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Touring the Highlands of Scotland

Near Glencoe, Scottish Highlands Photo, Scotland, United Kingdom

The weather is cooler now and more or less overcast. First thing this morning we drove across the Scottish border to Moffat for a visit to a woolen mill. I had a quick look around the mill which had some little boutique like shops filled with crafts in addition to the main store full of tweeds and tartans. Nice but I was not all that interested at this point. The factory is just outside of the town so I wandered in there. There were one or two souvenir stores open around the little High Street square but the thing that caught my interest was an old graveyard so i had a look round in there for a bit.

This part of Scotland is the Southern Uplands, mountainous but not as high as the Highlands in the north. There are more stone fences than hedges marking property borders and lots of sheep and Black Angus cattle. The countryside seems a lot bigger, the fields marked off are larger than in England and you go miles without seeing settlements though you will see farmhouses dotting the hillsides. No trees. The UK is only 9% covered with trees. There are tree "farms", quite a few in Scotland and the highlands where they grow faster so you'll see strips of green on a mountainside, like a blot of ink on a paper. Next to them you'll see where the previous patch of trees was clear cut.

We boarded the bus and headed north to Ayr, Robert Burns country. We stopped at a huge old Victorian hotel, the kind that usually was built beside a train station. The bus was going to take anyone who was interested on a short drive west to see the cottage where Burns was born. I'm not much interested in Burns so I stayed in Ayr. Another attraction was a sign on the hotel advertising an antique sale inside! The sale was in an exhibition room off the lobby and I spent a lovely hour and a half wandering there looking at the old furniture, jewelry and linens. It's Sunday and there wasn't too many stores open as I walked a few blocks in the vicinity so I returned to the street that fronts the hotel and had a light lunch in a cafe there. I had a bowl of soup, something with lentils I think. Except for one or two motorway truck stops that served canned soup, I never had a bad bowl of soup in the UK. Everywhere I had soup, hotels, restaurants or cafes, it was always homemade and delicious!

Our last stop for the day before arriving at our hotel outside of Glasgow was the Burrell Collection. The building is in a park like setting and there's even shaggy highland cattle wandering in a field nearby! A man named Burrell was a shipping magnate around the turn of the twentieth century and he collected anything and everything that caught his fancy. He even catalogued the whole collection himself in the kind of notebooks that schoolchildren use. When he died he bequeathed the collection to the city of Glasgow providing they built a place for it and it had to be outside of the grime of the city. It took Glasgow 30 years to decide where to put the building and the collection has been on display now for about 15 years.

It's amazing! There's everything from ancient Roman and Egyptian and Chinese artifacts to Georgian porcelain. There's needlepoint and embroidery from Tudor to Victorian age. Some huge tapestries. Suits of armour.

We are staying at the Dean Park hotel outside of Glasgow. It's quite nice but the downside is we aren't going to see any of the city at all on this tour. I suppose I could have organized a taxi with some others and go into the city in the evening but I didn't think of it at the time. David has been telling us a lot of interesting things about Scotland and it's judicial system where, if there's no law against it, you can do it! Scotland, now, of course has it's own parliament but when I was there it didn't though had its own constitution.

Into the Highlands: Today we head up into the highlands and it's still overcast with some showers and some sunny breaks here and there. We followed the Great lochs, passing Fort William and Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. Our first stop was a photo op at Loch Lomond where there was a piper playing tunes for the tourists. Luckily there was a sunny break then. The road leading out from the Loch was so narrow that there was a stop and go light at one particularly sharp turn. In Newfoundland that kind of turn in the road which abuts a cliff is called a "scrape". Another stop was a sheepskin factory where there was also an exhibition about the Antarctic expeditions.

Driving up through the highlands to stories of Scottish folk heroes like Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. The mountains are getting progressively higher and more barren. We passed a glade and later a field and saw rainbows. Not your standard arched rainbow however. There were pools of colour laying in the mist or on the ground of the field. It was the most amazing thing i've ever seen! I took a couple of pictures and the ones of the rainbows on the flat boggy field came out clearly. Another unusual sight was a huge boulder by the side of the road that had a tree growing up through it but I couldn't get a picture as it was on the other side of the road and I wasn't on that side of the bus. We had another photo op in a particularly bleak glen, Glencoe, which is where the clan MacDonald slaughtered the clan Campbell (or was it the other way around?) It was a long standing feud and the slaughter had something to do with swearing fealty to the English crown after the first Highland Rising in 1715.

In spite of the increasingly cloudy weather, heavy mists and fog, the scenery was spectacular! The top of Ben Nevis was obliterated by clouds. The landscape from Fort William to Inverness contained more trees so it didn't seem quite so bleak. We had another photo op at Loch Ness but couldn't stop near Urquhart Castle as the owners don't want hords of tourists crawling over it anymore. Fair enough! There's a visitor center at one end of the loch which is the deepest lake in Britain at 727 feet. We didn't go into the visitor center which had a large cartoonish figure of the monster Nessie outside it. Thank you David. Some visitor centers are quite interesting but I really don't think this one would have done much for me!

One of the most moving visits on this tour was the battlefield of Cullodden outside of Inverness. You can see grassy mounds which are the mass graves of the clans. There are stone markers by them indicating the clans buried there. There's a little gully with running water that is the "Well of the Dead". There is a big stone cairn memorial built in 1881. When you stand there you look out on a small field with a yellow flag on the far left and a red one on the far right. This was the position of the armies. The field looks impossibly small but I think you are acually standing in the middle of it. The atmosphere, even with people walking around and taking photos is quiet. If you didn't believe in ghosts, you might think twice about that. The air seems heavy with the sad spirits of the dead here even with the wind coming across the heather-covered battlefield. It was spooky, sobering, solemn and pensive. It's not hard to imagine 9000 men fighting with swords and axes, with blood soaked fields covered in dying Scots.

Our hotel for the night was in the ski resort town of Aviemore. Kind of a plain hotel but again, good food. I tried haggis which was quite tasty and probably not made with all the disgusting things it used to be made of. This seemed like ground meat, beef I hope :), with spices and barley to bulk it up. Had an interesting chat in the bar after dinner with David, Bill the driver and another chap, Scott who was on the tour on his own. We got into the man vs. Woman argument but it was all in fun, it wasn't a serious argument. I also called home tonight.

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