within its walls, with 16 stalls for the Knights of the Thistle, an order of chivalry bestowed upon people of Scottish descent. Amongst the many intricate details that define this chapel are angels playing the bagpipes.

As I try to recollect some other Edinburgh favourites, a subconscious, kaleidoscopic memory unearths moments spent sitting idly at Princes Gardens, rubbing the prosthetic toe of David Hume’s statue for good luck (the original toe of his statue had been rubbed so many times for luck that it had to be replaced), visiting the inspirations behind many Harry Potter moments, climbing the high rising, and slightly claustrophobic Scotts’ Monument, getting nostalgic in the Museum of Childhood, and running away from numerous Scotsmen blowing feverishly into their bagpipes at every nook and corner. Calton Hill takes prime
position in my mind because of the effort it took to get there — we climbed steep
inclines and lost our way (and minds) in search of the right place, but once we got there, the view managed to stun all of my silent and not-so-silent whines.

Stepping out of Edinburgh for a day, we went in search of the Loch Ness
monster. Along the way, we managed to soak in some picturesque scenes at Glen Coe, and met Hamish the hairy coo (Scottish for cow, I’m guessing), his wife Heather, and calf Honey too. We also stopped over at the ruined Urquhart Castle, which sat pretty on the banks of Loch Ness. After having explored the ruins to our heart’s content, and reconstructed the castle as best we could in our heads, we took on the gentle black waves of Loch Ness, hoping rather naively for a glimpse of the mythical creature.

The last leg of our Scottish adventure was at Glasgow. I must admit to not being as impressed, especially after having just visited the Highlands the day before. The rain did not help matters. However, despite the sense of gloom that hung over the place, we explored the little that Glasgow had to offer to its increasingly disinterested tourists.

Though walking through the Necropolis (cemetery) was an eerie experience, the height and landscape did help in making it a good vista point. The walk along the Clyde River was also quite scenic, with one side ending at a rather amusingly shaped IMAX building. My only other favourite at Glasgow was the Glasgow Greens Park, which despite its deserted and washed out look, sat poised at the heart of the city, waiting for someone to walk through it.

Scotland, being one of the first trips I had made on a tight budget, gave me a different perspective to travel. I may have tied the shoestrings a little too tight, but despite the lack of a comfortable hotel room or a pre-booked tour, this remains one trip I wholeheartedly enjoyed with nothing but a borrowed rucksack and  trustworthy friends who had my back.

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