This post comes to you from the same lovely warm pub that the last one came from, I have moseyed back in here for some more quality internet speed and a nice hot chocolate, as well as to escape the snowstorm abrewing outside. And as I wrote that the snowed stopped for the first time today. Awesome.
Anyway, I have a story to tell you about the last three days and my tour of the wild Scottish Highlands.
At 7:30am on Friday morning, I still wasn’t sure that my tour was going to go. I hadn’t received an email advising otherwise, which is why I had woken up an hour earlier, gotten ready and was heading out the door and over to the meeting place but the reports I was reading in the paper over breakfast suggested otherwise; roads closed, ice warnings, severe snow. That was what was forecast. But when I arrived, there were people gathered and waiting and before I knew it we were all piled on the bus heading out of the city. There were 7 of us in total, 5 of which were Aussie. It’s the way though here it seems. There are always a handful of Aussies anywhere you go. I’m not sure there is any left in Australia actually! But anyway, 5 Aussies, 1 Kiwi and a lovely girl from Beijing, who I really quite felt sorry for! We ran the whole gamete too, QLD, VIC & NSW were all represented! But about ½ hour down the road, the news started telling us of huge delays, icy roads and general bad weather up north, none of which pleased our guide and driver Danny much, let me tell you. We pressed on though, stopping here and there where we could, Danny apologising for the ‘long stretches of driving’ as he put it, us surprised that we were stopped again ½ hour to an hour later, as you all know, in Aus a long stretch is a good 10 hour drive. One of the first stops we did though was in a little town filled with outdoor clothing shops so that everyone could stock up on some super thermals after freezing our arses off at a memorial for Robert the Bruce (who is the actual Braveheart, not William Wallace but lets not get into that right now). I of course, was almost completely prepared for the bitter cold, the only thing I needed was an extra pair of thick socks but I couldn’t find any that would do the job so instead I headed directly to a bakery advertising some gorgeous meringues in their window. The meringue, of the pistachio & rose water flavor, was stunning. There is a picture of it at the end of the post. It was, unusually for a meringue, soft in the middle like a mini pav and the rosewater threw in hints of Turkish delight. It was Moorish. It was so good I didn’t even keep any to share with my new mate Hamish. Instead, he got raw carrot & potato. Not my cup of tea but clearly his. By the way, Hamish is the hairy cow (pronounced coo in Scots). Me and Hamish, we became best pals in the 20 mins we stopped off to meet him. I told him he was my favourite breed of cow and that I thought he was just the most handsome cow I’ve ever met and he conveyed the same sentiment to me. Best pals, me & Hamish! But we had to press on, although not before I did pick myself up the thickest warmest socks you’ll ever see from the shop at the farm; front against the cold complete. We ended up heading almost straight on then to the house we were lodging in for the night to get warm, cook some food and just generally enjoy the company of others. The only real stop was in at Glencoe (Glen being Scots for valley) where the Massacre at Glencoe happened. It was an incredibly beautiful glen, and a terrible story & the only thing I could do was a handstand, so I did one. That night we drank some beers, played some Trivial Pursuit (even though we knew none of the answers) and then headed off to bed. Actually, I had quite a few beers and I found out the next morning, had not headed off to sleep as I thought but had actually passed out mid conversation!
The following day we were blessed with clear skies and headed off to, coincidentally enough, the Isle of Skye. We heard a shit load of Scottish history on Skye. I’m going to briefly tell you some of the myths and some of the history that I found interesting because, well, I found it interesting.
First of all we stopped at the ruins of a tower that was home to Saucy Mary, the daughter of the King of the Vikings. Apparently, the King of the Vikings built the tower for his daughter Mary to live in but she was lonely in the tower all on her lonesome watching boats coming and going up the loch (Scots for lake). She would wave down at them when they would pass but thinking she was daft, they would seldom return the gesture. One day however, the boats were sailing up the loch when they came to a sudden halt. One of the men in the boat looked down to see a chain running across the loch. To this day no one really knows how Mary got the chain from one side of the loch to the other, and if you saw it you would understand, it isn’t that narrow. So the man pulled himself over to the edge of the bank and called to Mary, wanting an explanation for why the chain was there. Mary told him that this was her loch now and if they wanted to pass, they needed to pay a toll. Not seeing any other way around it, the man paid her the toll and the chain was dropped so they could pass. This continued for some time before Mary started to notice the boats were coming fewer and fewer, as being a bit pissed with the toll, the Vikings had started taking another, more treacherous route. Mary wasn’t that happy with this, as she wasn’t getting as much money so when the next boat came through, she collected her toll and asked the man to wait while she fetched his change. Confused, the man waited until Mary appeared in the window of the tower completely starkers’! Word soon spread around of this and surely enough the boats returned in the masses, each one getting their ‘change’ of a good look at a nude Mary. Eventually Mary passed, and it is said that the Vikings had so much respect for Mary they buried her in a cairn on Beinn na Cailleach, a huge ben (Scots for Mountain) on the Isle of Skye.
After this we headed over to the river of eternal youth. The story of the river of eternal youth is an interesting one, and it doesn’t take place all that long ago. In fact, it takes place at the turn of the century. See there was a woman who lived in a small house just off the river and her entire life; she drew her water from the river. When they began to introduce power and water services to the houses there, she refused, saying that she would continue to live like her ancestors before her. And so she did, until the day she died. Now the town folk became a bit concerned at this point. This woman who had lived from the river had died at a relatively early age of 50 and they were concerned that something in the river had killed her. That is, until they were cleaning out her house and found her birth certificate, discovering that she wasn’t 50 years old at all, she was actually 105! So, they decided that the river must surely be a source of eternal youth, as she never looked a day over 50. So now, if you go to the river and stick your face in it, you too can take some of the youth from it. So that’s what I did. I got in there amongst the ice and stuck my goddamned face in the river. When I stood back up, it was so cold the water on my face turned to ice! But I’m a woman right? Anything in the name of eternal youth!
There are many other myths from the magical Isle of Skye, but that is all I’m going to tell you right now. I’m going to tell you instead about the weather. I told you it was a clear day right? Well it was. But when it is clear, the sun gets a chance to melt the snow. It’s still really bloody cold though, so when the snow melts, it just refreezes as ice. Good? No. When the ground is covered in ice, you need ice skates I’m telling you! Everywhere we went we were slip sliding around. It was mostly fun, but when we stopped on the top of small hill to let a car pass and couldn’t take off again it was a little less so. We had a good driver so I wasn’t too concerned but we did have to slide backwards down the hill to get out of it. It was a bit hairy! After that, there was nothing else to do but go to the pub for a pint, so that’s exactly what we did.
Now the group was lovely enough to let me cook the meals both nights we were there and the second night I made them my favourite chicken pie and whipped up a few brownies for dessert. The pie, as you can see, was monstrous! It went down a treat and everyone seemed pleased. Danny had also picked us up some delicious haggis from the butcher that is famed to have the best haggis in Scotland and I think it was. It was damned good, that’s for sure. We had it on oatcakes. I’m still thinking about that shit!!! Then for breakfast I whipped up some of my famous scrambled eggs to fuel us for our last day of sight-seeing – scoping out Loch Ness for a well-known mysterious creature called Nessie. Did I see her? I’d be amiss if I said I didn’t. After our spot of Nessie spotting, we headed to the battlefield of Culloden to learn a little bit of a part of history I had never heard of and It’s not a nice bit either. It was quite a brutal, bloody battle in which a lot of highlanders were massacred and it was the more somber, serious stop of the tour. It was interesting to learn about what happened there though, particularly as it is possible I have ancestral ties to it. The last stop we made though was for a wee dander (Scots for a walk) and leg stretch and as it runs out, a snowball fight. But eventually all good things must come to an end and it did. Back in Edinburgh, I went ice-skating with the kiwi chick Emma and then for a well-deserved pint or two of Belhaven Best, my new favourite ale.
My adventure doesn’t end there though, Emma & I ended up meeting a couple of locals and getting whisked away to a little local haunt to listen to some quality Scottish tunes and to have a little bit of a jig and a lot more beer before it was finally time to retire for the night.
My last day in Scotland, I had planned to climb Arthur’s peak but the weather again foiled my plans. It was snowing so hard; I got half way and lost the trail so I had to turn back. That is how I ended up here, in this fine Scottish pub with a nice hot chocolate to warm me up. Tomorrow I go to Manchester to see a man about a horse. Fingers crossed I my train isn’t cancelled!
(Addendum to this post. As I didn’t get to actually post this until today, after I’d left Edinburgh, I might as well give you the rest of the story. Clearly because I didn’t post it, no one actually knew to cross their fingers and as a result, my train was cancelled. I have taken the following train thankfully and am now hurtling my way towards Manchester as we speak.)