Thursday, June 07, 2007

Celtic Tour, 2007

OK, so about that whole Scotland/Ireland thing. My sweetie had a veterinary conference in Edinburgh, and he asked if I’d like to go along. Heck, yeah!

Do you want to sign up for the conference, too? he asked.

What? Go to Scotland to sit in a hotel watching PowerPoint slides with a bunch of dorky veterinarians?* Are you insane?

I mean, um, No, but thanks anyway!

So for 5 days, while the sweetie watched PowerPoint slides, I bummed around Edinburgh. I am in love with Edinburgh. First of all, it’s gorgeous. It’s got tons of dark snaky passageways winding between 16th century buildings just begging to be explored. And the castle. Edinburgh Castle sits atop a massive extinct volcano rising over the city—jaw-droppingly beautiful in daylight, and at night, when it’s lit up against the sky? Seriously…damn.

We stayed at a wonderful little B&B just outside the city, and every morning we were plied with Scottish breakfasts. The full Scottish breakfast, as presented by our hosts Linda and Dave, included porridge, eggs, bacon and sausage and black pudding (you don’t want to know what’s in it, but man it’s good), tomatoes and mushrooms, potato scones, toast, juice, and tea or coffee. I never ordered the whole thing; if I had, I’d have had to lie around like a stuffed crocodile for at least 2 days.

Once the sweetie was released from conference duties, we rented a car and took off for the Highlands. I’ve seen some beautiful places, Oregon—my current abode—being one of them. But I’ve never seen country so beautiful as the Scottish Highlands. Here in the American West, the peaks are higher, the wilderness far more wild. But there was something about the raw light sparking over the water of the lochs, the impossible shades of green, the farmsteads white specks under the looming dark mountains—I can’t describe it well enough, but it swept my heart away.

The sense of history is everywhere. We explored Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. Visited the grave of Rob Roy. Stood on the bridge where William Wallace (he of “Braveheart” fame) won a stunning victory against the English, in the cause of Scottish independence. We laid our hands on the stones of Castle Urquhart, ruined and brooding beside a gray Loch Ness. We walked across the battlefield of Culloden—an open, empty moor, dotted with stones carved with the names of the clans slaughtered at the hands of the English in 1746, buried in mass graves under the heather. I’d read the history, but to stand on the moor in the freezing wind, to read The Well of the Dead, Clan MacKenzie, Clan Fraser, Clan MacGillivray, one stone after the next—brought the reality home in a way printed words never can.

We stayed at inns in tiny towns, ate tons of amazing food, ignored the rain and delighted in the sunshine, and met many wonderful, warm, hospitable Scots. Too soon, we found ourselves back in Edinburgh. I wasn’t ready to leave, but only a few days remained on our trip, and Ireland called. More on that, later...

*Some will dispute my assertion that veterinarians are dorks. But if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas in February, or Reno in October, look for the folks carrying conference tote bags and wearing khaki Dockers with either cowboy boots or Birkenstocks. See? Dorky, every last one of ‘em. Just like me. I rest my case.

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