As you drive north through England, the hills roll higher and more dramatically, as if they're showing off. High on the novelty of achieving my childhood dream of seeing Sherwood Forest, I was struck with the beauty of Yorkshire as we put more of England under our "tyres". On the left, the hedge rows framed fields of cheerfully yellow rapeseed climbing higher and higher, balanced gently by the vast blue of the North Sea on the right.
Almost immediately after we crossed the border into Scotland, it was as if the land knew it was Scottish and was eager to flaunt the fact. The heather and craggy terrain made an immediate appearance. The hills grew immensely and the greens became inexpressably vibrant.
Your approach to the capital city of Edinburgh is like a movie preview; the small tastes whet your appetite for more, and the city center doesn't disappoint. The crags and cliffs steal your attention first. You find yourself craving a closer look just to determine how these buildings continue to cling to their resting spots and don't come sliding right down the side. Upon this closer look, you realize just how steep these hills are and just how clever the engineers that built this city must have been. The heights of Edinburgh Castle overlooking the depths of Princes Garden, all the way past New Town to the North Sea in the distance...this is one of the most unique cities I've ever visited. I don't think there is a single bad view in the entire place. Due to the coal mining, many parts of the city are still crazy dirty, but it works. Somehow the eerily gothic Scott Monument just wouldn't be the same without the years of grime embedded in it's surfaces. I could have spent many more days here; it was hard to leave.
The morning of our venture further into Scotland was graced with a heavy fog, setting the stage for the Scot's proud stories of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn. As we got closer to Stirling, you could hear the honor in our guide's thick Scottish accent: this was his country, his culture, and he wanted us to understand what these men died for. Standing on a hill next to Stirling Castle overlooking the valley shadowed by the massive William Wallace Monument, you feel an energy of Scottish pride in the air. This beautiful place meant something to these people. I didn't want to move from that spot; I could have stayed there for hours.
The Highlands are also unlike anything else I've seen. Lochs of all sizes surprise you around almost every corner. The heather grows everywhere; during blooming season, the blanket of purple must be spectacular. Creeks follow the single lane road that winds its way up one hill and down another. The number of sheep that call this land home must be in the hundreds of thousands. A stop in Aberfoyle gave us the opportunity to meet some true Highlanders and experience how they live.
Our final stop was a cruise on Loch Lomond, with rays of sun poking through the clouds to create patterns on the deceptively large canvas of rolling hills. Castles were buried in valleys, standing proudly on clifftops and falling in ruin where they had met their demise so long ago. And if you close your eyes, you can actually hear the bagpipes.
As we drove south through Glasgow on our way back to England, I was struck with the distinctive beauty of this country and the kindness of its people. You've made an idelible mark on me, Scotland, and I thank you.