Intense tourism today: I went from knowing nothing to lots about Scotland in the past 24. we started our bus tour in Edinburgh and ended up on the Isle of Skye, stopping at interesting points in West Scotland throughout the day. In between gaping at lots of greathtaking mountains, I had a crash course in Scottish history.
“Braveheart” was a crock: William Wallace wasn’t exactly a friendly fellow. Supposedly he skinned alive the guy that killed his girlfriend, adorning his sword with the poor dude’s skin, and was known to exercise his pyromaniacism by setting fire to enemy troops. Yet he still gets the tallest monument in the U.K. devoted to him… dodgy, huh? Part freedom fighter, part psychotic, I guess. Whatever he was, he didn’t deserve to have his testicles removed and placed in his mouth before being drawn, quartered chopped up, and buried in 4 different corners of Scotland.
Probably the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen was in Glencoe. To both sides of the road, the most majestic mountains I’ve ever seen rose so high that their heights were still capped with snow. These alternated with green valleys extending so low below the road that they turned hikers into ants by the time they reached the bottom. As we admired the view, a tour guide explained that we were in the Valley of Tears, sight to an infamous massacre. Under orders from the Protestant King of England, members of the clan Campbell came to Glencoe and befriended the Catholic MacDonalds. After 2 weeks of the mandated highland hospitality, many of the Campbells took an order from the king to murder their MacDonald hosts. Hence Glencoe’s nickname: rain brings waterfalls that are the surviving MacDonald’s tears. Apparently there’s still hostility against the Campbels for breaking highland standards: an American Campbell is said to have been kicked out of a local bar that has a plaque reading “no slaughterers or Campbells allowed” after mentioning his surname. He supposedly sued, but, as one of our tour guides put it, “your laws don’t mean anything here, so we basically told him to bugger off.”
I met a man wearing roadkill. At a restored castle, one guide explained that the animal that served as his kilt’s ornament was made from an endangered species. Thus, he had to wait until one had a deadly rendezvous with a car before getting his decoration. This definitely created a mental image of hundreds of angry Scots wearing unadorned kilts as they drive through fields trying to pancake some cute little critter for their pants.
To the Isle of Skye via the most expensive toll bridge in the world. Apparently the bridge’s construction was incredibly more expensive than anticipated and the government decided to make the bridge’s users bear the costs. To make locals even happier, no ferries run nearby and only a modest discount is available. In response, there is SKAT: Skye and Kyrie (town on other side of bridge). Slightly milder than their ancestors the Picts, who fought off Vikings while wearing nothing but tattoos, locals in these small towns now only kill fish and hunt tourist dollars, even keeping their clothes on while doing so.
After arriving at another hostel nicer than my flat, we hiked to the ruins of Saucy Mary’s castle. The Viking princess earned her nickname by thanking sailors after their paid for the right of passage past her castle by showeing them a supposedly amazing set of royal breasts! Mary’s abode is in ruins, but it provided a great view of mountains and the harbor around our little village.
I had a long think at the castle: should I climb it? Steep drop to my side, but I can stick to this corner… a short climb… I can put my hand here, my foot fits there… would ruin my vacation if I fell… I can probably get back down safely… nobody else seems too eager to do it, but they’re not screaming that I’m crazy… climbed a few steps, backed down, and then climbed up. It wasn’t too dangerous or scary, just took a while to plan a course. The view was even more stunning than from the castle’s base and 2 friends joined me after seeing I wasn’t splattered on rocks. Now, climb from the brick plateau on which we stood to the highest point on the castle? My foot will fit here, gotta hook around the corner… wait: too dangerous and we don’t even know how to get down from this point. Descension wasn’t that bad: the smallest and only female climber went first, guided by a more risk-averse traveler who’d stayed at the base of the castle, and myself and another meathead clumsily followed. From there, we picked out a hill/mountain in the distance and took advantage of the 4-hour twilight to climb in the puddles, through the bushes, and to the view. At the top, I couldn’t help but fantasize about clan leaders meeting on this very sight thousands of years ago to plan battle strategies for the vastness below. Today was breathtaking and then some.