Day 221: The Highlands

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What a magical day. On our last full day in Glasgow, we didn’t actually spend much time there. Instead, Mindy, Harry and I boarded a Rabbie’s tour bus early this morning and headed north, into the Highlands.

I was in high anticipation as we left the city behind. We had a great tour guide, named Ian, who drove our bus and narrated the trip, sharing stories about Scotland’s Highland history. He pulled the bus over several times, on the way to our final destination, Loch Ness, so we could take photos, stretch our legs, or have a meal or snack.

The weather was typical Scottish weather, however I’m learning what that means. The sky would cloud up and we would experience gentle rain for 10 minutes, at the most, and then the dark clouds would scurry on and the sun would pop back out. We were fortunate in that those brief rain showers happened during times we were riding in the bus.

Our first stop was Loch Lomond. The mist still lingered over the surrounding hills as we disembarked. The tranquil beauty of this loch surrounded me as I stood on the shore. I was delighted to see my first thistle, Scotland’s national flower, growing near the path where I stood.

Our next two stops were to admire the mountains that appeared as we entered the Highlands near Glencoe. The sun had returned as we stepped out on our second stop. We were in the presence of a mountain with many ridges and peaks called Bidean nam Bian. One of the main features is a group known as the Three Sisters, three steeply sided ridges that extend into the glen. They were so impressive and so beautiful, and being one of three sisters, the name appealed to me. As I stepped forward to take pictures, the haunting sound of bagpipes filled the air. Amazing. A lone piper stood nearby, playing skillfully. I could barely breathe. The majesty of the sisters, water cascading down the green face of one, and the sound of the bagpipes echoing over the glen brought a chill down my spine and tears to my eyes. It was absolutely stunning. Our guide Ian told us as we boarded the bus again that that was the way bagpipes were intended to be played, outdoors where the sound could roll away down the glens.

We stopped for lunch in Fort Augustus, on the southern most tip of Loch Ness. I’m surprised my neck still worked properly, as I spent my time in the bus moving my head from side to side, looking at the gorgeous landscapes through the large bus windows. I was captivated by what I saw: tall rugged peaks and rounded tree or grass covered mounds that reached amazing heights, forests that were so lush and dense that when I peered into their depths there was darkness beneath the branches, in spite of the sun shining above, creating a fairy tale world that took on reality before my eyes, and masses of heather in bloom that covered whole hillsides. I needed the lunch break. I could barely take it all in.

During lunch our talented tour guide joined Mindy, Harry and me and as we ate I asked him questions about what’s currently happening in Scotland. Next month, on September 18, the people of Scotland will vote on whether to stay a part of the United Kingdom or to become an independent country again. It was evident what Ian wanted even before he spoke….he wore a blue band in his wrist that says, simply, YES. He spoke with conviction and passion about Scotland’s future. It was wonderful to listen to him share and then be able to offer an American perspective on their historical moment. We became friends after that and I will be watching, on September 18, to see the outcome.

At last we arrived at Loch Ness, the long, narrow, deep loch that is famous for sightings of a creature that has affectionately become known as the Loch Ness monster, or Nessie. We boarded a large boat for a water tour of the loch. While we didn’t see Nessie, we enjoyed the fresh brisk air and the serenity of this mysterious loch. This was Harry’s boyhood dream realized and Mindy and I were honored to share the moment with him.

We headed back to Glasgow, by a different route, that took us through Inverness where we spotted the city’s picturesque castle looming above, and made a last stop in the quaint little town of Pitlochry. I fell in love with this town! Mindy and I had a late afternoon tea at a charming place called MacKenzie’s, and then had a short amount of time to wander down the street. There were well kept old buildings lining the main street and blooming flowers in the tiny front gardens and hanging from baskets everywhere. I was enchanted. Mindy referred to Pitlochry as Scotland’s Eureka Springs and that captured the look well. We both agreed we wish we would have had more time to explore.

We arrived back in Glasgow at 8:00 pm, 12 hours after we had departed. We three were tired but loved our outing today. I will cherish this day. When my eyes could no longer take in all that the Highlands offered to me, I opened my heart and spirit and received at a soul level. How powerful and mystical that experience was.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s poet, wrote,
“My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”
I think I left a part of mine there today as well .

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