Saturday, April 30, 2011

Breakaway: Schiehallion

It's amazing how quickly this year has gone by. I hadn't realized just how quickly it was going until I realized that this was going to be my last trip with Breakaway -- really? The last one already?

Usually we split into three or four groups to go on differing level walks (from low level strolls focusing more on distance to high levels helping people bag munros). For our last walk, we all do the same one and reach the top together. Well, together within 10 or so minutes of each other -- someone has to bring up the caboose and I'll be honest, that seems to be my coveted position many days! But that's okay -- slow and steady, right? I'm usually much more of a distance person than a height person, but I'll accept the challenge.

For the last walk, the tradition is to scale Schiehallion, a munro in Perth and Kinross, because while challenging, it can be done by people of varying skill and it's a straightforward walk so almost no chance of someone getting lost if they fall behind.

A munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3000ft (914.4m). There are 283 munros in Scotland and they are named after Sir Hugo Munro, who first cataloged them. It's a popular goal for hikers to 'bag' or climb all the munros in Scotland.

Schiehallion is a munro at 3547ft (1083m).

Schiehallion is located in the area of Perth and Kinross and is considered the centre of Scotland, as well as holding its own place in history:
Schiehallion's symmetrical shape earned it a place in scientific history and discovery in the late 18th century. In 1774 the Rev Neville Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, camped out there collecting data, with the aid of a plumb line and the stars, on the gravitational pull of the mountain. 237 measurements were taken from two stations, still discernible, on the N and S of the hill. The calculated weight of the earth was substantially correct. At the end of the season a highly successful party was held in which the surveyors' bothy burned down! Charles Hutton, during his work on the survey data, devised the concept of contour lines, so important for modern hillwalkers.

--From the John Muir Trust website, maintainers of East Schiehallion

Halfway up Schiehallion, overlooking Loch Rannoch and Rannoch Moor. And about the place where I'm wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into climbing this thing.

It's like climbing a giant cairn, it's so rocky. But I'm within sight of the top... I think. Each time I thought I was, I'd crest the peak and oh look, another stretch to go. It was a tease.

But good things come to those who persevere! From the summit of Schiehallion, and my first officially bagged munro.

Coming down seemed even steeper than going up, but instead of rocks we get an entire mountainside of heather. In about a month, this entire view will be purple.

As the last official Breakaway walk of the year, we set up camp in a sheep pasture to cook out. And I know that I should be concerned while eating lamb burgers in a sheep pasture but... I'm secure in my place on the food chain. And lamb burgers are delicious.

From there it was another 5km down the road into the next town, Kinloch Rannoch, where the bus was picking us up. By that point we were all exhausted, and I was thankful that I'd been able to borrow some sun block from one of the other girls -- with that much sunshine, and as the first really sunny walk of the year, there were more than a few splashes of red on people's faces. And I've got a stripe of red on the back of my neck from where I didn't quite get the most sunblock.

It's odd to think that was my last walk with the group. I started out the year popping into the general informational meeting because it sounded interesting and hiking was never something I'd really done before (other than the one odd hill in Iceland and meandering a bit outside back home). It sounded new and a good excuse to see more of Scotland. Turns out that fresh air is really good for my soul, and while claiming my one bagged munro isn't that impressive in the grand scheme of hillwalkers, it's a big deal for this hiking newbie. And I'm going to wear it with pride.

And now I want to do another one.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Wedding Day, Wills and Kate

Happy Wedding Day for the Royalists out there, and Happy Extra Day Off for Your May Day Weekend for the Republicans.

I went over to Rachel's to watch the wedding with her flatmate Sorcha and a couple other of their friends. Man, I miss having a television. But considering my other option was to stream it on my laptop (since I didn't get a ticket to the breakfast going on in St Salvator's Quad), I'll walk the 20 minutes to their flat.

Wills whispering to his bride, 'You look beautiful'.

Walking out of Westminster Abbey.

First official kiss for TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Of course, as if there was any doubt, the whole thing was beautiful (well, except for Princess Beatrice's hat/headpiece -- what on earth was that antler looking thing?) Her dress was gorgeous -- how much did I love those lace sleeves? -- and the best part was they actually seemed to be happy. They seemed to genuinely both want to be there, and genuinely happy to be there with each other. Which I think comes from them waiting, getting to know each other, being older than 20... You know, silly little things like that.

And as one of the significant locals in their love story, St Andrews was once again swamped with press. And with 6,000 people vying for the 1,500 breakfast seats to watch the livestream of the wedding on the big screen in the quad, after 1pm, they opened up the quad to everyone in town to come, listen to pipers, mingle and enjoy a beautiful day.

Mingling in the Quad.

Students and townspeople decked out in their tiaras, Union Jacks, and other assorted finery to pose for the cameras of the various news stations alternating broadcasts.

I somehow ended up in the circle for one of the BBC broadcasts with who I was told was one of the Radio One DJs... apparently for an event this big, you pull out all of your BBC employees and put them to work, normally on tv or not!

Masks were also a popular accessory -- one's the real Queen and one's a fake, can you tell which one?

As an American, I find the pomp and circumstance entertaining and so distinctly British. There is no direct correlation to something American. If they were celebrities of some ilk, they'd be trying to keep cameras away from their wedding. If they were elected officials, they would probably be too worried about election cycles to do a big wedding, and we more than likely wouldn't care. But here's someone who was given a public role by circumstance of birth, by fate. Americans don't care much for 'fate' -- but we do like a good party, and a good party with British accents, all the better.

And now the sky is darkening for that rain that's been threatened all week, but at least the festivities went on without a cloud -- at least here in St Andrews. London had a few clouds, but again, at least no rain.

And to the newlywed couple? I wish you nothing but happiness. Goodness knows your family is due for some.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sky on Fire

One of my favorite things to do (especially when I need to take a breather from whatever is stressing me out at the moment) is to go out and wander around town at sunset. Which, to my delight, is getting later and later as we slowly make our way towards summer. As of right now, sunset is around 8:50pm and quickly making its way later.

I needed some fresh air, so I made my way down to West Sands, the beach next to the Old Course on the west end of town. Not to be confused with East Sands... unsurprisingly, the beach next to the harbour on the east side of town.

I like names that make sense.

For anyone who's seen Chariots of Fire, this is the beach where they filmed the beach running scene at the beginning of the movie. I haven't seen the movie, but that's what the little plaque at the end of the road tells me.

And in celebration of that fact, the town is hosing Chariots 2011, a 5K run in May to celebrate both the 30th anniversary of the movie and to raise money for Sue Ryder, a hospice charity. Run along the beach, dress in all white, splash around in the water, and get a t-shirt.

For some reason, especially as I sit here and stuff my face full of gummy bears from the easter basket my parents sent to me from across the pond, I'm considering doing this. Mainly for the t-shirt. I do love a good t-shirt. It's been a long time since I ran, but it's only 5K. It's a good excuse to get outside and enjoy some sunshine. And did I mention I get a t-shirt?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wedding Windows

Man, April has just gone by in a flash. The semester ending and papers and proposals due... ugh, don't even want to think about that for a moment. Why did I want to go back to school, again?

But, at least I'm in a cute little town that's pulling out all the stops for the weekend. See, there's this small matter of a second bank holiday this Friday celebrating some two crazy kids getting married or something.

With the Royal Wedding on Friday, the town is basking in its role as part of the love story. And as any small town can attest, you don't let an opportunity to be on the national stage go to waste -- no no, you gussy up to put on your freshest face.

The merchants' association in town decided to have a little window competition, so most of the store fronts in St Andrews are decorated with their best wedding celebration decorations. You can't walk ten feet without running into Union Jack bunting, or a cut out of the happy couple, or Wills and Kate cupcakes. Which I just think is kind of fun.

Clinton Cards, for if you want your own Wills and Kate bunting.

Wills and Kate cupcake, anyone? Yes... I'm probably going to buy one. Cause it'll be delicious.

Faremore Interiors, for a more tasteful explosion of Brittania.

Sue Ryder Care charity shop, with its second hand unique celebration pieces.

Waterstones, with all of your Wills and Kate books, including but not limited to paper dolls of the happy couple.

Bonkers, for... well, anything with a Union Jack on it.

Simply Scotland, putting up its best wedding dress flair.

Even the optician is looking forward to the wedding 'spectacle'. I love a pun!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Royal Romance

This has been going around my Facebook, and it just makes me smile. It's the male a cappella group here at St Andrews, The Other Guys, and their parody of Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' in honor of a certain soon-to-be-royal alumna.

One, I'm a sucker for well-sung a capella. Two, it's witty. Three, if you've never been to St Andrews, you can see the pretty ancient little town I call home at the moment.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vacation's Over

Chris-Anne hopped the bus back to Edinburgh this afternoon. Her flight back to the States is at 7am tomorrow morning, so it made more sense for her to stay in Edinburgh tonight than to try and figure out how to get out of St Andrews at 4am. Something about liking sleep... I know, crazy.

So her pallet is rolled up, blankets are folded, and her little nest is gone. The floor is clear again and I don't have to worry about falling over her as I try to open the door while she's asleep.

It's not a lot of space in my room, but it sure feels a bit big and empty right now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Did You See Nessie?

Short answer -- no. But that doesn't mean that our visit up to Loch Ness was any less awesome.

For our last day in Inverness, I wanted to up over to the loch and see both the water and the castle. Our train tickets home weren't until almost 5pm, so we had plenty of time. So Chris-Anne and I (and a new friend we met at the hostel, Rachel, who was traveling by herself so we invited her to tag along with us for the day) headed up to Urquhart Castle up on Loch Ness to get our daily castle fix.

The fog had rolled in over the loch overnight, which only added to the mystery and age of the place. For anyone who's imagining Scotland from movies or classy paperback novels, I'm pretty sure this is what you're imagining.

Urquhart Castle, through the fog.

Chris-Anne searching out through the fog... and probably climbing on something she should be climbing on. Doesn't she know that's not a 500 year old step stool?

We explored the castle while we were waiting for the fog to burn off with the sunshine. Loch Ness was lovely with the fog, but I wanted a clear picture down the water.

Loch Ness, with the fog slowly burning off.

It took a couple of hours, but the fog finally burned off and we were able to get our clearer pictures -- even if the fog did add a certain romance to the area.

So, with our craving for pictures sated, we had about an hour before we had to catch the bus back to Inverness. Since there is a footpath that follows the road, we decided to walk the 30 minutes down to the village of Drumnadrochit and catch the bus from there. It was a nice walk (something that I love) and a good chance for Chris-Anne to get pictures of all the new and fluffy lambs in the pastures by the road.

It's always funny the things that tourists want to take pictures of. For someone who grew up in the city (that would be Chris-Anne -- my hometown is just that, a town, but it was more likely to see a soybean field than a sheep pasture) the sight of sheep all over the place is cause for pictures and poses and 'look at the fluffy little sheep!' Good times, good walk, and good sheep.

When we got to Drumnadrochit, we skipped the Nessie exhibits and grabbed a drink to sit at a park bench outside the post office which doubled as the bus stop. As an addition, we didn't just get drinks, but a show as well.

A piper was playing in the park, which just added to the atmosphere. I've decided that I need to learn how to play bagpipes -- or at least just play them once -- before I head back to the states. I'm musical, I can pick it up. Just show the fingering and I'm good to go.

After that, we headed back to Inverness, said goodbye to Rachel, and headed back to the train station to hop the train back to St Andrews. And as we couldn't have a day without a travel mishap, the train was only delayed a little bit coming out of Inverness. Something about a mix-up with the track. Par for the course.

We'd thought about hitting the town when we got back to St Andrews, but by the time we got in, all we could think about was dinner and bed. Chris-Anne to her pallet on the floor, and me to my cheap, single, uncomfortable mattress. But... that mattress is mine, and after sleeping on a top bunk for days, boy did it feel good.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Elgin Cathedral

The second half of the day, after visiting Culloden, was spent hopping on a bus to a neighboring town to visit cathedral ruins that got Chris-Anne all excited in the brochure. Like I've said before, we're suckers for ruins -- castles and cathedrals.

So, after eating a quick lunch at Culloden, we returned to Inverness in time to catch the bus 90 min out to Elgin. Well, it should've only taken 90 minutes. Instead we got stuck on what was either road construction or someone thinking it would be absolutely hilarious to bring traffic to a standstill in Nairn. We sat there for so long, someone got off the bus in frustration to walk to their destination. Which, heck, for as long as we were sitting there could've been Aberdeen for all I know. They would've gotten there before we got to Elgin.

But we did eventually get to Elgin, and found the cathedral ruins that we were searching for.

What we didn't expect was that there would be a wedding going on. Or at least the after photos and lingering of a wedding. The docent said that they were finishing up and we could go in and take pictures, but for some reason Chris-Anne doesn't cherish the thought of being random people in the background of people's wedding photos. I said that it was a risk they ran having pictures taken outside in a public place.

Genteel southern manners won out, so we went to walk around a local park for a half an hour while we waited for them to finish taking pictures and leave the ruins.

But, by the time we got back, the sun and the shadows were in an even better position for taking pictures, so we all won out in the end.

Elgin Cathedral, from Historic Scotland:
Elgin Cathedral is one of Scotland’s most beautiful medieval buildings.

The cathedral was the ecclesiastical centre, the spiritual heart, of the diocese of Moray. The bishop’s cathedra, or seat, was not always at Elgin – it had previously been at nearby Kinneddar, Birnie and Spynie – but once it was transferred to Elgin around 1224, it remained there until the Protestant Reformation of 1560 effectively left the cathedral redundant.

Elgin cathedral is affectionately known as the ‘Lantern of the North’. From the time of its construction in the first half of the 13th century, through to the time of its demise at the Reformation in 1560, this monumentally impressive building dominated the flat and fertile Laich of Moray. The proud boast by one of its former bishops, Alexander Bur (1362–97), that his cathedral was ‘the ornament of the realm, the glory of the kingdom’ is certainly borne out by a visit to this beautiful site.

It really is a beautiful ruin, and I can only imagine what it looked like when it was complete. We climbed the stairs in the tower -- the narrow, winding, narrow... did I mention narrow? -- stairs to get that previous shot (half way up) and some from the top. Which, truthfully, I like the angle on this one better. Narrow stairs do not put me at ease with my slight claustrophobia, but I'm a trooper.

The sun at that time of day was just gorgeous, and only gave the ruins a more ancient and romantic feel. Totally worth the excursion out of town to find them.

And worth watching the 'incident' go down at the bus station as we were waiting to hop back on to Inverness. The 'incident' is what we're taking to calling watching three drunk 20somethings (it was only 6pm, mind you) attempt to board a bus, cause a ruckus, get thrown off, spit on a driver, and threaten the station manager before stumbling off. Hey kids, if you're going to do stupid things that technically count as assault, don't do it in an area completely surrounded by CCTV cameras. I've had more interesting public transit stories with Chris-Anne these past two weeks than in my entire other time in Scotland combined. I do hope they get the jerk who was causing trouble, though.

But with that behind us, we caught the bus back to Inverness and headed back down to the banks of the River Ness in the city centre to watch the sunset. The glorious purples in the sky were too good to miss out on.

Culloden / Cùil Lodair

'S i'n fhuil bha 'n cuisl' ar sinnsreadh, 'S an innsgin a bha 'nan aigne...
Our blood is still our fathers, And ours the valour of their hearts...

(inscription at the entrance to Culloden battlefield)

It both surprises and humbles me when I'm confronted with a piece of history that means so much to a country or group of people, and I have to admit sheepishly that I don't just know little about it, but that I've never even heard of it. And that's what happened with Culloden. It's one of the things that's listed as a must see on a number of lists when you talk about going up to Inverness and the Highlands. And I'd heard Jacobites mentioned (again, embarrassingly for the first time) at the other historical sites I've visited during my time in Scotland. So of course it's something that Chris-Anne and I put on our list for our visit, again mostly for views on the moor and the Scottish countryside, but also in an attempt to connect some of the snippets of history I'd heard mentioned in passing at Edinburgh Castle and the like.

The short (and very incomplete) story of the time is that in 1688 King James VII of Scotland and II of England, a Catholic and a Stuart, had to flee to France because of the divisions between England, Scotland, and Ireland as they attempted to avoid civil war and function as 'Britain'. The parliaments of England and Scotland took on a more prominent role in governance, even though they invited the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary to come and rule in James' place. Also, the Scottish parliament made Presbyterianism the Scottish state religion, replacing Protestant Episcopalianism.

Flash-forward to 1745, with political infighting between the Whigs, the English and Scottish political party who argued against the Stuarts with their belief in an absolute monarchy and instead supported power sharing between the king and parliament, and the Jacobites, who supported the Stuart claim to the throne in the form of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie).

Add in support for the Jacobites from France, because things are never good between the English and the French, and you have a back and forth for the best part of a year with both sides taking and losing strongholds, until April of 1746, with the Jacobite army stretched thin and Prince Charlie wanting to make a decisive stand.

Inside the Culloden exhibit: throughout the halls, the right side tells the story of the Jacobites, the left, the story of the government.

From the National Trust for Scotland:
Rather than risk a pitched battle in their weakened state, the Jacobites agreed a final desperate plan: a surprise night attack. This night march to surprise the enemy in their camp could have been a brilliant strategy. Sleeping redcoats would have been no match for Jacobite troops. In reality, as the trailing Jacobite column stumbled along in the dark, it turned into a chaotic disaster. The Jacobites had failed in a critical gamble.

As dawn broke, battle was still not inevitable. Even now there was time for the army to draw back to Inverness and regain their strength at a safe distance. Bitter arguments broke out between the senior commanders - even the French envoy pleaded on his knees for the Prince to withdraw.

But the Prince was determined and took the decision to fight then and there. Many of his soldiers were asleep, exhausted from the night march, while others were away looking for food or had yet to arrive in the area.

Some Jacobite leaders favoured a retreat to high ground south of the River Nairn, others a withdrawal to Inverness. The Prince preferred to fight where they stood, on the moor at Culloden. With Cumberland's army in sight, Charles's luck was finally running out. The pipers began to play and the tired army struggled into position.

Towards one o'clock, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began.

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through hail, smoke, murderous gunfire and grapeshot. Around eighty paces from their enemy they started to fire their muskets and charged. Some fought ferociously. Others never reached their goal. The government troops had finally worked out bayonet tactics to challenge the dreaded Highland charge and broadsword. The Jacobites lost momentum, wavered, then fled.

Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince's army. Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one.

Following his victory at Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland was determined to eliminate the Jacobite threat once and for all. He wanted revenge: his army would crush the unruly Highlands, capture the Prince, and return to the main war in Flanders as soon as possible. There was to be no question of a further rebellion.

Within a few days of the battle, around 1,500 Jacobite soldiers gathered at Ruthven Barracks, ready to continue the campaign. To their surprise Charles gave the order to disperse and then went into hiding. For him, the Rising was over.

Unopposed, the government sent its army and navy across Scotland, punishing anyone suspected of Jacobite sympathies. The policy of 'pacification' of the Highlands had begun.

The government began to dismantle the structures of Highland society. Chiefs were deprived of their legal powers and clansmen of their weapons. Jacobite estates were seized by the Crown. The kilt and tartan were banned.

Culloden was the last battle of its kind fought on British soil, and it was bloody. Instead of capturing survivors to hold as political prisoners, Scottish Jacobites were slaughtered where they lay on the battlefield to send a message.

The visitor centre and exhibition were fantastically well done, and really educational for someone like me, who knew nothing going in. The set up of having the Jacobite story along one wall and the government story along the other all throughout the timeline was a great help and I think really allowed the centre to flesh out the story from both sides, instead of trying to combine it into one narrative.

They also were having a demonstration on weaponry before you went out onto the field. I learned that musket would be way too heavy for me (and I can only imagine the kickback from firing it), but I was pretty handy with a broadsword. And a shield and a hidden dagger.

The other great thing about Culloden is that the audio guide is included in your admission. Now, I'd never used an audio guide, so when they gave us the pack as you're walking outside, I almost said no. But there's something to be said for the story of a place being told in a local accent to make it feel even more real as you're walking through the battlefield.

The moor is beautiful and vast, and we were lucky with a beautiful day to go walking through it. There were two lines of flags (red for the government, blue for the Jacobites) standing where the lines of each front were, and the trail goes down and between them to tell the story of the battle as you walk through the moor.

The only buildings are a house that's a replica of one that was standing there, and probably used as a military hospital for the government as it was behind their line, and the memorial cairn erected for the fallen Highlanders at Culloden.

The inscription reads: The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland & Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.

The Field of the English: While the Highlanders graves are marked by stones carved with the names of their clans, the burial place of the government dead isn't known, and is marked with only this stone at the edge of the field.

While I was going through Culloden, I kept trying to think of a proper American parallel to use when I made this post. The closest I can come is the feeling I had at Gettysburg as I walked through the battlefield there, but even that's not completely right. But then, why do I need an American parallel? It was it's own battle, it's own history, and one that I'm thankfully not so ignorant of any longer.