Once in the highlands, the highlands of Scotland

From Bath (yes, that was ages ago; this post is late), I headed to Scotland. I didn’t actually start in the highlands, preferring to conquer Edinburgh first. But I spent a lot of time there, and Brigadoon songs make for excellent post titles. This was a change from my usual traveling modus operandi in that no opera or theatre was involved! This trip was all about castles and heroic battles and hairy coos. Mostly hairy coos.

But let’s start with a castle, since there’s conveniently one right in the middle of Edinburgh. It’s quite the authentic medieval castle, but apparently the Victorians thought it didn’t look medieval enough, so they put forward lots of proposals to re-design it. Some of the drawings are displayed in one of the exhibits. (I kind of love the Victorian obsession with making things more medieval. It led to the magnificently ridiculous Scottish Baronial architecture you can see all around the country.) There are a lot of buildings in the castle complex, which house (among other things) a war museum, a war memorial, a Victorian-ideal-of-medieval banquet hall, a prison, and the Scottish crown jewels. Did you know that Sir Walter Scott was the one to re-discover the crown jewels, which had been locked away in a chest for centuries? It’s hardly fair that he got to do that on top of (well, because of) being a famous author! But I think his novels are actually pretty dull, so there!

Actually, I’m not a huge fan of most Scottish literature. So of course I took not one but two literary tours of Edinburgh. The first was a pub crawl led by two actors, and it focused on Burns, Scott, and Stevenson. It struck a fun balance between the informative and the comedic, with a lot of emphasis on these great authors’ fondness for women, beer, and whiskey. There was a pop quiz at the end, and I obnoxiously answered all the questions. But I suppose my literature degree and complete sobriety (I was still recovering from Cambridge) probably helped. The next day, I visited the Writers’ Museum, which was dedicated to the same three authors. There wasn’t much new to learn, but there was lots of their paraphernalia and furniture there, which was fun to see. There was also a book lovers’ tour, which I of course signed up for. We wandered all over the city, hearing tales of Iain Banks, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling. I especially loved the stories about Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh surgeon who taught Doyle and whose incredible inductive reasoning ability inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. We also heard about William McGonagall, the world’s best bad poet (and the namesake for a certain Hogwarts professor). His poems are so bad, they’re almost good! He supposedly brought an umbrella to his readings to protect himself from the crowd’s projectiles. Yet he continued writing. Somewhat disappointingly, neither the tours nor the museum included anything about Ossian/Macpherson. I suppose it’s hard to be proud of a poet whose largest contribution was premised on a lie. Still, I would have enjoyed the Werther connection.

As my final activity in Edinburgh, I visited the old and new parliament buildings. The old building is now a court, so there were lots of serious-looking wigged people posing in portraits and busy-looking unwigged people striding purposefully around. In the new building, I was able to observe parliamentary proceedings, which were actually pretty disheartening. Regardless of how sensible an amendment to the bill being discussed seemed to me or how well it was argued, it invariably passed if and only if the First Minister declared himself in favor of it. Because of course everyone in the majority party had to vote with the party. Gah, politics.

Anyway, now for the highlands! My three days there were a whirlwind of castles, lochs (and a lake), monuments, and simply stunning views. According to our tour guide, Sir Walter Scott’s novels more or less started the tourism industry, with enterprising individuals arranging trips around the Highlands for readers who had been stricken with Scott mania. It’s easy to see why! I wish I could have been a nineteenth-century tourist, traveling slowly all around the country and frequently stopping to sketch the views in my album. (As usual, I’m sure I’m romanticizing the past, but I don’t care. Those tourists were, too—though they were looking back to the Middle Ages, mostly.)

What would a trip to the Scottish Highlands be without a monster-hunting expedition on Loch Ness? As my photos incontestably prove, I spotted Nessie while climbing about the ruins of Urquhart Castle. (That’s a 13th-century castle on the banks of the Loch.) She proved elusive during our cruise, but we did encounter some other excitement—we were shot at by a visiting sailing ship full of pirates!

Outlander fan that I am (the books, not the TV series, though I plan to watch that at some point), I had to visit a stone circle and try to get myself whisked back in time. We found stone circles aplenty (mostly around cairns that served ancient religious purposes), but I stayed stubbornly in the twenty-first century. What a shame. At least it enabled me to visit the battlefield of Culloden somewhat more safely than Claire and Jamie. It’s actually a really lovely field now, with flags marking the armies’ front lines during the battle, memorial stones for the fallen members of each clan, and wildflowers all around. It’s still a bit depressing, though, so we recovered with coffee and cake in the small village of Dunkeld, which also boasts a gorgeous half-ruined cathedral.

Forget about all the rest of the trip, though. I know what you really want to see pictures of—the hairy coos! (Yes, I’ve been saving the best for last.) It’s hard to explain precisely why they are so adorable, but it has something to do with the long hair and dopey bangs that really ought to prevent them from seeing. We spotted lots of coos and even fed some!

I had a quick stop in Glasgow before flying back to Munich. I didn’t have time to do much except visit a cafe and wander around. (It was Armed Forces Day, so there were lots of people in military uniforms with kilts.) But I’ll leave you with a very typically Glasgow image as a farewell.

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