Skater and illustrator Harriet Alana headed north of the border with tattooist boyfriend Alex to explore the wilds of Scotland from the skatepark to the mountains.
Arriving at Edinburgh Waverly station in a bustle, our rushed glances at the tremendous architecture in the car on the way to my aunt and uncle’s Edwardian home had us hyped about the trip to come.
The quest of day one was navigating our way to the Den of Iniquity, Scotland’s finest tattoo studio. Alex, a tattooist, was keen to investigate; Through the large black Victorian door, the Den boasts a high ceiling interior. Dark wooden cabinets and bureaus furnish the ruby-red room and the walls are decorated with framed sheets of traditional flash.
Alex introduced himself to Mark McEwan, one of the tattooists and they hit it off instantly chatting all things ink. We were kindly given prints by head tattoo artist, Ed Staples, and then we made tracks to our next cultural destination, but not before Alex booked himself in for a tattoo.
Whilst Alex was getting inked the next day, I rambled alone up Carlton Hill – Edinburgh’s first park, which opened in the 1700’s for the benefit of the population’s health. A refreshing space to rejuvenate from the busy city which at the summit, the entire city and beyond can be seen – the coast to the east, north to the old town and west to Arthur’s Seat, the city’s inactive volcano.
Edinburgh is an ancient city with evidence suggesting habitation from as early as 8500 BC. An expanding population of the capital in the 17th century meant houses needed to increase in height to accommodate the city’s needs. These 11-storey buildings built on the hillsides are what give the city its dramatic layered effect. Steeples of Gothicism alongside turreted houses and grand hotels built in old blue-y grey and cream stone. After a couple of hours meditating through my pencils, I returned to the Den of Iniquity to find Alex with a permanent picture of a frog playing a banjo on his leg!
The next stop on our culture tour was Analogue Bookshop, an independently run store selling artisan books and zines from local and far-a-field creatives. Here, I found two of my favourite art books, In The Wilds and In The City; colourful drawing journals of time spent in two opposite environments, by former Edinburgh University Student Nigel Peake.
As we left Analogue, the skies opened, we ran for cover and found ourselves sheltered by an Aladdin’s cave of wearable curiosities. It was W.Armstrong & Son, a vintage clothes and fancy dress shop. From the high ceiling hung a life-sized 3D model of a moustached 1920’s diver watching over the store, packed to the rafters with Victorian circus memorabilia and 70’s fashion.
Our second day in Edinburgh was dry and sunny skate appropriate weather, so we headed to the gigantean skate mecca that is Saughton. It offers a monstrous bowl in the centre and mini ramp adjoining and a separate deep bowl. There is a street section offering plenty of flat space amongst a great assortment of obstacles including rails, steps, angular hips, ledges and many different flat banks. I flung myself up most of them finding a short, steep bank to be most effective for that feel-good ollie.
Alex demonstrated his array of impressive tricks including a front blunt, noted by an impressed local who introduced himself as TJ. The friendly locals, who initiated conversation, humbled us. Just like at any other skate park, they were a mixed bunch in age, ability and appearance, all with that shared love of shreddin’ the gnar. We gave out zines and stickers and took our boards apart. I gave mine to a long-haired fellow who’d been killin’ it – John Cardiel style – all day. His board was mashed.
After several days in the city it was time to see what Scotland’s wild had to offer us. Yellowcraig is an almost untouched beach on the East coast. To reach it, you have to walk through a small forest and then through the long golden grass of the dunes before seeing the treasure that is this beautiful, craggy stretch of coastline.
It was a blustery, yet clear day with the ocean particularly clear at the shoreline and a rich azure shade out to sea. There are many scattered islands, including Bass Rock, a steep-sided volcanic rock and home for guillemots, razorbills, seals and over 150,000 gannets.
Shoreline explored, it was time to travel north, our mission was to camp in the wilds of the Trossachs. We borrowed a basic map and planned a rough route to go by on a two-day trail.
Our trek began on the old railway line in the forest. We were at the foot of the mountain, passing babbling brooks and spruces covered in lichen. Our ascent up the ‘Ben’ began. It was magical. Two inquisitive beings exploring the wilderness, content in the quiet presence of each other. There was an endless plethora of stunning views.
After a day of hiking – quiet interactions with timid birds, steep ascents and varied weather – we found the perfect camping spot as the sun finally came out. Tent up and camping knife in hand, I located and cut up firewood from large fallen branches while Alex arranged rocks from the neighbouring stream in a pagan-like circle. Newspaper rolled, perfectly poised firewood, flames a flare – it was time to cook.
The rewarding sound of sizzling (veggie) sausages accompanied by Scottish whisky and great conversation to me proved the true meaning of our trek – this was love, happiness, wholesome being – real living.
The fire died and the midges arose – time to retreat. We snuggled up like hibernating bear cubs and slept soundly through the cold and mostly peaceful night with only the sporadic rustles of what must have been a curious mountain sheep.
We rose to a lovely day not a clue or care to the time. Egg sarnies for breakfast – thank you, Alex. He was in his element; “There’s nothing quite like cooking yourself breakfast on the mountainside, Harriet.”
Despite a good night’s kip and a lighter load on our backs, our packs felt heavy on our knees as we gradually headed down the track. Our slow descent led us to the Falls of Docart; where a river flows over boulders through the town of Killin and into Loch Tay. Alex and I refreshed here for a while as the afternoon sun shone down, before the last stretch back to base.
We arrived back weary, but contented, in a dream-like state. A steaming cuppa in our hands, we spent the evening drawing and writing about our adventures in Scotland. Our most awakening experience in the wild proved that sleeping and living outside is wondrous. Despite its challenges, it’s something everyone needs to experience for the sake of our planet. Learning, whilst living within nature, is key to educate us all of the importance of protecting the natural world around us.