Apologies for this being a short post but frankly, I’m knackered. I’m nodding off as I write this and keep waking with a jolt to find a long line of mmmmmmms typed inadvertently across the page. This week my travels have taken me to London and then north to Scotland, where I’ve wrung every last minute out of every day spending time with the Scottish side of my family before flying back to Shanghai first thing tomorrow morning.
Scotland is where my father was born, later following his thirst for adventure all the way to Australia at the age of eighteen, before marrying an Australian, having three daughters and eventually five grandchildren. His mother, my only surviving grandparent, still lives here as does my delightful middle sister, and my father’s younger brother.
A little bit of me still feels very Scottish, the part that loves being outdoors no matter what the weather, the part that loves bacon sandwiches and strong tea and black pudding (if you’re not familiar with this last one it’s a famed Scottish blood sausage – intensely flavoured), and the part that loves history and stories, because Scotland is full of all of these.
Today was my last day here, and knowing I’d be going back to the dense urbanization of Shanghai I was dying to get outside and get some exercise in the fresh air. I asked my uncle and aunt if they would fancy a hill walk somewhere and they suggested The Pentlands, a row of heavy-set hills just south of Edinburgh covered with yellow-flowering gorse and heather, and populated by a herd of lowland-dwelling highland cows.
“Should be a lovely bright day” they said. Scottish weather talk is full of euphemisms – “bright” usually means the cloud cover will be so dense you’ll never see the sun, and “bright patches” means it will rain all day except for five minutes here and there. Still, I was desperate to get outside.
When they arrived they took one look at what I was wearing (long-sleeved t-shirt, fleece, corduroy jeans, thick socks, borrowed hiking shoes, and weatherproof jacket) and added all of the following to my person – a wool beanie, gloves, a second t-shirt, and double-layered waterproof trousers. I began to worry that we were also going to need an emergency GPS beacon and a space blanket to prevent hypothermia, but they said not to worry, they were just being prepared for “a change in the weather”. This also sounded like a euphemism for something unpleasant but I decided to ignore it and go anyway.
We started off at the base of the Pentlands near a copse, the rolling green lower hills an easy climb, giving way to steeper terrain covered with dark patches of the winter’s heather, yet to sprout again this spring. Our reward for the first steep hill was a spectacular view over Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth, and beyond.
Just as we were enjoying the view the weather, as they say, “set in” which is a euphemism for “turned bloody awful”. What began as a pleasant outdoor walk on a coolish April day turned out a battle against the elements as the wind picked up speed and brought with it dark, low clouds, rain, and then quite unexpectedly sleet, hail, and half an hour of driving snow. It was all very challenging for a sun-worshipping Antipodean like myself, but I braced myself, pulled up my metaphorical socks and soldiered on, because it had been my idea after all.
The weather didn’t improve enormously over the next two hours but there were some “bright patches” between gales of wind and scudding low clouds.
On the very last hill, and soon after the snow stopped, we found the highland cows at last grazing in the strong wind and completely ignoring us. I never, ever get tired of meeting these wonderful animals, long shaggy coats hiding their large brown eyes. A iconic as pandas in China, flamingoes in Florida and kangaroos in Australia, they aren’t often seen this far south, preferring the colder northern parts of Scotland. What a treat!
Seeing them seemed a fitting end to a fabulous week and a happy bonus on the long list of “Things to do in Scotland” which included – walk on the beach, eat home-made cake, have black pudding for breakfast, visit Edinburgh Castle, drink a pint of beer in a pub with a roaring fire, see my grandmother, have coffee in Morningside and buy enough Mackie’s Salt and Vinegar Crisps and Rowntree’s Jelly Babies to last me a few months in China. All of which I managed to do, making the week wonderful, and exhausting all at once. And now – back East.
What’s on your list when you visit a much-loved place?