I first visited Scotland in April, 2012 for a couple days on Spring Break, while on a whirlwind tour of the British Isles with my roommate, Carolyn. We went full Highlander and took an overnight train from London to Inverness – the largest city in the Scottish Highlands – because we thought, “If you’re going to Scotland, you better go to Loch Ness.” There are a lot of wonderful and poignant memories from that semester, but one of my most precious and vivid is from when I stood on castle ruins, bitter wind whipping around me, and looked over Loch Ness. It was probably almost raining and the water was volcanic glass black. Every foot of the 755 that make up it’s depth filled with alluring mystery. Maybe it was because Carolyn and I had just huddled together over her phone to the tinny sound of the Braveheart theme or maybe it was because I’d been away from home for a few months, but I felt a sensation that I can only describe as connection. Cliché perhaps, but I had never before and have never since felt that same buzzing, heady sense of belonging. It was like the ground beneath me and the air around me were trying to get in and pull me close.
It was like magic.
When we decided to go to Scotland this August, I wanted to make sure we spent some time outside, in the captivating landscape. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to feel exactly what I felt before, but a tiny part of me was still a little disappointed when, while taking in the breathtaking views of Loch Lomond on the top of a little island mountain in the wind, that feeling never arrived. We spent the rest of the week reveling in everything Central Scotland had to offer. We ate, drank, smelled, tasted, touched, listened, felt our way from rising mountains with craggy cliffs, wide deep lochs, and fields of grazing sheep to mist-shrouded castles to the bustling, winding, soaring Medieval streets of Edinburgh. I didn’t realize it until the end, but along the way, that connection had started to sizzle again. Apparently this time, it was a slow burn.
Rose colored glasses are the most popular vacation souvenir and after eight days away, a seven hour flight, and an hour through Border Control and Customs in the Philidelphia International Airport, maybe I was wearing mine. Nevertheless, there is a lingering pull. The part of my brain that before was thinking of countless other destinations to visit is now completely captivated with one tiny little island nation. Caledonia’s oft extolled wilderness is, indeed, wild and sublime; the astoundingly deep freshwater lochs add mystery to the mist, the valleys and famous glens stoke imagination, the sea is always beckoning through crashing waves. Certainly Scotland’s fraught history adds to the drama and mystique. Oppressive, overbearing, England still looms large in contemporary Scotland; English accents ring unforgivably false next to warm, melodic, confounding Scots. Like any mountainous, unforgiving, barely habitable landscape, it’s small population appears, at times, melancholic.
Yet, the people are friendly. More than that, they are kind. Every day I think of it, our experiences with the Scottish people – albeit limited – strike me as remarkable. From our AirBnB hosts, exhausted bar tenders, drunk teenagers on the train, tour guides, and strangers on the street, every single interaction we had with a Scotsperson felt genuinely warm, even deliberate. Even when the waitress with too many tables had to speak slower for us or the bar tender poured the wrong drink, everyone took the time out of their day to help us, offer advice, ask about our background. No one honked their car horns, no one shouted in the street except for the street performers. Though brusque, these apparently hard knock Scots will open their home to you and are excited to share their country’s splendors and idiosyncrasies.
I’m not the first visitor to say it: there’s just something about Scotland.