On Day 2 of our Scotland tour Natalia, Erin, Chloe, Miranda, Sam and I woke up early in the morning to shower before we had to be back on our little tour bus at 7:45AM. We drove down the windy road and headed back to Inverness, where we met another Haggis tour group. Half of us traded buses since Carol’s bus was going on to a seven-day tour, and we had only signed up for a 2-day one. This meant we got a new tour guide, Greg, who I liked much better – not only did he have much better taste in music, he had also been presiding over a longer tour for the past few days, meaning the passengers on his bus were much more loud, friendly and welcoming.
The first stop on our second day was to a place I had been looking forward to since we had signed up for our tour: Loch Ness! Apart from the fact that Nessie is totally real (I believe!), Greg was also full of interesting facts about the Loch. For example, it’s incredibly deep: in the center, it’s over 1000 feet, which is deeper than the North Sea and taller than London’s BT Tower! It holds so much water that every single lake and pond in the entire UK wouldn’t fill it, and you could cover all of England and Wales in 6 inches of water with the just the water from Loch Ness. If you attempted to fill it with bodies it would take ten times the human population to do it (though hopefully this would never actual happen). The loch is incredibly dark due the amount of peat in the water, and due to the heaviness of the sediment, everything sinks to the bottom of the loch (including, for example, large Scottish loch monsters). This is probably a large reason (in addition to the sheer size of the loch) why Nessie’s existence hasn’t been proven (yet!). The first Loch Ness monster sighting was in 565AD by a traveling monk. His observations were recorded and sent to Rome – this means that they are in the official Vatican records! Conclusion: Nessie is definitely real.
The loch is really very lovely since it’s surrounded by mountains and rolling hills. Boat tours go out every hour or so, and a fabulously tacky gift shop and cafe is connected to the loch from the main road via an underground tunnel which takes you right to the beach. My bus-mates and I spent a good 45 minutes or so taking tacky pictures with Nessie statues and perusing the gift shop before heading back onto the bus towards our next destination:
Ben Nevis (pronounced “bane nay-biss”, in Scottish) is Scotland’s tallest mountain, and is also the tallest mountain in all of the UK. Apparently you can only see the peak 52 days a year (basically once a week), and the day we were there was definitely not one of those days. When we first drove up to it the mountain was shrouded in a thick cloud of white mist, which slowly dissipated over the 10 minutes we were there to reveal shafts of sunlight lancing down onto the Commando Memorial, dedicated to the British Commando soldiers who fought and died during WWII. The Commando units were assembled to carry out raids on German-occupied Europe, and their assignments were considered the most challenging and deadly – soldiers were not allowed to sign with the Commandos if they had children or families. The memorial stands in the Highlands to commemorate the training grounds the units used before they were deployed, and is also designated as the final resting place for their ashes.
Driving south past Ben Nevis we arrived in Glencoe, probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. A highway runs through a valley of massive green mountains, called the ‘Weeping Valley’ because the rain from the peaks travels down the valley via hundreds of rivulets resembling tears. We were lucky enough that it had rained the night before, and the valley was in rare form, with white streams and cascading waterfalls everywhere in sight. Even our tour guide Greg couldn’t stop saying how impressed he was! It was definitely one of those scenes that gets dulled when you attempt to capture it in pictures, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying…
I didn’t think anything could possibly beat the high Glencoe gave me, but then we passed this on our way south to see the Wallace Monument in Stirling: Muir Castle, where they filmed nearly all of the castle scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Best. Day. EVER!
The Wallace Monument
Driving south through Glencoe we eventually arrived at the Wallace Monument in Stirling, our last stop on the tour before we ended up back in Edinburgh. Most everyone knows the story of William Wallace (yes, from Braveheart, though his portrayal is not historically accurate… at all) so I won’t tell a long story except to say that he is a Scottish national hero for his dedication to obtaining Scottish independence from the English. The monument was erected in Stirling to commemorate a famous battle in Stirling in which he led an army of hugely outnumbered Scotsmen against the English and won a decisive victory. Though Wallace met an especially gruesome, horrific death at the hands of the English many years later, Scottish national independence is credited largely to his military and political leadership.
The monument is located at the top of a rather massive hill overlooking the town of Stirling, and it’s quite a trek to reach the summit. When my friends and I made it to the top a huge windstorm started that forced us to turn our backs to the wind and cling to the fences for dear life since the pebbles from the stone path we were on were being flung face-level at rather painful speeds. The wind was so strong we couldn’t even walk forwards – it was like walking into a wall! The wind in that country is seriously awesome. The video (below) is short because I didn’t think to start filming until the end of the windstorm and my camera conveniently decided to run out of memory space, but you can kind of see what the wind was like…
After Stirling our tour bus headed back to Edinburgh, where our tour guide dropped us off and we explored the city for a few a hours before we had to catch another night bus back to London. The six of us walked up the Royal Mile (the main street in Edinburgh, which is full of touristy shops filled with kilts, shortbread, and whiskey), hoping to end up at Edinburgh Castle at the very top. The city of Edinburgh is set on a big hill, with the castle situated at the very top overlooking the river and valley below. Interesting fact: Edinburgh is set on an ancient lava flow, meaning they are also sitting within close proximity of a huge dormant volcano. Who knew?! Edinburgh Castle also houses the “Stone of Destiny,” a huge piece of sandstone on which every Scottish and British monarch is crowned. The Stone has had a rather rocky (har har) history, since the Brits stole the stone and kept it in England for several centuries before returning to Scotland. Its history and rightful place of resting are still in conflict today. Other interesting gems about Edinburgh include the fact that the term “shit-faced” was coined in Edinburgh at a time when close 60,000 people lived on the Royal Mile without indoor plumbing, and unsuspecting people who came home too drunk to function would end up with a face-full of whatever people were emptying from their chamber pots! Yuck.
Though my friends and I were hoping to see the castle we made it too late (everything in the UK closes at around 6PM… outrageous!), so we ended up blissfully wasting our time in tourist shops for an or so before heading to a pub to taste some authentic Scottish whiskey (Since we hadn’t tried haggis, we couldn’t really live with ourselves if we didn’t try the whiskey!) We had our waitress bring us 5 different whiskeys and each took a small sip, after which we rated our favorites from 1-5. I can now definitively say I am not a whiskey drinker! Not exactly a fan.
After taking a leisurely stroll back down the Royal Mile (and admiring the gorgeous sunset as we went), Natalia, Erin, Sam, Chloe, Miranda and I headed back to the coach station where we camped out on the floor and discussed books, movies, Twilight, Ayn Rand, Teach For America, and the future (among other things) before boarding our bus home at 10:30PM. 9 hours later we were home, and 2 hours later I was back at my internship, working away on my spreadsheets! It was truly a glorious way to spend an Independence Day weekend.