The first time in my life that I woke up to a 1 -degree C climate. The darkest 7:00 AM that greeted me as I looked through the window of our bed and breakfast accommodation. Quite early to be moving, I thought.
But we had to move fast.
In early January 2016, we had a grand and meaningful Scottish Highlands experience for a day. As we look back, it did not need much motivation to overcome the chill that morning as we walked to Royal Mile to meet our guide and tour mates for our Loch Ness Hunter tour. Yes, we were about to see Nessie!
As we jumped into our (literally) wild and sexy yellow bus (see that above photo), our guide Jamie (who is pure Scottish) showed us the entire map of Scotland and the trail we were going to cover starting from Edinburgh. We were altogether less than 10 wanderers in the bus; everyone got so stirred up as soon as he put on the playlist which comprised of old and not-so-old songs performed by Scottish singers.
The music strategically went on and off, as live story telling (rather than purely commentary) was done by our guide. While he told us that snooze fest is welcome, I did not want to miss the chance to hear information from a passionate, able, hilarious and real Scottish who breathes history of his entire nation (although he is originally from the capital city, Edinburgh).
As we headed north from Edinburgh, the more that I realized that I will not sleep in this road trip. I am not exaggerating if I say that I did not want to blink, only if possible and healthy, not to miss anything (including the hilarious stories; particularly that it is more engaging if shared by a local). There were points of interest which were not directly part of the itinerary but were gladly noted to us to a possible extent, just like when we passed at the Stirling Castle and Rob Roy country (otherwise known as Trossachs), Forth Bridges (as we returned to the city capital) and more. One of the early fascinating areas we crossed was Rannoch Moor where the Black Mountain can be seen.
(Scottish Highlands, January 2016)
Before crossing Fort William, we dropped by somewhere to collect our free picnic lunch. (As we departed from Edinburgh, we were asked to choose the sandwich and drinks we fancy from the options). The lunch was made from local sources. We were not so surprised that we had the famous Walkers shortbread for dessert.
We stopped at the lovely village of Fort Augustus. The body of water over there is none other than Loch Ness. You can go around the area to better appreciate the village and the entirety of Loch Ness from different points of view.
Apart from visiting a nearby Old Woolen Mill where we got very reasonably priced jumpers and Celtic necklaces (with tax refund forms, yay!), we opted to join the cruise. Of course, this is a great and safest channel to get as close as possible to the monster of Loch Ness.
(We spent time on the upper deck before the boat will turn around, wind was stronger after that. The view is fascinating and literally breath taking; we have spotted deers and other animals at the left side while on board, quite forest-like side.)
It was, of course, colder while in the cruise. We stayed at the lower deck most of the time for some warmth. Apparently, they sell different types of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to keep the guests warm (and more excited to see the monster, hahaha). Apart from the captain, there is a guy who was providing explanation, commentary and other stories about Loch Ness. A combo of trivial, factual, fictional information and in between of those, depending on your conviction and what you intend to believe.
Do you think Nessie is real?
I have seen numerous documentaries and features about Loch Ness and the sorts of ‘Finding Nessie’. At the end of the day, I do not think that there is indeed a monster beneath the water. However, each time I see and hear a story related to Loch Ness and the so-called monster, I always lend both ears because all bits are fascinating. I always remind myself, though, that each country, each lake, other bodies of water, even mountains, have a sort of urban myth, tale, legend or whatever classification they might fall in. It just so happened that the monster in Loch Ness is more and quite popular and it will forever be — even if it has been validated as not true at all. Apparently, the monster’s photo that surfaced a long time was edited.
(There are two sonars that show the depth of water and can track unusual objects beneath the loch. The volume of water in Loch Ness is nearly double of all the lakes, i.e. combined in England and Wales.)
The funny thing is that even if I did not believe in the monster of Loch Ness at all, I took the story like a child with such fascination. Just because I like theories, scenarios, possibilities, and professional skepticism at the end. Did I get upset after the cruise? Not at all. On the contrary, I became more interested about Loch Ness, the other lochs (lakes/ fjord) in Scotland, and… still the monster of Loch Ness. I believe that the sighting of the infamous ‘monster’ really occurred. However, that was a sighting of a unique/ not so known species of a big fish.
After the cruise, we took a piece of Loch Ness with us. On our refrigerator has an added member-magnet, Nessie.
We stopped by next at the Commando Memorial. It was built in memory of the British commandos in World War and serves as venue for ceremonies like Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) and D-Day (Normandy landings). Around it, they have allocated ashes scattering area for those who have died in more recent conflicts (instead of the term ‘war’). I guess though that for some guests and those not much into history, the memorial might be regarded the other way (like a viewing point only). From this location, it actually offers a great view of Ben Nevis (Scotland’s highest mountain) and Aonach Mor.
The weather was generally fickle minded. It is not a joke that in any area of the UK you may experience four seasons in the same day. Like in the above photo, it suddenly rained quite hard, then, it switched to summer the next hour.
(Meet the Three Sisters, the three steep and sided ridges. It is part of Bidean nam Bian which is the highest point in Argyll county. I think it looks extra dramatic during winter.)
Having been fed with plenty of beautiful sights of the Scottish Highlands both in and outside our funky yellow vehicle and the lake cruise experience itself, I was more than dazzled already. Guess what? There was more. Our guide started narrating the story of Weeping Glenn and the Massacre of Glen Coe as we were approaching the Great Glen.
After hearing the story of this massacre, I look at surnames MacDonald (not the hamburger chain) and Campbell (not the mushrooms provider) differently now. Theirs was a story of betrayal. While in the old until the present and future times, an element of betrayal might be inherent in the society, it is still nerve breaking to realize it could happen the most unkind way. According to our guide, after the revolution and Jacobite uprising on 13th February 1692 (it could be one of the possible associated Friday the 13th stories), 38 MacDonalds from the Glen Coe clan were killed by the Campbell clan because the former did not promptly pledge alliance to the new monarchs. It is viewed as “murder under trust” as the Campbells were accommodated by the MacDonalds when they needed shelter and other arrangements.
(That is our guide, who had a great idea of bringing a Scotland flag and offered to take photos. The entire Great Glen has been seen in the movie, Skyfall.)
In my previous post, I mentioned about Ediburgh’s rich history and some of its dark chapters. It was thrilling, fascinating and sad to hear the dark(er) chunks of Scottish Highlands’s past. A shallow thought that came to me is it is better that they are known for the infamous monster in Loch Ness. But no. The highlands is indeed beautiful and more dazzling the moment you look through it with tiny details of the yesteryears.