With six weeks of work behind me, I’ve finally made the first investment of my income in travel by paying off the remaining balance of my Highlands Tour. Immediately upon arrival, I’ll be spending my first seven days in the Scottish Highlands, an abrupt plunge that will hopefully force me to adjust to the time change quickly and provide me with some serious exposure to Scottish geography and culture.
According to the Trip Mates page on the tour website, Susan and I will be traveling with a handful of Australians as well as a woman who is either from Singapore, England, or both. This will obviously be my first time in Scotland, so I’m interested to see whether our trip mates will be return visitors, world travelers, siblings, friends, married couples, or any other combination of relationships crammed into one bus.
In preparation for the trip, I’ve kept a Text Edit note on my desktop. In moments of distraction or the rare hour of free time, I’ve been doing some light research about each stop along the way, and I’ve copied and pasted some quick summaries to help shore up my sieve-like memory. Here’s a quick look at what we’ll be seeing:
- Edinburgh: My transatlantic flight leaves for London on August 22nd, and from there I’ll be flying into Edinburgh, which I’m still not completely sure how to pronounce. (Edinburg? Edinborah?) I’ll have an afternoon to run around this city, and the next morning our Highlands tour will depart.
- Edinburgh to Inverness:
The trip here will take us “through the heart of Macbeth country.” Inverness, whose name means “Mouth of the River Ness,” is the town where King Duncan was murdered, an event immortalized in Shakespeare’s shortest play, Macbeth. I have to admit, I’m a poor student of Shakespeare – my interest in literature is intensely focused on Modern and postmodern lit at the moment. However, as I struggled through a Shakespeare survey last semester, I happened upon the 2010 PBS version, which is set in a dystopian, WWII-esque version of Scotland. You can watch the whole film on Netflix or for free on the PBS site if you’re interested – definitely worth your time if you’re looking for a new way to appreciate Shakespeare. Hopefully we won’t see anything as creepy as the weird sisters (featured in the clip above). On a lighter literary note, we’ll be stopping at Dunkeld along the way, the location of a summer home where Beatrice Potter spent some time writing. I had a long book of Beatrice Potter stories as a child, and I credit the book’s mature vocabulary and ornate syntax for pulling me into a lifelong love of literature. We’ll also be stopping at a whiskey distillery on the way to Inverness.
- Inverness to Loch Ness:
After our haunt of Macbeth’s landscape, we’ll stop in the Caledonian Forest, a unique forest landscape that is home to a variety of Scotland-specific birds and other animals. Next, we’ll see the ruins of Urquhart Castle, a stronghold during the Scottish Wars of Independence during the 14th century, and finally we’ll end up at Fort Augustus at Loch Ness. Fort Augustus is a small town kept afloat by tourism, and I could not be more excited to join the horde of camera-clickers hoping for a glimpse of Nessie. When I was a kid, my mom became a fourth grade teacher at my elementary school, and I used to sit in her classroom an pore over the same book about Nessie hoaxes while she finished up her work for the day. Saturday morning programs about echolocation technology and the search for Nessie sucked me in and kept me glued to the couch for hours. Nessie may or may not be real, but I want to believe.
- Free day at Loch Ness: And as if one day of monster-spotting wasn’t enough, they’ve given us an extra one. Some suggested activities included biking, hiking a mountain, and drinking beer, so I think we’ll have a good time even if Nessie is shy that day.
- Loch Ness to Lewis: Our trip on this day will take us through “some of the most isolated mountain ranges in Europe,” which should be a great midpoint to reflect on our trip. We’ll pass Corrieshalloch Gorge, a site known for its incredible view. This leg of the trip will kick off the culinary highlights of the Highlands; we’ll stop in Ullapool for classic fish and chips. I thought it was odd that Ullapool was singled out for fish and chips, something I thought was quite a ubiquitous dish in the UK, but a little more research revealed that Ullapool is home to Chippy, a carry away place known for grouchy service and the fact that it was awarded Best UK Take Away at some point. I remember seeing Chippy on Travel Channel or Food Network at some point; I’m hoping that they might also have deep friend Mars bars, a variation of American boardwalk food that is surprisingly served at some Scottish restaurants that keep deep fryers running constantly. Why not deep fry a Mars bar if you have hot oil anyway?
- Lewis and Harris: At this point, we’ll have to hop on a ferry boat to continue on to the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago whose population is concentrated on Lewis and Harris. This is the location of the Callendish Stones, a cousin of Stonehenge presumably erected for similar ritual purposes or timekeeping purposes. This area is also the birthplace of tweed; if I come back from this trip with a natty new wardrobe, you’ll know where I got it.
- Harris to Isle of Skye: I’ve seen photos of the Isle of Skye, and I’m expecting to be completely overwhelmed by its beauty. Skye’s captivating natural setting generated the bulk of Scotland’s folk lore about fairies and other mysterious and magical forces, according to our tour site. Fairy tales are an interesting way to encounter childhood; just as Americans have tall tales, like Johnny Appleseed or Babe the Blue Mule, I’m sure Scottish children inherit their culture at least partially through fairy tales. That’s just my guess at the moment, though. This is the most mysterious portion of the trip to me, and I’m hesitant to approach it with too many facts in mind when coming in with no expectations and an open mind could help me to absorb fantastic stories with less skepticism.
- Skye to Edinburgh: We’ll spend our last day passing through a variety of battle sites, the death of our trip mirroring Scotland’s history of death and destruction in war. “The Weeping Glen” at Glencoe is the site of the massacre of the MacDonald clan in 1692. The MacDonalds were targets because they were apparently tardy in pledging allegiance to monarchs William and Mary, for whom Susan’s alma mater is named. We’re also passing by Stirling, the site of a monument to Braveheart, the historically inaccurate film of which I surprisingly have yet to see.
I completely lost track of time and hope during my first six weeks of work, during which I worked without a day off. However, with an extremely fun Midsummers weekend behind me and only four weeks of work to go, I’m finally starting to feel excited as I remember why I’m frantically trying to earn some cash in the relatively short span of time I have before I fly out. By the time we’re back in Edinburgh, our flat at St. Andrews will have opened for the year and we’ll be able to move in. I have about a week before classes start, during which we’ll take a bus to Aberdeen to take in the Highland Games. By the time I pick classes at orientation, I’ll hopefully have learned more about Scotland in a few weeks than I could in a year of reading articles and examining photos online.