I was blind. I hadn’t driven a car since Australia five months before, where the roads are wide, the weather generally dry and the visibility great.
The most disappointing part of driving across the Forth Bridge in high winds, torrential rain and complete darkness, was that it had looked wonderful on Google. If only I could click my fingers and magic up the glassy waters and the sun-drenched deep orange of the freight bridge. It wasn’t to be, and worries quickly turned to my windscreen wipers which didn’t seem to be keeping up with the storm ahead. My complete inability to decipher my left from right didn’t help matters (everything is upside down and back to front Down-Under) and so an hour’s painful, 40mph limited drive was spent indicating left when the rain worsened, and increasing my wiper speed as I exited from roundabouts.
Frustrating driving conditions and cloaked blackness aside, I was very excited about what would be my third visit to a country that had already shown me teasers of all it had to offer. I’d visited Glasgow, Loch Lomand and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on previous jaunts, but was keen to explore more. This visit would be special; I was headed north-east across the famous Firth of Forth into Fife. Not only a perfect place for alliteration, it would also play host to the union of two good friends. I would be privileged to see them tie the knot and then hopefully, survive my first Ceilidh.
The next morning was significantly drier and daylight put the village of Markinch under a spotlight. Lying just outside Glenrothes, it was also only five minutes’ drive from my destination: the glorious semi-ruin of Balgonie Castle. Negotiating the cattle grid in high heels and floaty dress almost gave to a Marilyn moment but was worth the reward, as we entered the castle walls to the echoes of bagpipes. Ancient coats of arms guarded heavy wooden doorways at the entrance to the arched stone vault of the castle. An evocative scene waited, with tall flickering candles creating happy, dancing shadows above our heads.
After the warm and friendly ceremony, the chilly day quickly fell into night time as we toasted to the happy couple and relished traditional dishes of smoked salmon, roasted bird filled with haggis, and a dessert whose name but not its taste escapes my memory. Later, swinging arms and legs met with flurries as we danced into the night. Brows were swept and escapes made to guzzle water, before the next fun frenzy of Ceilidh beginners started. I crashed into bed with only one small dance-related bruise, and slept solidly, not even able to dream of the mystical castles, majestic barn owls and haunting bagpipes of my reality.
Fife pulled out all the stops on my final morning, as the ominous clouds finally cleared to show off distant turquoise waters and verdant hills. A wholesome stroll up Falkland Hill gave me 360-degree views of the Paps of Fife, which made the kingdom seem like my own. It wasn’t, of course, but someone who did have claim to these beautiful landscapes (if only briefly) was Mary Queen of Scots, who I read, used to hunt in the area. Well, if it’s good enough for royalty…
After a wholesome post-Ceilidh brunch at wonderfully bucolic café, The Pillars of Hercules, it was time to say goodbye to the newlyweds and squeeze in an impromptu road trip to St Andrews. Childish thoughts of spying Prince William quickly faded, as I caught sight of the old cathedral, looming over the sea’s edge at the end of town. The most impressive building I’d seen for a while, the sun shone harshly through its high stone windows and fell onto the 17th century tombs and archways below. It felt like the afternoon’s weather was somehow betraying the true nature of this site and I tried to put thoughts of ‘lovely picnic spot’ out of my wandering mind. More comfortable with happiness and laughter however, was the famous golf course, where Japanese businessmen were spending plastic on countless shirts and novelty cufflinks. It was a beautiful day for it, as they say, and we spoke in hushed tones passing golfers who were teeing off extremely seriously next to the gift shop.
My visit was almost over, but this bonnie land had a parting gift for me as I returned to the airport. In stark contrast to my arrival, the sun shone and the roadsides exhibited one by one, the Google images of my dreams. Like a Dali painting, vivid yellow canola fields dropped off striking green curves of hill outlined by the brightest blue sky.
Then there was the Firth of Forth. This time as I crossed the bridge, I didn’t will for it to be over, but instead wished that there was a speed limit to slow me down. To my right, the setting sun pierced through the last few remaining clouds, splashing deep ochre onto the freight bridge to my left. Standing strong over the inviting water it beckoned me to stay longer, to take one more mental snapshot. Until next time Scotland.