The wind whipped hard across the Great Glen, with white willowy clouds stretching long strands across the grey-blue sky. At least it wasn’t raining as we drove, not for the moment, anyway.
Waterfalls tumbled impossible heights down the mountainsides, one after the other. The girls tried to count them but lost track after counting 40 in just half an hour.
The waterfalls gave the impression that the mountains were crying. But it didn’t make us sad. Rather, the mysterious grandeur of it all left us speechless.
A great poet once said, “Traveling will leave you speechless, then turn you into a storyteller.”
And what is the story of Scotland? I thought.
For starters, countless clans, strong warriors, family feuds, haunting melodies, mysterious folklore, and achingly beautiful terrain.
The Scotts are a proud people, strong in mind and heart, relentless in their pursuit of justice, and unwavering in their stubborn patriotism against their English neighbors.
It seems now there is a restless peace. Since 1707, Scotland was finally resigned to being unified with England under the banner of the United Kingdom. This unification was not for lack of nationalism, but for other reasons, partly to do with debt, partly to do with the need for bolstering maritime power.
When we asked Scotts how they felt about being unified under British rule, we received a range of shrugged shoulders, averted eyes, and dodged answers.
A taboo subject perhaps?
I was intent to explore this more.
A few weeks earlier, we had arrived in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. We stayed in the old town area of the city, walkable to many of the places that are integral to Scotland’s history.
We took a week to explore the capitol before heading out on a long road trip around the Scottish Highlands, making our way north in a large horseshoe shape around the country. We were determined not to miss all the glorious splendor of the rich autumn days.
As we drove north, Edinburgh’s brown sandstone gave way to foliage lush with greens and golds. The valleys were peppered with autumn leaves, red-tinged with orange and auburn.
Breathlessly we drove, taking in the beauty of it all. We were quiet in the car, listening intently to soaring Scottish Highland ballads. Faces pressed hard against the cold the windows, and the children gasped as we went up one hill and down another. Each moment was burgeoning with new discoveries in this place of magic.
In my mind, I imagined the history lived in the surrounding hills, the wars that might have been fought, the hearts loved and broken, the deals bargained, the homes built and destroyed, and the unrelenting bloodshed in the name of loyalty.
We’d been studying together as a family about the value of land ownership in medieval times. The lords were the wealthy ones who often lived in castles or manor houses, and many ruled clans and vast number of people who worked the surrounding fields.
Some lords had kind and faithful hearts, while others were bent on evil, heavy-handed, merciless. Clan warfare was rife, destroying the hopes of would-be lovers, and worse.
It was a short drive from Edinburgh to The Cairngorms, not more than 90 minutes or so. The Cairngorm National Park is spectacular, with mountains, glens, lochs (lakes), and glens. In mid-autumn, it was stunning, brimming with so many colors and textures that it made me want to stop to paint at every turn.
We eventually circled back to Edinburgh for a five week stay, so we could take in the fullness of the capital city.
People throughout the world speak about Edinburgh with heartsore delight. It seems that those who are lucky enough to live in it, even for a short time, are quickly beguiled by the city’s unique qualities.
Like Paris, it’s one of those cities that captures you somehow, and you hold it dear for the rest of your days.
That first night, we walked the historic city center and some of the Royal Mile. My children were enchanted by Victoria Street, with its curved shops and cobblestone streets beckoning at every turn.
The Edinburgh Castle dominated the skyline, a stark reminder of the city’s history of imposing power from the kings and queens of old. Medieval spires stretched in vain toward the sky, as a tartan-clad bagpipe player sang sad Scottish melodies on the street corner.
The story of Edinburgh is one worthy of great study, and I dove deep into it with excitement. Many misty mornings found my four girls and I walking the streets of the old town with a child-friendly version of a hot toddy in hand.
Unrushed, we took in the museums, the historic sites, and the art galleries. Evenings found us lingering in local bookshops to read Scottish poetry, look at art books of local flora and fauna, and read the history, geography and natural science of the land.
The children collected the poems like nuggets of gold, gathering them into their notebooks like the treasures they were. One such favorite was My Heart’s in the Highlands, by Scottish poet Robert Burns.
My heart ’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;Robert Burns
My heart ’s in the Highlands a chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart ’s in the Highlands wherever I go.
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of valor, the country of worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands forever I love.