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It is really difficult to describe how our time in Scotland has affected me. The sheer size and beauty of the Highland’s hills left me not only in awe, but it was also a very humbling experience. I believe that the things I experienced here have shown me that we all are part of a bigger whole, and that we should never forget that we have a role to play in this bigger picture. -Andrew, 10th grader
I was chosen to co-lead the Scottish portion of our students’ three-week expedition through the United Kingdom. As an avid history buff and teacher, the prospect of learning firsthand about Scotland’s magnificent history and culture with our Grade 10 students was an exciting prospect, indeed. All of our students spent four days in Edinburgh, Scotland, before the group split into two, with the older students heading to do scientific research in Cumbria, England, and the Grade 10 students traveling to Inverness and the Scottish Highlands. Here is a short photo essay that takes you through my journey.
“Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” -Braveheart (1995)
Our home base for Scotland was Edinburgh, a picture-perfect city that is a natural fit for postcards, and one that our accompanying staff all agree ranks among the most visually compelling they’ve visited. The cobblestone streets, the baronial and gothic architecture — they trick your senses into thinking you have actually traveled back in time, the cell phone in your hand, incessantly snapping landmark after landmark, providing your link to reality.
Classes at St. Leonard’s Hall
We held classes at the gorgeous St. Leonard’s Hall, part of the University of Edinburgh’s campus. The building is a perfect example of mid-nineteenth century baronial style.
School ended each day at 12:30 for the 10th graders and 2:30 for our IB students. From school, the students set out on a number of activities daily, checking in with their advisors periodically by taking a selfie of their activity group. This was definitely the best way to cover as much of Edinburgh as we could in our few days there, and it allowed for the maximum amount of flexibility in the students’ sightseeing.
The Royal Mile
“Where else on the Planet could you take a stroll down the tail of a long-extinct volcano, from the Country’s most famous Castle, past the highest Courts in the land, the seat of Local Government, down by the National Parliament to a Royal Palace?” -Taken from RoyalMileEdinburgh.com
Edinburgh is Edinburgh Castle. Built on volcanic rock, the castle stands imposingly above the landscape, leaving no doubt in your mind that invading forces often questioned whether their decision to attack was a wise one.
I gathered with my students in the castle’s square to discuss Scotland’s long and storied military history, which Edinburgh Castle has played a major role in since the 12th century. As we looked down on Edinburgh from the castle’s fortified walls, we discussed the importance of geography in defense and warfare, and the necessity of a clean water supply during conflicts.
Moving on to the war memorial museum, we examined the pageantry and sacrifices of the Scottish regiment, whose kilts, bagpipes, and horsehair sporrans define Scotland in the eyes of many to this day. As we wandered through the museum’s halls, we discussed the role of bagpipes within the army and how military armor and weaponry has evolved over time.
Edinburgh Castle isn’t solely geared towards military enthusiasts, however. Fought over for centuries, Scotland’s crown jewels -the crown, sceptre, and sword- now safely reside here for everyone to see.
To The Highlands
Inverness is known as the capital of the Highlands, and the culture there is distinct from the rest of Scotland. The Highland communities have a much stronger sense of culture and most people still speak Gaelic (a beautiful, but difficult, language to learn).
The 10th grade students traveled to Inverness with the hopes of immersing in and understanding Highland culture and Scottish identity. In only a few days, the students managed to interview Scottish locals, wear kilts while learning about war and weaponry on the historic battlefield of Culloden, and search for “Nessie” on an educational Loch Ness cruise!
The night we arrived in Inverness, we figured a relaxing movie night was in order. The staff quickly converted one of our hotel rooms into an incredible cinema. We discussed how Braveheart, written and directed by Mel Gibson in 1995, has its positive and negative aspects. We discussed some of the glaring inaccuracies of the film, but also how it can help us understand the way of life in the Scottish Highlands. Miss Reynolds explained that the movie was based on an epic poem called “The Life of Sir William Wallace,” that was written in the 15th century by the poet “Blind Harry.” We read through this blog regarding the 10 biggest mistakes in Braveheart.
The unknowns about Nessie are much like how the loch disappears over the horizon. Can we prove it? Can we disprove it? Submerged in all that depth and darkness, is there not the possibility that something can survive down there? Scientists say that there aren’t enough food sources for a creature that large to exist. The Vikings called the creatures in the loch water horses. I’m no monster expert, but I want to believe that something could exist down there.
Battle of Culloden
After wrapping up our search for Nessie, we headed over to Culloden and participated in a two-and-a-half hour educational program called the Conflict of Choice. During the program, our students analyzed primary source materials and gained a deeper understanding of the decisions that were made surrounding the Battle of Culloden and the Jacobite rising of 1715. We then toured the Culloden battlefield, learning about war tactics and participating in our own Highland charge.
On Saturday evening, the boys in our group, inspired by the ongoing Rugby World Cup, enjoyed a dinner of hamburgers, while the girls had a candlelit dinner with Head of Operations Ashley Silver and Miss Reynolds.
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is a magnificent, mechanical marvel, constructed to 21st century, state-of-the-art engineering standards. It is already being recognized as an iconic landmark worthy of Scotland’s traditional engineering expertise. It is the only rotating boat lift in the world, and the students and I got to experience it firsthand as we passed from the Forth & Clyde to the Union Canal. One of my students, Oskar, used the visit to Falkirk as a chance to work on his time-lapse photography, patiently filming the wheel in action and then speeding it up in post-processing.
Always in our hearts
Our time in bonny Scotland was short but sweet, yet long enough to inspire one student, 11th grader Sally A., to consider applying to the University of Edinburgh upon graduation.