Fun fact: only one scene of Braveheart was actually filmed in Scotland. The movie got much better tax breaks from Ireland, so most of it was filmed there! (Sorry to ruin the movie magic, Dad...would it help if I told you that I stood in the only place in Scotland the movie was filmed?)
The trip to Scotland started out as most ISA trips did: on a chilly, English morning in a train station. We got to the newly renovated King's Cross station at 7 a.m. on the dot, only to have Maria tell us that she told us to get here an hour earlier than we actually needed to be to ensure that we had no latecomers, like usual. So we meandered around, checking out the station's new digs, until we finally boarded the train.
|Edinburgh from the castle|
Regardless, the castle was epic. Beautiful views, some spectacular jewelry (the Scottish crown jewels), and the relatively sparse apartments of James I, King of Scotland. On top of all of that was this breathtaking war memorial. And, with that, our fifty minute tour was up, and we were loaded onto a tour bus with our very Scottish tour guide, Alan, to lead the way!
From there, we departed down the path to the Loch itself, and took a boat cruise out onto Loch Ness! Keeping our cold eyes peeled for Nessie, we learned all about the different sonar devices used to track the monster - apparently there's not just one Nessie, but a whole family of her! And, much to my surprise, there's a surprising amount of science put into this venture: DNA testing, the tracking of fish breeding patterns, and so on. Whether you believe in the monster or not, though, the lake was spectacular. Just as, I was soon to find out, all of Scotland is.
We returned to our hostel and had a lovely time with our guides, Alan, and the ISA troop in the hostel's bar. We tried the local beer (Black Isle), played some games, and almost agreed to don some tartan - luckily, most of us went to bed before that happened. We were up early, and were headed to the Isle of Skye!
On the way to Skye, we took a whole bunch of scenic stops - one at a lake that's shaped like Scotland, and one at this ancient castle on another Loch called Eilean Donan. I actually can't say enough about how rugged and gorgeous Scotland is - it was quite unlike anywhere else we'd been, and I felt like at every turn was another view or another building that was just astonishing, and couldn't possibly be topped.
We explored Eilean Donan, and headed out, back on the way to the Isle of Skye. We crossed over the Skye Bridge, and took a stop in a little fishing town known for all these colorful houses on the harbor. Then, we went to our most spectacular stop yet: a view over the entire Isle of Skye, high on a cliff. Words fail me, and pictures just do not do it justice. We spent a while up there, just soaking it all in.
We finally left, and made our way to what Alan called the Scottish equivalent of the Irish Giant's Causeway. I've never been to the Giant's Causeway, but I'll tell you that these cliff faces were pretty awesome. We left the cliffs and went to "God's Thumb," which just made me think of the movie Holes. Alan then took us to a spot in between these two mountain ranges: one range is among the oldest in the world, and the other, among the youngest. Incredible!
Then, Alan parked the bus and took us down to a little river, and told us a story. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young bride from one clan, who was about to be married to a handsome young man of a rival clan. Their marriage was going to repair some historic warring between the two clans. On the way to her marriage, the bride was crossing the bridge over the river we were standing at, on a horse, her long veil hiding her beautiful, smiling face. But then, a mouse ran across the bridge and spooked her horse, throwing her into the rocky water below. Face mangled and dress wet, the poor bride thought to herself, "my fiancee will love me no matter what I look like!" But when she arrived at the altar and he lifted her veil to find her once beautiful face bleeding and gross, the groom fled. The bride ran back to the river, weeping, and a fairy spirit came to her and asked her why she was crying. She told him, and he told her that if she stuck her face in the river she would be given eternal beauty and life. So she did, and she still runs around the mountains to this day.
And everyone did it. Even Maria, who complained the whole way about her makeup, was a true ISA champ and put her face in the cold Scottish water in the name of beauty and life.
With that long day behind us, we finally retired to our hostel, Saucy Mary's (http://www.saucymarys.com/index.htm). A few of us went exploring, but we all eventually found our way back to the hostel for dinner (mainly because it was basically the only thing open in the town). Our dinner was accompanied by some lively Scottish music, and a good time was had by all.
The next morning we departed from the Isle of Skye, and got to see Ben Nevis and a World War II memorial. Then, we wound our way through the Highlands (finally stopping at that one place that Braveheart was filmed), and were told countless stories of the different clans and their wars. I especially remember how hated the Campbell clan was, for their deception against some other clan. There was also some story about a brave Highlander that I only vaguely recall, but remember as being very entertaining.
Countless breathtaking views and a visit to an ox later, we were back in Edinburgh, to board another train and to sleep through the five hour ride back to good ol' Londontown.