Loch Leven Castle


“Where do you live?” The man selling tickets asked me.

“Well, I’m from here but I live in the U.S. now.”

“It’s just where you live that matters,” he said, ticking the box for United States. I felt crushed: I’m not Scottish enough anymore?

I went outside to wait for the boat to take me over to Loch Leven Castle. A small boat cruised up to the jetty and the ticket seller came running out of the office to make sure I didn’t get on it.

“That’s no yours! That’s just for the grass cutter.”

I watched as one of the lads standing on the jetty jumped into the lawnmower and drove it on to the tiny boat. It shuddered and looked close to capsizing before getting the thumbs up from the rest of the lads and taking off across the glass-like loch.

My boat came along after, with a cheerful, rosy-cheeked skipper. I boarded carefully and edged up against a group of kids. The boat slipped along the surface of the loch; the reflection of the mountains in sharp focus along the water.

It took only a couple of minutes to get from the mainland to the castle, which used to almost entirely take up the island, but Mary, Queen of Scots didn’t have it so easy.

Mary was imprisoned in the castle for 11 months from 1567-68, during which time she was forced to abdicate her throne to her infant son and miscarried twins she had conceived with the Earl of Bothwell. She only managed to escape by so charming the teenage relative of her gaoler that he stole the keys and found her a boat to row her over to the mainland, locking the gate behind him and tossing the keys into the loch—they were found hundreds of years later.

There’s not much left of the castle now, a ruined tower that you can climb up; a few dark cellars that I was too nervous to go down into, and a couple of signposted piles of rubble pointing out various rooms.

Aside from the buzz of the lawnmower, safely arrived at its destination, the tiny island was silent, allowing my thoughts to settle on Mary, our tragic Queen. Her escape wasn’t the end: she was to spend 19 years in custody in various English castles, before being executed in 1587.

There’s not a whole lot to do at Loch Leven Castle, besides thinking about Mary and gazing out across the loch as she herself must have done, hoping for a better future. I strolled up to the jetty and waited for another boat to take me back. I was on my own in this one…apart from the ghosts.

Edinburgh Nights


Back in the day, Edinburgh was ours. Last night—our first night out in the city for many years—we saw how far Edinburgh had slipped out of our grasp.

We made our way up through the bars of Broughton Street—this one, too busy; that one, not busy enough—picking out a few familiar faces along the way. We worked our way up to the one we could depend on, opposite the club that used to be called Honeycomb and up from where Wilkie House was, before it burned to the ground.

I have such a strong attachment to this bar that my heart crumpled at the scene it had changed into: hens, stags, chavs (of course I’m a snob and precious for saying so). Louise and I sat sulking in the corner. What happened? This wasn’t what we wanted. I couldn’t pretend not to understand that what I had wanted was to resurrect a ghost. Was it just the bar, or had everything changed?

Across the street to the club that used to be Honeycomb, now called Cabaret Voltaire, Louise and I moaned to the bouncers—at least they were the same. “The people that used to go there have all gone to another place now, down on Candlewick Row,” they told us, agreeing in distaste about the new scene. We lingered for a moment, thinking whether or not to head down to the new place, still chasing ghosts, when the DJ spotted us outside: another familiar face, the pieces of ‘our’ Edinburgh were slowly starting to take form.

We descended into the basement to a sweaty, strobe-lit, banging club. It wasn’t our club—though half of the DJs were the same, just under a new name—but when Underworld’s Cowgirl came on, for five minutes I was back there: late nineties, young and filled with lust for the city.

The moment passed and we were back where we were. Saying our brief goodbyes—for how long? Another ten years?—we left. If I hadn’t have left Edinburgh back then, I wouldn’t have felt the disappointment so sharply. But really, how could I have stayed? I realized that though I was wishing places to stay the same, I always kept moving so that I wouldn’t.