Finally, the last day of my trip. And probably my favorite day. Much fun.
Wednesday, July 27:
I had been planning a trip to Loch Ness since I found out that I was going to Scotland. In my opinion, every vacation merits at least one foray into the campy. (And certainly more than one if you’re going somewhere like Myrtle Beach.) I had convinced not only my mom but Kevin, Jeff, and Jenny to come with me. Jill would have come as well, but she was saving her journey into the Highlands for later in her longer stay in the UK.
When we first arrived in Scotland I searched online and found a motorcoach tour into the Highlands and among the lochs that left the bus station in Edinburgh around 8 am and returned around 8 pm. It turns out such tours are quite popular, and despite my early booking we weren’t able to secure our spot until the last day of our stay in the country. This turned out to be a blessing, since by the end of the week I was certainly ready to climb onto a bus and let someone tell me where to go, what to take a picture of, where to eat, where to look in awe and amazement, etc.
We boarded the bus bright-n-early with a surprisingly diverse group of tourists. I was expecting primarily blue-haired old ladies who had trouble working the flash on their Nikons, but in fact I was among everyone from Japanese teenagers to German honeymooners. We left Edinburgh through the west end of the city while our tour guide, predictably but quite appropriately wearing a kilt and all the trappings, pointed out the sights, most of which I’d already seen.
He was actually a great tour guide, though, which I feel is unusual on this sort of trip. He was funny in a sarcastic-bordering-on-mean sort of way and made a reference to the magnificence of whiskey at every opportunity. He also explained the royal line intelligibly, which is extremely difficult to do. By the time we reached our first stop, I knew that the current head of the MacGregor clan is Gregor MacGregor of MacGregor (no joke) and that you should never trust a Campbell. And that there are 10 million sheep in Scotland.
Our first stop was for morning coffee in a small town called Callander. It’s one of those small, quaint villages people visit to stay in a bed and breakfast and look for antiques, and it’s surrounded by mountains that, at the time, I thought were quite impressive. (Of course, we had just begun the tour, and the mountains got much more impressive as we went along.) And Callander’s bakeries are full of scones and clotted cream and fruit tarts. Mmmmm.
A very lovely parking lot.
From Callander we went to Glencoe, which means “Glen of Weeping” and is the site of a massacre of the MacDonald clan by the Campbells. Never trust a Campbell. To get to Glencoe we first traveled through a pass guarded by three enormous mountains they call the Three Sisters. These sisters have Gaelic names that I could not spell even under threat of red-hot pokers to the eyes, but they sounded very convincing coming from my kilted tour guide. In any case, this was one of the most beautiful (and greenest) places I’ve ever seen. It was still a little early, so mist was still rising off the peaks of the moutains. They truly seem to have unique personalities, and the way they rise before the pass really does make it seem as if they’re guardians of Glencoe.
Even with my panoramic camera, I couldn’t fit all three sisters in one frame. So fit these together in your brain:
Here’s my mom in front of the Sisters:
And the mandatory bagpiper, who was photographed many times but wasn’t making any tips This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip.
We stopped at the Glencoe Visitor’s Center for lunch, and Mom and I, thinking we were being quite adventurous, ordered Cock-a-leekie soup without knowing what it was. Disappointingly, it was chicken and leek (hence the “cock” and “leekie”). Fortunately, it was also delicious and came with a sandwich that consisted entirely of bacon.
The next few hours were spent mostly on the bus. We passed through Rannoch Moor, which is one of the most desolate places you’ll ever see. There is no other word to describe a moor but “desolate,” although that seems a little inadequate. The moor is dotted with peat bogs which will suck you in like quicksand. People who want to hike across the moor (and such people, surprisingly, do exist) are simply told not to. There’s something a little strange about seeing such a long stretch of completely uninhabitable land, since the US tends to ignore the uninhabitable-ness of land and settle it anyway (hence Houston resting on a swamp). I wasn’t able to take pictures of the moor because I refuse to try to take pictures out of a moving bus.
We also took a spin through Fort William, which I did not find horribly exciting and in fact barely remember.
And then the crown jewel of our tour… Loch Ness. It is enormous, and even Kevin, great monster-skeptic that he is, admitted that even if Nessie was living in there it is not unbelievable that we have not been able to find her. Loch Ness is 25 miles long and averages at 600 feet deep. I spent the entire 20-mile drive along the loch to the visitor’s center watching for Nessie, and I have decided to tell everyone that yes, I indeed saw Nessie. But as I said before, I do not take pictures out of a moving bus. Honestly, such amateur photography would be an insult to the dignity of the monster.
We arrived at the visitor’s center and Mom and I quickly decided that we did not want to watch a stupid film for 20 minutes. We browsed around the gift shop a while until I realized that not one item in the Loch Ness Visitor’s Center had anything to do with Nessie. Not one loch monster tee-shirt, key chain, or crazy hat. I was seriously pissed.
Quite miffed, we walked down to the loch for the view and to check out Urquhart Castle, a 14th-century garrison in ruins and a popular Nessie-spotting… uh… spot.
A view of the loch and the castle:
Another view of the loch:
Loch Ness through a window at Urquhart:
Once we left Loch Ness we passed through Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, but unfortunately only stopped to drop off some people taking a longer tour that lasted into the next day. We passed back through the mountains and stopped in a small Victorian resort town called Pitlochry for dinner, where I wasn’t brave enough to try the haggis but did have Yorkshire pudding and fresh strawberries and cream (much safer).
It was back to Edinburgh after that, but not before our tour guide could castigate one unforunate tourist who had not only eaten the haggis but apparently had not eaten it correctly. It is Scottish tradition that you are not supposed to eat haggis without first talking to it. Address it, if you will, recognizing its great tradition. Our tour guide broke into a Robert Burns poem in Gaelic called “Address to the Haggis,” which he claims has no English translation. (I doubt this, but I’m not going to look it up right now. Besides, you can figure much of it out.) I’ve reprinted it below, but in text it does not reflect the hilarity and absolute amazement I experienced while listening him recite the entire poem from memory with a fondness that a man can only express toward stuffed animal innards.
And with an enthusiastic rendition of “Address to the Haggis” by Robert Burns, I end my travelogue.
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they strech an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o ‘fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!