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A Taste of the Scottish Highlands

A moment lived in Scotland by Shelly Rodriguez, a traveller from USA

I am sitting on a bus, breathing the recycled tepid air from the broken air conditioner. We got lost on the way to the bus tour so I wound up squeezed shoulder to shoulder exactly in the middle of four other humans on the backseat of this bus. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a family with small children has scored a window seat but none were actually looking out of it. I’m silently extremely jealous. Our bus bumbles along the lowlands of Scotland, heading north. This is my first international trip and will be my first visit into the Highlands. Craning my neck, I can see rolling hills carpeted thick with grass and dotted with sheep. I make a mental note that I cannot leave Scotland before psyching myself up to try haggis, the dish of Scotland made of spiced sheep meat boiled in a sheep stomach.

The bus pulls into the parking lot of a tiny, unnamed café, dwarfed by the mountains just beginning to tower behind it. Stepping off the bus, I hug my coat tighter around myself against the damp chill as I look around. Sheep farms flank us on all sides, seeming to stretch into infinity. Despite the dreary gray of the sky, the land seems almost to glow with the green of the vegetation and the air is sweet with petrichor. In this world, in this moment, the only two colors that exist are gray and emerald green. This place is timeless, with the only signs of human life being the meandering road we came from and the café that sits to the side of it. I buy a cup of tea from a grizzled Scottish woman, her accent as thick as her tight gray curls. Her age is indeterminate from her lined face and she brews her tea strong and bergamot-fragrant, probably the same way she’s brewed it for centuries.

We ascend into the Highlands not long after leaving the café. The hills begin to grow wild, losing the gentle slopes and exposing craggy rocks. The trees start to stretch taller and taller into the sky. It is so impossibly verdant here, an overwhelming void of every shade of green imaginable. Soon, as we officially cross into Highland territory, the trees thicken until they fill the entirety of our bus windows and blur into a leafy mass as we hurtle past. The road twists up and around the mountainous land. We crest a particularly high point, the trees clear, and time stops.

Laid out in front of us is a glen, ringed on every side by mist-wreathed mountains. Tiny waterfalls carve the mountain faces and the rain-heavy clouds hang low in the air, obscuring their true vastness and verticality. I’ve never seen anywhere so lonely and awe-inspiring. All at once, I am not in the bus anymore. I am following Frodo and Sam, pack weighty on my back and walking stick in hand, facing the daunting and impossible world. I am watching the trees and doom creep ever closer to my castle with Macbeth, unable to distinguish foe from the swirling mists. I am looking through the window of the Hogwarts Express, I am searching for the Holy Grail. All in an instant, it becomes clear why so many writers are inspired by this incredible place. Of course magic and monsters exist, we are visiting their homeland. I am hit with the realization that I really am such a small person in this great world.

Unbeknownst to me, this is merely the first glen on the ride and one of hundreds in this land. My epiphany subsides and we continue on, passing several more and spotting lochs of dark, still water within the glens. Crumbling ruins materialize on the countryside: a pile of rubble with a single wall standing here, a primitive stone tower there, an abandoned castle on the other side of that loch. It’s so forlorn here, it’s easy to forget that people have been living here since the Stone Age. The ruins are prolific, almost common, a sharp contrast to the scarce, protected, relatively young ruins in the United States.

Eventually, the bus stops and we scramble off with our umbrellas to explore another glen, Glencoe, the site of a bloody massacre between two warring clans. Later, we eat beautifully flaky fish and chips in a little fishing village way up north, then take a cruise in Loch Ness. Not even the child sitting next to us who throws up and forces us to suffer the stench for hours could dampen the excitement of the day. I’ll always remember the sensation of visiting this fairytale land. It’s truly a magical part of the world, even if experienced in the back of a crowded bus. I know that this journey was a mere taste and I know I will return someday to truly immerse myself.

Oh, and haggis? It’s not half bad.

This traveller has a blog : Tesoro and Trouvaille

credit photo : Shelly Rodriguez

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