What to Do Without Hairy Coos

by Hannah Faulkner on March 5, 2017

Edinburgh's skyline.

It’s midterm season here in Stirling, Scotland, and that means a lot of library visits, late nights, and, of course, reading week. Reading week is a break, typically right before midterm exams, and then another week before final exams. I managed to muster up enough motivation to finish all of my final essays a little early this semester, and thanks to a cancelled class and an amazing schedule, I pulled off a two-week break instead of the standard one. It was tempting to jet to somewhere warm, but I couldn’t help but remember my Arcadia First Year Study Abroad Experience mentor warning me that if I did that too many times, I would be flying home in May without having explored the very country I was living in. With that in mind, I booked the first leg of my trip to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.

View from Calton Hill.

My plans were budget-friendly and filled with activities; almost every hour of my weekend was planned out. Everything was perfect: a discounted train ticket and accommodation in a hostel within walking distance of all the sights courtesy of the Arcadia Edinburgh Center, and, of course, the free “hairy coo tour.” The aptly named Hairy Coo Tour Company offered a free tour of the Scottish Highlands and the chance to get up close and personal with hairy coos, wild highland cattle with long, wavy, red hair and massive horns.

As an avid animal lover on a student’s budget, the tour was a dream come true… until it was cancelled. I was having dinner in a quirky little burrito shop, only 10 hours before the start of the tour, when I received the email explaining that the tour company’s bus was in need of repairs before any more tours could be taken. My heart sank. I would be 400 miles away from Edinburgh before the next tour. Half of my weekend was now completely empty. Determined to make the best out of my situation, I evaluated my schedule for the next two days. Realizing I had packed every possible landmark and point of interest into a single day, I moved half of them to the next, allowing myself time to breathe, get lost, and go on a few spontaneous adventures.

The next morning, instead of eating a granola bar for breakfast and rushing out the door like my previous plan would have required, I introduced myself to my hostel roommate, Prisha, a friendly woman from India visiting her son who was studying law at the University of Edinburgh. We enjoyed a coffee and scone in the adorable café next door. After breakfast, I made my way toward my first stop, Arthur’s Seat, the small mountain just outside of the city center. The ascent wasn’t too difficult with rocks acting like makeshift stairs the entire 250 meters up, and the view was absolutely stunning.  After descending, I began in the direction of the Edinburgh Castle – or at least in the direction I thought the castle was.

The view from Arthur's Seat.

Going the wrong direction would have thrown  a wrench into my old schedule, but made my new one even better. I ended up at the foot of Calton Hill, home to the base of the Scottish government, city observatory, several monuments, and more stunning views of the city. After a few impromptu walks through beautiful parks and a tunnel full of amazing street art, visits to quirky museums, as well as seizing the opportunity to hold a falcon on the royal mile, I finally made it to the castle with the realization that, although my camera was full of Edinburgh’s destinations, my memory was full of the journeys it took to get there.