Woke up and looked out the window. Wind, rain, gray. Oh, how I wanted to just crawl back into bed for the day and hitchhike back to Edinburgh! But that was just a passing thought…I headed off to the kitchen to another INSANELY beautiful and tasty meal! Can you even believe this?? Smoked herring, prawns, and eggs that I learned are from the chickens in the garden. More wonderful conversation with Jana. I gave her a hug before I left. She is such a warm and fun person! I’ll miss her (and the food!!).
It was time to board the sheep wagon and leave the Isle of Skye behind us. I was still feeling like I “missed” something, but no time to dwell on it- there was a full day of adventures ahead!! I was not looking forward to the ferry ride across. The water I could see from my room was so choppy. Puking would not be the way to start out a brand new day! To my surprise, we didn’t have to take the ferry. There was a perfectly civilized bridge that took us back to the mainland. 🙂 As we drove, the weather deteriorated to the point that it made yesterday look like a freaking picnic. Wind was whipping trees something fierce. Rain, rain, rain. We passed GORGEOUS mountains on both sides of us, and I am not even kidding you, they were streaked like marble with hundreds of waterfalls. Yes, HUNDREDS. Had I had a car, it would have taken me all day just to get down this road with all of the stopping for pictures! But alas, the bus windows were covered in raindrops and fog, so I just have my memories.
All of a sudden, the bus swerves on the narrow, two lane road and brakes fast! People gasped. The guy in the front seat who didn’t have his seatbelt on, fell in the aisle. The driver pulled over and jumped out. It all happened so fast, that no one really knew exactly what happened. The driver came back and explained. So a tourist had pulled over on the left side to presumably take pictures of all of the insane waterfalls pouring off the mountains. When he opened his car door to get out, the wind caught it. He was not far enough off of the road, and the door flew open right into our lane! The driver had to swerve to miss it, but also swerve because there was an oncoming car in the other lane (that I did see as it happened). How the driver maneuvered that huge bus in the pouring rain on that narrow road and managed to not hit either obstacle is a testament to this guy. He is just awesome! We all clapped. 🙂
As we drove, the driver told us about some of the animals that can be found in the woods here. And then he told us the national animal of Scotland. I never in ten zillion years would have guessed….UNICORN!!!! Oh my god, Scotland, how awesome can you be? Seriously?! The story we were told is that the unicorn was chosen, because it was the only beast capable of defeating a lion (the animal on the coat of arms of England). I haven’t found verification for that, but it sounds good, so I’ll believe it until I’m corrected. 🙂
First stop, Eilean Donan castle. The word castle always gets me excited, because there’s history to be seen and learned! Got off the bus and walked right what growing up in Texas I would have called a tropical storm. At this point in my travels, I still didn’t realize that this awful weather was being caused by Storm Hector- the first named storm of the summer. The wind was gale force. The rain was every direction (I think even upside down!). I quickly made my way to the ticket counter, and asked the lady if there was someone working there named Rosie Cheeks that was on some of the Scotland facebook groups. She looked puzzled for a moment (and I admit, I felt weird asking!), and said, “Oh! She works in the gift shop!”. More on that later…. I went outside and played “race the raindrops” to try to snap pictures of this stunning castle before the lens was covered. The wind was CRAZY. The castle was….STUNNING! I couldn’t wait to get inside!! (And not just because of the weather!)
I walked into the first room and starting snapping pictures of all of the signs so I could go back and read later. Here are the basics: The original castle was built in 1200s, changing shape and size over the centuries as remodels took place. It played a role as a Jacobite stronghold in the 1600s and 1700s, and was eventually practically completely (that’s a lot of -ly words!) destroyed. It was abandoned for about 200 years, until it was purchased in 1911 and restored. This is not a Scottish government owned site. It is family owned. Which I find fascinating, and if it was mine I’d kick all these hordes of tourists out and have the most awesome AirBNB known to man kind!!!!!!!!! Of course, I’m selfish like that. 😉
After that first room, I went outside of the castle. Holy hurricane, batman!! The storm had worsened substantially in like 10 minutes!! I ran to a little area to get shelter. You could hear the wind howling (screaming) around the walls and people were running and fighting umbrellas- Hector was making himself known!
I made my way into the main castle. Jaw. Dropped. Now THIS is a castle!!! It was so magnificent, so stately, so imposing, so medieval, yet….so homey. Sorry Windsor, prior to today you were my favorite castle. Eilean Donan just dropped you to #2, because you are gorgeous, but a bit pompous as well! 🙂 There was only one bad thing about this castle- NO PICTURES WERE ALLOWED INSIDE!!! Please, please, please go here and look at some pictures. Simply perfect. At this point, I knew I would kick all of the tourist hordes out if I owned it, but not so sure I’d even share it with AirBNBers!! This was a castle for LIVING! And the family that owns it does have private apartments that they come and stay in on occasion. They have also put a lot of their own items on display, which makes it even more homey. I was in love. 😍
Now, the driver told us to open all of the cupboards and such. Admittedly, I felt like I was “that” American, opening every door and drawer! Sometimes, I’d find a pile of spare light bulbs or whatever. But I opened one closet, and there was A SKELETON IN IT! I screamed out loud like a complete idiot, quickly looked around to see who saw/heard me, and thoroughly embarrassed myself for about 2 seconds. Quick recovery, and was so glad to have found that little hidden gem! Look for it. 🙂
This castle is really well done. I love all of the attention to detail. It’s beautiful. At one point, I just stood by the window, looking out on to the misty loch and listening to the wind howl. I tried to imagine what it would be like in here 300 years ago… I finished my little tour of the castle, and headed back outside, where Storm Hector was all to happy to greet me with pelting rain and driving wind! The driver told us to pick up 3 stones and bring them back to the bus. I did. Then, I went into the souvenior shop. I was looking for Rosie Cheeks from Facebook, but wanted to look at employee name tags first and see if one said “Rosie” or something similar on it before I asked. I walked by the cashier and the lady said, “Mary?”. Holy smokes, SHE RECOGNIZED ME!! We have never met, said like 3 sentences on facebook to each other, I never even told her which day exactly I would be there, and she sees like 10 zillion people a day, and SHE RECOGNIZED ME! We had a quick, lovely chat, and I was so happy to have met her. I love little experiences like that. I told the bus driver about it, and he thought it was pretty cool. 🙂
The wind and rain was still at it, and it was time to leave. The driver said to just hold on to our stones, but he wasn’t going to tell us why yet. Then he started telling us about how cairns are made in memory of loved ones passed. And that we were going to go to a cairn field (I can’t remember the name or if it even had one). And if we had lost someone, we could add our stones to a cairn in remembrance. I didn’t have to even think a second about who. My dad. Who took me on my first international trip when I was 16 (to Mexico). Who as an adult, I traveled with in his camper every summer for several years, until age started to get the best of him. He loved to travel, to travel with me. We’d plan those trips for months. Looking at maps (this was in the age before cell phones and google!), trying to figure out scenic routes and camping spots. I lost him a year ago last summer. There’s a lot of back story there that I won’t go into but I will say this- I feel like my dad travels with me every where I go now. That he’s proud that I get out there and see the world, take risks, have adventures, and live the hell out of life. I forgot all about the wind and rain as I wandered through that field to find a cairn that spoke to me. And I left the stones there. My dad, who never went overseas on vacation, just to war, has now been to Scotland.
Next stop, Roderick Mackenzie’s cairn and grave. By this time, the wind had gone from serious knock you off your feet gusts to what I would call “brindy”- a step up from breezy, a step down from windy! Still rainy, though. So who’s Roderick Mackenzie? He helped Bonnie Prince Charles escape the English, because he looked almost like him! MacKenzie was captured while the real prince got away. The English killed the “prince”, and it wasn’t until later that they realized they had been tricked. He’s a Scottish hero.
And now, it was time to head to something that has fascinated me since I was a little girl…LOCH NESS!! I was really excited about this! We pulled into the little town of Drumnadrochit. We had an hour and fifteen minutes for “lunch”. And by now, there was some sun and blue skies peeking through, and “brindy” had been downgraded to “breezy”! First order of business was cash- I had to have it for the cruise and I was cash poor. Had to find a cash machine. I walked to the tourism office and they directed me down the road. WAAAAAAAAAAY down the road, to the co-op store. Walked down there, got my cash, headed back. I knew I didn’t want to eat lunch, I wanted to explore this town that sits on Loch Ness! I walked toward something called Nessieland that looked like it could be kitchy and fun, but then saw the sign for the Loch Ness Centre. Just the way they spell center…centre….makes it seem so much more formal and important! So I went that way. And right there was a pharmacy! I decided that with the choppy waters, motion sickness pills were not a bad way to spend $5… Continued walking and found the
center centre. It was like $9 to get in. I had 30 minutes. He said the presentations were about 30 minutes, but I could rush through if I needed. Each room had a little movie that was about 3-4 minutes long, detailing out certain information about the Loch, including the search for Nessie. It was so well done! I hated that I didn’t have enough time!! If you go, you really need about 1-1.25 hours to do it justice. I exited through the gift shop, and there was a cash machine!! ARRRRRRGHHHHHH! Had I not wasted so much time walking all the way to the other side of town, I would have had more time at the center. 🙁
Next, we went to Castle Urquhart. Unlike Eilean Donan, this one is in ruins. But they are gorgeous ruins! The castle was built in the 1200s, and added on to over the centuries. In the 1600s, it was destroyed by England so the Jacobites couldn’t use it for defense. England…you are why we can’t have nice things! 😡 First, we watched a really cool video about the castle, then had about 40 minutes to explore it. Oh man, it was so much fun!! You really had to use your imagination to build the castle in your mind, and imagine life back then. I wonder if they ever saw Nessie??
Soon it was time to head out on to Loch Ness for a cruise. Maybe I’d see Nessie, just like I dreamed about when I was a child and read my Loch Ness Monster book about a zillion times! While we waited in line, two ducks just walked up to me and started quacking. I was in the middle of the line, so it was weird that they approached me of all people. I talked to them a bit, then remembered I had a few crackers in my backpack. I took one out and fed them. When I was done, the guy next to me said, “I videoed the whole thing. Do you want me to send it to you?” HOW NICE WAS THAT??!! And I had zero idea he was doing it.
All aboard the Jacobite Queen!! Dear England, You may have won, but everything here is talking about the Jacobites, so did you really? Really?? Love, Mary. We had such a wonderful man telling stories, singing songs, cracking jokes (I think his name was Malcolm) as we cruised out across the world famous Loch Ness. The Loch has 22 square miles of surface area, making it the 2nd largest loch in Scotland. However, it is so deep (755 feet at its deepest point!!), that it is the largest loch by volume in ALL of Britain! And get this- it holds more water than every lake in England and Wales COMBINED!!! Crazy!! No sightings of Nessie, no puking, thanks to the pills, but it really wasn’t bad at all even though it was a bit choppy, and a wonderful experience that really brought out the giddy little girl in me!! Scanning the surface for any little anomaly that might be the elusive Nessie…
The driver had the bus waiting for us when we docked. And he said he had a surprise- we were going to see Highland Coos (cows)!!! I swear, the gasp of excitement that washed through our group was crazy! We had seen castles and history and spectacular scenery over the past few days…but the very mention of Highland Coos sent us into a tizzy!! And then, he showed us this.
Fucking seriously? To say I was disappointed would be a MASSIVE understatement. I looked at him and he could tell. He said, “Are you disappointed?”. I said yes, with a scrunched up face. He said he was sorry. Everyone else looked pretty underwhelmed as well, after he proclaimed this to be modern art. Then he said, “Do you guys want to see some REAL Highland Coos?” We all gasped again. I practically skipped along side of him, and gave him a new joke to add to his bad joke repertoire (which is already quite extensive!). I said he should tell everyone this was MEDIEVAL art, not modern. And then explain that you can tell because it’s wearing CHAIN MAIL!! Buh-dum-dump. 😉 He liked it. And you know what I like? HIGHLAND COOS!!!!! And I hate cows. Like seriously do not like them they scare me. These, I wanted to cuddle, not eat!!
Back on the bus, dreaming of Highland Coos and how to sneak one into my carryon… Next stop, Invermoriston. We got to hike down a beautiful sun-dappled path through a little forest beside a stream, down to a little stone summer house. No idea what this was used for, but it was cute! And the stream was beautiful. It was a nice little nature break kind of away from everyone. I was needing that. After that, got dropped off at the accommodations for the night. The end of a long, eventful day!