Like most things, my lovely game of shinty does have a dark side. Along with the team bonding, face painting, song singing, exercise inducing, laughter assuring group of girls, we have some very dangerous equipment in our midst. The caman, a noble tool for the hitting of things, is lovely when hitting a ball… but when it connects with your upper lip following a goal shot from the girl you’re guarding, you can feel the ripples of pain and blood shoot through your face almost immediately. The same is true when a caman hits your eye… and leaves your swollen and bruised for a week. I’m just saying these things may have happened to me… and that I have learned to always wear my helmet.
Shinty, though, is still my favorite part of St. Andrew’s college life. Yesterday, for the first time in the HISTORY of shinty, St. Andrew’s Women’s Shinty Team won the SCOTTISH LEAGUE FINALS! 2-0, amazing match, strong defense, and a fantastic display of a team spirit the entire game. This literally means that we’re the best team in Scotland (and therefore the WORLD!). I’m still working my way up to being a decent player, but if I get nothing else out of it, I’ve made some wonderful friends, hilarious memories, and beautiful war wounds.
The reason I havent written in so long, though, is because so many exciting things were bound to happen over the past few days. St. Patrick’s Day in St. Andrew’s is a huge deal, and Rachel and I, along with the shinty team, her JSA group, and my friends from my dorm, had a spectacular night that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Thursday was a day of preparation, though, for what I believe has been the best day in Scotland… our DAYCATION! A few of us have just been itching to travel but won’t leave for Spring Break for another week… so, with our very limited funds, we decided to hit all the coolest things we could find in and around St. Andrew’s… and oh it was such an adventure!
Rachel, Mike and I started off at 9:30 on a tour of the castle. Let me tell you, the castle in daylight is muuuuch cooler than seeing it after sneaking in at night. Stunning views, underground lairs, and murder stories of archbishops combined to make St. Andrew’s castle far more exciting than a bunch of ruinous stones. From there we made it to the ruins of the cathedral tower, 160 steps above the ground on a day when wind gusts reach 54 mph. The wind was fierce, whipping my ponytail loose and forcing us to hang onto the handrail as we took in the view of all of St. Andrew’s. I have to admit, I live in a gorgeous place. I usually feel confined to the 4 main streets in town, but from the Tower there was just so much more! Farms and trails and neighborhoods… all little details that I hadn’t taken the time to absorb. The Tower did curse us, though, because we tried to map our route for the next location, and that’s where the day went awry.
Dunino is a town about 3.5 miles out of St. Andrew’s, and it is home to a pagan sacrificial and ritual site. Our original plan was to follow the very basic map, arrive at the den, eat some lunch, and make it back by 3:30 to go to the botanical gardens. Due to the view from the tower, though, we mistook the route and detoured… a 15 mile detour! I will say, though, they were the most stunning 15 miles of my entire trip in Scotland. Our “back route” took us down a narrow road with curve-topped stone walls on either side, keeping cars and hikers out of the rolling fields and sheep farms. Despite the wind, or maybe because of it, the sun shone all day and carried shapeless shadows across those fields as it urged the clouds along at spectacular speeds, and looking back on the town we had a stunning view of the white-capped sea. We saw farmers and gardeners and little cottages and ostriches and even almost got picked up as hitch hikers… and all before we even REALIZED that we were going the wrong way! When we did realize we were 8 miles out, we almost turned back, but the 4th member of our hike, Oakley (a seasoned hiker unlike the rest of us) urged us on and finally, FINALLY, we made it to Dunino Den amid laughter and jibes at my lack of directional skills.
Dunino was… it was just spectacular. Spring technically started today, but Friday afternoon Dunino gave us a sneak preview. The hike into the den was on the side of a steep hill which, with the exception of a small footpath, was covered in moss and snowdrop flowers. Spindly pines reached just high enough to shade us in, and a creek bubbled at the bottom of the hill. The reason we trekked to Dunino at all, though, was for the pagan ritual site, and it did not disappoint. First we spotted the sacrificial pool where it is rumored that blood was collected from human sacrifices… creepy. Legend has it that after filling the pool with blood, the pagans would fling the bodies over the edge of the rock face and down into the creek… so of course we went to look. There was a moss covered staircase snuggly hidden in between two massive boulders that we were forced to hold on to because the stairs were so steep, and at the foot of the stairs was a one foot Celtic cross. We found other carvings in the boulders surrounding the den, like an 8 foot cross and a small Celtic knot, but the best part was the prayer garden. Below the sacrificial pool, visitors to Dunino Den have tied trinkets, dream catchers, and amulets into the trees that provide the loveliest atmosphere for our picnic. After a delicious PBJ lunch, we hiked onwards (staying still was a bit too cold) and inspected the church, the cemetery, and a possibly off-limits crawl space underneath the church. It was an awesome destination, I cant WAIT to bring my visitors there when spring really has hit.
Despite our knowledge that we had, in fact, taken a wrong turn and could, in fact, now take a shortcut back, we didnt. Those three hikers are good friends- I had dropped my camera SOMEWHERE along the long route, and they were determined to find it. So instead of the 3.5 mile trek, we hiked another 7 miles all the way back to the last place I had taken a picture… and no camera. I was devastated, having taken so many great pictures and having just bought this camera, when a man drove up and leaned out of his window with a smile. “Excuse me folks,” he said in a lilting Scottish accent. “I saw you four walk by, and I think maybe this camera that I found on the side of the sheep farm might be yours.” Let me tell you, Dunino Den was amazing, but I dont think I smiled as big there as I did at that helpful man. What are the chances that not only would he find it, but he’d return it! Well he did, and we were thrilled, and I think our elation is the only thing that pushed us onwards for those last 4 miles. Oakley was a champ and pushed us forward at seemingly breakneck speed (it was probably only 3 miles an hour, at best), but Mike, Rachel and I were aching all over. We kept our thumbs out, but despite a lot of waves and honks, we didnt ever grab a hitch.
By the time we made it back to St. Andrew’s, we were exhausted, but absolutely satisfied with our Daycation. My last stop of the day before shower, dinner, BED, was the Union where student government elections were going on. I’ll admit, I HATED missing election season at UNC, when the excitement in the air is almost suffocating. But it was equally exciting, and quite different, in that last hour before the polls closed. I voted for a few friends who are running for office after being ushered inside by my Greek friend Emmanuel (he won his election), and safely made it out amid the throngs of shouting, costumed supporters. It was just the perfect end to a perfect day.
Saturday, of course, made us League Final Champions, Rachel and I finally booked our hostels for Spain, and the evening consisted of a group Mexican dinner night, celebrating with shinty girls, and swimming in the North Sea at 2am. It was colder than cold, the kind of cold that makes it hard to catch your breath or even see straight, but as I collapsed into my warm bed 30 minutes later, I was (and still am) absolutely content with the best two days I’ve had in St. Andrew’s. I’m still doing a lot of thinking and learning, and its something I consider a special treat this semester. The past week has really revealed to me how important laughter is in our lives, though. I noticed for the first few weeks here that my laughter was loud and often, but that there was no heart in it. Now I catch myself giggling at all kinds of things, those bubbles of laughter escaping from my lips so easily that it catches me by surprise sometimes. I’ve been surrounded by laughter the past few days, with shinty celebrations and wrong turns on our Daycation and even in the absurdity of swimming in the North Sea in March.