The Scottish Highlands are incredible.
Recently, I went on a weekend trip up to my University’s outdoor activity centre (and not center, by the way), sitting right on the waters of Loch Tay. I didn’t know what to expect from the weekend except maybe some kayaking and a typical walk along the lake, but I was excited to get out of the city for a bit.
Well, we got out Friday night, and I soon learned I had been dead wrong in my expectations of an average place. It was dark when we pulled up to the centre, but we could see the vast, black waters illuminated by the moon and stars, and two snowy peaks breaking into the dark sky across the loch. You could tell in the quiet darkness already, this place was beautiful.
We woke up Saturday morning to breakfast in a window-walled room, with a 180 degree view of the loch and mountains. The scenery, together with the full Scottish breakfast, quickly gave us energy for the day.
After breakfast we geared up for a 9 mile hike led by the centre’s guides. We drove a couple miles and stopped at a simple dirt road, which we could see started through some trees. I thought, “Cool, looks nice.” A mile or two in, though, and we were following along the base of a small mountain, out of the trees, walking between flocks of sheep. The weather was perfect – easily the best day of the semester, at 50 degrees and sunny. More snowy peaks came into view, and some small streams ran across our trail. The terrain rolled vibrant green and full of rocks... It was what you’d imagine of the highlands, but better.
My eyes were so busy looking out at the landscape that soon enough it was my legs that told me I was gaining elevation. We were pushing onward up the glen, and the more we went up, the more snow there was on the ground. As we made the final climb over the pass, some struggled to keep their feet on ice patches, while others left deep holes for footsteps. Soon we were looking down from the top, though, relieving our eyes from the reflective sunlit snow to gaze at the familiar green again. We had lunch by a frozen pond before heading down the other side, and I was astounded as always by how delicious a simple sandwich tastes after a trek in the sun.
Back at the centre that night, we had a full Burns Night celebration, with haggis for supper and a traditional ceilidh dance to top things off. One of my favourite parts was the piper, Duncan, who had just returned from his bagpipe tour of Canada. We had been warned that he was brilliant, but once again, my expectations were outdone. I’d never heard anyone shred, yes shred on the pipes like this man, his fingers blurring with motion like a kilted Jimi Hendrix. This was the perfect end to a day in the highlands.
Sunday morning I went mountain biking along the lake, filling my lungs with the crisp morning air. At one point, I came fast around a corner and startled a dozen cows that were chilling on the dirt road just 50 feet ahead. They took off running in front of me, a blend of black, white, and red between two fields of grass. I laughed and hit the brakes, and just as I slowed down I noticed standing stones in the mist-covered field to my left. Here was a miniature Stonehenge (3000-4000 years old, I later found out) just sitting casually on this farm, casting long shadows in the morning light.
Looking back on that weekend now, I don’t know how I could have gotten any more of Scotland in two days. As I reluctantly boarded the bus back to Edinburgh, I knew I had to return to the highlands this semester. In the meantime, see a few photos from the weekend below, and check back in a few weeks for some travels even farther!