Edinburgh Illuminated

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Edinburgh, Scotland – August 2004

The heavy gray cloak that has covered Edinburgh for most of the summer has fallen away. People emerge from shelter to soak up the light. I wander around for hours. I want to discover Edinburgh illuminated before I leave for home. The streets are alive with the Edinburgh Festival. The bagpipe music that blares out of souvenir shops has been turned up to compensate for the bustle. It has gone from quaint to obnoxious. I wonder how the shop workers can handle it.

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My husband once told me that bagpipes were used in battle, because the sound made soldiers aggressive. I should have known this. After all, my maiden name is Douglas. But I hadn’t known. My connection to my Scottish ancestry is tenuous. In fact, my father was the typical American cocktail of nationalities – Scottish, English, French Canadian, Native American, and Dutch. One quarter this and one eighth that. There were no family feasts of haggis or bagpipes at weddings. My mother once showed me a photo of the Douglas tartan, but the very idea of my father and uncles wearing a kilt is hilarious. The Scottish bits that trickled down to my father’s family were hot tempers, a fondness for alcohol, and a couple of red-haired cousins.

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I buy souvenir booklets about Clan Douglas for my brothers and sisters. For my brother Billy, I buy a scroll with the Douglas crest and a brief history printed on it. He’s the sibling who’s most interested in Douglas history. As I walk out of the tourist district I unroll it and look at it. My heart sinks. How did I get roped into buying such a dorky gift? Then I think of Billy’s shot glass collection and relax.

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The Castle is mobbed, but I take a deep breath and venture in. There are too many people to be able to linger comfortably, so I rush through the exhibitions and head back outside. For the others, the cemetery for soldiers’ dogs merits only a quick glance, if they notice it at all. For me, this tiny corner is the most interesting thing about the castle, along with the view over the city to the sea and to the Salisbury Crags.

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A couple of days later, I hike up the Crags. The clouds have begun to amass once again. At the top, I approach the edge, but recoil when I realize that it’s straight down. No safety barrier to guard against a gust of wind. I sit on the ground and reflect on the places I’ve seen. Edinburgh has been a place of transition, but on my brief stays I’ve visited every museum and district possible. I took a day trip out to North Berwick. Away from Edinburgh, I spent almost a month on an island in a loch near Glasgow and almost six weeks in northern England’s Lake District. I visited Castlerigg stone circle and Threave Castle. I never did make it up to Loch Ness, but instead of disappointment, I feel indifference. It’s time to go home.

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44 thoughts on “Edinburgh Illuminated

  1. Edinburgh in the sun looks good, not sure I have ever seen that before 🙂 . Loch Ness is mostly water and lies – for the truth about Scotland you need to head for the highlands and islands; start at Ardnamurchan and then just follow the jagged coast north. It is a magical place.

    • Hi Robin – It completely changed the atmosphere. I must admit that I prefer it in the gloom. Scotland and sunshine are a strange combination. My time on the loch island was quite an experience. But that’s for another, longer post. 😉

  2. Lovely images-and the cemetery for the soldiers dogs sounds fascinating-I really enjoy reading about your travels-I know the experiences have not always been comfortable-but I also get a sense of the inner journeys you are taking as well-thank you.

    • Thank you, as always, for reading. It’s much appreciated. Life is not always sunshine and rainbows, so rather than stifle reality, I prefer to show the journeys as they really were.

  3. Edinburgh holds magical memories for me … some distinctly blurred after a few too many hours in pubs, eons ago. The image of the ancient rooftops surrounded by mysterious craggy hills and the picture-perfect castle have remained razor-sharp. Your reminiscences take me back. Thanks … as always.

  4. I love the large photos and the stories that always come with them. I’ve always been thrilled about bag pipes and of course the costume. 😀

  5. Like how you ended this “but instead of disappointment, I feel indifference. It’s time to go home.” it goes perfect with the place and vibes, and what this place makes you feel, you are in a place of transition but you want to move on. Great post.

  6. I enjoyed reading your post. It’s almost like I’m there, and makes me want to travel more. I love your photos, and they way you describe everything. It was interesting to hear about the dog’s cemetery too. I think it’s great that they thought to do that.

  7. So lovely, it makes me jealous when I see these communities centuries old and all the stone architecture. When you go through ‘Murica and all we have are matchstick houses and buildings. To think I brag about living in a house that was built in the 30s or 40s and how sturdy it is.

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  9. I’ve never been in Edimburgh, but with your storytelling and with your beautiful photos i can feel the atmosphere pretty good. Plus, it seems a gorgeous city. On my travel list! (like every place that i’ve never been till now)

  10. Edinburgh is such a history steeped city. Right from fairy tale castles to places haunted by ghosts and ghouls. I have been there only once but hold such delightful memories. Your photos only brought them back.

    Great post.

    Shakti

  11. Scotland is on my very short list of places that I really really want to visit one day, it’s so impossible to get a dog sitter for this crew though. What a special place, the cemetery for soldiers’ dogs, I can just imagine all those sweet angels from times past with their names listed there…. to be remembered forever. I want to make a book about my guys, even if I only ever publish one, for that very same reason. They all deserve to be remembered 🙂

    • I hope you do make a memorial book for all of the beautiful companions who have passed through your life. I might do the same, but my companions have been of the varmint variety. 😉

  12. A wonderful post!!!! Oh, I do love Scotland – especially the PIOBAIREACHD (Pibroch) music. It is something that I want to look into more closely because of the link with the Gaelic language. And then there is the history – William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora Macdonald! I checked out the “Douglas” clan – you have quite a linage that included a Crusader and a Guardian of the Realm.

    “Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.” Winston Churchill

  13. I’ve never seen or heard of a dog cemetery anywhere else in the world, have you? It seems either a remarkable tenderness or that the dogs served in an officially significant capacity. Any insight?

    Happy New Year, Julie. — Viv

    • Hi Viv. I’m not totally sure about these particular dogs, but based on my observations during my 3 months in the UK, I’d say it was because they loved their dogs. I’ve never seen a culture that’s as enamored with dogs as the British. I was even told on more than one occasion that having a rabbit as a pet (rather than a dog) was “stupid”. As if they were personally insulted by my choice.

      A wonderful 2014 to you, too!

  14. These photographs are breathtaking! Really seems like I’m right there visiting these places. Fresh, bright, and fabulous shots!

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