Scottish History 101

Scotland’s history is similar to Ireland’s with Romans, Vikings and the constant battle against English dominance. I loved the movie Brave Heart that portrayed Scotland’s struggle for independence against England around the 13th Century in epic Hollywood fashion. The best part of the movie was that the protagonist, William Wallace, was a real Scottish hero, his defiance against England inspired the Scottish people eventually leading to an independent Scotland (for a while) under Robert the Bruce. I still remember when William Wallace was rallying the outnumbered Scottish troops for battle: “fight and you may die. Run and you may live, at least for a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all of the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back and tell our enemies that they make take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom.” I just can’t believe that Brave Heart was made in 1995, before Mel Gibson lost the plot, talk about ancient history.

A long-existing family legend on my mother’s side is the alleged ancestral connection to Mary Queen of Scotts, a scandalous and prominent character in Scottish history. Much like the Loch Ness monster, it’s nice to indulge in the belief that it could be true. Sadly, my poor ancestor, Mary, in her struggle for the English/Scottish thrown was beheaded for treason by Queen Elizabeth I. Ironically because Queen Elizabeth I had no heirs, Mary’s son James VI became King of both England and Scotland bringing the two countries one step closer towards unification. But it only was when Scotland almost went bankrupt over its failed attempt to colonise a part of Panama, that its financial troubles prompted the move to unify with England creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.

Two years ago, Scotland had its own referendum for Freedom from Great Britain but voted to “remain”. I’m sure William Wallace would have turned over in his grave with the vote against Scottish independence, if he hadn’t been hung, drawn and quartered for treason by the English with the pieces of his body scattered to different parts of Scotland. After most of Scotland voted to “remain” in the EU in the recent Brexit vote, there have been fresh calls for Scottish independence, but Scotland’s economic prosperity may be too closely tied to England for it to gain much support.

Top things to see in Edinburgh/Scotland

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is Edinburgh’s most prominent landmark built on the plug of an extinct volcano dominating the Edinburgh city skyline.  It’s much more of a military fort than a castle and with a history dating back to 1000 AD, has many stories of battles between the Scottish and English for control over the strategic base. Packed with tourists and their selfie sticks, the Castle was also busy preparing for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (in the month of August) which features performances from military bands from around world to sold out crowds. A definite bucket list item.

2. Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat, about a mile east of the castle, is Edinburgh’s answer to Cape Town’s Lion’s Head with panoramic views over the city. It provides some essential inner-city outdoor space for the large amount of running enthusiasts in Edinburgh. I have never seen so many people running all over the place in one city. A must-do for Edinburgh is a hike up to the top.

3. Royal Mile

The cobbled streets and narrow secret stairways of the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle felt like walking along a real life Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. There were mystical street performers: buskers, levitating tree wizards, three people ninjas in some complicated balancing act with balls, a flame thrower, a venetian fully kitted for a masked ball, a bag pipe player and there was even an owl shop with real owls.

4. Loch Ness

Loch Ness (all the Scottish lakes are called “Loch”, just like all the Scottish mountains are called “Ben”) is famous for the Loch Ness Monster which we must have just missed although our boat captain pointed out some feral goats on the hillside which people took pictures of. It’s a massive freshwater lake at about 36km long and an average depth of 132 metres. Obviously I was interested in whether it was swimmable but with a surface temperature of about 13 degrees in summer there have only been 16 people to swim its length. Other than the cold temperature, perhaps many are scared of what could be lurking in its depths.

5. The Highlands

The Scottish Highlands are magnificent with beautiful places to stay, filled with lochs and bens, and stunning walks. We saw people walking on a long distance walking route called the West Highland Way which takes about a week to walk. The scenery is spectacular but with the dismal Scottish weather and continuous raining it would not be top of my list for a walking holiday.

Edinburgh is filled with so many more lovely spots like the Botanical Gardens, the Grassmarket, great shopping and all of the trendy eateries and cool pubs. The highlight of the trip for me was spending time with my mom and meeting up with a high school friend who lived in Edinburgh for over 10 years before moving nearby to Dundee, Scotland. It was such a treat to be driven around the city by a local and get a taste of where she lived, worked and grew her family with her husband over the last few years. Twenty years of friendship, almost as old as the movie Brave Heart.