If there is a more enchanting, mystic country in the world than Scotland or Ireland, I haven’t found it yet.
They both are truly magical and seem to have the curious ability to call people back again.
My passage to Ireland began way before I left New Mexico to go abroad for my Masters in 2016.
It was set off by the spark from an earlier experience on the island.
During my years as an undergraduate at Wayland, I had the privilege and opportunity to live in Ireland for a summer, participating in ministry-assistance, as well as a teaching internship. I stayed in Dundalk, Ireland with the principle of a private-Christian school and her three, black German-shepherds (Also, side-note, her dogs were the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen).
Those weeks in Ireland completely enthralled me. I had never been somewhere that felt so much like home, while in reality being so far away. I even wrote a short scene-essay, as part of a class, once I was back in the States about a small part of its wonder. Here’s an excerpt of the short scene:
By walking down the meandering road that leads to the village and continuing through and on to the dock, you will reach a footpath that leads alongside the beach. […] Millions of small, sea-smoothed stones litter the ground, along with shells of equal number; many of which have been crushed by the feet of those who made this pilgrimage before you. […] After a small while, you find yourself standing by an inward channel and a suddenly grassy embankment where you can see the most inspiring line of sky that exists for the sight of man. On the left, the Mourne Mountains sweep down to the Carlingford Loch and meet the Irish Sea lapping at their base. Above that, the clouds crouch upon the craggy tops of the mountains. On many evenings, they are huge, billowed, and fierce-looking. Sometimes, they bring a threat of a storm, and on those days, you will find that a sea fog rolls in just before dusk. The colors that paint these monsters create the most magnificent sight. […] The colors roll in on top of each other, changing so quickly, that if you close your eyes against the cool, sting of the sea air, you will miss them. When the sun has finally gone, but dusk is not yet over, majestic purple steals over the skyline and the air becomes poignant at the close of its performance. […] The walk back to the dock becomes a time of meditation, the evening air hushed and unbroken but for the movement of the tide. The earth settles into a quiet, calm reverence as you move back over it. Creation too seems afraid to break the silence left by the sheer grandeur of what unfolded moments ago. Yet even in this stillness, the air is not stagnant. […] The air here is touched somehow, to instill within a soul trust of the quiet surrounding them. With that in mind, saying that the air of this island is ‘God’s breath’ does not seem so farfetched. You can clearly see why this is known as the island of saints and scholars. The atmosphere alone leaves one feeling consecrated to God.”– His Breath Flows Over this Place, Haley Bonner, 2014
Long excerpt, I know, but that essay really captured the draw that I felt in Ireland, just the sheer majesty of the country and land. That experience captivated me, and I was eventually drawn back to the “island of Saints and Scholars” as a scholar myself.
Similarly, one of my dearest friends from my undergraduate university went abroad to England and Scotland on short trips for two consecutive years as part of a University-led Study Tour. She, too, had the most magical, moving experiences. And, feeling that pull, she, too, has since moved to Scotland to pursue her Master’s degree.
Annnywho, that is a long-winded way to explain how/why I ended up visiting my friend, Sierra, at St. Andrews, in Scotland (Hint: we were both abroad, going along similar paths).
At the time, I had graduated a few months earlier and was working full-time. So, with my courses done, I was only able to get a few days off from work, and as such, it was a very fast trip. I think I was only actually there for two-and-a-half days over a three-day weekend. But we hadn’t seen each other in over a year and friends do what friends gotta do! So, last-minute, I booked tickets and that was that. Expensive, but necessary.
Early on a Friday morning, I flew from Cork to Edinburgh. My flight there was absolutely normal, no mishaps of any kind, but I somehow managed to get out of the airport without going through any kind of customs? (I think it’s likely to do with the fact that Ireland and Scotland are part of the EU, and since we flew from one EU country to another, maybe they don’t check passports?) Not sure if it’s kosher that that happened, but it happened anyway… and everything seemed to work out, so apparently it’s fine.
After leaving the airport, I got on the train going to St. Andrews. Locating the tram system that takes you to the train can be a bit tricky, but there are loads of people (helpful people) standing around, and they got me headed in the right direction.
[On another aside, as friendly as Irish people have been in my experiences, Scottish people are equally-if-not-more friendly. I mean, really, some of the genuinely nicest folks around!]
After finding the train, everything was marked quite well, so it was no hassle. Though, the seating system on the train did throw me. I didn’t realize that you can reserve seats on a train? Or that there is first-class on a train? They’re pretty serious about the seating, too.
I was not prepared…
We muddled through, though… after being politely moved by several people as they boarded the train to find I was occupying their seat… 🤷🏻♀️ (At least they were nice about the confusion.)
I took the train as far as I could, and then hopped on a bus service to St. Andrews town (also very easy to use).
I was able to meet up with Sierra and her hubs, and then, the par-tay began.
[Not really, though, Mom. Don’t worry. It was all very calm.]
St. Andrews is a perfect, refreshing, quant, seaside town, and you really only need a couple of days to see it properly, which made the trip ideal.
They have history coming out of their ears, including Scotland’s first founded university (University of St. Andrews), a castle once caught between Catholics and Protestants during the reformation struggle, and the ruins of a staggering medieval cathedral. (For the golf lovers out there, St. Andrews is also affectionately called, “The Home of Golf.”)
They’ve also got loads of pubs, micro-breweries, and gin distilleries. Somewhere in there, I’m sure they have Scotch, too. Point being, they know their alcohol (Rowdy pubs are pretty much a specialty, whether in Ireland or Scotland).
In addition, and on the calmer side again, they have great nightlife in the way of live theatre, and, on another note, they have some pretty impressive historical churches, too.
It was a wonderful trip, really. I would recommend St. Andrews to anyone–history buffs, scholars, or indiscriminate travelers.
To make the trip even more worth it, St. Andrews has a sinfully delicious gelato shop. They’re pretty much world famous. Who knew, right? Not what you’d expect in Scotland of all places, but, seriously, sooo good.
And, the whole trip was almost, almost, incident free. Almost. We were so close.
On the morning that I left, I went and had tea and scones with Sierra (which, scones in Scotland are delicious, by the way. I’ve had some mediocre scone, but not there). She walked with me to the bus, and then, off I went.
Now, I hadn’t wanted to pay for luggage since it was such a short trip, so I was traveling out of a backpack and carrying a small purse.
On my way to St. Andrews, I had been able to put my purse in my backpack, but, being the person I am, I had bought some things during my stay and my backpack was pretty stuffed. So, I carried it onto the bus that time.
My purse was on the seat next to me, and when I got off at the train station, my purse did not.
This, I did not realize until I was already on the train.
And as I tried to get off of the train, it started moving…
Literally, imagine me standing at the train door shaking the handle in desperation and, like a bad, cheesy movie (or a Mr. Bean moment), the trains slowly pulls out of the station…
So. Off I went.
Back to Edinburgh.
Sans purse… 🤷🏻♀️
I definitely spent most of the train ride in a panicked call relay between Sierra and the Scottish bus services. They’d found my purse nearly right away, thank God, and it was just the issue of getting it back to me that was the holdup.
My sweet friend was able to claim it for me and was kind enough to post it to me back in Ireland.
(Thank goodness for friends. Am I right?)
Annnd thank goodness I had my passport and immigration card on me, instead of in my purse!
So, moral of the story, Scotland will captivate you and call you back (possibly in more than one way!), and always keep your travel documents on your person! And keep the company of good friends who are gracious to help you when you lose things.
Thanks for reading, guys! If you’re planning a trip to Scotland/St. Andrews and have questions about the area, I’m happy to give out some advice on what, in my experience, were the best places to hit-up!