Now, when I last left you, dear readers, I was about to embark on a journey to the Scottish Highlands. We left on a Friday morning at 7:45 am from campus, so all most of us wanted to do on the bus was sleep. However, our very enthusiastic tour guide only left us in quiet for a few minutes before we started hearing all about the landscape around us. I was so conflicted because on one hand, I was so sleepy, but on the other, I did not want to miss anything. We stopped at a Wal-Mart affiliate, ASDA, in Perth to allow people to get some food, and to meet up with the buses carrying Butler students from other universities. I thought I saw a girl I knew from high school, and as it turned out, it was a girl I knew from high school. So we had a little “It’s a Small World, After All” moment, as we marveled at how random it was that we happened to both be in Scotland without knowing it.
Second, we stopped at a place called the Hermitage. The story goes that an ancient Scottish bard by the name of Ossian (who was blind) lived in a hut/cave in the woods here by a waterfall, and he wrote this beautiful poetry that went undiscovered til the 1700s, when a man called James MacPherson “found” the manuscripts and translated it from Gaelic. As it would seem, this is all a bunch of crap, and MacPherson himself wrote the poetry. Not that it’s bad poetry, but it would appear that it is not actually ancient, and this Ossian fellow was made up. The area was just beautiful… there was another waterfall, and an old stone bridge, and many trees. We were being hustled through, though, so I was sad that I couldn’t just walk around for hours. I should figure out how to go back, maybe.
Anyhoo, following this, we stopped in an adorable town, Pitlochry, where my friend Sarah and I ate in a cute little restaurant, and then had a wander about through some of the shops before getting back to the bus. Following Pitlochry, we drove to Glenfinnan, where the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter movies is filmed. We climbed up a big hill that was very muddy, so I carried Sarah over a bit of it, as she wasn’t wearing appropriate footwear. The train coming was actually supremely anti-climactic, but my friend Lauren and I insisted upon humming the Harry Potter theme while taking video of the train passing.
Glenfinnan was the last stop of the day until we came to Inverness, our stopping point for the night. Inverness means “Mouth of the Ness,” which I didn’t know until I went there, so hooray for learning stuff.
In the morning, we got up nice and early to go to Culloden Battlefield, the site of the last battle fought on British soil (16 April, 1746). Background knowledge: in 1745, the Jacobites started a rebellion against William of Orange, the Protestant and(duh)non-English king of England. Bonnie Prince Charlie (aka Charles Edward Stuart) led them in the name of his father, James, who believed himself to be king of England, but was chilling in France until further notice. So, Bonnie Prince Charlie rounded up a motley crew of Highland warriors, and had a really bad idea to try to march all night and surprise the government troops (incidentally, most of these troops were Highlanders as well. A lot of mothers would send one son to each side, because everybody wanted to be on the winning side. Hence, it was a battle of brothers against brothers), whom he thought would be ragingly hungover from celebrating the birthday of their commander the night before. Now, the British were not so stupid as to get trashed the night before there was going to be a huge battle. So, in short, the Jacobites didn’t make it all the way to the government camp, the government soldiers heard them coming and started chasing the Jacobites, who were forced to retreat. They caught up at Culloden, and the battle was over in about half an hour. It was entirely a massacre, which led to the Duke of Cumberland, head of government forces, to be known as “The Butcher.” Culloden spelled doom for the clan system in the Highlands, as the Highland clearances went into effect, and it became illegal for clan members to wear their tartans or carry their daggers with them. This is the end of my history digression.
Anyway, Culloden was spooky. In the morning, the fog was intense, and it felt really… Scottish. The markers for where each clan fell, and the larger cairn commemorating the battle stood out, and with all of the different groups of us walking around and emerging from the mist, it was a pretty shadowy atmosphere. It kind of reminded me of Antietam in that you could sort of feel the presence of death looming around.
After this mess, we naturally needed a pick-me-up, so our tour guide popped in a Proclaimer’s CD, and a number of passengers on the bus had a little bit of a sing-a-long. Happier, we disembarked at a working sheepdog farm, where we got to see some awesome border collies in action. The highlight of this was absolutely playing with the puppies. Also a highlight: the shepherd picked up a ram by its horns (one-handedly) to get it out of the herd to let people try their hand at shearing a sheep. I was pretty awesome at it. Interesting story concerning the shepherd’s wife: she was an American girl who had been on a tour of the farm, loved the demonstration and found a way to work there over the summer, and by autumn, she was married to the shepherd. Now she has a Scottish accent! This whole thing prompted one of my friends to have something of a huge crisis on the off chance that a Scottish man proposed, whether she’d say yes and move to Scotland, leaving everything in America behind, or not. I was highly amused.
We had lunch in a cute little town called Aviemore, then the buses went their separate ways to different distilleries. We went to Glenfiddich. The entire place reeked of alcohol (oh gee, I wonder why?). Fermenting stuff looks pretty gross. The distilling area looks like it belongs in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. You can’t take pictures except from a raised platform above it, because as a sign notified us, it was an “explosive atmosphere.” The bathrooms are supposedly the nicest in Scotland… there was a chandelier and a fireplace, with a bunch of big leather armchairs. So classy.
We stopped in Elgin on the way back (I felt like I was at home… Elgin, Inverness..)and saw the ruins of an abbey, but it was just long enough of a stop to take a few pictures and then continue on our merry way. Back in Inverness, we took naps and then got back on the bus for dinner.
In the morning, we said good bye to Inverness and hello to Loch Ness. We took a cruise (soo cold) down the loch (no, sadly, I did not see Nessie), and stopped at Urquhart Castle, which, according to the brochure was “Raided. Attacked. And Blown Up!” or something to that effect. There was a trebuchet type thing that had been used in the movie Highlander, so naturally, my friend and I had to have an epic battle while screaming “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!!!” It was really beautiful, and we climbed about for a bit until it was time to get back on the bus. We stopped in Fort Augustus for lunch, which was rather charming, and then our last stop was at Glen Coe, the scenic location in which HIGHLANDER!!!!! amongst other films, was … filmed. It was really beautiful, but camera was very nearly dead, and we were only there to take pictures (Literally, we had 10 minutes). I absorbed the scenery, took as many photos as possible before the death of my camera, and participated in a group picture. We drove by the place where they film Hagrid’s hut for the HP movies, and set off for Stirling to drop off the students from that uni. We started watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and it was pretty sweet timing, because as we pulled into Pollock Halls in Edinburgh, the movie ended. We all clapped at Scott’s (our driver) impeccable timing, and went home to be exhausted until class the next day.