Katie Ribbens participated in Adelante Equine Summer Program in Scotland. She takes us through her time in Edinburgh.
Green. It’s the word that repeatedly comes back to me as a traverse the rugged country of Scotland. The color emerges in a variance of sizes, shapes, and shades. Green like the long grass in the horse pasture. Green like the leaves painting a dappled pattern of sunlight across the path. Green like the rose stems and vines climbing along brick walls. Partnered with the sheer rock outcroppings that mark this land, nearly every view begs for my fingers to reach for a camera and freeze the moment in time.
I’ve already taken far too many pictures if such an event is possible. The architecture around Edinburgh never ceases to make my eyes widen and, I’m sure, my mouth gape. I absolutely mark myself as a tourist as I stop and reach for a camera. But I think I’m okay with that. I do not want the foreboding view of the Edinburgh castle atop the volcanic rock to become normalized, nor the swirling angle of Victoria Street. I want to stop and read each monument, to learn more about the individual that inspired people to craft a sculpture in their honor. As I imagine painting the cityscape of Edinburgh, I know I’ll be drawing from a pallet of earth tones, of browns and grays, which sounds dreary but is somehow the opposite. I chose to spend a month abroad to feel as though I lived in the area, more than I would in a short vacation. However, I do not want to sacrifice the fresh feelings of awe that wash over me every time I discover a beautiful new site, whether man-made or natural. Sometimes, as I discovered yesterday, it is welding of both.
A group of us madly rushed from our afternoon riding session to catch a taxi to Rosslyn Chapel before it closed–since taking public transportation would place us distinctly past the chapel’s closing time. Even with the taxi, we would only have about twenty minutes to explore the feat of architecture and beauty. After about fifteen minutes, we realized that we were heading north of campus, rather than south. None of us wanted to fulfill the bossy American stereotype, so we settled for exchanging worried glances with one another. After all, our taxi driver must know the routes better than we did. Perhaps he was taking a shortcut. After a few more moments of strained silence, our driver asked for clarification on our destination. Sadly, we were indeed heading in the wrong direction. After a quick adjustment of our route, our driver sped us along to the chapel. We fumbled with our seatbelts and with the payment–each moment of buffering as it processed the card payment felt like hours.
We sped-walked up the drive only to be greeted by closed doors. My heart sank as I mentally calculated how much I paid for the taxi fare and tickets to the chapel. Just as I was rationalizing that it was not an insurmountable loss, one of the employees at the chapel made the mistake of making eye contact with us. We frantically waved our chapel tickets and threw our taxi driver under the bus as we explained our lateness. Graciously, they let us into the chapel.
“We’ll be quick,” we promised.
After my fastest walk through a church and crypt (with long enough to pinpoint where Tom Hanks stood during the filming of The Da Vinci Code), I emerged into the gift shop. I was contemplating buying a souvenir with the church’s cat on it who, sadly, had recently passed away, when one of the employees asked about our visit. Upon hearing of our condensed trip through the chapel, she offered us free entrance for the whole year if we completed a form she gave us. Twenty-four hours later, I am still smiling at her kind gesture.
While seeing the grand Rosslyn Chapel justified our trip to the region, I wanted to see more. As a new Outlander fan (I started watching it just a couple of weeks before leaving for Scotland because it seemed like the thing to do), I had googled all the filming locations. I knew that there was a short scene, and not an overly pleasant one at that, filmed along the River North Esk. It looked like a beautiful hike, so I easily convinced my comrades to follow me –completely in the wrong direction. We wandered into town, asked some nice locals, and were pointed in the direction we came from. After retracing our steps a few more times and taking some more wrong turns (including into a cemetery), we finally found the right path. And what a beautiful journey it turned out to be.
While Roslin Country Park and the Roslin Gunpowder Factory are not clearly marked, as we discovered on our walk, it is well worth the time and effort to find it. As always, green surrounded me on the walk. Foliage framed our views of rolling hills covered with trees. No surface remained bare. Even when we walked in rare stretches without trees, wildflowers towered over us, shielding us from the outside world. The first Gunpowder Mill reminded me of Indiana Jones. They sneak up on you, these ruins. One moment you only see trees, the next you are faced with faded red bricks decorated with vines and moss. While I know the ruins did not collapse with aesthetics as their goal, I could almost imagine their intentionality behind creating the attractive jungle ruins.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love horses, and they were a deciding factor in selecting this program. I have learned many useful skills in the classroom and in the saddle that I am eager to apply when I return to the States. But the thing that makes the program is the Scottish scenery and culture. It’s something that I cannot experience at home, so I am committed to exploring and soaking it in every moment I am able. I did not come all this way to sit in my flat, even though our campus is admittedly pleasant with its own hiking trail, and it is a dream come true to see horses grazing outside my window. However, I have an agenda to see as much of this beautiful country as I can. We have been pushing ourselves hard and have resigned ourselves to resting only when we return home.