A mini break in Scotland is not most people’s idea of glamour, but for me, the very thought of fresh air and mountains has filled me with anticipation for weeks. Last Friday, my dear flatmate Verity and I boarded the Kings Cross to Edinburgh train, very excited at the prospect of no more work and complete relaxation for five days. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and as we steamed out of London and into the countryside, I gleefully pressed my nose up against the window as England in all its splendour flashed by. As we neared the border, the sea could be seen sparkling beside the railway tracks and the largely flat and gentle landscape slowly developed into a more hilly and dramatic vista. After just four and a half hours, we arrived in Edinburgh and I gasped at the beauty of the city I have longed to visit for so long. However, there wasn’t much time to admire the view – we had another train to catch. We rushed to switch onto our connecting train, which took us over the famous Firth of Forth bridge into Perthshire, where we were going to stay with Verity’s parents for the next three days.
Verity grew up in Perth, a beautiful city at the gate of the Highlands and Islands, situated across two sides of the River Tay and set amongst mountains and miles of unspoilt countryside that stretches as far as the eye can see. It is an absolutely stunning place and after lunch Verity took me off for a tour. With the temperature reaching 25c, we were treated to beautifully clear skies and strong sunshine that couldn’t help but give us a holiday feeling. We wandered through the historic centre of town, walking across the Old Bridge that joins the two sides. The architecture here is grand and imposing; golden coloured sandstone buildings line the streets and many of the municipal buildings are Georgian or very early Victorian, beautifully proportionate and elegant. The Salutation Hotel is a particular landmark in the city centre; reportedly Scotland’s oldest hotel, it welcomed its first guest in 1699 and The Beatles have stayed there.
Everywhere you look, mountains and green hills can be seen and a flower filled sculpture park runs along the right bank of the river, providing wonderful views. We made daisy chains and sunbathed to the sound of the river lapping against the bank, rejoicing in the peace and quiet that we both long for but never get in London. After a good rest, we went wandering through the park and were just about to turn for home when I spotted an interesting looking graveyard next to a ruined church. Never one to miss an opportunity to explore a graveyard, despite Verity’s protestations that it was always locked, I set off to investigate. We were in luck – the gate was open. The graveyard is called Kinnoul Old Churchyard and is set in the midst of the ruins of the city’s old church. It is filled with beautiful 18th and 19th century graves, and on a perfectly preserved marble monument still attached to what would have been the interior wall of the church, I was shocked to find a memorial to the painter John Everett Millais‘ wife Effie, former wife of John Ruskin. It turns out that Effie was a native of Perth and she and Millais lived in a large house on Verity’s parents’ road!
The next day, after a nice early night and a relaxing breakfast in the garden, we set off to see some local sights. First on the list was Glamis Castle (pronounced Glarms), childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was the youngest daughter of the Earl of Strathmore. It was also the birth place of the Queen’s sister, the late Princess Margaret and a favourite childhood haunt of the Queen. It is still lived in by the present Earl of Strathmore, but a large section of the castle and its beautiful grounds are open to the public. The castle is famously the setting of Macbeth; Shakespeare was inspired to write the play after visiting the castle and being told some of the legends associated with it. It is a real hodge podge of architectural styles, as the original parts of the building date back to medieval times. Stately Victorian parlours are juxtaposed with medieval crypts, and 16th century bedrooms sit next to those furnished in the 1930s. It is wonderfully atmospheric; its turrets and loopholes hint of a time when it was used as a place of fortification and there are plenty of haunting ghost stories that are particularly chilling when you are wandering in the old, dank cellars. At the same time, there are frequent reminders in its pretty furnishings and cosy living spaces that it has long been a happy family home. There is a particularly lovely family portrait of the 14th Earl and Countess and their nine surviving children, one of whom was a 9 year old Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, playing cards with her little brother.
After some lunch and a wander through the gardens, we headed off to nearby Kirriemuir to see J M Barrie’s birthplace. This couldn’t have been more different to Glamis. A tiny weaver’s cottage on the main street, it was cramped and poky, with just two rooms available for the family to live, work and sleep in. There was a recreation of J M Barrie’s study in his London home and an interesting display of original costumes from the first performance of Peter Pan. Barrie retained strong links to Kirriemuir throughout his life and never forgot where he had come from. Growing up in a world of poverty and sadness, it is unsurprising that he wrote the story of Peter Pan, a boy who never wanted to grow up and face the realities of an often disappointing and painful world. After looking around the house, we walked up the hill to see his grave, situated in a stunning cemetery that had panoramic views across the surrounding countryside and mountains. It was nice to think that Barrie had such a pleasant place to rest after the experiences of his rather tragic life.
The next day was our final one in Perth, and we started it off with a walk up the spectacular Kinnoul Hill, which commands wonderful views across the Tay valley and the surrounding mountains. At the summit there is an old folly and a diagram pointing out all of the sights that can be seen. One of these is Dunsinane Hill, again of Macbeth fame. I was in raptures looking out across the beautiful countryside; Scotland is blessed with so much natural beauty. It’s impossible not to be delighted at every turn. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the view, but we had more to see! After lunch we headed off to St Andrews, which is a university town on the coast just north of Dundee. There is a glorious sandy beach which stretches for miles, and from the beach you can see the fantastic, historic skyline of the town. The university buildings, turreted and crenellated, are fantastically gothic and these are set alongside quaint sandstone streets filled with independent shops and cafes. There is also a beautiful medieval ruined cathedral and a ruined castle, both of which lend a mythical atmosphere to the quiet, winding streets of the town that sits above the wild North Sea. I thought it was absolutely breathtaking.
After those three days, the stress I always carry in my body had totally evaporated and I was left feeling completely calm, relaxed and refreshed. The fresh air and slow pace of life had done me the world of good, and I was ready to re-enter civilisation. Edinburgh beckoned….but that’s for another post!