British people often say to me that over the summer, they just want to get out of the UK. For those who think summer was made for scorching heat, beaches, tanning, crowds, a surfeit of alcohol and idleness, Britain's not the best bet for an ideal holiday. But the adventurous, and those who are willing to put up with inconsistent weather patterns, are in for a treat if they take a trip in Blighty (a colloquial term for Britain). It's true, the weather here really is as unstable as it's made out to be. Every time I return to England from abroad, it always rains, and I'm not exaggerating. "Welcome back to rainy Britain" is what Brits like to say at the end of their holiday abroad, climbing out of their plane to face a blast of drizzle and hastily covering their sunburnt shoulders.
But despite all this, despite the assumption of most Brits that summer on our drizzly island is not an option, Britain is one of the best places to spend the summer. At least, that was my impression after I spent a week in Scotland last August. We stayed in an Edinburgh flat, and from there we took trips to the Scottish Highlands, which I'd recommend for people looking to see some of the capital as well as the countryside. Otherwise, staying in the Scottish Highlands is more practical. I'll probably post separately about Edinburgh at some point; it's worth a post of its own!
I'll admit that at first I was reluctant about going for long walks in the Highlands. Though I am an outdoors-y person, my stamina is awful, and my family was never one of those sporty ones that takes bikes on holiday and goes for 10k walks. But I was so wrong in my initial reluctance, because the Scottish Highlands in August really is the place to be. You just feel so completely isolated from the rest of the world, like the whole landscape is there just for you to explore. That's the great thing about the Highlands -- it's incredibly popular and hundreds of people go there but you hardly meet anyone because they're all scattered across an enormous territory.
Our first destination was Glencoe, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Edinburgh. A more picturesque road is scarcely imaginable; ruins of castles are visible in the distance, and every so often an old crumbling viaduct over a silvery thread of river. But only half the beauty can be seen from inside the car. It's not easy to explain, but somehow, when you toil up a winding mountain path for a few hours, the overwhelming impression imposed by the beauty around becomes all the more strong. Maybe it's part of the feeling that you've reached a place that few have seen - a spot of untouched wild beauty that was waiting for you all this time. But that's an extremely naive view, as Glencoe is hardly lacking in tourists. Last year, around 7.3 million trips were made to Eastern Scotland alone (which includes Glencoe).
Roaming the landscape is enough of an impression in itself. But seeing the ruins of a medieval castle up close against that landscape makes for something perhaps even more unforgettable. We paid a visit to Dunnottar castle, located on an island joined by a strip of land to the north east coast of Scotland. The jagged ruins jut out into the sky while below is a 250-feet drop down to the raging North Sea. The view from afar is spectacular enough, but getting closer to the ruins, feeling the primeval rocks, breathing in the salty air and hearing a solitary seagull's cry just above your head as it lands on the peak of a half-crumbled tower is something else entirely. The ephemeral clashes bizzarely with the eternal; even the 500-year-old stone remains seem transient against the landscape. It's a humbling experience...
Before you take the trip that maybe won't change your life, but will definitely leave you feeling as though you've taken away a piece of eternity in your heart, be sure to grab some suitable CDs for the drive. Recommended tracks include anything by Enya and anything from the soundtrack of Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, Willow, etc. And everything in between.