Scotland is not a flat country. It doesn’t have huge mountains like the Rockies or Alps, but it’s hilly and curvy. In the middle of rolling hills, you may find a few small mountains. As you drive north, you pass through the Grumpian Mountains and into the beauty of the Highlands. In a car you climb and go down over and over again. On foot it’s the same thing. How many stone steps did I go up and down this past week? And I even climbed another mountain.
I wouldn’t say I am the most fit person in the world. I’m not in bad shape and I do eat well. I am short and slim and happy about that. Running is not my thing nor is hiking up a very steep path. But, I do enjoy moderate exercise, and I’m always happy to walk a fair distance, especially to see something interesting.
Over the past week I climbed and climbed. Most people would say that the best view is at the top. In an old castle there is only one way up: the stairs. Our week began with a visit to the Wallace National Monument, which stands on the edge of the town of Stirling. It commemorates the great William Wallace, and the monument is a massive tower, on the top of a hill. First, we climbed up an easy snaking path then we went into the monument and climbed 246 steps up a winding stairwell to the top. We learned about the Scottish-English battles of the 13thand 14thcenturies, enjoyed the views, then climbed back down. If I really wanted, I could have bought a t-shirt that said I had climbed the 246 steps. I didn’t.
We spent our first night in Inverness, which is the capital of the Highlands, and to get there, our little car had to work hard and climb through those mountains. On our second day we visited Loch Ness and Urquhart castle. At this castle, on the edge of the loch, we climbed down first from the road then up again to experience the spectacular views (and look out for the monster!). There is a reason why Kings, Queens, Dukes, Earls and Barons always had a bed chamber high up in the castle – it’s where you get the best view!
On our third day in Scotland we toured three very different castles. The first one, Dunnottar, on the edge of the North Sea and its famous cliffs, was all about the climbing. I didn’t count the number of steps we climbed to first go down to the castle and then go up, but I’m sure it was similar to that 246 we climbed at the Wallace Monument.
Crathes and Craigievar castles were built in the 16thcentury by noble families, and they are both big and tall. What does that mean? A lot of stairs. Craigievar’s pink granite, seven floors and soaring turrets makes it look like it is straight out of a fairy tale. Some say it may even have been the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle. Whatever the inspiration, you need to have your climbing shoes on to visit its many floors and learn about the history of its many owners, including “Red” Sir John Forbes who found his daughter in the arms of his enemy’s son. He gave the guy two options: a duel or jump from the fourth-floor window. The kid chose to jump. Bad idea.
The city of Edinburgh has some steep hills and it also has some extinct volcanoes in the heart of downtown. Really, I’m serious. Google it. The incredible and imposing castle in the centre of town sits atop one of them and behind a famous palace, called Holyrood Palace, down the Royal Mile, sits another. We toured the castle and hiked up the other mountain. I wouldn’t say climbed is even the correct word as it was a true hike, with very steep inclines, boulders, pebbles and cliffs. Unlike my winter icy mountain climb, I easily scaled this one and enjoyed the 360 degree view from the top (spot known as Arthur’s Seat) tremendously. And then I climbed down.
Traveling through Scotland I sat in a moving car a lot so that we could cover so much of the land. I also ate some scrumptious food (I tried vegetarian haggis, sorry I’m not adventurous enough to try the real thing). And I climbed. A lot. This country is not for the faint of heart. Bring your quality walking shoes and get ready to explore some amazing places.