Visiting Scotland One Moment at a Time
“Take the road less travelled” is a phrase often uttered to inspire people to adventure into the unknown, to expand our horizons to new perspectives and new worlds. But this act often requires a difficult surrendering process.
To be honest, I didn’t expect that my recent trek to Scotland would challenge me to open myself to life as much as it did. As a novice traveller I assumed Scotland was a safe bet: a destination well within my comfort zone for food, language, and culture. But my expectations of how the experience would unfold were deeply challenged when I arrived.
In Scotland I learned that when adventure presents itself we have two options: we can attempt to mold it to our expectations or we can surrender ourselves to the present moment and take the road less travelled.
Adjusting to a new pace
We landed in Glasgow on a cloudy Friday morning. My best friend and I pulled on our packs and made the journey by bus and then train to Edinburgh, the home base of our trip. With only two weeks to make the most of our journey, we planned our stay with an iron-fisted determination to see as much of the country as we could.
My resourceful friend secured an apartment for our stay in Edinburgh’s old city, right above a gothic graveyard. Walking through the old city you are transported back to the 1600s. With cobblestone streets and a smattering of Medieval, Elizabethan and Victorian architecture, the city’s historic beauty is transfixing. From our central vantage point, the city consumed our senses.
Almost as soon as we arrived I became consumed with an internal battle between wanting to have control of our trip and simply surrendering myself to the moment. Ruled by timelines and quantifiable results in my life back in Canada, I found it difficult to transition into the mindset of the flexible adventurer. I wanted to control the experience as I controlled much of my life back home.
As our trip unfolded, we ventured north into the Scottish Highlands on a day tour. The valleys and low-lying mountains were the unsuspecting green watchmen of the nation. Our guide shared fact and folklore, and told us of battles that tipped the scales of history, leading to Scottish independence in 1306 AD. The beauty of the country gripped my heart, but I was still gripped by the tension between controlling and surrendering.
A turning point on the Isle of Skye
We travelled northwest to the Isle of Skye. Our eight-hour train ride north from Waverley station in Edinburgh shattered my perception of how humans and nature could co-exist. The train weaved through the lowlands into the mountains where whole villages were nestled within the emerald greenery of the landscape. Cottages, shops, cafés and sheep all equally seemed a natural part of the rolling hills. I felt a certain whimsical magic as trees and shrubs tickled the top of the train and we crossed the famed Harry Potter bridge, the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
We spent three delightful days on the Isle of Skye. We circumnavigated the entire island by bus, hiked through grazing meadows and up mountains, and strolled through the village of Portree. We saw castles and graveyards, the Old Man of Storr, befriended strangers, and fell in love with our bed and breakfast host. Skye welcomed us with open arms, and its people and culture captivated.
Something changed in me on the island. I finally felt like I was giving in to experience. The air was different, the people charming, and everything I had wanted to happen before I arrived seemed less important. I was engaging fully in the present moment again. Distant stresses seemed irrelevant as I let the culture of the island wash over me. I felt humbled, and deeply grateful for it.
We spent our last spontaneous nights of the trip in Edinburgh’s jazz bars and pubs, overwhelmed by the rich musical identity of the city. We met footballers and nomads, stumbled up cobbled streets with new friends, and summited Arthur’s Seat to take in the beauty of the city one last time.
As we waited to be called to board our plane home, I took a moment to reflect on a trip that seemed to have changed me more than I thought it would. I didn’t want to leave; I didn’t want to go back to business as usual. I had finally found my travel headspace. But then, we were gone.
Travel teaches us how to live in the moment
Throughout our trip I was constantly at odds with myself. I was in a wondrous and beautiful land, but it took me until after the midpoint of the trip to let go and embrace the experience.
In our daily routines it’s easy to get caught up with immediate priorities: moving forward, focusing on big plans and expectations, constantly building and strengthening, moving in the “right” direction in the name of progress. But this concentration on the future can lead us to miss the present. We miss the life that we are living right now.
As a novice traveller the lessons I learned on this trip were invaluable and have led to an awakened life. To surrender to the present moment is to live. The future can wait, but this moment can’t.