June in Scotland

By Emily Kindiger

Since I focused so strongly on my dissertation preparations in May, I tried to do a few more fun activities for June. One Danish Independence Day dinner, three trips and one competition made for an amazing month of adventures.

Emily Kindiger on a lookout of the North Sea. (Photo/Courtesy)

Two of my classmates hail from Denmark, so on June 5 they invited a few of us over for traditional Danish sandwiches, a chance to try their homeland’s schnapps and to teach us about Danish independence. Traditional sandwiches are eaten open-faced with usually herring, tomato and cucumber, but other toppings such as egg are common. This type of schnapps is very different from the Swedish kind most of us Americans are used to. It’s called Akvavit (aquavit), meaning “water of life,” and has a difficult-to-describe flavor. It was definitely not something I would drink again, but I can at least say that I have tried it.

For my first trip this month, I went to the Dumfries and New Lanark area, visiting the Falls of Clyde, Drumlanrig Castle (the Pink Palace), Caerlaverock Castle (a moated triangular castle from the 13th century) and the city of Dumfries, which is the hometown of the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns. This was a stunning trip and Caerlaverock Castle was amazing because, although small, it has not been renovated since 1640.

The next trip was to the east coast of Scotland to Stonehaven, Dundee and Aberdeen. The town of Stonehaven houses Dunnattar Castle, which rests high on the cliffs, overlooking the North Sea. The view was spectacular. This castle is known for housing the Scottish crown jewels from Oliver Cromwell’s invasion during the 17th century, the phenomenal scenery and for serving as the inspiration behind the castle in the movie Brave. About an hour’s drive from here is the third largest city in Scotland, Aberdeen, which is known as the Granite City since nearly all the buildings are made from white granite. It rests on the coastline and has a beautiful beach view of the North Sea, as well.

The mudder team – Kyle Mylrea, Emily and Cassandra Zawojek. (Photo/Courtesy)

The third trip was to Oban and the Isle of Seil on the west coast. On the way, I saw Inveraray Castle in the town of Inveraray before reaching Oban, which means “the little bay.” Besides a lovely coastal view, the city is home to McCaig’s Tower — a Coliseum-like structure built by architect John McCaig in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. It was based on the Roman design, but was never finished due to McCaig’s death. After leaving Oban, I passed the Atlantic Bridge (Clachan Bridge) with links Seil to the mainland—legend says that crossing the bridge on foot brings good luck. Seil is a beautiful, small town bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and mountains. The view from the top was breathtaking, with the cliffs on one side and ocean on the other.

In between the second and third trip, two friends and I took part in a Tough Mudder Competition. The goal of competition is to get you and your team through the 12 mile, 20 obstacle course. It was originally designed for Special Forces units for training purposes, focusing on teamwork. The competition tests physical and mental limits and includes swimming through ice water, climbing steep walls, leaping off tall structures into more water, crawling under barbed wire, swinging from bar to bar, electrodes, etc. It is basically training for the military but the whole thing is covered in every type of mud imaginable: slick, clay, sticky, suction. We were covered and drenched in it throughout the whole day.

Its slogan is “probably the toughest event on the planet” and it lived up to that. Pain, cold, and exhaustion pressed our limits, and by mile eight, some of the thrill and fun of the obstacles was wearing off. However, I have never felt a larger sense of pride and accomplishment as when my team and I crossed the finish line, receiving our “finisher” headbands, pints, and shirts. Although difficult and strenuous, this competition was truly amazing and absolutely fun.

All the participants take an oath at the beginning about teamwork, camaraderie and overcoming challenges, and each person I saw held that oath highly. Tough Mudder isn’t about who crosses the finish line first; it’s about everyone (you, your team and your fellow participants) reaching this end: no one left behind.

Tough Mudder was a challenge I could not be prouder to be a part of. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever done, and I cannot wait to form another team and do another in the future. I wear my shirt and the remaining cuts and bruises with honor, pride and the greatest sense of achievement.

June was a wonderful month of adventures—and yes I have been working on the dissertation too. It was beyond my wildest expectations and I am thrilled to see what July holds in store.