Stories from Scotland

It’s hard to believe that a week ago at this time I was traipsing along the Fife Coastal Path, sea breeze on my face and muscles reminding me with every step that only two days ago I had run a marathon. I walked/ran/hiked 100 miles and traveled another 5000 by sky/sea/road. I drove a car on the other side of the road (the nicest car I’ve ever driven — a Mercedes!) and became semi-comfortable with the notion of a roundabout…emphasis on semi-comfortable. I saw friends and made new ones, shopped at the Aldis of Inverness, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews. I cried because the ocean was beautiful, because the mountains were majestic, because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was taking in so much, doing so much, experiencing what I know will always be a significant trip.

It is quite the task to summarize a big trip like this, but I’ll try to break it down by the places I went in case folks would like to read about my adventures and see a few photos!


Overlooking the Edinburgh Castle.

I flew into Edinburgh after a sleepless overnight flight, arriving to weather that was a whopping 50° F/10° C cooler than when I left Washington, D.C. The people of Edinburgh seemed to be unfazed by the chilly temperatures, some particularly-robust men sporting shorts or women not even wearing jackets. “Am I weak? Will I survive here? LORD, why did I not follow your wisdom and pack a turtleneck sweater?!” I pleaded. After wandering about the city and taking in the sights, I realized no castle, attractive historical building, or charming cobblestone street would be able to be enjoyed without first finding FOOD. I devoured a pork sandwich from a place called Oink, gobbled up a delicious piece of carrot cake at a cafe called Lovecrumbs, and contemplated getting a second piece of cake. My first day in Edinburgh was a bit more overwhelming than I anticipated, and I ended up walking a lot more than I had wanted to given the fact that I was to run a marathon in three days! (LOL, more on that later) However, I ended my day with a delightful dinner at the home of my former Q Ideas coworker, Duncan, and his wife, Cathy. Being in the home of friends when you’re so far from home was a comfort and delight on a day that while fun, was quite tiring!

Highs / Lows of Edinburgh

  • High: Seeing the John Knox statue in the New College courtyard.
  • Low: Losing my all-day bus pass halfway through the day 😦
  • High: Edinburgh has great public transportation!
  • Low: Getting a cold on the plane 😦

St. Andrews

A view of the coast.

Before I continued on to my next destination, St. Andrews, I first had to pick up and successfully drive my rental car about an hour and half from point to point. This was one of my biggest worries on this trip (I was more worried about this than the marathon!), and honestly the first time driving on the left instead of the right was SO HARD. So much so that once I got to St. Andrews, I called my mom from the bread aisle of Aldi in TEARS declaring such things as “I never should have come!” and “I can’t drive mom. I CAN’T.” “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done! I’m NOT being DRAMATIC!” Reader: I was being dramatic. I collectively apologize to the people of St. Andrews who simply wanted to pick up some groceries only to be subjected to witnessing a weepy, sweaty American sob about how she is having difficulty with spacial reasoning! However, a very kind American heard my sobs and handed me a piece of paper that read: “We have the same accent. Call me if you need a friend!” Reader: that ALSO made me CRY.

Once I got back into the car after my Aldi trip (side note: the Aldis I visited in Scotland were so nice! So many fresh offerings, such variety, fresh herbs, but an interesting lack of pasta sauce and they don’t refrigerate their eggs!), I felt loads better and became more oriented to the narrow streets and traffic flow. The rest of the driving on the trip would prove to go just fine!

Being in St. Andrews was probably my favorite part of the trip, and I got to be there both before and after my marathon. Having not grown up near the ocean, being in this beautiful seaside town was a real treat. Walking on the West Sands (the beach where they also filmed that iconic “Chariots of Fire” scene) brought me to tears once again! Can you tell I cried a lot in Scotland? I loved hiking on the Fife Coastal path and having some delicious meals of fish and chips, lemon sole with capers, and the most delicious pastries!

Highs / Lows of St. Andrews

  • High: Getting to stay with my GCC friend Erin and meet her fun flatmates!
  • Low: Walking MORE and realizing that I was not rested for my marathon.
  • High: Having a delicious dinner at The Rav, a Nordic-inspired eatery where I got a lemon sole entree with a brown butter and caper sauce.
  • Low: Crying…a lot… 😦 but also a little bit funny, too
  • High: Fisher and Donaldson’s pastries + Janetta’s gelato
  • High: Talking about American stereotypes with Erin’s flatmates who are Scottish, Russian, and German-born

Inverness/Loch Ness

View from the starting line. Not pictured: thousands of people peeing.

After a 3 hour drive up to Inverness (also, the American in me didn’t feel that was a long drive, but everyone who was local made it sound like a very far distance), I went to pick up my packet for the next day’s marathon. Just a casual activity on my itinerary: run 26.2 miles for the first time ever in a foreign country! After picking up my packet, I met my Airbnb host, Cathy, who turned out to be just a delight! She offered me every possible food and insisted I make myself at home. After my marathon, she did my laundry and sat on the corner of my bed to listen to the story of how it went. She was my mom-away-from-home and I was so thankful to stay in her home for two nights!

Which brings us to…THE MARATHON! The marathon was a point-to-point race, meaning that the race organizers transported all the runners out into the countryside of Scotland where we would then run from to the city center of Inverness. 5,000 people boarded the buses which would drop us off on top of a mountain/hill that would cascade into the valley and loch-side terrain of Loch Ness. The weather before the race began was not ideal — cold, rainy, and very windy. The most amusing thing about the starting line experience was the fact that there were about 20 “port-a-loos” for 5,000 people, which meant that nearly everyone abadonded the queue at some point to just pee in the trees. The announcer was not pleased with this, shouting “Please do not pee in the trees! It is anti-social!” Reader: we did pee in the trees.

Before boarding the Pain Train

After an invigorating experience of feeling the Scottish morning air on my bare bum while participating in one of the functions the human body requires, I took to the starting line. The first 17 miles of the race went great! I met a man from the Steel City Striders running club (running clubs seem to be very popular in the UK!) and told him I was from a Steel City as well! I also met a nice woman named Clo who is now my friend on Strava! At about mile 18 is when I boarded The Pain Train. Miles 18-20 are all up hill, and these miles are already notoriously difficult. Muscle cramps started out in my shins and quickly spread to my calves, then my quads, hamstrings, and even spreading to my toes, arms, fingers, back and neck. I won’t say it was my worst nightmare come to life, but I will say that cramping so badly with 8 miles left in a marathon is not on the list of things I love the most about running!

It was one of my goals was to not walk at all during the race, which I managed to do, though I’m not sure if it would have been a better idea to stop and stretch it out. The last three miles of the race were excruciating and took very, very long. Upon crossing the finish line just two seconds below the 4 hour mark, I stopped, cried with relief, and them promptly threw up everywhere. My body was NOT happy with me! The cramps were sign of dehydration leading up to the race, which isn’t a surprise given my travel. Overall, I think I was in better shape than my time indicated, but I also did enjoy the experience overall and was very thankful for the chance to finish under four hours! It took me a very long time to change my clothes after the race (muscle cramps are a humbling experience, folks!), and let’s just say I’m glad no one I knew was there to witness how poor of condition I was in post-race. I was like a walking Zombie!

Thumbs up!

I treated myself to a post-race meal of mac and cheese and TWO molten lava chocolate cakes, and then collapsed into bed (before being woken up by the return of shin and calf cramps). Waking up the next day was a very painful experience, but I knew I would need to walk around and get my muscles loosened up. I made my way to Urquhart Castle which lies on Loch Ness and enjoyed walking the castle ruins. Climbing up and down the stairs though was not the most enjoyable part of my visit, though other marathon visitors were also there and we had a moment of commiseration…

Highs / Lows of Inverness

  • High: Staying with my very kind new friend, Cathy, a talented glass artist and experienced hill-walker
  • Low: Trying to change my clothes post marathon and just ending up pantless with double calf cramps for far too long
  • High: Eating not one, but two chocolate molten lava cakes
  • Low: Being told in the queue at Aldi by a grumpy local man to “not expect to have a good race” the night before my marathon LOL
  • High: Running 26.2 freakin’ miles!!!

Glencoe but really Edinburgh

I was planning to finish out my trip hiking in the Glencoe area, but the weather/circumstances had different plans! Driving into Glencoe is simply breathtaking, that is until the rain brings in clouds and blocks your view! By the time I reached Glencoe, frigid rain had set in with intense cloud cover. I figured I’d just check in to my Airbnb early and have a quiet evening, but upon arriving there I felt really unsettled! The setting was very remote, and the accommodations were much more run down than I anticipated. Comically, I was greeted by the owner, Alexander, who was holding a pitchfork and told me with a very strong Russian accent and a breath that smelled strongly of onion, “We have been expecting you!” He showed me to my room through a back door which he said, “We never lock this. No crime HERE!” While I never try to jump to conclusions, something in me just felt unsettled there (maybe it was the pitchfork, the weird amount of crumbs in my room, the blood-red carpet, the freaky peeling wallpaper, etc.), so I decided instead of staying to hike (which would have been miserable given the weather and my sore muscles), I decided to just head back to Edinburgh a day early! I’m glad I did. Sorry Alexander, no murder-by-pitchfork in your haunted house TODAY!

The next morning I awoke in Edinburgh after staying the night with another Grover, Annie, who is studying creative writing there. I took to the city streets once again and was able to enjoy hiking up Arthur’s Seat, a mountain that lies in the center of the city. It was extremely steep and physically challenging, and my Leuenberger sweat-genes were surely making their presence known during the hike! I ate at The Sheep’s Heid, where an inn has existed since 1320! I also ate gelato, got tea, and caught a screening of Downton Abbey before having my last sleep in Scotland. I walked 9 miles that day, and can confidently say it was a delightful way to end the trip!

Highs / Lows of Glencoe/Edinburgh

  • High: Returning my rental car unscathed!
  • Low: The amount of sweat my body produced walking up Arthur’s Seat made me angry with my genetics.
  • High: The salted caramel gelato from Mary’s Milk Bar.
  • Low: Almost getting murdered by Alexander and his pitchfork

Coming Home

During the duration of my trip, I read a book called At Home in the World which is about a mom who traveled the world for a year with her children. A line that really stuck out to me came from some words a counselor told the author at a therapy session a few months into her travels: “God speaks to us best in silence, in nooks and crannies when we’re willing to ignore the cacophony.” I hardly used my phone on this trip, logging off all social media and only texting my parents and a couple friends whenever I had Aldi wifi. The experience was challenging for someone who loves to stay connected. As I said, this trip brought on a lot of crying, and some of that was because in the silence, God was speaking in ways that I needed to hear, but had been too busy to listen to.

As my travels come to an end, I’m logging off Instagram and cutting back and maybe even logging off of Facebook, too, completely until the New Year. I need time to read, to write, to listen to what God has to say in a season where I know I need to hear his voice. It took quite a few miles to realize what I need to do next. And that is to stay logged off, to sit and remember what has happened and pray about what comes next.

See you on the other side.

Love, Grace

“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.” ― Saint Patrick

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