The title says it all really. This past weekend – March 24-26 – may very well have been the best weekend in my entire life. For this was when the API group was set to tour the Scottish Highlands. Castles, the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness … the list goes on and on and on. In 72 short hours I saw things that made me believe that I was in a fairy tale. I hiked over hill and dale through mud and snow like my ancestors did before me. I took 628 photographs and video clips. I made new friends and got closer to the ones I had. I did things that literally took my breath away. Most importantly … I. Lived. This is the story of my trip into the Scottish Highlands.
I woke up in the early morning of Friday, March 24th ready and eager to see what awaited me. I made sure to eat a healthy breakfast, for I knew not what my upcoming meals would deliver upon me nor in what capacity they would be in. As such, I felt it necessary to truly prepare myself with a good meal.
My bags were already packed from the night before. Truth be told I probably overpacked, but in the end it was the right decision to bring my hiking shoes, my bathing suit, and an extra set of clothes in case I got dirtier than I expected. With Lawson in tow I made my way to Waverley Station where the common meeting point for API always is. There we ran into the rest of the crew and exchanged the usual morning pleasantries before boarding our coach. This bus would be our for the weekend, and its driver, Alastair, was a friendly Glaswegian who would be partaking in our adventures with us.
In retrospect, it was a hell of a job Alastair did. I have never seen anyone maneuver around tighter hairpin turns in a full sized coach than this man did. He was friendly, kind, and a heck of a driver. Normally coach drivers don’t get close to their clients, but this guy was along for the ride just like all of us from API were. So let me send out my sincerest thanks to Alastair for A) putting up with us and B) being the greatest coach driver that I have every had. Cheers man, you are good at what you do.
In little to no time at all we found ourselves in Stirling. Here we picked up Nory, our tour guide for the weekend – who also happened to be the man to pick us up from the airport upon our initial arrival – as well as Rachel, Tara’s boss from API and the Stirling API students as well. All but two seats on the coach were filled – something which Nory assigned Nick to keep track of throughout the weekend. Henceforth Nick became responsible for making sure everyone was on the bus before we departed each destination. I think he did a good job considering we did not lose anyone along the way.
Our very first stop was Doune Castle. Located just of the River Teith in Doune [fun fact: Doune was once a famed producer of firearms. When someone says “armed to the teeth” they are literally referring to the River Teith and the town of Doune] this castle has gone through almost no renovation since it’s initial construction. I say almost since there was scaffolding everywhere upon our arrival. Oh well, given that we only had 15 minutes to spend at this place there wasn’t enough time to complain about it. We didn’t even have time to get a tour of the inside. Though, it was fun to talk about this place with my friends considering it has become a famous location for filming. It has been used in Outlander, the pilot of Game of Thrones, and most famously it was where this incredible scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. Yet, we only managed to crack but a few hamster and elderberry jokes before we had to head back out on the road to our next destination.
We arrived in the small town of Callander about mid-day. Here we stopped so that we could buy some lunch for the picnic we were having later. Everyone stopped in at this little shop called “Mhor Bread”. I felt bad for the shopkeeps, for they were getting their business … too much business. Our crowded swelled into this quaint little shop until it was almost bursting at the seams. It was clear they were overexerting themselves. Though, business is business I suppose. I got my sandwich and then proceeded to follow my friends into a shop where Lawson bought a wool cap that made him look like more of a dad than we already identify him as. That’s not to say it looked bad, yet I’m not saying it would suit someone like myself either.
From Callander it was a short trip until we hit the highland line. While technically an imaginary border, it nonetheless represents a very real divide from contemporary Scotland into a world nearly untouched by development. Here was where the clans reigned supreme until the end of the Jacobite risings. It was, and is, a wild place. Towering mountains, classified as the munroes, loomed over every turn, and I couldn’t help but feel insignificant under their towering stature.
I was hooked. This land was so far gone from every sort of rational element of civilization that I had come to know. So little of it appeared to have been molested by man, and because of that everything oozed a primal essence. This was especially apparent when we got to our stop for lunch – the magnificent Glen Coe.
We sat surrounded by mountains. The views of massive cliffs and snow capped peaks will forever remain with me. I could not keep my eyes to one specific view, and so I tried to take in them all. In my scanning of the area I saw all sorts of things that I wanted to photograph, and so I rushed out into the fields, trekking through mud and snow just like my ancestors to get “the shot” as I have come to call them.
Dirt had already accumulated on the hem of my Carhartts, and I was already exhausted from working my way up and down the highland hills to get the best photos that I could. Although, regardless of the multiple times I fell or sank deep into the earth I could not wipe the smile off of my face. It was like heaven. Fresh air in my lungs, well worn ground underneath my feet, and some of the best views I have ever seen in front of my eyes. It was magical. The fact that Nory proved he was a world-class storyteller made the experience that much better. For while being our guide he also possessed the gift of a poetic mind, and from him we were gifted the opportunity to listen to long stories of mythical Scotland, of contemporary Scotland, of the Scotland of old, and of the Scotland that could be. The man, for all intents and purposes, is a theatrical genius.
And I can’t do any of it justice.
Any of it.
As I started to write this post, I thought it would be possible to describe each detail of what I went through – where I went, what I saw and did.
That simply is not possible.
Granted, I could continue on as I did above, that is, meticulously reminiscing every moment, every second even, of what I did this weekend. To be fair, that would be a lot of work, and ultimately rewarding in the end. But to rebuke myself, I know just how taxing that can be, having sunk ten hour days into writing the Rome post just for the sake of doing it. That burnt me out, and I have no desire of letting my literally flame die. So I will not do that here. This trip deserves better than that. It’s not about the amount of words that I put down that interests me, but the content of what they say. And dammit if I won’t make every single letter count. It’s not enough to say something was beautiful when it moved me at my core. It’s not fair to describe the colors of the sky when I have not the words to explain how they ignited my soul each and every night.
I cannot express how fairy tales came true as I traversed the rocky ledges of the fairy pools. The crystal clear water below me, my friends jumping in the water – myself dunking my face in – with such picturesque imagery that remains vibrant in my mind to this day.
I cannot fathom the history behind Lochs Carron and Shiel, where my ancestors likely gathered to fight in the Jacobite risings and pop culture evolved behind the title of “Harry Potter”.
I cannot think of how I deserved to be close to Eilean Donan Castle, and witness history as unmolested lands and buildings flanked my every side.
My eyes still cannot believe the views that were provided by Portree, the hike up the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, and the Cuith Raing. Who knew such places existed? And all on one island alone no less?
My mind cannot wrap around the fact that I purposefully spilt blood on in the Fairy Glen in hopes of making a wish come true. For I had naught important enough to give (or part with), so I decided to prick my finger and spill some of myself on the worn earth. Who knows if my wish will come true, but the place certainly felt like it possessed an air of magic about it!
My hands still feel the dirt underneath them as I tried to scale over hill and dale to get the best shot I could. Especially in the Hermitage and Ossian’s Cove…
My nerves may never recover from jumping in Loch Ness. For when I hit the water everything went numb for a moment. I could not breathe until I hit the shoreline. In reality, I could have died had I panicked and succumbed to the freezing cold. 10/10 would do again.
Forever too, will the sunsets and sunrises be imprinted in my head. Quite simply, they were the most gorgeous I had ever seen. Whether it be by myself in the wee hours of the morning, or having coffee with my friends, or stopped off the bus for a few moments, truly, the sky ignited each and every day.
Of course, I can’t forget the mountains either … we were in the Highlands after all.
Lastly, I cannot and will not ignore the perfect accommodation that we stayed at. For myself and roughly 16 others we were placed at the Stationmaster’s House in Stromeferry, just East of the Isle of Skye and on the Southern tip of Loch Carron.
There are a lot of great pleasures in life, but I firmly believe that it is the little things that make it all worthwhile. Being able to kick back, listen to Noah and Nory play the guitar, make new friends and get closer to the ones I had, watch the clear stars under the unnaturally clear Scottish sky, make a fantastic meal of haggis, neeps, and tatties, shoot the shit over a BBQ, and comb the beach in the early morning… It was heaven on Earth.
Yet, I took no photos inside the place. What happened inside is for myself and my friends to remember. Of course, Loch Carron and the exterior is evident in some of the photos above, but being able to turn off my camera for a moment was a minor blessing.
It was with great sadness that I returned to Edinburgh on the 26th. There was simply no possible way that any weekend I have had so far here could have compared to the sheer perfection that was my trip to the Scottish Highlands. My friends would likely agree with me too. The trip was unanimously confirmed to be a magnificent success on all levels. Tara and Nory would go on to say that it was one of the best trips they have ever been on, even though they have done it numerous times before. At the end of the weekend, I had 628 pieces of photo/video to edit and post … speaking of which:
So here’s the thing … I get that this post wasn’t exactly formatted like you may have been expecting it to be. That is purely on me. I chose to focus on editing and producing the videos. I chose to take considerable time to work on photos for Instagram. I chose to commit to finishing my research paper by Friday.
Ah, it makes sense now doesn’t it?
Yes, the reason that I did not do a classic style TWB post was because I was committed to getting coursework done and using YouTube as a crutch. To be fair, I had approximately 0 minutes of down time all week. That, and I am dealing with a nagging cold that just doesn’t want to go away. Also, I’m turning 21 on Sunday and I really did not want a research paper on the back-burner while I begin to celebrate. Yet, at the beginning of the week, when I had barely started my paper, knew I had thousands of words to write for this post, and hours of editing to do, I did not succumb to procrastination. Today, I can say that I will get this post out on time without having to postpone it, I did finish a rough draft of my research paper, and I crushed my editing, as you will see if you watch the videos above. Add in the fact that I had a trip to North Berwick on Wednesday (more on that next week!) and it’s safe to say that I put my nose to the grindstone this week like never before.
But, it’s over now.
Gone is the best weekend of my life.
Oh how I wish I was still waking up in Stromeferry – my coffee in hand and my friends, old and new, by my side. The mountain air in my lungs; the muddy earth underneath my feet. Nothing will ever compare to what I went through this weekend.
I dunked my face in the Fairy Pools in hopes of gaining eternal beauty.
I ran up muddy hills in Glen Coe to take magnificent shots of highland wilderness.
I hiked up the Old Man of Storr to witness a land that reminded me of Lord of the Rings.
I cut myself in the Fairy Glen as a blood offering in hopes that my wishes may one day come true.
I stood over Kilt Rock and Ossain’s Cove, and underneath the Cuillin mountains and the Cuith Raing.
I passed through Portree, Uist, Kyle of Lochalsh, Glenfinnan, and Fort William.
I got to see famous castles in Doune and Eilean Donan.
I witnessed some of the clearest stars that I’ve ever seen under the Stromeferry sky.
I observed glorious sunrises and sunsets.
I watched roebuck, sheep, and highland coos traverse the countryside.
I listened to Nory’s vivid imagery of what once was, both fairy tale and reality.
I jumped into Loch Ness and let adrenaline course through my body.
I made and ate dinner with wonderful people.
I combed for sea glass and watched the tide fall in postcard quality scenery.
I got to know new friends and get closer to the ones I already had.
I truly lived.
If nothing else from my time studying abroad I will remember that weekend – the places I went and the people whom I was with along the way.
Yet, all good things must come to an end. Luckily for me there are plenty more adventures to be had.
Until next time.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.