Finding Happy: On The Royal Mile

Photo by Rohit Farmer on

Is the cabin fever getting to anyone else? Is it too soon to make fever allusions? Have you, like me, actually tried to scale the walls of your home? You found a bug bite on your thigh and thought, for a fleeting six minutes and thirty-two seconds, that the universe was giving you a supernatural gift. You closed your eyes and focused all of your energy on shooting a sticky web-like substance from your extremities.

Unfortunately, the only sticky substance you could muster came out of somewhere else because you focused a little too hard. Now, you’re sitting on the sofa listening to the sound of your washing machine and typing words onto a blank page.

Hypothetically, of course, because who would actually think that a bug bite would give them powers? Ha. Ha. Cough. Not me! Geez, who would do that? Just because we’ve been in varying stages of a lockdown for serval months and the madness is setting in? No, nope, none of us would make that lifestyle choice.

Even if the desire to break free, travel the world, or manifest my consciousness onto a different continent is too overwhelming? Oh, that would be lovely, but no. Question mark?

Assuming that acquiring superpowers is not, and I quote, a realistic option, then the next best thing would be time travel. Which, strictly speaking, is not an option either, but memories are the next best thing. Close your eyes, don’t concentrate too hard because you’re almost out of laundry detergent, and the grocery store is a biohazard.

What was I saying?

Ah yes, I was closing my eyes and conjuring up happy memories. There’s this one time, I was 4 years old, and I found a snail in the garden. On a whim, I decided to try escargot. I ended up green goo and crunched up shell all over my face. My mother is a strong woman with an iron stomach, but I watched her face turn several shades of green. I don’t remember what the snail, may it rest in peace, tasted like, but I remember that look on Mom’s face. Oh, laugh out loud! I’m sorry Mom.

It’s one of my first pleasant memories, but I’m craving something more adventurous. I want to roam the earth in search of history, culture, and food that wasn’t birthed in my parent’s backyard. In fact, I want to get as far from my backyard as I can safely get.

Physically, that’s not possible right now for obvious reasons. Ah, but as the song goes, memories are the corners of something or other. I’m not actually sure what that means, and I’ve never heard the song in its entirety. No offence, Ms. Streisand, I’m sure it’s lovely.

I would give anything to travel to new places or revisit some favourites. That itch, from a different sort of bug, is causing this buzzing sound in the back of my mind. If I listen carefully, it’s telling me to go, go, go. I can’t heed its advice or scratch the itch. So, I’m going to go back to the day I walked the Royal Mile.

I think, in all of my travels, that day was one of the happiest I’ve ever been. Which is the point of this experiment in optimism and my quest to Find Happy. Happiness is not a feeling I’m overly familiar with, but I think it is attainable with the right mindset. The problem is, some of us weren’t programmed with the correct settings so, we have to try to recode our original programming.

That’s what I’m trying to do with these Finding Happy posts. I’m rewiring, decoding, and reprogramming my brain. I’m hoping it will help me be a happier person and, in the long run, find more joy in all things great and small.

Which brings me back to the Royal Mile. 

It starts up at Edinburgh Castle, sitting on the base of volcanic rock, and heads down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which stands in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. Some of history’s most famous names walked those streets, bought food from those shops, and reshaped a country, as well as an empire, from those buildings. It’s a history that’s so vibrant it pulses and seeps out of every brick and cobble. 

That’s why Scotland has been one of my must-visit destination for years. I love history, and a part of my history was written on those rolling hills and on the cobbled streets. If my family’s lore is correct and there’s been absolutely no embellishment whatsoever. Yeah, what are the odds? Assume the stories are true then I am a descendant of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

You don’t have to curtsey or treat me any differently because I have royal blood. Please, call me Keri and not Your Ladyship. Did you laugh, gag, or roll your eyes? Me too! Royal blood? Please, bloody hell is more like it. If you don’t mind, I like my head where it is, thank you very much.

As far as I know, I don’t have any family living in Edinburgh or Scotland. I could be wrong. Perhaps I have some undiscovered cousins walking about and, if so, I would love to meet you. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Finding new members of the family. Defying history’s attempts to separate us. So cool!

The closest thing I got to a family reunion was visiting the castle where Queen Mary lived and gave birth to James, the future king of England. Or was that down at Holyrood? No, it was at the castle but you should visit Holyrood. Fun fact, you can still see the bloodstain on the floor where Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, had her private secretary, David Rizzio, murdered on March 9, 1566.

Was that a fun fact or a creepy one? Jealousy, murder, and intrigue at the palace. History is wild, and getting to see it, seeped into the hardwood floor, is mind-blowing. It really brings the stories to life, and it’s a humbling reminder that history was made by real people who lived, loved, and bled just like we do.

Well, maybe not exactly. The most intriguing thing to happen to me lately was trying to figure out what my dog did with my left shoe. Riveting, I know.

I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to walk through history. More than that, I got a chance to experience a part of my ancestral history. I walked down the halls of their homes, and I got to see where, how, they lived. It was incredible but, I wonder, if they came back and watched their decedents walk through their homes on a tour, what would they think? 

For me, it was a little strange to explore their homes, and their city, hundreds of years after their deaths. It’s a surreal moment, realizing that we’re connected by blood but divided by history. Sure, it’s a diluted sample of DNA, but we’re still family. Their stories are a part of my story. We’re connected, and there I was, walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.

Those feelings were amplified on the streets of Old Town. There are so many secrets and stories tucked away in every corner. My blood is connected to those stories, to the people, and walking down the Royal Mile let me see what my family might’ve seen. The sites, smells, and the energy of the old city they called home.

Maybe, in a way, time travel is real because as I stood outside of St Giles’ Cathedral, waiting to meet a friend, I felt a connection to the past, my past. There was a feeling of belonging, as if my ancestors’ DNA remembered that place. It felt like my blood let out a sigh of relief because it was finally home. 

Sure, this feeling could be a version of wish fulfillment, coupled with an overactive imagination. Or, I got caught up in the romanticism of travel and all of the stories I’d been told. Add to that, the abundance of kindness I’d received from everyone I met.

I know that Canadians are supposed to be stereotypically nice, but after visiting Scotland, I think we have to hand over the title or agree to share it. The people of Edinburgh greeted me with so much enthusiasm and exuberant pride. A pride that’s well earned because it is a magnificent city that was made better by a collective, genuine, kindness.

On the first night, during the cab ride from the train station to my hotel, I found an unexpected tour guide. This jovial gentleman pointed out alleys and shops that had interesting tales then told those stories with fervour and flare. I think I learnt more about the city in that twenty-minute ride than I did from all the travel books I’d read.

A few days later, while standing outside of Saint Giles’, half a dozen people stopped to offer their assistance. I guess I have a lost puppy vibe? I’d only been standing still for a couple of minutes before the first person approached. Even though I wasn’t lost and I didn’t need help, they spared a few minutes of their precious time to give me unsolicited but welcomed advice. Where to eat, what to see, which tourist traps to avoid and the many secrets hidden under our feet.

It was brilliant! Thanks to their kindness, I ate very well for very little, and I had experiences I would’ve missed if I stuck to the guide books. I suppose it’s no surprise that I felt such a connection to the city. Not after that welcome! I was treated like family by people who didn’t know me. They treated me like an invited guest, a distant friend, who had finally come home.

If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you’ll know that I don’t often feel a sense of belonging. I’m an awkward, weird outsider who just doesn’t fit. So, it was strange to find that belonging in a city I’d never visited, and with people I didn’t know.

Is it the power of genetics and ancestry? Finding a home you have never known, and walking strange, yet familiar, streets. I like to think that our cells have memories and that they carry the memories of those that came before us. If they do, then when we’re separated from our loved ones, our loved ones are still with us. They are a part of us. Their story is our story, and that’s a powerful and comforting thought.

Especially now, when so many of us are separated from the people we love. We miss them. I miss my people so much, but they are with me, and I find comfort in that. A small comfort, anyway.

There’s also something to be said about the kindness I received on the Royal Mile. The welcome, the advice, and the pride in their city, their home. Never underestimate the power of kindness! It can work miracles and it might be, and this is just the romantic in me, the reason my cells woke up and recognized their old stomping grounds. It could be why I felt a surge of connective energy, and I felt a sense of belonging.

I felt like I was home even though I’d never set foot on those streets or walked those hallways. I felt like I fit, like I belonged, and I felt a sense of peace. At that moment, standing on the Royal Mile, I felt a connection to a story that someone else wrote, and their story became my story.

And that warrants a contented sigh.


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