From Bath (yes, that was ages ago; this post is late), I headed to Scotland. I didn’t actually start in the highlands, preferring to conquer Edinburgh first. But I spent a lot of time there, and Brigadoon songs make for excellent post titles. This was a change from my usual traveling modus operandi in that no opera or theatre was involved! This trip was all about castles and heroic battles and hairy coos. Mostly hairy coos.
But let’s start with a castle, since there’s conveniently one right in the middle of Edinburgh. It’s quite the authentic medieval castle, but apparently the Victorians thought it didn’t look medieval enough, so they put forward lots of proposals to re-design it. Some of the drawings are displayed in one of the exhibits. (I kind of love the Victorian obsession with making things more medieval. It led to the magnificently ridiculous Scottish Baronial architecture you can see all around the country.) There are a lot of buildings in the castle complex, which house (among other things) a war museum, a war memorial, a Victorian-ideal-of-medieval banquet hall, a prison, and the Scottish crown jewels. Did you know that Sir Walter Scott was the one to re-discover the crown jewels, which had been locked away in a chest for centuries? It’s hardly fair that he got to do that on top of (well, because of) being a famous author! But I think his novels are actually pretty dull, so there!
Actually, I’m not a huge fan of most Scottish literature. So of course I took not one but two literary tours of Edinburgh. The first was a pub crawl led by two actors, and it focused on Burns, Scott, and Stevenson. It struck a fun balance between the informative and the comedic, with a lot of emphasis on these great authors’ fondness for women, beer, and whiskey. There was a pop quiz at the end, and I obnoxiously answered all the questions. But I suppose my literature degree and complete sobriety (I was still recovering from Cambridge) probably helped. The next day, I visited the Writers’ Museum, which was dedicated to the same three authors. There wasn’t much new to learn, but there was lots of their paraphernalia and furniture there, which was fun to see. There was also a book lovers’ tour, which I of course signed up for. We wandered all over the city, hearing tales of Iain Banks, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling. I especially loved the stories about Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh surgeon who taught Doyle and whose incredible inductive reasoning ability inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. We also heard about William McGonagall, the world’s best bad poet (and the namesake for a certain Hogwarts professor). His poems are so bad, they’re almost good! He supposedly brought an umbrella to his readings to protect himself from the crowd’s projectiles. Yet he continued writing. Somewhat disappointingly, neither the tours nor the museum included anything about Ossian/Macpherson. I suppose it’s hard to be proud of a poet whose largest contribution was premised on a lie. Still, I would have enjoyed the Werther connection. Continue reading Once in the highlands, the highlands of Scotland