When the sun shines in Edinburgh you need to sprint out and bask in it while you can, especially if it’s April sunshine.
Sunshine is medicine. It comes in through your sunglasses and bathes your brain in a warm tub of joy.
Just think. You’ve been curled up in cushions for five months like a hibernating hedgehog. The vitamin D has leaked from your body. You are peely-wally. A ghost of the person you used to be. If you don’t get a day out, you’ll lose the will to live. You’ll be reduced to watching little grey dust-kittens roll around the floor, propelled by draughts.
Happily, the real beauty of Edinburgh is that you’ll find stunning landscapes just 45 minutes’ drive from the city centre.
Personally I’m not one for planning weekends. I like waking up with the thought dimly dawning in my fuzzy heid that it’s the weekend. “What do you want to do today?” says a voice next to my ear. It’s the missis, snuggling in bed next to me. I think of my Scottish bucket list.
What have I not done that can be done in a day? For some reason, a picture of the ruined castle on Loch Leven unfolds in my mind. “Let’s go and see the castle Mary Queen of Scots escaped from.” My wife’s face lights up.
I don’t usually take her to Loch Leven with me. It’s the most sacred trout fishing place in Scotland. All the brown trout in New Zealand came from Loch Leven, brought as eggs and sperm to allay the homesickness of Scottish settlers.
What trout they are! They breed in the feeder burns around the loch and grow fat on the rich natural diet in its weedy depths.
On one memorable day three years ago, my buddy Will and I sat in an anchored boat in stair-rod rain from 9am until 9pm as some of the biggest trout I’ve ever seen attacked our bloodworm imitations. As soon as they felt the hook they threw themselves out of the water, some the size of salmon.
More often than not, when they landed back in the water and rocketed off, they would smash the line. Still, we managed to bring 13 to the boat between us.
But I digress, as I tend to when the ones that got away swim back into my brain.
Out we walked to the car, destination Kinross, and already it sounded like the countryside had come to us.
In our built-up Leith backwater, the air was being hammered by tweets that had a lot more than 140 characters.
In a scruffy bush next to the industrial estate opposite our flat were three goldfinches. I’m presuming it was one female and two males because there was a lot of squabbling – “She’s ma burd!” “Naw, she’s ma burd!”, duly followed by a very brief consummation.
Traffic over the bridge is light and we are soon looking across the loch to Loch Leven Castle. Mary was imprisoned there for a year until May 2, 1568 while the devious Lord Douglas tried to force her to abdicate.
Luckily she had one friend in her castle, her page, 16-year-old Willie Douglas. Pretending he was celebrating Mayday, he dressed up as ‘The Abbott Of Unreason’ and made sure that Mary’s captors’ wine glasses were filled then re-filled.
Capering up to Lord Douglas, he dropped a napkin over his master’s keys and substituted a set of fake keys.
Racing upstairs to the tower he found Mary, already dressed in her maidservant’s clothes. They made their way to the boat jetty, locking all the doors behind them.
Young Willie pulled the bungs out of all the boats but one, filling them with water. Mary’s captor and guards watched helplessly from the battlements as she was rowed ashore and spirited away on horseback.
It’s a 10-minute voyage to the island in the motorboat ‘Mary’s Spirit’ and there’s enough of the castle left to make the trip worthwhile.
On the way, I point out a pair of ospreys to the boatman, “Look at the wingspan and the way they’re circling.”
His eyes follow my pointing finger skywards and he says, “They’re gliders, son.” He’s right. I give my inner ornithologist a good slap.