The Highlands

Getting out to the Scottish highlands can be a little tricky when you’re a solo traveler trying to not spend a fortune, but the backpacker solution is to get a good deal for three days in the highlands with Haggis Adventures.  So a motley crew of us ended up going around in a bus like this-

Of  course, it almost didn’t happen.  I got the girl at the hostel desk to call the Haggis office for me and she told me the tour would start at 9:45am the next morning… at 8:42am I was in the perpetual argument of convincing myself to get out of my bed when another hostel worker stuck his head in to ask what was I doing, didn’t I realize my tour was going in two minutes?  What?!  That got me up, and within five minutes I was downstairs with my packed bags hailing a cab to speed me to the departure point, wondering why it normally takes me 20 minutes to pack if I could do it so quickly.  Shots of adrenaline will do that I suppose.

Anyway, I made it because it turns out Alan the driver is a saint and waited a few minutes extra for me.  I didn’t perk up until lunchtime when I got something in my stomach, but by then the scenery had picked up as well-

So it turns out the highlands are pretty.  Really pretty.  As in you will no longer wonder why the Scots settled the South Island of New Zealand because it looks just like it.  Granted, the South Island is a lot bigger so they probably still win overall, but it’s a close call.

One thing they don’t have in New Zealand though- castles!  Really, I think I said this before if we could get an artistically-placed castle or two in the American West it wouldn’t seriously deter from the scenery.  States could even charge permits and admission or whatever to help their budget crises.

Hanging out in said castle, whose name currently eludes me.  I’ve seen a few of these so I can’t say much except it was like any castle only more so, but the kitchen was exceptional.  This was because they tried to recreate what it must have been like back in the day with wax figurines and the like, which gave the whole thing a bit of a wonderfully disturbing feel.

Me with Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the U.K., in the background.  The north face of Ben Nevis is considered to be one of the hardest climbs in Europe due to the swiftly changing weather and almost cliff-like steepness, and in fact this is what North Face climbing gear is named after!  The more you know…

Another interesting detail about the highlands is how, well, empty it is compared to most of Europe.  You travel through this huge amount of space without hardly seeing a soul- turns out the reason for this is a few centuries ago the English forcibly resettled all the Scots to the lowlands so next to no one lives there today.

An aside- it goes without saying that the Scots and English do not particularly like each other.  It seems like the Scots will leave the U.K. sooner instead of later (and if you had that much North Sea oil and whiskey to export I wouldn’t blame you), but I think that will be an interesting debate when it happens.  Not like the English can invade again, right?

The most interesting point I learned about the English-Scottish relationship though was how it turns out Scottish children don’t actually learn about Scottish history in school, the argument being that it would just incite greater hatred towards the English.  I couldn’t quite believe this and was a bit dumbfounded- by the same argument does this mean we shouldn’t teach American kids about slavery because it would inflame racial tensions?  Call me odd, but I’ve never been met with a thorny problem and thought “you know, being more ignorant would surely solve this issue!”

Anyway, some of the loveliest scenery in Scotland is found on the Isle of Skye, and after a mere day there I have to agree.  I mean, just look at it!  For those astute moviegoers out there they filmed Stardust on the Isle of Skye, though I’m certain they waited a long time before they got the good weather.

My favorite Isle of Sky tidbit is how you need to cross a bridge from the  mainland to get to it, and when said bridge was constructed it was so overbudget it had the highest toll in the world to cross it (6.50 pounds one way for a car!).  The farmers weren’t happy so they made an exception for vehicles carrying livestock, which prompted everyone residing on the island to borrow a farmer’s sheep whenever they wanted to go to work.  Needless to say, the toll was abolished rather soon after.

Kilt Rock, the stone in the middle so named because of the tartan-like pattern in the cliff.  Allegedly where a giant put his kilt when hiding from another giant or due to a special type of volcanic flow, whichever you prefer.

Speaking of kilts, ever wonder what traditional Scottish people dressed like? (Before, yes, the English banned the style.) We went to a little show where the skill was demonstrated on one guy and a girl, and my friend Conor and I stepped up to the task.  Should be noted that unlike private school the girls aren’t the ones to wear kilts, only the guys, as the girls just wear tunics.  And I’m wearing a red-haired wig because about 80% of the Scottish population was redheaded at the time.

Something else very Scottish- a hairy cow!   Pronounced ‘airy coo’ and properly known as Highland Cattle, they’re mainly around for tourism these days.   And also very cute in that shaggy sort of way.And as a final detail, you see bluebells everywhere in Scotland and they are absolutely lovely.  Countless fields laced with blue.

Of course there’s more to say about the highlands, including a monster who may or may not exist, but that will have to wait until later.  Cheers!

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