Thursday, November 22, 2012

Edinburgh: Weeks 6-8

Hello everyone! I seem to have slackened off in my devotion to maintaining this travelogue over the past month. My apologies! Things have been crazy busy and I think it is likely to remain this hectic through the end of the semester. BUT I want to write about my trip to the Scottish Highlands before I completely forget everything.

I spent the weekend of October 27-28th traveling throughout the Highlands with my friends Sophie and Maria, and it was honestly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The Highlands are absolutely incredible, and even though we made a ton of stops along our way up the northeast border of Scotland, I still feel as if what I have now seen is barely a fraction of the wonders tucked throughout this region of the country.

We started our journey at 7:00 a.m. and made our first stop at the William Wallace Monument in Stirling. It is quite a steep, brisk climb to the top of the mountain (where the monument sits), but it is completely worth it. The sun was still in the process of rising and the views from the summit were incredibly breathtaking. Stirling Castle stood upon its dormant volcanic crag in all its epic splendor. The monument itself is rather impressive, though because we arrived so early, we were unable to view the insides of the place. Bummer!

Sophie and Maria at the foot of the mountain.

We drove for a bit (passing some beautiful open fields and rivers with deep blue water flanked by trees--seriously, could Scotland be any more perfect?) and then stopped in Aberfoyle, where we met Hamish the Scottish Highland cow. Apparently he is very famous in the country (I had no idea)--there seems to be a Wikipedia page devoted to him and everything. Who knew? Hamish has a "girlfriend" named Heather and a daughter named Honey. They were all super shaggy, and Hamish has HUGE horns. I have to say I am a fan of Highland cows. They are so furry and big and have really sweet faces. Anyway, Aberfoyle was beautiful and it was such a great first peek at the Highlands landscapes, which are SO different from those in Edinburgh (obviously) and even from Stirling.

We had to drive quite a few hours before we reached our next destination, Glen Coe. On the way there, we passed sprawling hills, huge plains, mountains and rocks cutting into the land. I am still in awe of the sheer variety of landscapes in this part of Scotland. We also passed through Rannoch Moor, which is about 50 miles of boggy, lush moorland. It is flat and wet and dark and mysterious and gorgeous and so cool to look at. It was also featured in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which made me excited since I read that novel for my "Edinburgh in Fiction" course. (I am a dork, I know.)

Rannoch Moor.

By the time we reached Glen Coe I was positively giddy with excitement. I do not really know how to describe Glen Coe in any way that could even begin to do it justice. It is majestic in every sense of the word. The mountains are massive and they go on for miles and they are covered in lush moss. There are so many different shades of yellow and brown and green and grey. Glen Coe is so beautiful and stunning and overpowering. At the same time, the entire experience seemed completely surreal. These mountains seem so simultaneously dead and alive: sheep dot the hills but so do tons of scraggy rocks and huge boulders. We actually traversed Glen Coe on foot, and I am SO glad we did! The hike down was very muddy, slippery, and steep, but being in the bottom of the glen and looking up at the mountains rising starkly into the air was both utterly indescribable and completely humbling. We are but tiny creatures living on an unbelievably large planet that is truly owned by nature. My mind was completely blown! If I could only choose one place to visit again in the Highlands, it would be Glen Coe.

We next stopped in Fort William, the second largest town in the Highlands, which is charming and located right alongside Loch Linnhe, with Ben Nevis rising up against its skyline. After exploring Fort William for a bit, we drove to Urquhart Castle, which is located close to the little village of Drumnadrochit. The castle used to be a stronghold of importance in medieval Scotland, though today it is pretty extensively in ruins. Urquhart sits right on the shores of Loch Ness, and, not surprisingly, the majority of historical Nessie sightings have occurred near Urquhart! Unfortunately, there were no sightings of the Loch Ness Monster during our visit, but I can definitely see why the myth has yet to be dispelled--Loch Ness is GIGANTIC and very mysterious; it seems like the perfect place to hold such magical secrets in its murky depths. So no Nessie sightings, but Urquhart does offer positively lovely views of the loch. The funny thing about lochs in Scotland is that in some ways, they all look the same, yet I never tire of looking at them, and I am always blown away by their beauty. 

We arrived in Inverness around five o'clock in the evening and I was absolutely exhausted from all of the exploring we had done all day. Inverness is the "Capital of the Highlands" and is the most highly-populated part of northern Scotland. The city was really quiet, which we found strange considering it was a Saturday night. Still, we managed to find a cute pub to enjoy a cozy dinner of mac 'n' cheese over a lively discussion about feminism. Delicious and stimulating! Since most everything else was already closed, including seemingly every café and shop, we ended up heading back to our hostel around 9:00 p.m. The hostel itself was really nice and clean, and for my first ever hostel experience, it was not bad at all! I wish I could have explored more of Inverness. I did enjoy all of the Christmas lights strung up between the buildings though! (I just love Christmas.)  

We woke up around 7:30 a.m. and proceeded to depart from Inverness soon after. Our first stop on our long journey back to Edinburgh was the Culloden Battlefield, situated in Culloden (surprise, surprise). This was the site of the last battle of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. It took place on April 16, 1746, and only lasted about 40 minutes due to the sheer force of the government troops. Those poor Jacobites! Yes, William Wallace fought in this battle. Yes, this battle inspired parts of "Braveheart" with (you know, that little movie with Mel Gibson). Cool, right? 

The battleground itself is an absolutely huge flat expanse overgrown with moss and highland shrubbery and heather. It is very dim and gray and brown. (It was also muddy and wet during out visit, due to the previous night's rainfall.) Red flags mark where the English government's soldiers stood; blue flags where the Jacobites stood. There is a large memorial cairn in the middle, and dozens of gravestones marking the deceased members of certain Highland clans--in some areas of the battlefield we were essentially walking over dead bodies! Kind of gruesome but also sort of, kind of really cool. Walking through the Battlefield was a very sobering experience, yet at the same time, Sophie, Maria, and I had a jolly good time "recreating" the battle!

Our next stop was the small little town of Pitlochry, where we grabbed a yummy lunch and did a bit of shopping. I managed to find quite a bit of MacMillan tartan, which was exciting since it has proved very hard to find anywhere else in the country. I also picked up some delicious-looking homemade marmalade for both sets of grandparents--they will taste so good with Scottish biscuits! We drove for another few hours before arriving at The Hermitage, an absolutely GORGEOUS national park that features a river winding tumultuously over huge rocks and thousands of huge Douglas Fir trees. A lot of the trees had turned yellow and orange, and I felt like I was in Vermont in the early fall. It definitely helped to assuage the homesickness I had been feeling for a New England autumn! 

We ended our weekend trip with a brief visit to Dunkeld, a quaint little town that sits on the River Tay. We explored its Cathedral and grabbed yummy cakes at a cute little pastry shop. I had the most delicious chocolate mint cake--it had actual bits of mint leaves in it. SO GOOD. Dunkeld was such a charming, quiet little town. Just like practically every other place we visited on our trip, it had absolutely beautiful views of the mountains and the fall foliage. 

All in all, I LOVED my weekend in the Highlands. There really are not enough positive words to describe how wonderfully life-affirming and life-changing this trip was for me. It renewed my sense of self and my sense of why I am here in Scotland. It reminded me how small I am; it was humbling in the best way possible. It made me feel alive and vulnerable and adventurous and very, very free.

I think I found a part of myself in the Highlands. How wonderful is that?

No comments:

Post a Comment