Wednesday, 27 April 2011

April 27, 2011 - The Highlands

I've always been a sucker for mountains reflecting into crystal clear lakes, but I think it's safe to say that I have officially lost my heart to Scotland.  This country is beautiful!
Yesterday, Susan Gavin and I spent the day touring around Edinburgh, and what busy tourists we were!  We began the day with a visit to Rosslin Chapel.  This is a relatively small church filled with incredibly ornate carvings throughout the 500 year old limestone interior.  The curator tour guide explained that there used to be about 10,000 visitors each year to this chapel, but then Dan Brown wrote a book, upon which Richie Cunningham based a movie staring a very serious looking Tom Hanks, and now 130,000 visitors make their way to the chapel each year.  It's well worth the trip - you could easily spend years just staring at the carvings in the walls.
Another of our stops was Mary King's Close, a tour of Edinburgh's underground.  Although the tour guide was just slightly on the cheesy side, it was interesting to see how the closes, houses and businesses were set up in early Edinburgh, and it became very evident why disease was so prevalent in the Old Town.
Today, I began a 3-day tour of the Highlands with Haggis Adventures, a sister company to Shamrocker Tours (which I toured with in Ireland). 
We began with a stop at the Wallace Monument in Stirling, where our tour guide gave a very descriptive account of William Wallace's key battles (and pointed many of the historical inaccuracies in the movie "Braveheart"... this continued on throughout the day). 
Next stop was the beautiful Glencoe - a deep rolling valley surrounded by huge mountains and waterfalls.  Although the landscape is absolutely stunning here, the history of Clan MacDonald in this area is perhaps not.  Another very graphic story from our tour guide ensued.  I was diggin' it... some of the more squeamish on the bus - not so much.
Our third hike of the day was in Glen Nevis, along the foot of Ben Nevis.  No gory history here, just more amazing scenery in the shadows of Britain's highest peaks.  The fields are dotted with heather brush (which is brown now, but for two weeks of the year will be purple/blue).  The gorse is golden yellow, and the leaves on the trees are out in full now.  I spotted a handful of red deer, and we continue to drive past lots of sheep and cows - only now they are Highland cattle rather than crossbred beef animals or Holstein heifers.  (Crispin would be in heaven here, Cait!)
Our hostel for the tonight and tomorrow is in Fort Augustus, which is on the edge of Loch Ness.  After supper this evening, a few of my travel mates and I walked down to the loch to take a look.  The water was so still and clear that it was just begging to be paddled upon... but alas, no canoes in ready sight (sigh)!

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