I slept so well! Woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. Did some work and blogging and headed down for breakfast at 7:45 when it opened. I can’t recall ever having stayed in a true bed and breakfast (I travel on the cheap!), so it was a treat. I got to choose from a menu when I checked in. Haggis was on there… I want to try it, but maybe not first thing in the morning before a winding bus ride! I had chosen a fish cake, and man I chose right! It was like a fat crab cake, with something creamy and delicious inside. I could have eaten 3 of them! Honestly, at this point, I could eat anything that didn’t involve peanut butter and bread….

Sheep wagon picked us up at 8:45. First stop, the Falls of Lora with these crazy whirlpools. The falls are underneath a really cool bridge, but it isn’t a waterfall like you’re thinking. These are tidal falls (I’d never heard of such a thing!). During the spring tides twice a month (full and new moon- the highest high and lowest low tides), the falls turn into amazing white water rapids when the outgoing tide causes the water level in the ocean to be lower than that in Loch Etive. So interesting!

Look at those crazy currents!

As we drove through the stunning scenery of the highlands, the guide told us the story of the Glencoe Massacre, and for someone who loves history (like myself), it was fascinating! So good, (and so important to this area), that I’ll share the basics with you. Rarely do I get all history teacher mode on the blog, but this is too good to pass up!! See, it all starts with religion (love and peace, you know!). It’s the late 1600s, Protestantism had already usurped Catholicism in this area. But a new king came to power- James VII of Scotland and II of England. He was Catholic (cue dramatic music). His daughter, Mary, was a Protestant (who was married to another Protestant- Prince William of Orange) and next in line to the throne. So the people put up with James’ hail Mary’s and holy water. Except James ended up having another child- a son! So, by way of possessing a penis, this new child bumped Mary to second in line.  TWO Catholic king’s in a row?? Oh hell no! James was getting a little more heavy handed with the people. That, and his Catholicism, were getting on some powerful people’s last nerve, so they decided to invite Mary and William to take the throne of England and Scotland. Mary and William quickly RSVPed for that party, and were crowned. Of course, James wasn’t invited to this party and was so miffed he took his toys and went to France- where he plotted against Mary and William, but was defeated. Now William, being the king by virtue of his wife being the queen, wanted loyalty. Especially because he was in a ruckus with MY king, the Sun King, Louis XIV of France (cue angels singing). #frenchhistoryteacher Tiny problem…a lot of Scottish clan chiefs in the highlands still supported James (this is where the term Jacobite comes from- those who supported James as rightful king). Not acceptable!! William demanded in late 1691 that they sign an oath of loyalty to him. And it had to be signed by January 1, 1692. Ok. Let’s piece a couple of things together here…the clans live in the HIGHlands. Guess what? It’s up north and has a lot of mountains. All of this is going down in the winter of 1691. Mail getting into the highlands to announce this demand was late arriving to Alasdair MacDonald- leader of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe (a clan not exactly loved by their neighboring clans- especially the Campbell clan- because of their tendency to pillage, raid, and steal cattle. Remember that).

So Alasdair MacDonald sets off for the nearest town to take his oath of allegiance to King William. The winter was HORRIBLE. Travel was slow and difficult. He finally arrives in Fort William (after the January 1 deadline), and was told, “Yeah, sorry. You have to take an oath in front of a sheriff, and he’s in Inveraray (where I saw that awesome castle yesterday).” You can imagine MacDonald’s response to this- Inveraray was not only 60 miles away in awful winter conditions (Ryan Air hadn’t been invented yet), but was home to some of his most favorite people to pillage and steal cows from- the Campbell clan! He was pretty sure he’d be arrested on the spot if he showed up there. But if he didn’t swear loyalty to the king, his clan would be destroyed. Decisions, decisions! He set off for Inveraray… Where he was promptly detained by the Campbell’s and put in jail until the sheriff arrived. By this time, MacDonald was a few days past William’s deadline. He pled with the sheriff to accept the late oath. He did, and released MacDonald.

The oath was sent to Edinburgh, and promptly stamped as DENIED by the head dude there. A dude who just so happened to not be a fan of the MacDonald’s, and saw this as an excellent opportunity to express that disdain. With the oath being denied, destruction of the MacDonald clan was ordered. Three regimens of soldiers (two of which were made up of Campbells) were sent to carry out the orders of “cut off root and branch” and “to put all to the sword under seventy”- in other words, destroy them completely. Two of the regimens said the weather was so bad, they couldn’t get there (it is thought that they did this to keep from participating in the massacre). The other regimen, led by Robert Campbell, knocked on Alasdair MacDonald’s door and asked for “Highland Hospitality”. Now remember, the Campbell’s and MacDonald’s were enemies. But Highland Hospitality overrode such petty personal issues. This was a harsh land. And if someone was in trouble, there was an understanding between all of the clans- friends or foes- that you took in your fellow man. It was a code that no respectable clan would ever even consider breaking- no matter the issues between them. So the MacDonald’s let the Campbell’s in. You’re probably expecting an immediate slaughter. You’re wrong. The MacDonald’s and Campbell’s lived together for 12 days. Eating, talking, laughing. And on February 13, as a horrible blizzard raged outside, the Campbell’s began the massacre- killing 38 MacDonald’s in cold blood. Dozens more escaped the slaughter (possibly having been alerted by sympathetic Campbell’s), only to die of exposure in the relentless blizzard.

The nation was outraged by the massacre. But all that happened is that the dude in Edinburgh, who denied the oath because he had it out for the MacDonald’s, resigned. The event was forgotten. But not by the MacDonald’s. Some businesses in Glen Coe, some 300 years later, still have signs…”NO CAMPBELL’S”.

We listened to this tale (I conducted some independent research to verify facts!) while we drove through gorgeous landscapes of lochs and brilliantly green covered mountains. We kinda got to see Castle Stalker at 60kph from the window… The original castle was built in 1320. The present day castle is much younger, having been built in the 1440s 😲! We were in Campbell country- and they actually lived in the castle from the 1620’s until the roof caved in in the 1840s. It’s been restored, and is probably best known (although not by me because I hate that kind of humor) as the Castle of Argggggggggggghhhhhhhhh in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

As we wound our way through the glen (a narrow valley with high mountains on either side), my muggle eyes fell upon the first of the day’s Harry Potter adventures….THE FORBIDDEN FOREST!! This is where it was filmed, and Hagrid’s Hut was built there- although it sits in London these days (damn England- they take ALL the good stuff!!). This shot was taken from the bus window. Sigh.

Next, we stopped at the visitor center and told this was a 5 minute restroom break- we had things to do. I got out and it was AWESOME!! Informational signs (learning! 😍), trails…um, heaven. But oh no, pee and get back on the bus. I did as I was told. No one else did, and I sat on the bus for about 15 minutes waiting for those yahoos! And because of that, we only got 15 minutes at our next stop instead of 30. I swear, I’m about to start a clan uprising between the Middlebrook clan (party of 1) and the rest of the bus! We pulled into Glencoe- MacDonald territory- and my, but it was GORGEOUS!! Trails, little waterfalls spilling off the mountains! And I got to spend 15 minutes mulling around the parking lot. Kill me.

Why the rush? For some optional whiskey distillery tour that started at some certain time. I hate whiskey and whiskey hates me. It’s a mutual hate-hate relationship. (I hate wine, too, which goes over GREAT in France….) Plus, I’m not sure I’d get a lot of student enrollments for “Whiskey Making 101”. So I opted out of this tour. You know I really don’t want to do a tour when the other option is “Spend 2 hours in Fort William for lunch!”. Sigh. Fortunately, our awesome driver/guide James got back on the bus after getting the whiskey folks checked in and said, “Do you guys want to just go into town now, or go to a castle?”. I think I almost flew out of my seat in the urgency to flail my arms and scream “CASTLE!!!” before the other clans even had a chance to dare speak “town”!! Dear guide, ALWAYS castle. Love, Mary. Oh, and what an awesome castle it was! Castle ruins, more appropriately. This was Inverlochy Castle- built in, get this, 1280!!!!!!!! My house is in ruins and it was built in 1960. #justsaying  We got to wander around for free and explore the grounds. It’s just so amazing to think about the people who lived here, who walked in the places where I was walking. How completely different their life was. How neither of us could even fathom how 800 years, a blip in geologic time, is such a different world in human years… And what was really interesting is that the guy that owned this castle and Robert the Bruce (of Braveheart fame) were enemies. In 1306, Robert the Bruce murdered the castle owner and took Inverlochy for his own…and basically abandoned it. And here it still stands today.

Awesome graveyard across from the castle, complete with waterfall in the background!

All too soon it was time to go to Fort William. I have nothing against towns. But can’t we spend 20 minutes in town and an hour and a half somewhere INTERESTING instead of the other way around every day?! Ain’t nobody on this bus going to die if they miss a meal. #mainlyamericans I wandered slow.ly. down the high street. I found a little museum and spent some time in there looking at things. I sat outside in a little square and had a picnic. I found myself completely alone inside of a church. When all of those things still left me with about an hour to spare, I, out of complete desperation, went into souvenir shops and….browsed <shudder>. Finally, I found a chap that looked like a rather interesting conversationalist. Sat down and chatted with him for about 30 minutes.

My new bestie.

When we boarded the sheep wagon, and I heard the Harry Potter theme song. Of course, I immediately checked my phone, because that is the ringtone telling me I have school email to attend to (my school is the school that Harry Potter Genetics built! 🙂 ). Huh. I didn’t have email. Then I realized the theme was continuing. The driver was playing it, because next stop…THE HOGWART’S EXPRESS!!!!!!! 🚂 We were about to board the Jacobite train, the very train that was used as the Hogwart’s Express in the movie. Remember this scene in the movie??

Yeah- I was going to be riding on THAT train, on THOSE tracks, over THAT bridge, and by THAT loch!! EEEEEEE! I got my seat next to a window, put my stuff down, and ran out to take pictures before we left. I even got to go in the engine car and sit in the driver’s seat and meet Charlie, the engineer!!! To say I was a wee (got it!) emotional would be an understatement…Soon it was time to be seated and begin the 84 mile journey to Hogwart’s Mallaig. The little cart came by and I got a chocolate frog (didn’t even blink at the $5.35 pricetag….). I so wish I had taken a video of it! Because as soon as I tried to take a bite, he jumped on to the window!! It was crazy!! 🐸 Um, as gorgeous as everything was, you would literally think you had left the muggle world and entered into some magical wizarding realm. Of course, trying to get pics while the train was moving and trees were in the way was a feat of magic in and of itself! Word to the wise- if you are riding this train and leaving from Fort William- SIT ON THE LEFT!!! All of the good stuff is ON THE LEFT. Where was I? On the right. But I managed a few good shots along the way!

That tall peak is Ben Nevis- the tallest peak in Great Britain!

YES! That is THAT bridge! EEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Bet ya can’t guess what that island is?? It’s where they filmed Dumbledore’s final resting place!! #spoileralert

I can’t even believe I got this shot. Right place, right time, fast on the button!

I seriously had SO MUCH FUN on the train! It was like someone used a time-turner and fast forwarded us. The 2 hours was over in an instant. And now, here we were in the ocean port town of Mallaig. The conductor said there was a Harry Potter shop down the street. Oh, but what a Harry Potter shop! It was like I had wandered down Diagon Alley! Such a fun and fantastic little place with all of the right touches.

The front “Dumble”door!


The rest of the town was ok. Seriously, after 16 days or so in Europe, it was time for real food. So I splurged on fish and chips. Not the most flavorful food in the world, but it was hot protein, and that was good enough for me! Next up was to put the bus on a ferry and head over to the Isle of Skye…

By now, it was late. 8pm. We had been on the go for about 12 hours. Got dropped off at my bed and breakfast for the night- Rainbow View in the lovely little seaside town of Kyleakin- with an ocean view to boot! Had a nice chat with Jana, one of the owners, took a shower, and fell in bed too exhausted to even blog or work! I had taken a bus, a train, and a ferry today, and seen some of the loveliest land you can imagine under blue, sunny skies. I needed to rest up for tomorrow’s exploration of the Isle of Skye…

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