Hardened by our first tour out of Edinburgh against the rainy gales of the north,
we were blissfully surprised at the blue skies and white clouds that greeted us
on our tour of the Highlands!
I had been looking forward to this day the most,
and the Highlands delivered even more than I could have hoped for!
We stopped in Callandar for a bite to eat,
waltzing right back into the same café we lunched at
during our windy tour of Loch Lomond.
Happily recognizing us, the waitress chatted us up
as we paid for crisps and gluten-free orange cheesecake.
Our guide was even more talkative than the one we toured Loch Lomond with,
seeing as he had a driver to do the driving so he could do the touring.
He told us how trees nearly went extinct here to build ships for the World Wars.
Slowly, Scotland is finding its green oxygen again.
The Highlands are full of stories of sorrows,
as bands of clansmen fought against English invaders for their lands
and right to live and pray as they please.
Our first stop saw us at Black Mount.
Our guide furthered our Gaelic by teaching us that "ben" is Scots for "mountain".
Apparently, this ben sports an English name despite its Highland location.
Little Loch Tulla glistened behind us as we squinted for a picture.
Boy, that Highland sun can shine when it has a mind to do so!
Loading back into our wee bus
(some of the group cheerfully stuffed with roadside cart food)
we bumbled past marshy peatlands.
Our guide heralded our next stop with epic scenes in Braveheart and Skyfall,
some of those shot in the sloping valleys and volcanic peaks of Glen Coe.
It is often translated as "Glen of Weeping" in reference to the Massacre of Glencoe.
(The Highland hills run red with blood, I tell you it's absolutely tragic.)
But Glen Coe actually takes its name from the river Coe that runs through it,
a most ancient sliver of water predating the comprehensive Gaelic language.
No matter its etymology, it's a breathtaking place to visit.
I hear it sprouts rich green come summertime.
Travelers stacked stones in meditation of the beautiful area that is Glen Coe,
or perhaps they were trying to replicate a cairn, a trail or territory marker.
A little ways down the road found us among named Glen Coe peaks.
The "Three Sisters" stood strong before our eyes.
Being so close, it was hard to capture all three together.
We troddled on to Ballachulish for a little shopping.
I found this toilet so monumentally historic, I had to snap a photo.
Afterwards, snagging a few trinkets from the wee souvenir shoppe,
we drove to the legendary mountain range of Ben Nevis.
Being the highest mountain in the rainy British Isles,
the summit is only visible sixty days of the year.
(And we were there for one of them! Woo!)
He regaled us with stories of lost hikers climbing the treacherous peaks
and of a mysterious grand piano buried under rocks and rubble at the tippy top.
A monument erected in view of Ben Nevis,
dedicated to those who lost their lives in WWII,
as Scotland was the place they trained for combat.
Our guide continually reminded us of how lucky we were
to have such a clear view of the beauty of this ben.
Someday we may hike the Highlands, leaving Nevis as our final ben to conquer.
For now though, we'll peacefully admire her from the green ground.
The sun followed us to the place I'd dreamed of seeing for a very long time,
A guide showed us where we stood on the Great Glen Canoe Trail
with names in Gaelic and English (something you'll find more in the Highlands).
Something we learned:
Scottish Gaelic is pronounced "gah-lich" whereas Irish Gaelic is "gay-lich".
Loch Ness is the largest in volume of all Scottish lochs,
with more fresh water than all English and Welsh lakes combined.
On the surface, the waters stir deep blue, but below they rest murky and dark,
a perfect hideaway for a particularly shy loch beastie.
Oddly long and shallow waves ripple in the loch, most likely formed by boats,
but none were sailing when I snapped this photo...
...it's almost as though a bonny dinosaur fished just below the surface. Eep!
I could've stood on the rocky shore of Loch Ness all day,
soaking in the brilliant sunshine and watching the waves for Nessie.
We had precious little time though, being so far north of Edinburgh,
so we explored the town whose banks touched loch waters,
I really could not tear my eyes from the loch.
It was like being in the presence of a legend.
The town flourished with green and cute wee houses.
The old stone architecture boosted the loveliness of the town,
so much so that I truly want to stay here someday, perhaps for our next Scottish tour.
Just one more peek of the loch...
...gosh, you're beautiful.
Can I stay forever, please?
As soon as we turned from the glistening waters of the proper loch,
we realized how grumbly our stomachs were, it being well past lunch time.
The docks of the loch were so pleasant to walk along,
I would have loved to walk up and down them all day if we had the time.
Smiling people fed bits of food to elegant flocks of swans.
The mood of the entire town was so happily peaceful.
Fort Augustus, you lovely town, we will be back!
It was actually quite incredible (I ate around the batter),
much more so than my regular ol' humdum salmon.
KK's hair is prettier than mine when windswept
and I don't know whether to be affronted or proud.
We spotted Nessie outside the water all around town.
Indeed, I even bought a tiny glass sculpture of her from this cute shoppe.
Gosh, we love the Highlands!
Our next trip to Scotland will definitely see us staying here up north.
As though reflecting our sadness at leaving such a pretty town,
along with the shores of the breathtaking Loch Ness,
storm clouds rolled overhead as we climbed back into the tiny bus.
We met up with other parties of the same touring company, Rabbie's Trail Burners,
(which we highly recommend by the way, we will tour with them in the future!)
where a Highland-garbed guide educated us on the topic of kilts and skirts.
"Without underwear, it's a kilt. With underwear, it's a skirt.
If you call a kilt a skirt, you'll get KILT."
He also informed us no gentlemanly Scot would wear shiny shoes with a kilt
so as to spare the eyes of those nearby of any reflection off them.
Our guide took us to one of his favorite places to escape in the Highlands,
a peaceful surrounded by flora with Ben Nevis' range on the horizon.
He told us of the "right to roam" law in Scotland,
where you can camp anywhere, free of charge,
so long as you aren't disturbing someone's private property.
A cairn rested quietly on the slopes, this time as a memorial.
Fox had told us many of Skyrim's landscapes were inspired by Scotland,
and truly I absolutely believe it.
The Lowlands are fertile and good for business with their English neighbors,
but I am so enchanted by the Highlands,
I cannot think of living anywhere else in Scotland.
It was incredibly difficult leaving Scotland.
Oh, everything went smoothly enough -- we woke up on time,
our cabbie waved off the odd pence remaining on our bill
so we could hurry into the warmth of the airport,
our plane seats were right behind business class with extra legroom...
But Scotland felt like home,
like a balm to an old ache to be whole.
The day we return cannot come soon enough.
Chi mi a rithist thu, Alba.