I believe the narrator in Jane Austen’s book Northanger Abbey sums up perfectly my whirlwind of a weekend touring Scotland and the Isle of Skye: “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”
Friday, July 17 – Day 1
I awaken refreshed from my first good night of sleep that I’ve had in a long time. They keep us super busy here in the London program; it’s worth it all for the enriching and life-changing experiences. Although I am a bit anxious about the 10-page midterm I have due for one of my classes the Wednesday after we return to London. I ban the stressful thought from my mind and, like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, add it to the burden of things to do on my back. I am so excited about the Haggis Tour of Scotland we are to start this morning at 9 a.m.!
We board the big, happy yellow bus and meet our two guides/drivers, Christophe (Chris) and Laura. They are both super awesome – the Scottish accents don’t hurt either. Wow, Chris’ voice was so amazingly soothing to listen to so early in the morning – he sounds just like actor Gerard Butler even though he doesn’t resemble him in the slightest.
The Scots have such a love, pride, enthusiasm and deep knowledge of their roots and history! Chris greets us saying, “Welcome to the wild and sexy Scotland!” Indeed, that is the logo painted on the side of our big yellow bus.
Along the way, Laura and Chris fascinate us with dramatic, passionate stories of Scotland. Time passes quickly, and we come to the charming little town of Dunkeld. “Dun” is Gaelic for “fort.” This is where Shakespeare based his play Macbeth. There is a monument where Macbeth really killed Duncan in an honorable duel right beside a Shell gas station – weird.
Another Dunkeld claim to fame is the writer and author Beatrice Potter. She was said to come often to stay and that she got the inspiration for her characters from this charming place. Some of the girls grab a few treats from a local bakery; it has been a while since breakfast. I get to pay 30 pence for the first time ever in order to use the toilet – wow, quite the monumental moment in the history of my 21 years. I have to say it is worth it – the cleanest toilet I’ve seen in Europe yet.
We walk down to the small loch by the very old chapel. I can truly describe the air as sweet and pure. On the way back I take one last glance around, and to my astonishment, I see on the hilltop in the distance, a regal white horse standing proudly and in a statue-like manner. I am more convinced than ever that Scotland is a magical place. Awe overcomes me as I feel myself transported into the movie The Two Towers – the part where Gandalf whistles and Shadowfax appears. This horse definitely resembles Shadowfax!
We arrive at the castle (they say it is haunted) in Southland, where we are to spend the night. The owners donated it and everything in the castle to the hostel society. The county bordering Southland had a duke back in the day. His first wife died and left him with a few children. The duke remarried a woman in a similar situation – her husband, too, had just died. The people never liked her and would refer to her by her dead husband’s title.
When the duke died, naturally the children were expecting, when the will was read, to inherit their father’s estate. Of course it wasn’t the case. Their father bequeathed everything to his second wife. The children were furious and took it to court. However, the second wife, the duchess, was caught hiding some papers, arrested and sent to prison in London for six months for interfering with the investigation.
Both sides were tired of fighting so the children decided to cut a deal with her – if she would relinquish everything, they would build her a house anywhere she wanted but just not the area they lived in and where their father had been duke. She agreed, but she was vindictive and had her castle overlook and border the town so that everyone could see her house. She died before her house was completed.
I go downstairs to help cook the meal we picked up at the supermarket. Spaghetti, salad and garlic bread – yum! This castle is literally out in the middle of nowhere. I end up being trusted with the preparation of the garlic bread. This should prove interesting. The stoves and ovens here in Europe are so different.
I quickly melt the butter in a small saucepan and then proceed to spread it over the three loaves of bread that had been halved. I then put plenty of garlic salt and pepper on. A few of the girls freak out to learn I had used the whole huge chunk of butter and were certain it would be pretty gross over buttered bread. I just smile and know their opinions would change if they would try it. The bread turned out, even to my surprise, really scrumptious! Everyone loves it – yay!
All of us walked 15 minutes to get to a pub that had been there since 1859. Inside, there was a huge chest full of Scottish Highland costumes. Being mostly girls, we are ecstatic about dressing up and quickly lace them up. Good times!
Saturday, July 18 – Day 2
After a quick breakfast, we are once again on the road. We get to see Loch Ness! No Nessie spottings, unfortunately. I am feeling touristy so I buy a gray t-shirt with the words “Loch Ness” and “Scotland” in navy blue with the flag of Scotland in between them. It is a sweet shirt!
Bonnie Prince Charlie was next on the list. Chris again captures our attention as he tells us the tale of the Bonnie Prince Charlie. We walk out onto the battlefield where the Highlanders faced the English army. One of the main reasons the English lost this battle is because it was a flat, open field. The Highlanders have this battle strategy called the “highland charge,” which entailed rapidly running down a steep slope and overwhelming their enemies.
As we are driving through the Highlands into the Isle of Skye, Chris starts telling us, in his lilting brogue, some legends that have been handed down through generations, of this old man, MacDonald, who ironically had a farm plus seven beautiful daughters. His wife had died, and it was hard sharing a small house with seven females.
MacDonald never got to use the hot water, and there was never any porridge left by the time he got to it or enough milk. He hardly ever had peace and quiet for himself. The man wished more than anything that his daughters would soon be out and wed.
Well, one day his two youngest daughters were doing chores by the loch when up sail these two very handsome Irishmen. They fall in love with the lassies after spending a few months with them all. These young men go to their father to ask for his blessing.
Old MacDonald was so excited and was about to say yes, when a thought occurred to him – if he married off his two youngest first, then people would think that something was wrong with his older five daughters. He glumly told them, “Sons, I like you a lot, but I’ll have to say no.”
The two men would not be deterred so easily, so great was their love for the lassies. The next morning they came to MacDonald and said, “Look, we have five older brothers just as handsome as we are. Let us marry your daughters, then when we sail back home we will send them here to Scotland to marry your oldest five.”
Their father was happy beyond words and the beautiful weddings took place. Two weeks pass, and the girls came to their father asking when their husbands were coming. He assured them it would be soon. Six months, then a year passed, and old MacDonald knew that he had been duped.
He went to a witch who lived in the mountains and asked her for help. The witch replied that her powers only worked in Scotland, ergo she could not bring the lads from Ireland over to marry his daughters. She quickly said, as the man looked crestfallen, “What I can do is to preserve your daughters’ beauty for all eternity, until these young men come for them.” The old man was relieved and immediately accepted the offer. He went home that night, gathered his girls and told them that it was all taken care of.
MacDonald went to bed peacefully that night. When he woke up, he noticed to his astonishment that he had enough hot water, porridge and milk. He was very puzzled at how quiet it was and went outside to sit on the front porch. As he did so, he noticed that there were five majestic mountains he never had seen before. Sitting there, old MacDonald sadly realized the meaning of the witch’s words when she had promised to eternally preserve his daughters’ beauty. It is said that when five handsome young Irishmen kiss those five mountains, they will once again transform back into five beautiful lassies.
We arrive and bask in the beauty of the Isle of Skye, which we will be touring in more detail tomorrow. Once again, we made our own dinner at the hostel right off the Atlantic Ocean. Macaroni and cheese – mmmm-hmmm!
Sunday, July 19 – Day 3
Chris tells us a story as I am groggily try to stay awake – it has been a long journey. He starts out saying, “When I was a little boy, my Uncle Harry would take me on all sorts of adventures.” His uncle told the little Christophe to close his eyes as they were approaching the surprise and that it would make it all the better. Little Christophe said, “Why, Uncle Harry, why?!” He told little Christophe to trust him.
Chris turns to us and says, “Now I want you all to trust your ‘Uncle Chris’ and close your eyes.” I giggle and oblige by closing my eyes. “Keep them closed. Close your eyes. Trust your Uncle Chris,” he tells us in his soothing brogue. I wonder what the surprise will be! Chris exclaims, “Now, OPEN YOUR EYES!!!”
My somewhat heavy eyelids slide open and then snap into a permanent eye-popping expression. It’s a castle out on a small island on a loch. I find it is called Eilean Donan Castle. I feel transported back in time and am reminded of the castle in the movie Made of Honor. There is much to see and we are given a tour of the castle.
As Laura drives, Chris tells us that our next stop is a magical faery waterfall (and yes, they do spell “faery” that way – they are not tiny people with wings and dust.) I see the little waterfall trickling out of the side of the mountain as Laura puts the bus in park. We hike up a little ways. You know what comes next, don’t you? Yep, yet another classic, blockbuster story. This isn’t just any tale, you know it is a faery tale – yep, couldn’t resist pointing that out.
It is about a feud between two Highland clans, the MacDonalds and the McClouds. For years they had been trying to come up with a way to keep the peace and stay reconciled, but they were always too proud and blamed the other clan.
One day as the two clans were meeting, the clan chief of the MacDonalds comes up with a solution. He exclaims, “I have a daughter who is ready to be wed and is the most beautiful lassie in the Highlands!” The clan chief of the McClouds says, “I have a son who is also ready to be wed. He is the bonniest, handsome lad in the entire Highlands!”
In order to bring about peace as quickly as possible, the couple weren’t given the usual year to live together to become acquainted before marriage. They were given just a week. They came back after a week and looked very happy and very much in love. The people of both clans rejoiced and wedding preparations were under way.
The MacDonald lassie took her donkey, male servant and dog for one last visit to her home. On the way her donkey stumbled and she was thrown off, hitting her face on a rock. She was a bloody mess – her eyeball hanging out of its socket, her jawbone all crushed. The girl despaired and insisted that she couldn’t get married like this. The manservant told her that she must for the good of the people, so he patched her up and pulled the veil over her face.
At the altar, the bridegroom pulled off the veil just to make sure it was really her. He yelled in angry horror, “You tricked me and gave me the ugliest woman in the entire Highlands!” The room broke out in chaos as everyone began fighting and killing each other. The lad stormed out and in his anger stabbed one eye of each the manservant, the donkey and the dog. The young lassie felt it was all her fault, and they all pathetically made their way back home.
She began weeping and sat down to rest by the waterfall (the very one we are next to). Looking up she spotted a wee little man at the top of the hill where the waterfall begins. He makes his way down and asks her if she knows who he is. The lassie could care less but he tells her anyway – he is the king of the faeries. The faery king asks her what the matter is. She weepingly tells him all.
He soothingly tells her not to fret and that the waterfall that she is sitting next to happens to be a magical one. All she has to do is stick her head in the water for seven seconds and she would emerge more beautiful than ever. She does so and, lo and behold, emerges more beautiful than she ever had been!!!
The manservant sees her and says, “Wow! You were hot before, but now you’re even hotter!” (as Chris put it.) The manservant sticks his head in and he emerges the most handsome man in the highlands. The dog jumps in all the way and emerges a lovely dog. The donkey too goes in and comes out a magnificent black stallion! Well, suffice to say, the MacDonald lass never goes back to her former fiance, but instead runs off with her manservant and lives happily ever after. The end.
Last stop before Edinburgh is the monument of the great William Wallace! For those of you who need a hint, think Braveheart. As most of you know the history and jist of Wallace, I will spare you the details. Only know that Braveheart, the movie, is very inaccurate in some places and that it was Robert the Bruce who was known as “Braveheart.” The movie painted him to be more of a villain than he really was.
Chris once again did a re-enactment of one of the main battles. It was a very very steep and long hike up to that monument. It was built with the people’s money in honor of him.
Peace out, friends!