I have always believed certain places can do wonders for one’s imagination no matter how rugged it is. I still remember the first time I landed in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, often referred to as “the Athens of the North”. It was a rainy morning at the end of winter but the greenery had such a wild vitality to it, unleashed with yet a greater force with each falling raindrop. My eyes had never seen such vivid shades of green before. On another blog
I wrote: “In a society such as ours, dominated by technology and a fast-paced living, places like Scotland are rare gemstones, especially in the Western Highlands, where even the small coastal towns seem to re-live the distant past when darkness falls. The woodlands of Scotland have an eerie feeling about them when grey tridimensional clouds seem to cover them from all sides
But it is not only the landscapes and the vast expanse of the Highlands that can rekindle creativity. Scotland’s long and troubled history was marked by great personalities who gave birth to legends that make it a place where one can easily imagine a world beyond ours, a world of magic maybe, as it was the case for J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. In numerous places around Scotland, you can find grass-covered mounds, which are all that is left of some old forgotten castles. Even in the midst of nature you cannot escape these scattered portals to another time. From Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire to the dramatic Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, the land is oversaturated with histories of places large and small.
Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness. Source: must-see-scotland.com
Reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped (1886) made me want to travel all around the Scottish coastline, from the Firth of Forth in the east to the rocky shores of the north and westward to the dreamy Hebrides. Of all the places in Scotland, the western coast is by far the wildest and most beautiful in the sense that it can make you feel like you are part of a great story, ready to begin your adventure.
Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye during winter. Source: isleofskye.com
At first sight, the Isle of Skye seems to be a treeless stump of land in the Inner Hebrides, but as you travel deeper into its heart you find yourself forgetting there is an entire world beyond its shores. The elements of nature take over your senses and you give in simply because you cannot resist it. It can rain in one moment and gusts of wind may threaten to blow you off the island, but sunshine intervenes suddenly and it soothes you with skies as blue as those in a Van Gogh painting. Neil Gaiman, from my point of view the best writer to come out of Hampshire in England after Charles Dickens, often travels to the Isle of Skye to find inspiration and to write. He said “Skye is now my favourite place to go and my favourite place to go and write. There is in the Highlands a wonderful mix of tranquillity and of the knowledge that violence and terrible things have happened relatively near“. In there it is not simply a matter of isolating yourself, but of finding a deeper connection with nature in ways one can rarely manage in more populated areas in Britain. Unless it’s Edinburgh, of course.
View of the Old Town in Edinburgh. Source: oddcities.com
It was no surprise that Edinburgh had been designated by UNESCO as the first City of Literature back in 2004. Its grizzly history had me hooked from the beginning. I used to spend hours without end in a bookstore not far from the Royal Mile, reading about the local legends and how they came to life. I also loved drinking tea at The Elephant House, a coffee shop which advertises itself as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, while enjoying the view from its rugged windows in the back. A setting sun would surround the Edinburgh Castle with a rosy tint, while the Greyfriars churchyard behind the coffee shop would descend into the shadows. The churchyard always seems too silent, as if expecting its promised share of more tragedy, blood and bones. It is said that millions of unknown remains had been dumped in the Greyfriars when the cemetery behind the St. Giles Cathedral had been evacuated. And sometimes when it rains, which it often does in Edinburgh, human bones can resurface for a brief moment as if just making sure the city is still there only to disappear once more into the depths of the earth.