Monday, February 28, 2011

Nessie, where are you? Part 1 of my Highland adventure.

For some reason, I spent an entire semester here without visiting the highlands of this beautiful country. I knew I had to get there before I went home, and thus, I went on a MacBackpackers tour of Isle of Skye and the Highlands. 

When my flatmate Megan and I signed up, were informed that we had to meet the bus in Edinburgh at 7:45am. For some reason, it didn’t click that in order to be in Edinburgh at 7:45am, we’d have to be up at 5:15 and out the door by 6:00. Edinburgh, why must you be so far away?

Anyway, after patting myself on the back for being able to get us to the hotel without getting lost, we met the group and set off.

Our tour guide was named Ruthie, and she was amazing. She filled the bus with mostly Scottish tunes, some of which was quite mainstream pop music (for example, KT Tunstall and Amy Macdonald), while others were bagpipe-filled folk music or Celtic rock.

We drove out of Edinburgh, across the Forth Bridge, and into Fife, where we stopped in the small town of Dunkeld. We hopped off the bus and wandered around for 45 minutes, stopping to eat and visit the local cathedral. Megan and I bought some delicious scones, oatcakes, and local cheese.

The next stop was Ruthven Barracks, used during the mid-18th century Jacobite uprising.

We wandered through the barracks, admiring the views and the horses grazing outside. 

There wasn’t much inside the barracks because the Jacobites set it on fire as they recognised their loss in the fights. However, we still stood in admiration for this very old structure.

We continued further north into the highlands, stopping at the site of the Battle of Culloden, which was the final fight between the Jacobite rebels and the government forces.

Up to 2,000 Jacobites were killed in this short battle, and the field is now filled with mass clan graves and stones recognising the clans who suffered losses in the war. Many people on the bus walked through the fields searching for their ancestors’ graves. 

We moved on to Inverness, driving through the small town where my flatmate Tyla comes from. It was much smaller than I had imagined. We didn’t stop inside the town, instead moving towards one of Scotland’s biggest tourist attractions: Loch Ness. 

This loch is gigantic, and there are many suggested statistics about it. For example, it’s sad that one could combine the amount of water from all lochs in Scotland and it still would not fill Loch Ness. 

We headed down to the water with a bottle of whisky (as per the tradition!) and we enjoyed the view. This is the first part of the trip where I was so happy to have invested in a good pair of Wellington boots. I watched people trying to balance on rocks and eventually falling in, becoming soaking wet, and then I simply walked right into the water for my photo. 

We continued to Urquhart Castle, a medieval castle that is now one of the most visited historic sites in Scotland. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside the castle, so we just hopped up a fence and took some photos until security came and told us to stop. 

Our next stop was a short coffee break, but it was where I saw my first highland cow! These cows are found throughout the highlands and are adorable.

Next, our bus drove through the mountains as our guide told us stories about the area. For example, there was one mountain that is said to be the site of a fight against the devil. The fighters tricked the devil, causing him to lose the fight and throw his fist in the air, shaping the mountain. 

Along we continued, through the mountains, where I saw some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Although it’s been inhabited for thousands of years, the highlands really feel an untouched heaven.

Day two of the trip coming up soon!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Safe and sound in Stirling

Today, I arrived back in Scotland. As I’m writing this post, I’m sitting on the train between Glasgow and Stirling, so I should be back in residence very soon. I haven't taken any pictures on the ground yet, so I'm going to place some pretty in-the-air photos instead.

The plane ride started off a bit rough. The plane taxied away from the gate towards the runway, but then the engine would not start. It tried for a few minutes, but then the pilot realised it wasn’t going to work, and we would have to go back to the gate. 

At the gate, we sat and waited for more than two hours while mechanics replaced the engine starter. I took it as extra time to sleep, although it was a bit worrying, as I’ve never had a problem like that on a plane. However, as it was pointed out to me, if the plane is going to fail, the engine starter is the best thing to fail. At least we wouldn’t be going in the air until it was fixed! 

After that issue, it was a rather smooth plane ride. I slept for the majority of it, waking up for dinner and to readjust myself in the oh-so-small seats. I suppose I now understand why Air Transat’s plane models are called Airbuses. I’m pretty sure I get much better legroom on a bus. Thank goodness I’m only 5’2”. Note to any big people, particularly those over six feet: Do not take Air Transat, unless you’re some sort of contortionist. 

I loved that I could fly directly into Scotland. Last time, I couldn’t get a direct ticket, so I landed to London. While it was nice to see a new city, it’s so much faster to fly directly in, knowing that I only have one bus ride to the train station (25 minutes), and the 45 minutes on a train that I’ve taken many times. It’s much less scary! 

I’m looking forward to getting back to my room, visiting my friends, and most of all right now: taking a shower. Oh, plane rides. Just one more transatlantic flight for me this year, thank goodness.