Skye and the Highlands Weekend
Hello, everyone! It’s time for another scintillating instalment! This weekend, I joined the International Student Centre for an epic trip to sundry parts of the Scottish Highlands. In case this hasn’t made it through already, the ISC is a university organisation that organises events, including bargain-priced trips, for international students at Edinburgh Uni. I’ve gone with them to Durham and the Lake District, but this one was definitely the trip I anticipated the most. The models differ a bit, but for overnight or weekend trips they’ll book with a local tour company called Haggis Adventures, so we get a tour guide as well.
We left Edinburgh on Friday evening in a flamboyantly yellow Haggis Adventures bus and drove three hours up to Inverness, near Loch Ness. This was a fairly uneventful part of the trip, essentially designed to get us into the Highlands as soon as possible. We arrived in the town about 10:30, and after some extended kerfuffling trying to get all 100 students into the right rooms in the hostel, me and a mate ventured out to wander around the town a bit – sort of looking for food, but not really expecting anything to be open in an obscure town near to midnight out of season. Turns out this was quite erroneous – Inverness, as it turns out, is pretty big and certainly has a large number of open pubs and takeaway joints; as well as a grand church district and a bridge covered in lights. We even found a castle, which we had no idea even existed! It also had a large and well-amenitied Macca’s, with Gaelic on the door, so naturally we took advantage of that.
The lit-up bridge
A fancy church which is apparently ‘Free Church of Scotland’ as opposed to the regular kind…
Getting excited to see snow on things in a city
Atmospheric Inverness Castle
Welcome to McDonald’s
Bright and early the next morning we had a light continental breakfast and then piled back on the bus towards Loch Ness. On the way there, we stopped in a village to see some hairy Highland cows and to walk through the forest to a Victorian ‘summer house’ – basically a stone shed where gentlemen would send their wives and mistresses to do delicate things like watercolour, and themselves would go to drink and make merry with their mates. It was quite picturesquely located. Fun fact: it seems that there are so many lochs in the Highlands for two reasons – that the Highlands are composed of high mountains and deep valleys, in which water collects, like a rucked carpet; and that there is a fault line running from the north-east to the south-west the whole width of Scotland, which is covered in lochs and rivers the whole way along. When they built a canal to cross Scotland, only something like 9 miles of trench had to be dug – the rest of the way across the country was covered in a straight line deep enough for container ships to pass through.
Quite warm for them…
Wouldn’t want to be here in the winter!
Quite nicely located though…
Continuing on, we made a few stops at scenic places and all got very excited to see mountains with snow atop them – it is really cool actually, because of the shape of the highlands the mountains seem to just rise out of flat ground like molehills, it’s quite awesome.
Once on Skye, we stopped at a river that divided the historic clans that vied for control of the island, and the guide told us an extremely protracted story about an attempt to marry the daughter of one clan chief to the son of the other – involving her tearing half her face off trying to cross the river, going through with the wedding anyway with her veil up, the groom’s family finding out and then going nuts, them slaughtering everyone then tearing off the face of the girl’s donkey and page boy and guard dog in retribution, the king of the fairies telling her to wash her face in the river to restore her beauty, and then her dumping the son because he only cared about her looks, and marrying some other bloke, thus failing to end the clan rivalry. We all quite enjoyed it, except for the people he got to play the characters and without warning got to plunge their faces into the icy river (though apparently it wasn’t as bad as it has been before – sometimes they’ve literally had to crack the ice to shove people’s faces in!).
Following on from this were many many stops for scenic hiking and breathtaking views, which are far better shown than described.
A day well spent, we turned in at a hostel in Broadford. I got up early the next morning to walk along the loch on the doorstep, and then we left Skye. First stop was Eilan Donan Castle – reputedly the most photographed in Britain – a 1920s copy of a 13th-century castle (the story goes that it was demolished in the Jacobite uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the plans were lost; when the family that owned it married into money they decided to rebuild, and the owner had a vision of the castle, which after building and finding the plans in a drawer during the refurbishment of Edinburgh Castle it was found to be 97% accurate). Despite its relative youth, the castle was well-apportioned and in a stunning location – and the guide got us in even though it was closed on a Sunday, so all in all it was pretty good.
After Eilan Donan, we made a beeline for possibly the world’s most famous glen (essentially a valley between strings of mountains, very common in the Highlands), Glencoe. It is stunningly wide and deep with sheer snow-capped mountains all around it, and home to an extremely infamous massacre which happened on the 13th of February 1692 and to this day excludes the Campbells (who supplied the government soldiers who lived with the pro-Jacobite locals for two weeks before slaughtering them all in the middle of the night) from Glencoe. On that cheery note, we walked for some time through the blinding sunshine and got our feet quite wet in the squidgy surface.
From Glencoe we spent the next several hours driving higher and higher up, and seeing scene after scene of increasingly snowy moors with mountains randomly rising out of them, including where they filmed Skyfall (but weren’t allowed to blow it up, so they did that part in Hampstead Heath instead). It was absolutely stunning, even with the bus window’s bluish tint.
The last stop was in Killin, a village which featured the Falls of Dochart, a narrowing of the river where all kinds of rock formations made the water go every which way. It was more impressive when you climbed right down into it than it looked from the bridge. It was also home to the Burial Ground of the MacNab clan, which you enter at your own risk – whether that is a tripping hazard or the spirits of the feuding dead, the sign did not reveal. There were Bundaberg ginger beer stubbies in the town shop, which got me nostalgic about Australian foods of all kinds – Chicken Crimpy Shapes and dim sims were high on the list.
Well, that about wraps it up! I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s entry. Fear not, I’ll start travelling again soon enough and then the blogs will be super regular again 🙂
In other news – I’m doing well in uni, pulling marks I’m very happy with and gearing up for exams which may be a challenge as I don’t really have them at home. The Mikado had our dress rehearsal tonight and we open tomorrow! Still haven’t died from my own cooking but there’s still a few months left 😛 I miss you all!