We left early in the morning on Thursday. I packed a small suitcase of clothes, knick knacks, and a map of the city.
The clouds out here look listless and grey to a casual observer, or a pessimistic one. But really, they span many shades of the non-color. Light and dark, tumbling and still. But moving ever onward. Trees on the side of the road prevent some of the sightseeing, but other times you're surprised by a sight from window to horizon of green. Purple flowers line the road, reminding us how close we are to Nature's wilds. I found out later that those purple flowers are Scotland's national flower, the Scottish Thistle.
I spent most of the drive writing a terrible romance in my journal (no really, it was horrendous). But the idea was an interesting one, so maybe I'll pursue it a bit later. In general, we made more stops than I would have liked. But I am accustomed to long driving without stops. There was one stop that was well worth it though. We went to Richmond, England. It's a town with winding streets and steep angles. Towering over it all though is a castle. My first castle, to be exact.
To enter is free. As I approached it, I had to wonder what life was like within its walls. The gate is perpetually raised now, but how would you beg for audience with the king from outside the iron bars if it's been raining all day? But say you are admitted, and you take those first feeble steps into the courtyard. I can't imagine what have met my eyes back then, but I find a field of grass green enough to write home about. Flowers of purple and bright orange grow from the stone walls, which are crumbled and falling apart. But we traveled up, to the keep where king and court assembled each day. The view of the town from up there was breathtaking. What could you say but expletives or prayers?
The town and its winding streets, the rushing river, the miles and miles of greenery on every side, the echoes of 12th Century footsteps... and then quick march back to the coach. long way to go yet. I wrote, and then read, and then slept.
And when I woke, we were in the land of the Scots.
(This is the view from the University of Edinburgh, where we had accommodations)
The next morning, we got up and hiked to Arthur's Seat (pictured below). It wasn't quite raining, but the mist and the wet and the cold were pretty much constant. The hike was more intense than I expected, and I realized I had a long way to go to being in shape. But it didn't matter once I got to the top--Arthur's Seat conquered.
Afterward, my group and I headed to the city proper. We headed down from the hill and ended up at the National Gallery, where a professor from Cambridge was giving a talk on how to look at art. It was so informative for me, because I've never known why some works of art are considered 'great' or 'masterpieces.' I still don't know why I love Van Gogh so much, or why Renoir makes me feel settled and at peace inside. But now I know what to look for to explain it to myself.
That night, there was a Scottish party thrown for the students. We had a live band with members all in traditional kilts who tried to teach us how to do some Scottish dances. We had a blast. Afterward, a few of us went searching for another pub to hang out at. We walked for an hour and a half, and saw many pubs. But apparently none that everyone was happy with. By the time we sat down, most places were closing and we realized we didn't want to drink, we were just hungry. So off we went, searching for fish and chips.
The next day, I was supposed to go on a hiking trip to the Highlands. But I was tired and wanted to explore the city a bit more. Of course, that was made rather difficult by the misty rain and general coldness of the weather. People all across the UK have told me this is the worst summer they've ever seen, so I won't blame Edinburgh for its lack of sunshine.
On the way back, we stopped by the Fountain Abbey.
Fountain Abbey used to be the biggest abbey in England, and the most powerful. It is truly a place of sacred ground and beauty. I feel like I say that about a lot of places in England, but I cannot be more genuine than when I speak of the ruins here. They transport you to a very specific kind of splendor. Where you see the divine in every blade of grass, but also in the buildings which surround you in cold stone.
And if you continue walking away, just a bit, you come to the water gardens. A man and his son decided to divert a river and transform a huge plot of land into another place of beauty. I only have a few pictures of them, but imagine the warm summer air and the hum of quiet conversations in the background:
It was a trip to remember. I am so grateful that I got to see these pockets of true beauty, and the history which surrounds them.
When we returned, a Program Assistant got on the intercom and said, "Welcome home."
And, to a certain degree, Cambridge is home. It's a community of thinkers and writers, where I'm being treated like a true scholar. I deserve respect and have responsibilities as well. That line of simultaneous thinking is what drives this amazing institution forward. For good work, you are rewarded. But it must be good work. I fully intend to produce.