The Magical, Mystical Highlands

The past weekend was one of the best 3 days of my life thus far. The words and pictures I use to describe my experience in the Scottish Highlands will not do it justice, but I'll try my best. I went on a tour to the Highlands -- the North of Scotland -- with 15 other students from the university. Our tour guide was this amazing man named Nory, who runs his own tour company called Heartland Travel. His good friend Neal came along so they could take turns driving. (If you ever find yourself in Scotland definitely book this tour because it was THE BEST and he was THE BEST). Nory was so passionate about his country and was the absolute best storyteller I've ever had the privilege to listen to. I heard more Scottish folklore tales and stories about Scotland's history in these wee three days than the rest of my whole month here! Nory has such an inspirational, positive outlook on life and a wonderful sense of humor. He really reminded me of a Scottish, non-Christian version of my awesome youth pastor back at home.

On Friday we started off at Doune Castle, where a scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was filmed. Then we made our way north, driving up the winding roads through the Glencoe Mountains, where we stopped to listen to a random bagpiper by a mountain and ate lunch. The Highlands are gorgeous and I continue to be amazed by how creative and artistic God is. The entire weekend was just utterly peaceful and enjoyable up north in the country. It was such a contrast to the busy cities I've been used to visiting. On the bus, Nory shared how the phrase "giving someone the cold shoulder" got its origins. Apparently the Scottish are known for their hospitality in the highlands. If they welcome a guest into their home and give them a hot meal, it shows that they like the person. However, if the host doesn't like their guest, they will give them cold meat -- such as a cold shoulder of lamb. Hence, "giving someone the cold shoulder." !!!
Friday was a very "Harry Potter-y" day and the first film location we saw was a patch of trees on a mountain where they put Hagrid's lil house at for "Prisoner of Azkaban." They ended up having to relocate the house after filming ended, because the town didn't want that area to become a huge tourist site.

After lunch we drove to Fort William and got off the bus to go hiking. I didn't know this was part of the tour's itinerary... but I can now check "go hiking in a dress" off the list of things to do in life. (I was actually pretty comfortable). After hiking about 30 minutes, we reached this big pretty waterfall. Once again, Nory informed us that the mountain range area we were in was where they filmed the scene in "Goblet of Fire" where a dragon chased Harry Potter. So cool! Something I LOVED about the tour was the fact that we actually got off the bus and explored the areas for long periods of time. It was nice being able to sit alone by the river and enjoy the view. Our final Harry Potter stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct aka the Harry Potter bridge. That was super exciting to see in person and I was nerding out.

We drove by Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland. Since the weather was absolutely perfect on Friday and there wasn't a single rain cloud in the sky, we got an amazing view of the mountains. Normally they are obscured by lots of fog. Before making our way to the hostel in Stromeferry, we briefly stopped by the famous Eilean Donan castle. It was really neat seeing it in real life since I've been staring at a photograph of it in my house for so long (from when my parents came to Scotland when I was little). The hostel was this quaint, adorable place in the middle of nowhere and we thankfully had the whole place to ourselves. My friend Katie and I got a room at the top with our own bathroom (yay) and the most comfortable bed that I have slept in in weeks! Our whole group had a big barbecue and I ate hotdogs out of a jar that I found on a shelf in the grocery store. They surprisingly tasted fine.

After an amazing night's sleep, we spent all day Saturday - the Fourth of July - exploring various parts of the Isle of Skye. I was disappointed I couldn't spend the fun holiday at home with my friends like tradition, but ended up having one of the best days ever so I'm not complaining! I would relive that day over and over if I could. Nory told us a bunch of stories involving faeries and warrior princesses during the drive to the huge island. The weather was unfortunately very bipolar that day. One moment it would be hot and sunny and the next moment it would be windy and rainy. The faeries must have been on our side though because it would be mostly sunny when we were outside exploring and raining while we were on the bus. We went to the Old Man of Storr rock and Kilt rock.

We stopped by these 2 mountains next to each other which are entirely made up of different rock. Even geologists don't have an explanation of how this happened. The next part of our journey was my favorite place that I have seen so far during my entire trip in the UK: The Faerie Glen. This was the most magical place that I've ever set foot in. I'm pretty sure my spirit creature is a faerie because I felt home there. I was in awe of the stunning creation before my eyes; it didn't even seem real. The Faerie Glen is this weird little area on the Isle of Skye made up of luscious, green, small hills with rings around them. They are thought to be the home of faeries in the faerie kingdom by the Scottish. Interesting little trees grew along the path to get to the Faerie Glen and there were a few "faerie rings" made up of rocks in a spiral. Most were made from tourists; however, the oldest one has so much grass growing up around the rocks that they don't think it was made by human hands. We spent a good hour at this gorgeous place and I climbed up a steep path on top of this gigantic rock to get a panoramic view. I could have stayed there all day.



We then traveled to the Faerie Pools, where we got stuck walking on a dirt path in the wind, chill, and rain. After about 30 minutes of walking and complaining (my umbrella broke because it was so windy!) we heard a loud whistle. When we turned around, we saw Nory waaaay back on the path, motioning for us to come back. When we approached him, he told us that we had already passed the Faerie Pools! We were now just walking on the path towards the mountains. We all felt pretty dumb and were a little let down by the pools. They were still cool, yet didn't look as stunning as they do in postcards and photographs online. I blame the weather. Usually you can walk down the rocks by the river for a better view, but since it was raining so hard Nory said it was unsafe. The extreme amount of fog looming over the mountains made the whole place very eerie and mystical.

When we got back to the hostel that evening, Nory made us a big family dinner of pasta and his special sauce. We pushed the tables together into one big table and played UNO while we waited for the food to be ready. After we were stuffed with pasta we ate chocolate cake and were ready for bed. On our last day in the Highlands on Sunday, we went to Loch Ness. I never realized the lake was that big! Nory said that it is so wide and extremely deep that you could fit the entire world's population inside the loch... ten times. I still can't wrap my head around that statement. Nory also told us many stories of course about people claiming to see the Loch Ness monster or weird occurrences in the water in the past. We stayed there for a good two hours, eating lunch at a Fish and Chips restaurant, and taking pictures by the loch. Some insane girls from our group jumped into the loch wearing their clothes and were cursing because of how freezing the water was.

Another favorite moment of the trip was getting to feed the "heeland coos" aka the Highland cows!! They were adorable up close with their long hair and long tongues. They sure loved our carrots, and I was tempted to bring one home with me.

The weekend was by far one of the best experiences I've had in life. It was a wonderful way to spend my final weekend in Scotland. It's now 2:57 a.m. and I am extremely tired and need to wake up early-ish to go on my last adventure in Scotland tomorrow! Two friends and I are taking a bus an hour away to this zipline place where we are doing a ropes course high up in the trees. I'm really excited but crossing my fingers my harness doesn't break.

This will probably be my last post that I write in Scotland! It has been a fun, exciting, life-changing past four weeks in this beautiful country. I am so blessed that I was able to come and experience it with a wonderful group of friends that I've made here. I'm not ready at all to say goodbye to them. It makes my heart so sad just thinking about having to do it in two days. BUT then I'm off to a whole new country all by myself for yet another month! Let the adventures continue...

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