I Could Have Ceilidh’d All Night

It’s pronounced kay-lee, and if Appalachian clogging mated with Richard Simmons to the sound of bagpipe music, the ceilidh would be their child.

And it is wicked fun.

With less than 12 days remaining in my semester in Scotland, i’m in a panic to cross off everything on my Edinburgh Bucket List. And easily, the biggest thing i have been looking forward to was going ceilidh dancing.

I’m the most pigeon-toed ballerina you’ll ever find. But when it comes to a kind of dance that requires a sense of gusto more than talent, i am your girl. I’d heard that ceilidh, as a cultural tradition more than a fine art, was something meant to be easy to participate in. Much like the swing dances i loved dolling up for so much in high school.

So my friend Megan and i donned our billie kilts (for obvious reasons) and made our way to the University’s Chaplaincy centre. It’s still the middle of exam season for us, so we weren’t expecting the largest of crowds. True to form, the crowd was a mixture of curly-haired wee lassies and older folk in full Scottish regalia. In the corner was tucked the band and on the floor was a stomp-clapping mob of high-kicking dancers.

And it was brilliant.

Being in the context of families and University students alike enabled us to see the breadth of tradition. I learned, from a man with a robust white beard and well-worn kilt, that children in Scotland tend to learn traditional dances in late primary school. I also learned, from the same gentleman, that if you just trust your knowledgable partner to lead the steps you might find yourself being flung off the ground and spun around without warning.

And just like that, i was learning jig steps and polka-pirouettes to the thrum of the fiddle. “You can forget about gym membership!” he bellowed, frolicking around me like the considerable age gap only made him more lithe with time. I heaved a giggle-gasp, asthma-attacked but with cheeks sore from laughing.

Observing a move called "The Helicopter" wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

Observing a move called “The Helicopter” wherein the lads lift the lassies and spin! TERRIFYING.

It seriously was some of the most fun i’ve had in Scotland; that same delirious, verging-on-terrified delight i found in the Highlands i experienced when the dance left me so dizzy i could barely breathe. My calves are still recovering from the whole affair, but i am seriously hoping to go ceilidh dancing at least once more before my time here runs dry. It’s the best of Scotland: excellent attire, fabulous folk music, high-pulse dancing, camaraderie, and ever the element of sweeping-off-your-feet surprise.

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

Laughing in our kilts over after-dancing drinks!

And, if i said what happened next was the best part of the night, it would be a voracious lie. And mortifying. Because i broke my own rule and we totally made a midnight run to my beloved-and-despised KFC. Who doesn’t love capping off a good workout with fried chicken?

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

Thanks to Megan for taking this! (Gratuitous fast food eating commences)

current jam: ‘young & beautiful’ lana del rey.

best thing: today is both j’s graduation and mother’s day in the usa! wishing i was across the pond for both of them, so grateful to have them in my life.

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Into the Land of Scotch and Lochs.

To describe my last week spent in the north of Scotland as breathtaking would qualify in the understatement-of-the-year category.

I’ve seen more wonders this semester than i could fit in a personalized National Geographic volume; everywhere from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam to the fairytale streets of Chefchouen the brushstrokes of an intricate, well-traveled map. Every place i have seen has possessed its own magic. The romance of Paris, shared with the love of my life, will forever captivate me with its fervor and caprice. The ridiculousness of riding on a camel (for no more than three minutes, if we’re honest) retains a place on my shelf of best-ever’s. Even a frigid day trip to the coastal town of St. Andrews retains a place of glee and stair-clambering soreness in my heart.

But nowhere, nowhere that i have been contains the clash of majesty and ferocity that is the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.

I’d heard tales of the wildness of the Highlands; reminiscing travelers recalling a time at Glen Coe or reading about the Jacobite rebellions. Stories about the peoples whose audacity was paralleled only by the unforgiving landscapes they dwelled within. But it was only when we were immersed in the monsters themselves that i began to really understand that untamed enchantment. In the Talisker whiskey distillery (one of the five we encountered) i heard the hills described as “fiercely intrusive.” Like the paradox of their beauty meant my heart thrummed in my ears, the beats indecisive as to whether it was passionate love or passionate terror that i was experiencing. Honestly, it was probably both.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

Off the road near Glen Coe.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

On A87, bound for Eilean Donan castle.

Not many folks on the road, 'round these parts.

Not many folks on the road, ’round these parts.

mountains and lochPerhaps it is the mountain’s unsettling power that makes them so inspiring. When thrown off-kilter i feel brazen.

There was a pier that jutted out into a loch somewhere near Glen Coe – i can’t recall the precise location. But i remember us pulling off the road to sit and take it in, trying to capture in photographs what defies even the reality of looking with our own eyes. I ran along the pier, not caring that the coat i’d left in the car would have kept the frigidity of the wind at bay. Before me was nothing but mountains and sky and loch. The water chopped and served reflections of the surrounding hills, a kinetic storm of energy and anger and beauty and solace.

I was in love.

flag on the loch

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

(Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

I’ve fallen for places before – Uganda’s Abim region is a hot contender for the Scottish Highlands – but not like this. Not like the storm of sun and rain, the thunderous winds and snowcapped chill that made me want to cry for laughing and laugh for crying. I was ecstatic, i was terrified, i was head-over-mud-caked-boots for this place.

The best part, though, was being able to share it with my Dad. Running back along the pier, going camera-crazy and chortling off his put-on-your-coat scolding, i just couldn’t believe how blessed i was.

I’d wanted to share with him the world as i’d fallen for it. Cook him dinner in my shanty little flat and take him to the peak of my favorite place in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat. And we did those things, and they were all that i wanted them to be. We had our famous roadside conversations, passing the hours of driving with debate and honest reflection. But best of all, we got to see a piece of this planet together for the first time.

While i think i did indeed show him the city i’ve so come to adore, Scotland does a pretty good job of asserting its own prowess and power. Through seeing a new part of this country with him, i got to fall in love with Edinburgh all over again.

Maybe that’s the thick of the goodness of my life as it stands now, on the precipice of saying goodbye to Scotland and starting my last year of undergraduate school. It’s burning the spinach for our calzone dinner in an attempt to show off my cooking, but it’s also realizing the adventure doesn’t end with a diploma or a plane ticket. There are places as frightening and gorgeous as the Highlands to remind me of beauty, unmitigated and untampered beauty. Places to feel insignificant and childish and filled with significant dreams. Places that will remain as wild as they were in the days of the Jacobites, the folklore of old.

And sharing in such adventures with the people i love makes that a tremendously exciting prospect.

In Oban, on the West Coast!

In Oban, on the West Coast!

current jam: ‘dry bones’ gungor.

best thing: the highlands!

coming soon: the fairy glen on isle of skye, castle stalker, eilean donan castle, loch ness…