Oh Deer

At times I wonder why it is our mind clings to memories of painful, sorrowful, or even shameful experiences in our lives. The first week I spent in Scotland as a first year St Andrews student has remained strong and coarse in my memory, like a weed you cannot seem to eradicate from an otherwise pristine garden. At the time I felt as though I had made a grave mistake to move so far from home, away from the comfort of the life I thought I should be leading. I had quietly resolved to myself that I would stick out the semester then beg my parents to let me reconsider my choice of university. Each time I saw my parents I fought back the emotion that was clawing its way up my throat: the fear and loneliness that comes with being the farthest and longest away from home I had ever been. In hindsight, I am at times ashamed that I did not appreciate this opportunity as fully as I should have.

Four years later I sat waiting at Haymarket station to surprise my parents after six solid months apart, the longest time I have ever spent away from them. The emotions coursing through my veins drew their substance from an entirely different source. While I was excited for their arrival — especially since neither had traveled to Scotland in over a year — it was an altogether bittersweet reunion. Their presence made the end to my time in Scotland a living, breathing reality. In the days following their arrival I would officially graduate from the University of St Andrews, give my closest friends a final embrace at Graduation Ball, and gaze wistfully out over the North Sea one last time. Sensing my distress about these events, my mother suggested day trips to Falkland Palace, Doune Castle, and the Highlands for their last Scottish adventures. Not only did she and my father wish to see these places, but to be amongst my favorite things — the starkly beautiful hills of the Highlands and mysterious castle ruins — one last time was a welcome distraction from what was to come.

As Scotland is peppered with castle ruins and palaces, you might find yourself asking just why Falkland Palace and Doune Castle made the cut as the last two I would visit. Lately my mother and father have become engrossed in the Outlander television series, and both the village of Falkland and Doune Castle provided locations for the show. And I will not lie, I am also rather smitten with the tales of peril, romance, and adventure found in both the Outlander novels and television series. So I could not object to my mother’s determination to visit these places, and was eager to explore these new places that were so close to me.

In Outlander, with the help of some very talented people, the village of Falkland in Fife transforms into 1940’s Inverness. Having traveled to Inverness two years ago, my father and I chuckled at the contrast. Despite the lure of both Falkland Palace and its new Outlander-bestowed fame, Falkland remains a sleepy little village at the base of the Lomond Hills, about twenty miles southwest of St Andrews. After a very Scottish lunch of salad topped with black pudding for me and my mother and a haggis panini for my father at Campbell’s Coffee House and Eatery, we wandered through the wee shops of Falkland. The rough exposed stone in the interior of the shops and Scotch wool blankets galore had my parents swooning, and more than once the words, “I could live here” escaped their lips.

For 200 years Falkland Palace served as the country residence for the Stuart Monarchy. While the rich history is initially what draws me to Scottish castles, it is the quirky, lesser known details that really capture my attention. For example, Falkland Palace is said to be the home of the oldest tennis court in Britain, built for James V in the sixteenth century. Instead of trinkets and baubles from gift shops I have begun collecting these little tidbits of knowledge, perhaps because I simply just love to learn. After touring about the palace we moseyed out into the gardens. Hidden amongst the immaculately kept flower beds were crumbling stones and depressions in the grass, ghosts of the original twelfth century hunting lodges that once stood on the property before Falkland Palace.

With the sun blushing a brilliant red on the horizon we felt that it was time to leave Falkland. As the Lomonds waned behind us I reflected how glad I was I had made this journey, since during term time I have a tendency to forget not only Fife’s deep history rooted in sites like Falkland Palace, but also its contemporary relevance as evidenced by its significance for cultural products like Outlander. And as I heard my mother and father praise Falkland endlessly, I realized on this trip how fortunate I was to live in a place like Fife, so full of quaint and unique villages as it is. Yet the true highlight of this “Graduation Tour” was still to come.

Loch Morlich

The Sunday after Graduation Ball had me up and out of the door a scant five hours after the closing fireworks winding along rough Highland roads. While my father had the opportunity to explore Loch Ness and Drumnadrochit with me two years ago, my mother had never strayed beyond the bubble of Edinburgh and Fife. Though I was keen to return once more “to the waters and the wild,” I was more excited about accompanying my mother to a place that for so long had been just a dream to her. We also had a very specific goal in mind besides simply reveling in the majesty of the Highlands: the Cairngorm Reindeer Farm. I am a lover of all animals, but I have a special tenderness for the goofy and the strange. And for many people, a reindeer may undoubtedly match that description. When I learned that there is a herd of reindeer right in the heart of Scotland, I knew I had to visit. With the banks of Loch Morlich guiding us to our destination, we wove our way through Glenmore on a quest to fulfill this “bucket list” adventure.

Throughout my parents’ stay in Scotland I kept remarking how lucky they were to be welcomed by only brilliant sunshine and warm breezes, despite the weather channel warning otherwise. True to form, however, Scotland decided to show its true rainy self on the one day we would spend entirely outdoors. So, we found ourselves hiking through a verdant Highland forest under a thick blanket of ashy mist, yet this did nothing to dampen our determination to meet these reindeer. At the top of the small hill our guide suddenly let out a rolling bellow from deep within her stomach. Dozens of reindeer with all manner of colors, antler patterns, and sizes began to emerge from a hidden valley in the distance, and my heart soared.

Reindeer are surprisingly lazy and greedy animals, their sole passion in life being for food. The herders heaped large portions of special reindeer feed into our cupped palms so that we would instantly make our way into the reindeer’s good graces. I had no problem with the multitude of small, fuzzy bodies crowding around me and could not help but giggle as frenzied lips tickled my outstretched hands. And while I have spent most of my life around horses, which are much larger than reindeer, I was a tad nervous about the number of large antlers swaying and swinging right into my face. Once a majority of the food in my hand had been lapped up many of the reindeer surrounding me quickly lost interest. However, the wee black fellow pictured above proved to be a tender soul, as he stayed to lick every last fleck of grain from my hands. He even began to follow me around, and at one point when my back was turned, gently tugged on my backpack to get my attention. I was completely smitten.

Thoroughly soaked through by the needling summer rain, my parents tried coaxing me to come back down from the hill. I think they were concerned that once I befriended a reindeer I would leap on its back and gallop deep into the Highlands, never to be seen again. And I will admit, there were moments in my growing bond with the little black reindeer that I considered becoming the Wild Scottish Reindeer Hermit. Looking back, I sometimes wonder whether I imagined the whole experience, as frolicking through the Scottish heather and mist with such majestic creatures seems to belong in one of my vivid fantasies. The very existence of this little herd has only strengthened my belief that Scotland truly is another world, a place where magic comes to life and waits to be discovered by those who dare to go looking.

Our final wee day trip, and one of my last full days in Scotland, was spent exploring Doune Castle. When most people are asked to picture a Scottish castle, the picturesque Eilean Donan usually comes to mind, and I do not exempt myself from that. To my surprise, Doune Castle is arguably as recognizeable as Eilean Donan, Urquhart, or Edinburgh… if you ken your pop culture, that is. Similar to “that actor or actress” who seems to appear in every film or television show despite never knowing their name, Doune Castle has quite the resume in the film and television industry. Doune Castle serves as Winterfell, the stronghold of the stoic House Stark in Game of Thrones; Castle Leoch, the seat of Clan Mackenzie in Outlander, and appears in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If truth be told, though I am a self-proclaimed epic-fantasy buff I was completely oblivious to all this activity unfolding at Doune.

Initially I was a bit off-put by the Outlander and Monty Python paraphernalia cluttering the ticket office. While we were admittedly visiting Doune because of it’s appearance in Outlander, I think the urge to be commercially brazen about it’s association detracts from what intrinsically makes the place. For example, I found the grounds of Doune Castle to be one of its most fascinating qualities. After growing accustomed to the pristine gardens of Loseley Park and Falkland Palace, the overgrown and unkempt grounds was a stark contrast. Yet I was mesmerized by it all: the moss-bidden stone wall hidden deep in the forest, the wee grass footpaths dotting the land, the river burbling away under a canopy of emerald leaves. While sitting pensively on a boulder in the river I half expected the ethereal women from the “Dance of the Druids” scene in Outlander to pass silently amongst the trees beside me, a treasure from Scotland’s enigmatic past. These delights proved that despite its fame, Doune still had a bit of wildness to it, preserving that untamable and magical spirit I feel is coursing through the veins of Scotland.   

Perhaps the most special thing about all of these trips is not how grand in scale or adventurous in spirit they were. Rather, I think what I have come to love most about my time in Scotland is the chance to show this land I have fallen so in love with to the people that are important to me. The chance to share the magic and sheer wonderment I feel about Scotland each and every day with my parents, in particular, is something that I treasure, mostly because they encouraged me to embark on this adventure in the first place.

And though with each day that passed my sadness about leaving Scotland grew, seeing the joy that I constantly feel bloom in my parents’ eyes as they took in these sights eased my sorrow. I know that years in the future these last moments spent in Scotland with my parents will still be kept close in my heart. Not only for the sense of wonderment we shared, but also because they finally got to witness the transformation this journey has wrought in me: that Scotland is well and truly the place I belong.

The Lass That is Gone

To many, I have not gone back in time, fallen in love with a Scottish warrior, or embarked on a great quest this semester: the year is 2015, I am perpetually single, and spent most of my time in my wee flat in St Andrews. Yet I beg to differ. It is my firm belief that when one travels to Scotland, they step into a world that straddles some inexplicable disjoint in time, both a part of the modern world and the last refuge for the ancient and mysterious. Furthermore, I have gone on more adventures this semester than I have in three years at St Andrews: to Brighton, the Highlands, and Northern Ireland have I thus far roamed, all for the purpose of learning about this great wide world we live in and hearing the stories people have to tell. And I most certainly have fallen in love; maybe not with a someone who can hold my hand and kiss me on the forehead, but with the gnarled trees of Highland forests, with the waves crashing thunderously upon the Fife coast, and with the crumbling ruins of days gone by. I have also fallen in love with all the weird and wonderful people that have accompanied me through it all, “kindred spirits” as Anne of Green Gables would say. And thus I begin my account of my final voyage of my third year at St Andrews: the annual cross country away trip, this year to the Isle of Skye.


I think one of the main elements that made this trip so enjoyable, and a significant leap above previous cross country away trips, was the fact that no one was in any great hurry to get to our various destinations. Every one of us had been feeling the pressure of this year, oppressed under deadlines and the simple demand of what it takes to be a St Andrews student. And as we slowly bid “The Bubble” adieu, one could see our shoulders straightening and smiles brightening at the chance to forget it all, even if only for the weekend. We were now free to explore, to play, and to do things without purpose. Not only did this attitude agree with everyone in attendance, I found it especially rewarding as it meant everyone was keen to make a stop at Eilean Donan Castle. Drenched in the whiskey sun of evening did we happen upon Eilean Donan, and with no other tourists in sight, it seemed as if a higher power orchestrated the wonderment of it all. This encounter with Eilean Donan, I think, not only served as a portent for the simple joy of the weekend to come, but also marked that we may have crossed into another world, leaving the humdrum behind for something a little wilder, and little more magical.


The deeper we plunged into the Isle, it became apparent that it is a place of contradictions: isolated, yet not desolate, quiet, yet teeming with life. Skye is a refuge for a simple way of life, in which coos and sheep roam free and everyone in the village knows everyone else’s name. I realized I had known so little about Skye before I made up my mind I had wanted to travel there, relying on a complete imaginative Romanticization of the land to inform my desire. This could be dangerous, as it can lead to disappointment. For example, I naively though Skye was completely protected land, that no one could actually live on Skye like they lived in Fife or Edinburgh. Yet the wee houses and villages seemed just as natural to the landscape as the heather and rolling hills. The more we drove, the more I became aware that the Isle of Skye is a place that you belonged to. So was I disappointed? Quite the contrary, for this realization has now made me wish I too could belong to such a wonderful way of life.

Our biggest agenda was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Many people I told I was going to Skye for the weekend looked at me as though I had spoken in tongues, for the Isle of Skye in April is more fickle than a fussy child, so a Scot told me. Yet somehow we were given the gift of supernaturally good weather, enough to make one believe we weren’t in Scotland at all. After a sunny ten mile run through a forest path, we decided the best way to cool off was a dip in the famed Fairy Pools near Glenbrittle. The bravest of our company took “dip” to the extreme, as we leapt off a rock to plunge into the icy pools below. Never before have I swam in waters as cold as this, which may be saying a lot since I was the type of child who swam in Lake Superior for fun. Not satisfied just with the leap, though, some of us even stood under the picturesque water fall spilling into the pool. Though it was bracing, and I lost feeling in my extremities for a while, I am glad I did it, for if I were on my own I most likely would not have. Once again, the cross country team challenged me to step outside the normal realm of my behavior, to dive headfirst into the cold waters of life and try something new.


After our swim we headed to the Trotternish Peninsula to see the Old Man of Storr, another famous sight on Skye. And not an hour after literally jumping out of my comfort zone we were at it again, this time scrambling on hands and knees up the side of the Storr. Instead of leading us on the normal walking path, the “mountain man” of the group and our guide, Skylar, decided it would be better to crawl up the side of the steep hill atop loose stones and scree. Quite simply, I was terrified, but the fear of missing out on the experience is what drove me forward. That, and the lovely helping hand of my flatmate Daniel, who made sure I didn’t tumble off the side of the rock face. As we finally reached the summit, we look up to see a tiny red dot that had climbed onto one of the spiky rock formations. Living up to his name, Skylar had climbed sans ropes and any regard to safety up the jagged rock, which Daniel thought was a splendid idea. So, I watched my flatmate rush to join him as I sat back feeling my stomach drop. While I am all for trying new things, and knew my limits could be pushed beyond what I thought they were, this was definitely not in my range. Luckily, Kate and a few others had stayed behind and went with me to more level ground at the top of Trotternish Ridge.


After long hours of running, swimming, climbing, and hiking, we decided to end our day driving along the coast of Skye to Portree for a fish and chips supper. On the way we visited the Kilt Rock, another of Skye’s main sights.


I have this fantasy, born perhaps from reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader too many times, that the world is actually flat, and lying at its edge is just a great waterfall off into the cosmos. The desire that one could reach the ends of the earth is a naive and absolutely absurd notion, yet somehow I find it enticing that one really could sail it all. When I looked at the Kilt Rock, I really felt for a moment that I was standing on the edge of the world, as its falls looked exactly like this strange, otherworldly place I had been picturing in my head for so long. The sheer cliffs and sunlight glinting on the horizon added to this feeling that we had reached some border place, an access point to something else. Again, perhaps it is just me being fanciful, but having the chance to see things in real time, in reality, that seem born of my imagination do something to make me feel as though I am not as “crazy” as many would have me believe, that our world truly is a magical place if one cares to go looking.

On Sunday, after a leisurely morning run, it was unfortunately time to make our way back to St. Andrews. As I mentioned earlier, everyone in our company was in no great rush to go anywhere, which made the whole weekend a truly pleasant experience. So, as per Skylar’s suggestion, we packed up and went to the Spar Cave in order to see as much as Skye as we possibly could, for when would the chance next present itself? The water trickling down jagged cross slabs and small, vividly green shoots between the cracks of rock made the cave look something prehistoric. The braver bunch crawled deep within the cave, however, the threat of rising tide kept myself and Molly away from its depths, as if we were caught inside the cave when the tide was in, we could be stranded for twelve hours. This was alright by me, as I enjoyed myself picturing mermaids peeking out from the wee cave pools and chatting to Molly about how wonderful the trip had been.


Pleasantly wearied after a weekend of adventure and merriment, we all decided to take a rest on the cliff that presided over the Spar Cave, basking in both the warm glow of the waning sun and the pleasure of each other’s company. Conversation was intermittent, allowing mostly for the whispers of dry grass and gurgle of the sea to do the talking for us. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a sort of “basket” of memories within my heart that I revisit from time to time to remind me of what I love most about life, particularly my life in Scotland. This moment, in the company of the weird and wonderful people that make up the cross country team, is one more piece of my experiences in Scotland that has made its way into this basket. If you were to ask me where I want to be right at this moment, it would be to be back on this cliff, amongst the peace of the Isle of Skye, and bereft of cares.

While a majority of the experiences I have at university remind me of how fortunate I am to be able to complete my undergraduate degree abroad, the simplest and purest form of the reason why I decided to embark on this journey in the first place was never as clear to me as it was on that cliff. This time three years ago I decided I wanted to study in Scotland, not really knowing that would mean in terms of the person I would grow to be. All I knew was that I had an insatiable desire to explore and to be free, to “sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” and know what it was like to truly live. This moment on the Isle of Skye reaffirmed for me that basic, almost primal instinct that drove me to Scotland in the first place, as I was surrounded by one of the most peaceful and magical slices of the world. Not only that, but having the chance to share the experience with people who, despite varying interests, senses of humor, hopes, dreams, at their core share this same love of adventure and living as I do.


This weekend trip to the Isle of Skye was perhaps one of, if not the best, times of my life. While that may be a silly statement considering I am only twenty-one years old, there is something truly remarkable in seeing the things you only once thought were dreams or fantasies unfold before your very eyes, and being able to share that with people who are dreamers at heart, just like you.

As the theme song of Outlander trills, “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone. Say, could that lass be I? Merry of soul she sailed on a day over the sea to Skye…” While I may not have met a brawny Scottish warrior or gone back in time this semester, I have embarked on many a great adventure. As this year is drawing to a close, it is safe to say that the lass is indeed gone. My heart is now tucked safely within the streams and hills of Skye, and I shall find it difficult to reclaim it.

Originally written 2 May 2015

Highlands Reflections

Since its premiere last summer, I have been a bit obsessed with the new Outlander television show, as well as the series of novels it is based on. Well, maybe more than a bit: so much so that a little part of me has been dreaming that a sword wielding, red haired Highlander will appear outside my window and whisk me off on some great adventure. While this is obviously absurd, I still sometimes struggle to distinguish between fantasy and reality; I firmly believe all the magic and wonder that inspires fictional narratives like Outlander must exist somewhere in this world. Perhaps that is just my inner Romantic wailing, but I cling to these beliefs precisely because I have the opportunity to travel through the landscapes that should really be just a fantasy. Thus begins the first installment of my spring semester adventures, as I was fortunate enough to spend the week of March 17th in a quaint village just outside Inverness, in the very heart ofOutlander territory.


Thanks to the kindness of one of my closest friends Miranda, another good friend and I were able to spend the first week of our spring holiday at her gorgeous home in the Scottish Highlands. After a stressful few weeks of deadlines and, in my case, serious illness, this respite was just what I needed to restore my spirits. With birds trilling outside my window to herald the coming mornings and hearty, home cooked meals every evening, Miranda’s home made me feel a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Yet these wee comforts were only the beginning to what has become one of the best weeks of my life in all my time here in Scotland.

With the help of Mrs. Strachan’s quite extensive local knowledge of the area, Miranda, Catriona, and myself were able to visit some of the most magical and mystical sites of the surrounding area. First on our itinerary was a small walk up Cnoc Fyrish to visit the crumbling yet majestic monument at its summit.


Built in 1782 by Sir Hector Munro, the monument is inspired by the Gate of Negapatam in Madras, India that Munro had captured for the British. Though slightly cloudy and a bit windy, we were fortunate enough to have a clear view to what seemed like across the world. While this was only the first stop on our week-long adventure, this hike was almost enough to completely relax me after such a stressful return to university. In the company of my two closest university friends, a relic from a past I so exalt, the Cromarty Firth to our front and snow-capped Ben Wyvis to our back, I felt as though I could finally just be. To get away from a daily routine of library, class, and training, away from stressed and caffeine-hyped students and to sit atop the world was the perfect way to remind me why I am in Scotland in the first place: adventure.

Our second major voyage was to the village of Rosemarkie to see its famed Fairy Glen. Rosemarkie was definitely a place I could see myself pattering about in 50 years time, clad in oversized Wellington boots and barn coat.


As we moseyed our way through the streets, I was reminded of one of the main reasons I have fallen in love with Scotland: elderly folk coming and going with their shopping, dogs trotting happily down the beaten paths, and quiet. The pace of life in Scotland, especially in these small Highland villages, is something I’ve definitely come to appreciate, because they serve as a reminder to cherish simplicity. So, onwards we went down the quaint forest path to discover the hidden wonder that is Rosemarkie’s Fairy Glen.

As we walked amongst the delicate spring Snowdrops and bubbling creeks, Miranda was regaling Catriona and I with a tale of how she and her family would visit the Rosemarkie Fairy Glen when she was a little girl. I think perhaps my eyes were sparkling as she was speaking, as this was exactly the kind of place my childhood self would have loved. The sunlight streaming through the vivid emerald tree buds and secret hollows nestled in the hills seem to be read into life from all of my favorite story books. As we were walking, I could see the phantom of my younger self flitting amongst the trees, barefoot and a new tale of magic and adventure on my lips. To be honest, though, that was probably how I looked to Catriona and Miranda, as “Urchin of the Woodland” is I think what they christened me as I frolicked away to find the fairies….


Though the path was only two miles in length, it probably took quite a considerable portion of our day because of my dilly-dallying. To those of you who have nae been to Bonny Scotland, the Fairy Glen is probably exactly what you would picture the whole of Scotland to look like: all I can say is that it is magic, and on this venture, I wanted to be immersed in it all. Yet what lay at the end of the path is perhaps what was best of all.

A true place of magic indeed, this waterfall is perhaps one of the most beautiful things I have ever beheld. To add to this mystical atmosphere, Miranda told us of a tree that had fallen near the waterfall whose skin is scaled with hundreds of pence coins. If one is to wedge their coin into the tree and make a wish, the power of the fairies will make that wish come true. Armed with a two pence coin for double the luck, I approached the tree with my deepest, most passionate wish in my heart. While many would say that is all blather and flimflam, there is something about these enigmatic glens of Scotland that could turn even the most bitter cynic into a believer, methinks.


For our final adventure in the Scottish Highlands, Miranda endeavored to sate my desire to travel back in time and find my very own Jamie Fraser to love. This set us on the path of the Pictish Trail, a route that meanders through the countryside and is marked by a series of ancient stones.


Carved by the ancient peoples of Northern Britain and Scotland, the Picts, these stones are a testament to an artistry and craftsmanship most people would not associate with “The Dark Ages.” While the stone pictured above is a replica, in order to preserve the original, some of the stones we did see are in fact the real thing, whose carvings are clearly visible despite hundreds of years of weather and age. The sheer amount of history Scotland possesses, history that is still standing and very clearly discernible, is awe-inspiring to someone whose own nation is infantile in comparison. The ability of the Scottish people to physically trace their history with these monuments, all the way back to Early Medieval times, is another one of the things I have come to love about this nation. The ties Scotland has with a past that seems more like myth than reality not only does wonders for my imagination, but also stirs me to admiration for this nation and its people.


In my three years at St Andrews, I have created a list of what I like to call the Unforgettable, a sort of basket wedged deep within the storeroom of my memory filled with the memories of my time here that make my heart simply ache. This ache is not something terrible, as these memories are usually the times I felt most at peace here in Scotland: moseying the garden paths of Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lakes, sitting on a bench in Crail with my mother, enjoying the atmosphere of the Fiddler’s Inn with my father, gazing out at St Andrews from atop Drumcarrow Craig. When my coursework seems to great a burden to bear or loneliness eats away at me, I unearth this “basket” and muse over these images to set myself aright.

At one point on this trip, Catriona, Miranda, and I sat with delicious homemade Highland ice cream looking out to the Cromarty Firth in the afternoon sun. While I absolutely loved the whispered magic of the Fairy Glen or the grave majesty of Fyrish Monument, I think perhaps this small moment with Catriona and Miranda is the ultimate moment that will be gently placed in my basket with my other precious Scotland memories. All in all, I am so fortunate that I have a friend like Miranda who is generous enough to welcome me into her home and show me her world. As silly as it may sound, this journey was one that made a lot of my childhood dreams come true, as I had the chance to frolic in a wild place with two people I feel such a kinship with. Surrounded by the beauty of a place I have fallen so desperately in love with and in the company of the two that, I think, may be called my favorite, and the simplicity of it all are what make this time I had in the Highlands the most special and keep me yearning for it.

Originally written 2 May 2015

Ben Nevis

As I sit gazing into my back garden reflecting on this past weekend, part of me wishes I had never left the Highlands. There is a certain magic in the wildness of the Scottish Highlands that I will not easily be able to forget. While it may be my impressionable imagination and fondness for folklore talking, I can’t help but think of the ancient peoples and beasts that were as part of these lands as the pine glens or enigmatic lochs. I still like to think that those creatures and heroes of lore still exist somehow, merely hidden behind a craggy cairn or peeking out from a tree hollow. Having the chance to visit these places teeming with magic is something very special to me, as it reawakens my imagination and reinvigorates my soul.

Spending the weekend in a place such as Ben Nevis with some wonderful company has definitely done just that after a very strenuous semester. I do not think I have ever worked as hard as I have this semester, really pushing myself to excel to prove my worthiness for the honors modules in the latter half of my university career. Combined with the inevitable end of the semester homesickness, I have been struggling a bit as of late. Yet I was able to let some of this go over the weekend, reminding myself exactly what I love about being abroad: the adventure. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles and in just over four hours we hiked to the summit, something I have never done before. While there were points I did not think I could keep going, the warrior poet (as my mother likes to call me) within drove me ever onwards, tackling each new obstacle with vigor. Climbing to the top has thus far been one of the hardest things physically I have ever done.

What really struck me on our venture was the absolute silence. After an entire semester of the hustle and bustle of Logie’s Lane, it was nice to escape the human condition of business to simply be. Again, not helping my overwhelming desire to pack up everything and abandon civilization for a solitary cabin. Time, as well as noise, was simply not a factor as we climbed. It did not matter how long it took, nor did I really care; we could simply move along at our leisure, enjoying uncharacteristic sunshine, wind in our faces, and the company of kindred spirits. Like a puppy that needs an hour or so outside to wind down, this hike was just what I needed to quell my Walden urges to settle back into a few more weeks of hard work during revision and exams.

Another aspect of this climb worth mentioning is the conquering of fear. While I love bounding up mountains and hills, exulting in the liberation of it all, descending is a whole different scenario. As a child I had no qualms about jumping from tall trees or play structures and I willingly hung over railings of lighthouses to see the insignificant world below. Somehow in my age I have lost this fearlessness, much to my disappointment. Picking our way down Ben Nevis was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Perhaps it was the fear of falling or the sheer plummet that turned my stomach, but suddenly I found myself alone, clinging to the side of a mountain suppressing the urge to cry. Or perhaps I was more upset at my complete and utter reserve, the loss of adventurous bravado I often attribute to myself. Me, the stouthearted and intrepid explorer, was afraid of a little danger. I wanted one of the boys in our group to come rescue me. I wanted to stay sitting on the side of the sheer rock face forever.

Yet it dawned on me that this is one more foe I had to vanquish alone. If I could routinely travel 3,000 miles from home on my own, I could certainly traverse down a mountain. While the going was slow, and the looming crevasse to my right turned my stomach, I made it down to the rest of my group. Though I was embarrassed at my palpable panic, I allowed myself to be proud of what I had accomplished. Somehow in the course of my twenty years I have become afraid. Afraid of other people’s cruelty, afraid of a world without the security of my parents, and afraid of whether I would accomplish all that I dreamed of or not. This realization of mine saddens me: how did I become so timid? As a child I was known for my fearlessness and fierce independence, keen to prove myself invincible under any circumstance, yet twenty years later I was trembling in the face of a small obstacle. Who was it that had made me think I was so small, so helpless? Moving to Scotland two years ago was one step in reclaiming this stoutheartedness, and as I reunited with my group after the initial descent, I felt as though I had regained another part. I had done yet another frightening task unaided, swallowing my trepidation and relying on myself to get the job done. While none of my companions knew it, bounding excitedly off in all directions after the lengthy delay, I had made another small step towards becoming the fearless and independent young woman I so want to be.

The rest of the weekend was filled with wonderful memories and even more wonderful company. A nice meal shared at the Lochy Inn, telephone pictionary, and a morning run in a logging forest all did wonders for the thirteen of us. On our drive back we also had the chance to ride through Glencoe. If I were to ask any of my American friends how they pictured Scotland to be, more often than not images of Glencoe would flash through their minds. This area has also been on my “Scottish Bucket List” for many a year due to its stark and majestic beauty.

All in all, this was probably one of the most amazing weekends of my life. I have already waxed poetic on here about how much I love the cross country team, but the feeling is genuine. I have found that in my time at St Andrews I have acquired two groups of friends: the cross country team and my main group. The latter can often be found at my house at any hour of the day, and while I am fond of them, I do see them constantly, whereas sightings of my cross country friends are really limited to training and long runs, where conversation is often reduced due to trying to conserve breath. Even our Saturday races seem too short, as everyone is keen to get home after a long day of racing. So I really treasure these long weekends where we can truly bond. Also, getting to do so in such a beautiful location did wonders for my semester worn soul.

Originally written 29 April 2014

Loch Ness

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I find myself indebted to J.R.R. Tolkien for creating the hobbit species, for in doing so he provided a very clear definition for a particular type of person: those who love their home, the simple life, yet every so often find themselves on very big adventures. As this blog is certainly evidence of, I see very much of myself in Bilbo Baggins, always running off into the blue to stare at old trees and climb mountains. Luckily for me, I am fortunate enough to have a father who is, without a doubt, exactly the same. For spring break this year my dad has once again travelled from home to spend a week with me and I could not be more thrilled.

This year, as he has more time to spend, we decided to pack up and spend three days in the Highlands. Though many would argue that it is a “touristy” location, we set our sights on Loch Ness since it is unquestionably too beautiful to ignore. Plus, my father the avid photographer was so sure he would capture the definitive photo of Nessie. While we did not see that majestic beast of lore, we did see three rainbows, so I still count that as a fortuitous occasion!

The whole train ride up I had “Over the Misty Mountains Cold” score from the first Hobbit film stuck in my head, the one that triumphantly plays as Bilbo ventures further into the wild lands beyond the Shire. Such describes exactly how I felt: leaving the safe shores of St Andrews behind for the wilderness ahead. While Loch Ness and Drumnadrochit aren’t exactly rough territory, it still counts as an adventure beyond the everyday hustle and bustle of St Andrews life.

So the first day was spent traveling to our location. Yet on the next day we headed out to Urquhart Castle, right on the shores of Loch Ness, to begin our adventure. Though the castle is in ruins, it is still an impressive sight. It really makes you appreciate the skill, courage, and hardiness of medieval peoples; they built such a stronghold right on the edge of a tempestuous Loch, all with primitive equipment. Also, a lot of Urquhart’s history is guesswork, as most of the castle’s stone was taken to build surrounding houses. In all the bustle of deconstructing and restoration, several artifacts that would provide clues to the castle’s history have been lost. Such mystery! Loch Ness is also incredibly beautiful; luckily for us, we got a sunny and blue sky day to see the castle and the Loch, which only added to the experience.

After our venture to the castle, we returned to Drumnadrochit, the town we were staying in, to do some hiking. We took the “difficult” trail that runs through the Craigmonie Wood surrounding Drumnadrochit. The trail was mostly uphill with a few difficult rocks and roots, yet nothing we couldn’t handle. At the very summit of the trail one could see all of Drumnadrochit and Loch Ness in the distance. What a sight to behold! There was a large rock at the top that I could have sat on for hours, merely contemplating the peaceful solitude. And, seemingly just for us, a rainbow lazily stretched across the sky over Loch Ness as we approached the summit, making the adventure all the more magical.

We ended the day with a delicious, locally sourced burger at the Benleva Hotel, a cozy wee in nestled in Drumnadrochit. The inn was wonderful and so homey; tartan carpeting, a roaring fire, and books in the corner: almost like the Green Dragon! The owner of the inn even let his two dogs romp around the restaurant and bar, eagerly greeting every patron. I think this is one of the things I love most about Scotland: the simplicity and sense of home one feels, being welcomed by good company and quiet relaxation after a long day.

I am also so thankful that my father is able to go on all of these wondrous adventures with me. I feel so lucky that he shares my similar sense of adventure; though we are both incredible homebodies, we do love to simple tramp around the woods for a while, getting lost in the simplicity of nature. I think these times spent with my parents will amount to some of my favorite experiences in my time at St Andrews, for I get to share this place I love so dearly with two of my favorite people. Also, since my parents were the first to kindle my love of adventure, it feels only right that I return the favor somehow, opening up these new experiences for them as I venture further out into the world.

The week is winding down a bit, but I could not be happier. I spent a wonderful three days in a beautiful corner of the world with my favorite fellow hobbit, ate good food, and simply enjoyed life. The rest of the week holds a few more indulgent meals, a jaunt to Anstruther, and a look around the St Andrews museum. While I wish my father could stay longer, I am thankful for the time he took to visit me. I will no doubt cherish these memories of castle exploring and Nessie hunting with my best friend: my dad.

Originally written 20 March 2014

Treat Yourself

The past two weeks have been quite chaotic, as the faint buzzing in my ears from residual stress and caffeine intake can attest to. So far, in a mere two weeks I have managed to:

  • Finish the entirety of Dante’s Purgatorio 
  • Read The Qur’an
  • Read the entirety of Plato’s Republic
  • Discuss the true meaning of justice in a philosophical paper
  • Write an essay on the double entendre in Old English riddles
  • Read some Canterbury Tales (in Middle English, mind)
  • Begin a swimming routine at the Fife Leisure Center
  • Compete in a six kilometer cross country race
  • Embark on a nine mile pleasure run

How I managed to accomplish all of these tasks in such a short time, on top of regularly attending my lectures and tutorials, is beyond me. Though I enjoy being a busy bee, I feel as though I have had barely any time to devote to the people who are important to me, such as my parents. While I make a point to Skype with them at least once a week, I feel as though I haven’t seen their faces in ages. Quite distressing indeed.

But soft! This coming week is known as Consolidation Week, which offers a bit of respite in the long haul to the holiday in December. I will not have English or Comparative Literature classes all next week, so I have some time to breathe, get my coursework completed at reasonable times (perhaps even ahead of schedule!) so I may begin preparing myself for exams and my eventual return at Yuletide.

Amongst the haze of coursework, though, I have managed to squeeze in some wee adventures. Last Saturday, after a very vexing bout with an Old English essay, I woke up and decided to go to Pittenweem on a whim. I mostly just liked the name. Pittenweem is a wee town on the Fife Coast just south of Anstruther; it seems as though I am continually pushing south on the Fife Coast in my adventures, seeing what lies just beyond the bend in the road.

Pittenweem was a delightful coastal town. If one ever finds themselves in this area, I highly recommend a stop at The Cocoa Tree. Here I ordered stick-to-your-bones bean soup to warm the coggles of my heart on this blustery day, and needless to say, it made me red in the face and jovial. Also, The Cocoa Tree is renowned for their hot chocolate. Essentially you are drinking a melted chocolate bar. Can a place be any more perfect?

This jaunt was part of a grand scheme I have adopted for second year that I have deemed Treat Yourself (as the youths say). As some of my followers have discerned, I was actually quite melancholic upon my return to university. Perhaps it is a certain woe that comes with being a twenty-something: the expectation of being an adult yet having none of the knowledge to be such. This has been a constant source of worry and vexation for me as of late.

However, I slowly came to this realization: I can either be completely consumed by this uncertainty, the self-doubt that comes with being a young adult, or I can simply laugh at the sky and enjoy being young. I am trying so very hard to do the latter. Lately I have been doing things for myself more; a sort of “self care” regimen in order to be a happier and more carefree person. Such things have included:

  • Spending time down by the sea
  • Wandering aimlessly and smiling at all the passersby
  • Asking people politely if I may pet their dogs. Thanking them.
  • Writing more.
  • Cooking tasty and wholesome meals for myself (and maybe a friend)
  • Being more generous
  • Going on spontaneous adventures
  • Exercising because it makes me feel strong and lively, not solely for weight loss or any other such nonsense
  • Not worrying about my appearance
  • Laughing more freely
  • Learning to accept compliments

The more I take time for myself, the more I see the positive outcomes. My struggles with body-image have slowly been fading away. I look and feel healthier. I find myself smiling more often. I am falling in love with the exuberance of life once again. Though there are days when the melancholy creeps back, I simply call my most favorite person in the world, my mother, and everything is peaceful once more.

Also, I have been quite inspired by the film The Dead Poet’s Society as of late, and adopted carpe diem as the sub-heading to all of this rejuvenation. I think the two go quite well together, treating oneself and seizing the day. Life, especially as a young adult, is all about seizing opportunities to make each day magical. I intend to do so.

Originally written 19 October 2013


At last I finally get to catch my breath after the hubbub that was this past week. Amidst packing, preparing for my exam, and sight seeing with my mother, I have barely had any time to reflect on what is actually occurring.

After completing my final exam of the year, I had some down time before I needed to journey back home. So, last Saturday my mother and I hopped on a bus and travelled to Stirling, as per a family friend’s recommendation. The bus ride there was incredible enough; we went around the base of a large hill painted in spring’s yellow flowers, through several wee hamlets that were so charming. I think my favorite town name is Pool o’ Muckhart, it sounds as if it belongs in one of the Celtic myths I habitually read.

Stirling Castle was our primary destination, and what a fantastic one it was! Known for the many additions made by James IV and James V of Scotland, Stirling Castle is a very important historical sight. You can also see the Wallace Monument from the castle. The castle is absolutely incredible, and its grandeur was heightened by the lovely spring weather we were fortunate enough to have. I really enjoy Stirling Castle because nearly all of it is open to the public, whereas Edinburgh Castle only has a few rooms open for exploration. Also, photography is permitted within Stirling Castle, whereas it is heavily regulated by grumpy overseers at other historical sights. I think having such a free rein to enjoy the castle without sassy workers made the experience more enjoyable, since it allowed us to explore at our own pace without the constant worry of causing offense.

Festooned with unicorns, the national animal of Scotland, and boasting its own lion’s den, Stirling Castle had many unique quirks that made it very memorable. I think the most magical aspect, though, was the replica of one of my favorite pieces of art hanging in the queen’s chambers, The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry. Though not the original, the replica is handmade by a team of weavers who spend two years completing each panel. The level of talent invested in the incredible detail of the tapestry is truly awe-inspiring. I think what makes it so intriguing is the mille-fleurs technique, or “thousand flowers”, which makes up the tapestry’s background. There is just so much to look at with this technique in mind, and each tapestry’s background is different, with new little easter eggs tucked in with all the unique and individual flowers. When gazing at this piece of art, human creativity and artistic talent almost overwhelm you.

Stirling Castle and its surrounding grounds are truly wonderful, and I highly recommend it to any looking for various adventures in Scotland. Also, the fact that I got to go to such a lovely place with my mother made it all the more incredible. As one of my last grand adventures in Scotland in my first year, I would say this was a fine finale.

Originally written 29 May 2013


Every year the St Andrews cross country team ventures to the Highlands for an end of term celebratory away trip. I am so incredibly fortunate that I got to be a part of this tradition, and it was wonderful to escape “The Bubble” for a weekend of adventures and quality companionship.

We stayed in the quaint hamlet of Newtonmore, which we ran around on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, early in the run I hit a bit of loose stones and rolled the ankle that I had injured las semester. Needless to say, that made the remainder of the run a bit uncomfortable. I was so embarrassed that I slowed everyone down, and I was ashamed that I could not simply tough it out and keep up with the group. Though everyone was patient and concerned, I strongly dislike people fussing over me.

However, my injury was not too severe as to keep me hostel-bound for the afternoon hike. We journeyed about an hour to the west according to Roger’s, the team’s resident Sacagawea, recommendation. Here we spent about three hours hiking up mountains and journeying to ruined forts. Once we reached the fort, we had a small picnic overlooking the pictured loch. Words cannot describe how peaceful it was, lunching with some really unique and friendly people in such a beautiful place. 

Saturday evening wound down with some delicious home cooked food, board games, and general chit-chat. The next morning we vacated the Newtonmore hostel and made our way back to St Andrews, stopping briefly in Pitlochry for a wee run. Unfortunately, my ankle was too weak to run with my usual group, so I stayed back with Ruth, the team captain, Rhiannon, who had kindly helped me with my earlier injury, and Roger, my fellow injury-prone runner, for a nice jaunt around the river that moseyed through the town. After a brief rest in the cafe with scones and tea, everyone made it back to St Andrews refreshed and ready to begin preparing for exams.

Though I had some minor misfortune, I still had a wonderful time on this trip. I am so thankful that I am part of a club brimming with just as much wanderlust as myself. I absolutely love my cross country team, and getting to spend some quality time with them without the stress of classes and deadlines was lovely. I think some of my favorite memories from this trip include our rousing round of Richard Gere (I still maintain that Cecil Beaton is a well-known historical figure), Roger’s compass and hand drawn map that took us five miles out of our way on Saturday’s run, and the baby sheep that joined us when we jaunted through the fields. Though I am excited to return home for the summer, it is bittersweet to think that I will have to spend three months without these people I have grown so close with. This weekend was truly a memorable one, and I am already looking forward to the next adventure.

Originally written 28 April 2013

An Unexpected Visit

As an unexpected surprise, my dad has flown into St Andrews for a few days of merry relaxation before he heads to London on business. Already quite familiar with St Andrews, I decided to pack up the head Hobbit and head over to the quiet, quaint, coastal town of Crail, about half an hour by bus away from St Andrews.

To say I fell a little bit in love with Crail is an understatement. While St Andrews is a very lovely place to be, sometimes all of the students and tourists can get overwhelming. Crail was quiet and clean, a St Andrews without all the bustle of haggard students and raucous travelers.

The views of the sea at Crail were unparalleled. A wider view of open ocean met us as we exited the bus, and we had the opportunity to venture right down onto the mossy rocks for a closer look at the sea. When I returned home over Christmas, the sea was the element of Scotland I missed most, and after this trip to Crail, I would definitely say that its coast is the best. The air was clean, the sky was clear, and the gulls cried upon the wind: perfectly picturesque and most undoubtedly Maggie.

After some gallivanting, my dad and I wandered into the Crail Harbor Gallery, a wee tea room situated in a 300 year old cellar. The interior boasted exposed ceiling beams and uneven floors, completely magical. However, because the day was so wonderfully pristine, we took our afternoon tea out on the patio, overlooking the delightful surf.

All in all, I adored Crail. It is definitely the type of place I could envision tucking myself away in, nestled within the heart of a seaside cottage as I diligently compose my novels. Some of the homes in Crail were so incredible, I grew nauseous with envy. Patios embracing the open ocean, immaculate gardens upon the hillside, and rough hewn stone for a bit of history- I cannot even contain my joy. Hopefully I may make a return journey in the near future, as I am counting down the days for my mother’s arrival.

Originally written 21 April 2013

Sharing the Adventure in Edinburgh

Today, my friend and I went on a jaunt around Edinburgh. Though I have journeyed here several times now, I actually discovered some new and exciting destinations. What made the experience more enriching, though, was the opportunity to see it through the eyes of a longtime friend from home, as if I were seeing the entire city itself anew.

St. Margaret’s Chapel within the castle was open after a year of refurbishment, and it was so interesting to set foot in a building so ancient. Built in the 12th Century, the chapel is the oldest building within Edinburgh Castle. It made me wish I was from the medieval times.

My next new adventures was the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum, with dedications to Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns. As I am studying Robert Burns in English next week, I found it quite helpful to gain a bit of insight into his life and works.

Finally, my favorite stop was in Bacchus Antiques, located in a wee ramshackle building on Victoria Street. Though it looks decrepit and ancient on the outside, within is a pristine haven of antiquities. The master of the shop is most likely a wizard who opened his little pride and joy in 1142 AD, and he gave us an insightful little tour into his collection. I acquired a nice antique compass to wear around my neck. I have decided I want to visit him more often.

Originally written 27 February 2013