Memories of a trip are often colored by the overall experience as a whole; certain things end up defining the trip, while others fall through the cracks of recollection. When my husband and I took our first trip to Scotland two years ago, we were plagued by bad luck at the outset: missed flights, lost luggage, and a traffic accident, were just some of the obstacles we faced. In our retelling of the trip those things seem to take precedence with listeners, while the less shocking moments get pushed aside. My personal memories of Scotland don’t consist of everything that went wrong, but rather, everything that went right. Here are just a few of the things that stick with me:
(photography by my husband)
*wide open Sligachan, and the vitality of it’s picture postcard views
*eating shortbread cookies in the rain, while sitting on a moss covered wall in Pitlochry
*how the wind whipped my hair all over the place as I looked out across Edinburgh, from the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel
*the rust colored jellyfish I saw in the wake of the ferry, as I cautiously looked over the rail
*sitting on the side of the road after our tour bus accident, taking in the rural view with all of my senses, as the police officer directed traffic behind me and yelled at the passing cars for driving too slow
*comparing the rubberband bracelets that adorned my wrist with the teenage girl from France, who also had many on her wrists as well, as we laughed at how the steam from the open train window fogged up my glasses and the coal dust dotted our clothes
*the lazy seal, napping as he floated in the water along the dock in Mallaig, waiting for the fishermen to throw him a treat as they cleaned their nets
*standing beside a waterfall on a crisp cool morning, as l gazed out over the mist covered moor
*how the cool air bit my skin while the bright sun freckled it at the same time, as I viewed an iconic white cottage with it’s massive mountain backdrop in Glencoe
*when the owner of a small cafe in Fort Augustus sent me a complimentary fruit plate when he found out I didn’t enjoy my glass of Irn Bru, Scotland’s other national drink.
*Eilean Donan Castle at dusk, trying to protect my face from swarms of biting midges
*the sense of wonder I felt when strolling through the historic streets of Edinburgh, thinking “wow, it’s just like a film set!” and then realizing it has been a film set, many times over.
*seeing heather bloom in it’s natural environment
wild are the winds to meet you staunch are the friends that greet you kind as the love that shines from fair maidens eyes
With the wretched curse being broken on day 4, we experienced a wonderful two days on the Isle of Skye before crossing back over to the mainland and winding our way down through Glencoe, to arrive back in Edinburgh.
Our first day on the Isle of Skye was packed to the brim with beautiful sights! In the cool misty morning we stopped at a picture-perfect waterfall
and drove past the iconic Old Man of Storr rock formation. It has many legends attached to it but our guide told us that it was thought to represent an old man (standing) and his wife (sitting) who made a deal with those trickster faeries and were turned into stone.
We visited a prehistoric Brochthat was located just off the side of the road. in a sheep pasture.
I was feeling a little shaky up on that hill!
there was honest to goodness scottish thistle all around though, so it was worth it.
Historic Dunvegan Castle, with it’s many strollable gardens, proved enjoyable.
My husband took a boat tour of some surrounding islands to view the seals. I thought that riding in a small motorized boat that only seated a handful of people was just taunting our recent bad luck, so I declined.
The bridges and surrounding mountain views at Sligachan were lovely and one of my favorite stops of the trip.
We ended the day at our home-base of Portree, with enough time to grab dinner and wander around the picturesque port town.
The next day we took a ferry back over to the mainland. I had much more confidence in that boat…
and then we hopped on a steam train that took us to Fort William.
We couldn’t resist sneaking into the first class compartments and pretending we were on our way to Hogwarts.
We then experienced unforgettable Glencoe
before arriving back at our starting point.
Our last day was spent exploring Edinburgh itself
and wandering around the base of Arthur’s Seat. We climbed the first little bit up to the ruins of the old chapel but after our last few busy days, I did not have the energy to attempt going higher.
After finishing up our 3rd day by shopping for new clothes and a small replacement suitcase to take on our upcoming tour of Skye, we slept wonderfully! Because, you know, that tends to happen when you’re in a hotel bed instead of an airport cot or airplane seat.
FYI: the best way to combat jet lag is to not sleep for the first 48 hours.
Day 4 dawned bright and early. We were able to awaken and get ready with ease; not hard to do when you have one pair of jeans and three t-shirts to choose from, along with no styling products or makeup to fuss with.
While eating breakfast, Husband gave me an odd look as I slathered marmalade on my scone. “Why are you putting jelly on your biscuit”, he asked, “did they forget the gravy?”
As we set off to find our tour company, we snapped a quick pic of the cafe where J.K. Rowling supposedly first wrote Harry Potter. Our 10 year old daughter would never have forgiven us if we had forgotten!
We checked into our tour company and went outside to wait with the group until it was time to load onto the small touring bus. Husband picked this time to suddenly need the rest room (didn’t we leave the kids at home?). So he wandered off in search of a Cafe, with warnings from me similar but not limited to “if you’re not back in time I will leave you, I am not missing this tour!” Of course the guide appeared soon after, ushering everyone down a side-street to the waiting bus, while I ground my teeth into dust waiting for Husband to come back.
Luckily we did not miss the tour but we did get stuck in the very back of the bus. Finally we are on our way, out of the city and over the Firth of Forth. Our guide told us informative things about the city and upcoming countryside, as he played a bit of music to start our day.
Our first stop was the small village of Dunkeld. We were afforded a little time to look at the old cathedral, grab a snack, and use the toilets before heading off on our way again. This was my first experience paying to use the public facilities. I found it odd.
Two hours after leaving Edinburgh behind, our bus crashed. Yep, you read that right. We rear-ended the car in front of us, pushing it into the car in front of it. Evidently car #1 was slowing down as an ambulance passed, causing car #2 to stop short, and our driver didn’t react quick enough. A fellow passenger who was sitting in the back row of seats with my husband and I was banged up some because she didn’t have her seat-belt on.
The next two hours were spent by the side of the road as the accident was cleared and a vehicle came to collect us. I was unusually quiet throughout the ordeal which worried my husband a little. I answered his concern by revealing my fear, “I think we might be cursed”. Now, I generally don’t believe in bad luck but things were adding up at an alarming rate! Something was trying to sabotage my dream vacation. Or maybe I just had magic on the brain because: Matthew Clairmont.
A stand-in bus drove us to the nearby village of Pitlochry, where we had time to wander and eat lunch while we waited for our replacement bus and driver. Our original driver was shaken up but still took good care of us, remaining his personable self while continuing to wait with us.
For wait we did. There was another accident on the same road (the A9, which I’m told is notorious for accidents) delaying our incoming bus in stopped traffic. Three hours later, our intermediate driver showed up with the replacement bus (with the row of back seats covered in plastic because someone left the sun-roof open in the rain. just a fun little fact) We bid driver #1 farewell as he caught a train back to Edinburgh, and now driver #2 was tasked with getting us to Loch Ness to meet up with driver #3, who would be our guide for the rest of the tour.
Driver #2 gave some interesting commentary on our drive but he made me car sick, so I shut my eyes for awhile. I don’t blame him because he needed to get us from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time to make up for the 5 hours that were lost. Luckily I opened my eyes at just the right moment to see a filming location from one of my favorite television shows,Monarch of the Glen.
After taking a peek at Loch Ness and being judged for not believing in the monster, we had time for a quick dinner before meeting up with our new driver. This is when I decided to try Scotland’s favourite soft drink, Irn Bru. Sadly, I cannot recommend it. unless you enjoy drinking bubble-gum.
Dusk was now upon us, which unexpectedly gave us a nice lit-up view of Eilean Donan Castle… while we got attacked by midges. I had to pull the hood of my jacket tight around my face, covering my nose and mouth as I tried to take in the ambiance of the location. Thank goodness for pictures!
“Adventure is no more than discomfort and annoyance recollected in the safety of reminiscence” ~ Gary Jennings
Then we found ourselves winding through a beautiful Highland Glen (valley), green mountains looming up on all sides, as our guide told us tales of mischievous Fairies. Her accented voice, the soft background music of bagpipes, and the rocking of the bus lulled us into a relaxed state. Twilight in the Highlands is so serene, so magical. The curse (if there ever was one) had finally been broken.
After trying to get some sleep at the airport and failing miserably, Minute Suites called to say that a room was available for us, if we still wanted it. Woo-Hoo!!
The room was Hobbit-sized, just wide enough for a small trundle couch, but it was quiet. And dark. And ours for the next 8 hours! I was dead to the world as soon as I laid down. A few hours later, I felt much better but was it enough to venture out into the city? The only thing that even vaguely interested me at that point was the Rocky Balboa statue, but my spirits weren’t quite recovered yet.
So we freshened up in the nearest rest room, which was under construction as well, and then just relaxed in the room. Our flight wasn’t until 9pm that evening, so needless to say, we became very familiar with all the ins and outs of the airport.
Finally we were on the plane and flying to Scotland! We were seated next to a friendly Englishman who enjoyed talking up his adopted home city of Edinburgh. Being an avid backpacker, he warned us about the midges. He urged us to purchase some Skin-So-Soft if we happened to run across it. This would not be the last time we heard about the miracle that was Avon’s Skin-So-Soft. We’ve been using it for years to fight off mosquitoes, but I doubted it was warm enough to need it yet (we should have listened).
The flight was long with little sleep achieved but I was getting used to viewing the world through puffy eyes. As we neared our destination the skies became unbelievably clear, which afforded me a lovely view of the islands that we flew over. Then the mainland came into view *girly squeal!* We circled round, which acquainted me with all of the bright green hills, golden fields, white windmills, and grey stone houses. Oh, look: the cars were moving on the opposite side of the road. I was here. really, really here!
We bid our travel companion good-bye and set off to collect our luggage. The conveyor belt went round and round and round some more, but our luggage was not on it. Surprised? I wasn’t. My husband looked like he was about to have a stroke but I wasn’t phased. What papers do we have to sign? Let’s just do this and get on with things.
Customer Service Rep: is there anything of value in your bag?
Me: my pillow
Next, we caught the city bus to transport us to our hotel. I made the mistake of sitting on the bottom of the two-tiered bus. every city street=motion sickness. blah. We weren’t sure which stop was ours but luckily several locals discussed it amongst themselves to find us the best path to take. Scots are so friendly and helpful! This was something I would experience again and again throughout our trip.
After checking in to our hotel we needed to grab some lunch and then buy clean clothes. My guidebook suggested a tavern that was relatively close, so that was our first destination. We were seated upstairs with a perfect view. The window was open (no screen!)
the window box was in full bloom and I could finally breathe easily again.