William Wallace and the Scottish Highlands

September 24, 2012 - 11:13 pm No Comments

It was late by the time we got into Edinburgh, found our hostel, and dropped our bags. Doug, Conrad, and I set out to find some food, but the only open places in the area were KFC and McDonald’s. After filling up on burgers and chicken tenders, we were feeling better and worse at the same time.

Royal Scots Greys Monument

The hostel is rather cramped, not such a big deal since we’re only here for one night. Before bed, I Skyped my girlfriend Samantha back home. Sound quality was amazing, better than I ever get on my phone. Like she’s right there.

This morning, Jerry woke up feeling 100% better, all smiles and wisecracks. We packed our bags and set off our our three day HAGGiS Adventures tour of the Scottish Highlands.

Andy, a short fellow with a round head and tartan kilt, introduced himself as our guide. It didn’t take long for him to endear us with his accent, stories, and jokes. Like most Scots I’ve met, Andy has a happy-go-lucky air about him and a charming blend of humor and humility.

Andy ran us through a “speed-dating” exercise to get us all talking to each other, though it fell flat when I was paired with an older Chinese couple who spoke no English and a German girl who didn’t enjoy my jokes. Language barrier? Missed cultural reference? Or just not funny?

Our first stop was the Wallace Monument in Stirling, where I picked up some sweet William Wallace and Robert the Bruce bookends. On the bus, Andy proceeded to rip apart the movie Braveheart. In short, Wallace was a brutal barbarian who did fight for independence but brutalized and tortured the English even more than was depicted in the movie. He never had a romance with a French princess, and Robert the Bruce is not the traitor he is portrayed as in the movie. He’s actually one of Scotland’s great heroes, and Wallace never even met him.

Statue of William Wallace

Stirling Bridge

After Stirling, we stopped for a quick look at Doune Castle, made famous by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was a big deal to the Aussie ladies on the bus, but not me. I hate Monty Python.

Doune Castle

Then a quick stop to meet Hamish, a famous highland cow (pronounced “heeland coo” by Andy).

Hamish the Highland Cow

Not Hamish

When Andy wasn’t talking, he played a mix of traditional Scottish tunes, Britney Spears, Crowded House, and Men at Work. For someone with so much Scottish pride, I was surprised he didn’t know that Men at Work’s Colin Hay was born in Scotland.

The Back of the Bus

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

Driving through the highlands, Andy gave us a bit of Scottish history and described the clan system. Clans were families who held large tracts of land. Those people who lived on those lands often adopted the names of their lords, so namesake is not necessarily proof of royal heritage.

Clans of Scotland

He went on to tell us about the Jacobite uprisings against the English that occurred in the area we were driving through. He described the massacre at Glencoe, in which members of Clan MacDonald were brutally murdered for not pledging allegiance to joint rule of Scotland by William and Mary in 1692. Andy says that Glencoe means “weeping valley”, but subsequent research shows that he’s probably not right about that. The valley is named after the River Coe which runs through it and bore this name long before the 1692 incident.

We stopped at Glencoe Mountain for a hike. At 3,773 feet, Glencoe Mountain is officially a munro, a Scottish word for mountains over 3,000 feet. We took a chairlift halfway up and hopped over mushy, slippery, rocky ground to the top. The raw natural beauty and mushy ground reminded me of Tierra del Fuego at South America’s southern tip.

Chairlift on Glencoe Mountain

Rocks on Glencoe Mountain

View of the Glen

It was windy and cold at the top, only 1.6° C (35° F) according to the lodge at the base of the mountain. But it was worth it. The views over the highlands were magnificent.

HAGGiS Group at Glencoe Mountain

A-Team on Glencoe Mountain

On the way down, Conrad and I ate shit, slipping on a rock and soaking our clothes. Back at the lodge, we warmed up next to the fireplace and had a truly awful meatball lunch.

Conrad Dries Off

Jerry on the Bus

The highlands are about how I imagined them: very green, rocky hills, cool, cloudy, windy, and rainy. Parts are so desolate that it seems like we could be on another planet. I have to admit, there’s something magical about driving through the Scottish highlands, barren openness everywhere, giant green mountains on either side, and bagpipes blaring at full volume in the van.

And when the sun came out, even if only for a few moments, it was magnificent.

Glen Coe

Farm on the River Coe

River Coe

Interesting Scotland note: there is no such thing as trespassing in this country. Stone fences that mark property lines must be constructed with steps to get over them.

Porridge Pipes & Green Grass

Inverlochy Castle

Garden of Remembrance

Loch Linnhe

Andy Waits

Our day ended at Moorag’s Lodge, our hostel in Fort Augustus. It’s a proper hostel, with a big social area, a bar, and free wifi. I spent a couple of hours relaxing, catching up on e-mail, and transferring photos, rituals when a backpacker is lucky enough to find wifi.

The four of us shared a room with a Malaysian engineering student whose name sounded like “How Sing”. He told us just to call him Van Helsing. I told him to call me Count Dracula. He thought I was hilarious.

We had chicken with haggis for dinner tonight. It was my first encounter with the storied animal product. The way it was served tonight, it’s dark brown and looks a bit crumbly like tabouli. Doug dove in, but Conrad and I hesitated before tasting little nibbles. Mouthfeel is a bit pasty, and it has the slightest hint of minty spice. It was best when I didn’t stop to think about what it actually was. Jerry pussed out altogether.

After dinner, we joined another busload of backpackers at the hostel bar for a pub quiz. During the day, it didn’t take long for Andy to affectionately start calling us Team America, but when it was time to come up with a name for our team, raunchiness was encouraged. Jerry came up with the Sexpendables, which we thought was great but didn’t have the same appeal with everyone else. Language barrier? Missed cultural reference? Or just not funny?

Somehow, I found myself in a contest to see who could hold a glass of water over his head the longest without spilling or leaning on anything. An hour later, me and a strapping German guy named Thilo (pronounced “tee low”) were the last ones standing, but I finally won when he couldn’t take the pressure on his bladder anymore.

Holding Water

Jeff & Thilo Get Shots

Later, when points were to be awarded to the team with the best joke, nobody liked mine.

What’s the difference between Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson?
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and Michael Jackson molests young children.

Language barrier? Missed cultural reference? Or just not funny?

After the quiz, we played a drunken card game called Spoons and some Wii before turning in for the night.

Tomorrow is the second day of our Scotland tour, and we’re headed to the Isle of Skye. Apparently, the bridge to it closes in bad weather, and it’s supposed to rain pretty hard tomorrow. We’re hoping for the best.

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