One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.
Is that footsteps? I stop moving, thereby quieting the noise from my feet, but my breathing won’t get with the program. I listen as intently as I can above my panting. Yes, I definitely hear someone approaching. From overhead. Damn.
I move to the extreme right edge of the step, turn sideways, suck in my gut, duck my head, and plaster myself against an appallingly inadequate few inches of stone wall. And then I wait. Ah, here they come—a couple emerges around the tight bend. Sighting me, they do the only sensible thing: they stop. But there is no help for it—the architect inexplicably chose not to include a passing lane or a pull-out. With apologetic smiles, they turn sideways too and begin to edge past me. As they squeeze past, we make enough body contact to affiance us in some cultures.
As my new intimates continue downwards, I unplaster myself from the inner wall of this spiral staircase. I’ve lost count of the number of steps I’ve already mounted, but I remember the total: 287. It won’t get done by perching here on this postage stamp of stone, so I resume my climb.
I am climbing the Scott Monument, a gothic tower in downtown Edinburgh, for no better reason than that I did it when I was here in 1970. At 18, I was responding to a challenge from my father’s two spinster cousins, whose fiances did not come home from the Second World War. At 60, I am responding to an internally generated challenge. After all, how hard can it be?
It turns out it isn’t the climb itself that’s so tough—with intermediate platforms providing places to stop and look out over the city, the tower’s primary challenge is not cardiovascular. No, it is the converging walls of the tightening spiral and its effect on my slight claustrophobia that will be my primary memory from this ascent.
Hunched over to avoid banging my head, I finally emerge from the last staircase to find that rain-soaked Edinburgh is no more photogenic from a height of 200 feet than it is from street level. To get full value from my £3 entry fee, however, I feel that I must spend a certain amount of time at this altitude. As the open space normalizes my heart rate, it occurs to me that it’s a good thing the Big Guy gave this a pass. He would likely have gotten wedged in the second-last staircase. It occurs to me, too, that it’s a good thing I revisited this scene from my youth on this trip. In another 42 years, it’s just possible it will be beyond me.