With spring break around the corner, it is about time to book your holidays. Alice Roberts lists the best places to visit in Scotland, and if you haven’t visited them yet, which better chance than doing it now?
The city of Edinburgh was the birthplace of Robert Louis Stevenson, one of Scotland’s most recognisable writers. Indeed, most of his novels were written in Edinburgh – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was inspired by the court case of Deacon Brodie, who famously exhibited a similar split personality to the eponymous character of the novel. If so inclined, you can even join the ‘Robert Louis Stenson Club’ (otherwise known as the RLS club) which meets fortnightly, and is dedicated to ‘preserving [Stevenson’s] influence and keeping his work alive.’
Walter Scott was also born in the Old Town of Edinburgh near Grassmarket. Unfortunately the house he spent much of his childhood in has now been pulled down. However, the Victorian Gothic Scott Monument on Princes Street Gardens still stands. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world, (200ft high) and one of the most striking and distinctive features of the city. Scott drew inspiration for his most famous works from the Scottish landscape – notably the Lady of the Lake was based on Loch Katrine and the surrounding Trossachs, which as a result featured prominently in Victorian Travel guides.
As for more modern writers, Barry and J.K Rowling both lived in Edinburgh for most of their lives. The Elephant Café (where the first book of Harry Potter was written) definitely lives up to its name – it is difficult to look anywhere without seeing an elephant of some kind. It would be worth going there even if there was no Harry Potter connection, for the panini’s and chilled, artistic atmosphere. Don’t miss the graffiti in the bathrooms.
Lastly, Arthur’s Seat was the site of the terrifying climax of Hogg’s Confessions of A Justifies Sinner, in which the protagonist confronts his terrifying satanic doppelgänger. Essentially a combination of Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dostoevsky’s The Double, Confessions of A Justifies Sinner is in its own way quite an unforgettable novel (and definitely worth reading especially if you have been to Arthur’s Seat).
The site of the famous Burn’s poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’, Alloway Kirk (Kirk meaning church in Gaelic) has lost none of its eerie appeal. Situated south of Ayr, it still looks pretty similar to the famous engraving by J. Storer, except is now missing a roof.
Isle of Skye
One of many reasons to visit the Isle of Skye is its choice as the setting of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. The beautiful descriptions of the sometimes turbulent, sometimes calm sea and the loneliness of the house in ‘time passes’ are evocative of an isolated Scottish Island – however, critics have noted inconsistencies in Woolf’s description which suggest she is more likely to have had Cornwall (the location of her childhood summers) on her mind, most notably her casual reference to red hot pokers, which Skye is much too cold to support.
Similarly, Hugh McDiarmid (the famous Scots language poet and author of A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle) in his poem Direadh III describes the Cuillins mountain range of Skye, using it as a metaphor for the ability of Scottish people to fulfil their potential.
The location of the final battle between the Stuarts and Hanoverians in 1746. The event is described in all its horrific detail in James Hogg’s The Three Perils of Women, and is the silent culmination of Scots Waverly. Despite having such a violent history, today the moor has fully returned to its serene natural state – is empty, desolate and beautiful. There are many walking tours available, and by the tourist centre is a monument to commemorate the lives lost on the day of the battle; ‘The Culloden Stone Walkway’.
Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire is said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Mystery of the Sea. Indeed most of Dracula was written while Stoker was staying in the nearby town of Cruden bay, and many of the peasant characters in the novel speak broad Scots. The Castle does seem to be conjured straight out of a gothic novel; its ruined towers, position hanging over the sea and the surrounding craggy rocks all create a sense of intense mystery.