I turned 20 yesterday — the first birthday I’ve celebrated more than 5,000 miles away from home. It’s also my golden birthday, which means I turned 20 on September 20, and I’ve been lucky enough to celebrate it with friends old and new.
Scotland is full of constant surprises. This weekend, I took a trip up to Loch Lomond and Oban up in the highlands. Loch Lomond (loch is the Scottish Gaelic word for lake) is an expansive, gorgeous lake sitting in between green mountains on the way from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands. With its shores lined with swans and hardly any other humans, the lake defines the Scottish tranquility that seems to pervade the country.
Besides its natural beauty, which has made it a stop for tourists and locals alike, Loch Lomond was also made famous by a Scottish song called “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” — a fittingly somber tune that speaks to the Scottish national identity. Set in the days of the Jacobite uprising in 1745 (when Scottish Jacobite rebels struggled for control of Scotland from the British monarch), the song features one of two captured Jacobite soldiers who is sentenced to die, while the other is allowed to live. He sings “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.” And adding a tinge of sorrow, he adds “But me and my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.” Both exquisitely beautiful and speaking to the Scottish history of centuries of war and anguish, the song is a Scottish staple. It’s also a reminder that every place in Scotland is rooted in so much rich history that shapes the way that people interact with it today.
That’s even more true in Oban, a lush Maine-esque maritime town with delicious fish and chips and the most heavenly Belgian waffle chocolate fondue that has ever graced my lips. Walking along the coastline, it’s easy to stumble upon a few ruined castles dating back to medieval clans or hordes of sheep happily munching on grass. And yet, with its rich history and lush beauty, there are almost no tourists in Oban outside of the city center — which makes it feel like every step is a hidden adventure.
There’s no other place I’d rather ring in my 20’s.