You know that any country who claims the unicorn as its national animal is going to be magical. As we left the Borders behind, heading north into the Highlands, it was easy to set logic aside and firmly believe there were unicorns, hidden in the deep shadows pooled beneath stately forests.
Because of the courage and skill of my sister, Debbie, we journeyed by car. The further north we went, the more wild the countryside became.
These additional photos capture some of the rugged beauty of the Highlands.
The Highland Coo (cow).
Mysterious Loch Ness
The ruins of Castle Urquhart overlooking Loch Ness.
Heart piercing beauty outside the car windows.
There are numerous waterfalls cascading down the Highland slopes.
Sitting pretty, Eilean Donan Castle, near the Isle of Skye.
From the hotel room window, Isle of Skye.
Near the Fairy Pools on Skye.
Since my return, I have been watching episodes of Outlander, a story of survival, challenges and romance, set in the Scottish Highlands in the 1700s. The breathtaking scenery captured on film is familiar and brings me joy, while it simultaneously stirs the desire to return to Scotland.
The female star of Outlander, Caitriona Balfe, who portrays the heroine Claire, said, “The Scottish Highlands are incredible. There seems to be magic and poetry everywhere.”
I so agree. I have experienced the magic of the Highlands and the poetry found there roots around my heart, waiting to be born through expression.
This morning we left the charming city of Stirling behind and headed north into the Scottish Highlands. This region is so wildly beautiful that it makes my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes. It has been a tremendous advantage, having a car. Debbie continues to excel at navigating through Scotland’s villages, cities and rural areas. She seems quite comfortable with driving on the left side of the road and from the right side of the car!
Our journey today was planned, but flexible, and naturally divided into three areas of the Highlands.
We drove through Inverness and then headed west along Scotland’s most famous loch, the supposed home of a sea creature that has been sighted for hundreds of years. Affectionately known as Nessie, the existence of this water beast has never been proven, absolutely, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of people from stopping by the loch each day, hoping to be the one who captures the Loch Ness monster in a photo.
Monster or no monster, the loch is hauntingly beautiful with its murky waters and miles and miles of rugged shorelines. The ruins of Castle Urquhart add to the mysteriousness of the region.
We stopped for Scottish tea and bowls of homemade soup before arriving at Loch Ness. Loved the thistle tea set.
Ruins of Castle Urquhart
Eilean Donan Castle
From Loch Ness we continued west and north toward our ultimate destination, the Isle of Skye. The Highlands captured our attention and drew forth our appreciation as we drove between towering hills covered in the last of the blooming heather and a variety of trees. We marveled at forests so thick that the ground beneath was shrouded in darkness. We exclaimed over cascading waterfalls and flocks of freshly shorn sheep.
Just before we arrived at the Isle of Skye, one of Scotland’s most picturesque castles appeared…Eilean Donan. For the third day in a row, we toured a castle! This 13th century medieval structure is situated on an island where three sea lochs meet. We enjoyed a tour of the grounds and the interior of the castle. This was another Scottish bucket list item for me that I got to cross off today.
The picturesque Eilean Donan Castle
The castle bridge was the perfect spot for today’s group pic.
The waters surrounding the castle.
Isle of Skye
Our last stop for the day was the remote and breathtaking Isle of Skye. The only way to access the island is by ferry or by crossing the solitary bridge that connects the isle with the mainland. We crossed the bridge. After settling into our hotel rooms and enjoying a quick dinner together, the five of us got back into our rental car and drove to the Fairy Pools of Skye.
The pools are in a very rural location, down narrow, winding roads through gorgeous mountains and narrow glens with the occasional sheep wandering about. My heart almost couldn’t take in the beauty of it all. Because it was getting dark and the paths to the pools are not easily traveled, we elected to remain on the road high above and take pictures. The curious sheep were so cute that we wanted to pet them, but we only succeeded in talking to them. I crossed the pools off my must see list as well.
Isle of Skye, near the Fairy Pools
Looking down the glen toward the pools. There is one of the sheep in the foreground.
Although we didn’t hike down to the Fairy Pools, I did snap a pic of this beautiful little waterfall near where we parked the car.
Tomorrow we travel south back through the Highlands, to Scotland’s second largest city, Glasgow. It will be our last full day in Scotland, before taking a train into England the following day.
Today I wore another T shirt from Solgave Clothing that captured my thoughts well.
“You are not a drop in the ocean but an ocean in a drop.” Rumi
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 .