Bagging Monros and other Wee Feats
15 December 2018
If I had to choose one favorite country out of all our travels so far, it would have to be Scotland, and it's not just because of the prevalence of good ciders and the adorable-yet-slightly-incoherent dialect. It has an old soul. Every cobblestone foot path gives the impression that it once led to something dark and magical. I mean, it kinda has a tradition of awesomeness being the setting of the very real epic of Braveheart, the historical fiction Outlander, and the Bond thriller Skyfall. Not to mention it's the homeland of Sean Connery, Nessy, and the inspiration for Harry Potter. Having a bit of Scottish heritage from my mother's Crawford side (we reportedly come from the same line of Crawfords as William Wallace's mother!), made the country all the more appealing. To top it all off, we had two incredibly fun travel partners, Hope and Eric...oh and one ferret hand puppet. The four (five?) of us rented a car and started our tour in Glasgow. This is the recommended way of travel because it allows one to explore every roadside cairn (pile of rocks that mark graves) and thistle with ease, as well as "bah" at unsuspecting sheep out the window when the mood strikes -- or when you're bullied into it. Thanks, Eric.
We took advantage of Scotland's wild camping laws and Eric's extensive camping gear collection to spend our first full day and night in the mist of Glen Etive. Hiking up a hill in the highlands, I learned, is a sport. The numerous hills are called Munros - named for an 1800s surveyor - and climbing them is referred to as "bagging a munro." And people do this for fun. Ok...it was fun, especially since I wasn't carrying one of the two 40-pound packs that Nate and Eric porter-ed up the hill. Once we reached a height above the clouds, we pitched our tents. It was admittedly pretty amazing to watch the clouds roll under our feet and hear nothing but the wind pass through the hills. It helped that Eric brought whiskey so that we could keep warm with what the locals call a "wee dram". We had the whole place to ourselves. This, it turned out, was a very good thing since there were no bushes or trees to hide behind for a wee...well, wee. We'd wander off into the cover of the mist and hope that a stray hiker or sheep didn't come along when nature called.
We next traveled to the Isle of Skye where we found the Fairypools, a stretch of small waterfalls laying in a valley between a couple of munros. Heavy rains had made the valleys green and picturesque. They also made the land soggy and impassible from time to time. We followed the crowds of tourists trying to ford the streams on stepping stones or taking mighty leaps onto slippery banks. Luckily, Eric, Nate, and Hope are good at catching my tentative, not-so-mighty leaps, so we all made it more or less dry. It was a beautiful hike, but I couldn't help feeling a little cheated that there weren't any actual fairies.
We left the camera-shy fairies and headed toward the even more elusive monster of Loch Ness. I didn't know until this trip that loch is the Gaelic word for lake (For more Gaelic vocabulary for common words such as "black eye", please see Hope). I also learned that the tales of Nessy dated as far back as the 6th century. Sadly, we didn't have any sightings beyond the silly hats in the tourist shop, which we dutifully donned for a picture (not shown here).
From Lock Ness, we traveled east to Inverness and the Culloden Battlefield - the place where the clansmen of the Highlands lost to the British "lobster backs". This is, of course, a gross over-simplification, but you get the idea. It is also the inspiration for Outlander. Not having read the novels or watched the Netflix series, I had to rely on Hope as my tour guide to the past. She and Eric took us across the battle field, purple and romantic with heather and thistle. We saw stones marking the mass graves of clansmen and small tributes that family members left behind to pay their respects. Near the field, we explored some pagan stone circles that line up with the summer solstice sun and let our imaginations run wild with what could have taken place there (probably virgin sacrifices). Hope made me put my hands against a standing stone, but to her disappointment I didn't transport into the 1700s and fall in love with a kilt-wearing ginger.
Last on our adventure was Edinburgh, a labyrinth of cobblestone archways, alleyways, and staircases that would rival a M.C. Escher drawing. Nearly every narrow stone street brings to mind Diagon Alley filled with cauldron and wand shops. It's no wonder J.K. Rowling garnered so much inspiration from this place. She sat in a coffee shop (you can too, along with the hoards of other Harry Potter fans!) in the center of town to write the novels. There is even an old cemetery nearby with names that appear in the novels. In reality, of course, the tourist shops lining the streets carry very little in the way of letter-carrying fowl. The inventory is more along the lines of hilariously inappropriate Trump toys, which one shopkeeper told us occasionally prompts an angry reprimand from American tourists.
If you're less into wearing robes and more into wearing tweed, there are also plenty of royal sites to explore. I was in heaven visiting shops with elaborate hats and tweed suit jackets, leading me to a life-altering revelation: I am clearly destined for UK royalty; I just have to figure out how to marry into the family now that William and Harry are taken. Sorry, Nate. Or maybe I can just find a way to become the royal hat and tweed suit designer...
My royal destiny aside, this short trip left a big impression. First, I'm happy to report that it is possible to make friends after 30! And nothing expedites that process like driving around the Scottish countryside together with a wee dram and a ferret hand puppet. In all honesty - and I have to be honest here because Nate keeps insisting that I "put more feelings" into my blogs - it seems like the best way to tackle a fear of spending 5 days in a car with new people is to be utterly and totally honest about your social anxieties. It's extremely freeing. Traveling is great, but sharing those experiences with awesome folks without having to constantly filter and second guess every statement and action is well, like rolling down the window and baaaahing with wild abandon. It just feels good.