Just recently, we took a straw poll of friends, in an attempt to confirm a long-held suspicion. We asked, first, who'd been to France - to Paris, Normandy, Nice, Cannes. Ninety-five percent of people had. Then we asked who'd been to Scotland. The number was lower. The excuses, for never having been, were flimsier.
Scotland is an incredible place, rich in history, culture, countryside. And yet, it remains comparatively under-explored by all south of the border. We think that needs to change. Those poor unfortunates among our pals who'd never been were given a date, and told that an adventure was in the offing. We chose Edinburgh as our destination.
Now, native Scots can occasionally be heard describing Edinburgh as a very 'English' sort of place. It's not meant as a term of endearment. But the fact remains that it is a first-class city, teeming with life and colour and possibility, with historic architecture, with stories and (crucially) great places to grab a drink.
We started at the beginning, or near to it anyway, at Edinburgh Castle, where we saw splendid views out across the city, and learned a little about its standing as the most frequently sieged place in Britain. No wonder there was a vote on independence, one of our party remarked, before bizarrely and instinctively apologising to no-one in particular about all the English sieges. We visited the Camera Obscura, and saw weird and colourful visions. We were glad we weren't visiting before, and not after, a trip to the pub.
Speaking of which, we wended our way down Castle Rock and into the beautiful Old Town, then found our way to the famous Royal Mile. We found a decent pub. To be honest, we found five or six. We picked up a flyer for a tour of an Edinburgh Gin Distillery, closing too soon for us to make it on this occasion, and made a mental note to start our adventure there next time.
Instead, we strolled around the Botanical Gardens, around the Scottish National Gallery, and briefly flirted with the idea of going to the Edinburgh Dungeons, before the same member of our party who'd guiltily apologised out loud at the castle got worried that we might get locked in, on account of our being English.
She was, of course, just joking. Because for all the centuries of war and disagreement between England and Scotland, there is far more that unites the two countries than divides them. Certainly, there are few - if any - places within such easy reach that possess so much beauty, history, culture and character as Scotland, whether you're visiting the Highlands or a major city like Edinburgh. Head north at once, and you won't regret it.