Imagine massive hills and valleys, like you normally see around rivers and streams. Now, picture that continuing for miles and miles...towering hills and low swampy marshes for as far as the eye can see. Add a little bit of eerie mist to that, and you have the Highlands of Scotland.
This picture is the best I can do illustrate the scenery, but it still just doesn't capture it.
The tour of the Isle of Skye this past weekend was amazing. On the first day, we went straight to Talisker distillery. It's good to do the most important stuff first! Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures during the tour, but it was really cool to see all of the massive vats, and learn about the Scotch making process. It definitely made me wonder how people discovered how to make the stuff! We were allowed to have a wee taste (or a wee dram as they say here), and I was actually surprised to kind of like it. I don't think it would be my drink of choice still, but I can understand why people would like it now, whereas before it was beyond my comprehension. Scotland is rubbing off on me it appears!
The next stop was Dunvegan Castle, where we ate lunch and explored. I was disappointed that it was raining, because the gardens looked really beautiful. The rain did let up though, and long enough for us to take a walk down to Coral Sands beach! I think that walk may have been my favorite part of the entire trip, because it was so much fun to be able to walk through the land we had been seeing from the coach (or bus). I was just glad to have worn my wellies!
The end view was Coral Sands beach. You can't see in the picture, but that isn't traditional sand on the beach; it's comprised of millions of pieces of coral and shell.
On the walk down - you can see Dunvegan Bay behind me:
Coral Sands Beach:
Our last stop of the day was at Kilt Rock, where huge columns of dolerite have made a sort of kilt-like pattern in the rock. The cliffs were amazing, and from the viewpoint, the only thing separating you from a very, very steep drop was a little handrail! This had a very dizzying affect on me...you don't often expect to look down and realize that you are three inches from falling off a massive cliff!
View to the other direction of the awesome, in the true sense of the word, coastline:
The next day we worked our way back down through the Highlands from the Isle of Skye back to Stirling.
After a short stop in the darling fishing village of Plockton, we made our way to Eilean Donan Castle. Right on the water, this castle offered breathtaking views of the loch. Plus, one of the castle guides let us take pictures with a Claymore, which was the general highlight of the trip! Unfortunately a fire alarm kept us from seeing most of the castle, which I think was a ploy to direct us all to the gift shop ;)
We stopped very briefly in Fort Augustus and Glencoe on the final piece of the drive, but since we were a bit behind schedule, we just got a small taste of both places.
I really have to say that even though the castles are cool, of course, the real highlight of the trip was driving through the Highlands. They really are impressive. Unfortunately, taking the train through doesn't really show you very well, because of where the rail has to be placed, but driving through you can see how endless these huge hills are.
Driving through at twilight, you look out at misty and dark marshlands that send prickles down your spine. This is where, according to Scottish folklore, the banshees will fall upon lost travelers who see a light in the distance and follow it to their death.
Sound at all familiar? I kept thinking that the marshlands really reminded me of the marshes before Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Maybe I'm still in a LOTR state of mind after the Cotswolds, but it's fun to imagine what could have inspired writers, and if you are looking for an eerie place, this is it.