Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Loch Ness

Saturday was what I came to Scotland for! We got on a Student Tours Scotland coach bus at 8 am, with a backpack full of fruit and sandwiches, and began the three and a half hour journey into the highlands. It was actually really fun - Gary, the Student Tours leader is a gifted storyteller... or something. He kept us well entertained, and sitting at the very back of the bus with Holly, Rebecca, Isabella, Jared, Shayna and Taylor sort of felt like a throwback field trip with your friends. We drove right past Loch Lomond, which always puts the song in my head for the rest of the day. It was a beautiful foggy morning, and as we drove further toward to highlands and through Glencoe, Gary told us the truth about the Scottish mountains.
As it turns out, Scotland was once inhabited by only giants and witches (or "wetches" in Glaswegian...), and the witches were annoyed by the giants always crushing them to death. So the witches turn all the giants into mountains, and lost all their powers becoming humans. Which kind of explains why the Scots are such weirdos - they're actually Squibs. Anyway - it was worth it, because I have never seen anything like the Scottish mountains. I've never seen mountains bigger than, say, Mt Tremblant in Quebec, so seeing these massive formations was truly breathtaking. They're tremendous rock formations, all of them with some kind of waterfall or creek running down them. The rocks are covered in long, shaggy, unbelievably green grass that actually makes the whole mountain look soft and beautifully rolling. So much of the country we drove through was completely barren of any kind of settlement. It was truly wild and gorgeous.

Some shots from my seat on the bus

Ruins of Urquhart
Our first destination was the ruins of Urquhart castle in Inverness. The castle was built right against the banks of Loch Ness. It was apparently one of the best placed castles, with perfect position to defend from both land and water. I can't believe how much of the castle still stands after these hundreds of years. Both of the Historic Scotland sites I've visited so far seem to have a real investment in recreating and restoring the original conditions. Where the castle was ruined, a sketch of what could have been was always accompanying the area. For example: the stables and the pigeon house in Urquhart were just the rubble of the walls, but we could clearly make out a horse stall, and four remaining pigeon holes. The castle was also an incredible place to see Loch Ness. The lake is huge and long, and we couldn't have gone on a nicer day to see it.

Loch Ness and the highland mountains.

From the castle, we went to a sweet B&B/farm also right on the edge of Loch Ness. It was run by a lovely English woman who raised horses and highland cows, mostly to keep the grass nice an trim. The B&B was at an old pier that poked out on old stone over the lake. It was a warm day, so standing on the pier was a perfectly comfortable viewing point of Loch Ness stretching out around the property.

It was so cool to be at the farm. We had full run of the place, so Holly and I went hunting for the hilarious highland cows. I have a soft spot for cows - actually I love them. I love big animals of all kinds, and cows are so hilarious I can't help but love hanging out with them. Even more hilarious than the dairy cows of Ontario I'm used to are the highland cattle of Scotland. They are huge and lumbering as cows are, but at the same time they are woolly and super hairy - the rock stars of the cow world.

The elusive highland cow.
We found this one trying to disguise itself behind a bush, but we weren't taking no for an answer and decided to go make some bovine friends. It was a bit of an adventure through the mud and cow pies, across the stream (Holly stone-stepped, I took off my socks and shoes and walked right through it). We were a bit nervous about the horns on them, but like I said, cows are awesome. They just sort of lay there while we goofed around. 
Making new friends.

We wandered from the farm into the little town of Fort Augustus with about an hour to kill. We found a pub beside the lift locks called the Lock Inn, so we decided to take another Scottish leap: haggis. There were seven of us and we had ordered one plate to share. I'm not sure how the others felt, but I'm virtually fearless about food so I couldn't wait to dig into it. It came in two round slices garnished by berries in a whiskey mustard sauce that was perfect. Personally, I loved it and probably could have eaten the whole plate myself! It definitely will not be my last time having some while I'm here. Delicious!!!

*** Some blog updates:  Scroll down to the very bottom of this blog and see a slideshow of my entire photo album. On the sidebar you can visit my online photo album and browse all of my pictures from the trip.

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