I had to step back a few feet to get a glance of the Scott Monument from the ground up to the spire. It was terrifying and made me rather dizzy. (It reminded me of the time back in junior high when I froze at the top of a five-tier bleacher and it took a couple of teachers at least an hour to get me down.)
I was in my last full day of strolling around the streets of Edinburgh, taking in the remaining major attractions I wanted to see before leaving. For several days since my arrival, I had walked past the awe-inspiring gothic tribute to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Located in the Princes Street Gardens, the monument, a cathedral-like structure, towers well above the other buildings on Princes Street and the surrounding area. This stunning piece of art, made from Binny sandstone, stands two hundred feet six inches tall, with a spiral staircase of 287 steps.
I had been reading the brochure and thinking how much I really would like to go up to the top of the monument and experience the view, but my fear of heights kept me firmly planted on the ground, content to just wave to the people at the top of the spire. Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of me and I was faced with a tough decision: Do I let my anxiety take over or do I take the challenge? I reasoned that I was here at this very moment in time, staring at an incredible historic monument, and would most likely never have this opportunity again. I stood and observed the people descending and those going up. A few people coming down took deep breaths of what seemed to be relief, while the folks going up grinned, possibly expressing delight in the adventure. If they could do it, then so could I, I reasoned.
Still with some trepidation, I handed over my money to the man standing at the entrance, stepped inside the gate, and immediately came face-to-face with Sir Walter Scott and his dog Maida in the form of a white Italian marble statue. At this point I had to walk further in, a foot or two more, to reach the beginning of the spiral staircase. The light seemed to be subdued, yet it was just enough to see the steps in front of me and start my climb. I continued on, all the while holding tightly to the thick, round railing attached to the wall as I ascended the triangular stairs. Each step became narrower and narrower the higher I went. At one point, I looked straight up towards the spire and became lightheaded. I quickly took a few deep breaths and focused on the back of the person in front of me. Just keep looking straight ahead, neither up nor down, I told myself; you'll get there. Though the pace was slow, the stairs were many and upwards, and my legs began to ache.
Finally, I stepped off onto the first platform and breathed a sigh of relief. There, I took a quick peek into the Sir Walter Scott Museum, which is lit from sunlight filtering through stained glass windows. Housed within is a sanctuary with numerous models of the characters created from Sir Walter Scott’s works.
Taking another deep and longer breath, I braced myself for the climb to the second level. There was barely enough room for two people to stand on the same step, yet others were racing past me going down the stairs. This appeared to be a far too dangerous thing to be doing, and I became frightened and felt rather sick. Would one of these fall down the stairs to their death? Brushing away those thoughts, I focused once again on the upward climb and my goal.
At the third level, I was close enough to examine the architecture and other life sized statues on the interior and exterior of the monument. These also depicted characters from many of Scott’s novels.
Finally, I arrived on the last platform at the top of the spire. I pushed myself through the kid sized narrow opening and onto the platform. It was a tight squeeze at that point, and I was forced to push up against the people already there and go with the flow. It was well worth the effort. What a striking 360-degree view of Edinburgh and beyond. It was as if time stood still at the top of that spire. Holding tightly to a railing, shoulder to shoulder with someone, I finally felt safe and ventured to look down. People scurried around like ants, and the buses, cars, and even the train were in miniature.
After experiencing the wonder of it all, I took one last look out, a few deep breaths, and again pushed myself from the platform through the narrow opening and started back down the slim stairs. My pace quickened and any fear I had completely vanished. The steps were once more getting wider, and I knew I was going to be planting my feet on solid ground very soon.
When I reached the bottom, I could not help but step back once more to take my final look at the Scott Monument and experience the full view. I was ecstatic--and pleased with myself. If only the junior high school teachers could see me now!
Cathy Laska lives in Wausau, Wisconsin and is a freelance writer with bylines in “Wausau Daily Herald, and Travel Post Monthly. When Cathy gets the opportunity she enjoys traveling, photography, and chatting with the people she meets on her adventures.She has also written “More Than a Mission,” a memoir about her mission trip to Kenya, East Africa working with HIV orphaned children.