Monday, November 21, 2016

Bus Tour of Scotland

Saturday, November 19
          I am so glad that I took the opportunity to go visit Scotland. I have fallen in love with the gorgeous land, history, customs, accent, and city architecture. My friend and I took a train from Aberystwyth to Edinburgh on Friday evening. I got to experience my first hostel! St. Christopher's Inn was in a great location, right across from the train station, and had some really decent accommodations. I will definitely remember to bring ear plugs and a sleeping mask in my next hostel stay, though, as some people don't understand the meaning of quiet when coming back at 3 am drunk. It was quite an experience.
           My friend and I booked an all day bus tour of the Scottish Highlands through Highland Explorer Tours. Our tour guide, Mahri, was fantastic! I learned so much about Scotland's history and was greatly entertained by her running commentary and Scottish music. I tried to make a list of all her interesting facts and take photos at stops and on the road:
-Scotland is number 1 in the world in women's elephant polo
-there are 4 universities in Edinburgh
-there were a lot of witch trials in Scotland, witches were feared and hated. Thousands of people were killed that were accused of being witches. The last witch that was killed was in the 1700's however the last person accused of being a witch and sentenced to jail was in the 1940's. A common test to see if someone was a witch or not was to tie them up and throw them in a loch. If they floated they were a witch and killed. If they sank they weren't a witch but still died. When Nor Loch in Edinburgh was drained (the rich people found the lake to be offensive because it was where all the city sewage ended up after being thrown out of the window into the street) they found many dead bodies and interestingly dead hedgehogs.
-Oats and barley are the most common crop to farm in Scotland. Most of it goes towards making whiskey.
-There are more sheep than people in Scotland.
-The wild deer populations have run rampant with no natural predators, people having killed off all the wild cats, wolves, and bears. There are some efforts to reintroduce wild cats, though. Maybe sometime in the future wolves will be introduced. This is really controversial though because of the sheep farmers.
-The land in the Scottish Highlands is too acidic to plant crops so goes towards grazing.
-If you see a white horse it is supposed to be good luck so every when you see one you can make a wish.
-Scotland is home to the highland cows. They are known as hairy coo. Coo is Scottish for cow. They have two layers of heavy hair because they don't have substantial layers of fat to stay warm to survive in the highlands.
Image result for scotland highland cow
I was unable to get a picture of one myself but we did see a couple hairy coo throughout the day.
-Most of the cows are brown. The story behind this was that Queen Victoria loved to visit Scotland. Back when she visited Scotland most of the cattle were black. One day she was standing out among
a group of black cattle when at the edge she saw a random brown one. She commented that she really like it so the farmers then selected for brown cattle to please the queen.
-The stories of kelpies originated in Scotland. Kelpies are water creatures that can come out of the water and take the form of beautiful horses. If one saw a beautiful horse/kelpie they would be unable to resist touching it. Once they touched the creature they were forced to come with it back to the water where the kelpie would transform back into the water spirit and drag the human underwater to drown and eat them.
-In the district of Falkirk there are two kelpie heads that are 30 feet tall and made of metal. The area was the site of the Scotland industrial revolution.

-In 1286 in the city of Stirling, the last king of Scotland, Alexander, died unexpectedly from falling off his horse when drunk and falling down a cliff. He was on the way to meet with his bride who he insisted on seeing one stormy night. He left behind no heir. His upcoming wedding was supposed to help him in this regard. This started the Scottish Wars of Independence because after Alexander died many events unfolded that had the Scots waging war for their independence.
    -When Alexander died families went looking through their family lines to who would be the next king. Thirteen men came forwards. The nobles were had a hard time choosing who to be king so asked the current king of England, King Edward the First, for advice. King Edward came to become known as the Hammer of the Scots for his advice to the nobles put the weakest man on the Scottish throne. King Edward made this weak man his puppet and whatever he asked for Scotland gave. The puppet made a pact with France as well to be allies. When King Edward asked the puppet to go to war with him against France, the puppet refused. This angered King Edward and instead of attacking France, he attacked Scotland and took it over.
    -There was a particular rebel who rose up and defied King Edward's invasion, William Wallace. He created a small army and brought them to the Stirling castle, which the English were currently occupying, to fight them. In 1297 the Battle of Stirling Bridge ensued. The Scots were greatly outnumbered against the English. So the Scots taunted the English which caused the enraged English to cross a small bridge. Once the many English soldiers crossed the bridge, the Scots flung off their kilts and ran half naked down the hill screaming terrible battle cried. The English were so startled at the Scots behavior that they tried to retreat but the bridge collapsed and they were at the mercy of the Scots. The Scotland soldiers showed no mercy and won the battle.
    -The movie Brave Heart has to do with William Wallace but we were told it was not historically accurate. Many things in the movie didn't happen.
    -William Wallace was eventually caught and literally hung, drawn, and quartered. His head was then placed on a spike for all to see. 1305
-We passed by a castle, Castle Doune, that was used to film some of the shots in Game of Thrones! They used Castle Doune for the Winterfell scenes.
-Our first stop was in a little town called Callander. It is known as the gateway of the highlands.

-The bridge that is seen in Harry Potter as the train takes them to Hogwarts is located in Scotland. A lot of the Scotland scenery inspired the scenes in Harry Potter. We didn't see the exact bridge that is in the film but we did see this one.

-Scotland used to be mostly forests. Sadly only about 17% of the forests still exist. In an effort to bring back the forests trees are being planted.

-It started snowing! Our tour guide usually didn't stop at this sight but it was snowing so stopped at a road side stop for us to take some pictures.

-The scottish word for lake is loch. The scottish word for valley is glen.
-Some stunning scenery on our drive through Scotland:

-McGreggor is a very popular name in Scotland. It was a really big clan when the clan system still dominated Scotland. They were a really naughty bunch and the name McGreggor was outlawed twice because of the family's antics. Some people took on the names of other clans when this happened or they took on the name of colors: Brown, Green, etc.
-One famous McGreggor was Robert Roy McGreggor. He was notorious for stealing cattle. That was until a woman caught his attention and heart. She didn't approve of his stealing hobby so he had to give it up. So he went around to all the different families and told them that he would guarantee that no one stole anymore of their cattle if they paid him a fine every month. Basically he blackmailed them for everyone knew it was he that was stealing their cattle. That is how the word blackmail came about. Black because the cattle were black and mail was a word for tribute or rent.
-Our second stop was in Glencoe, Scotland's most famous glen.

The glen was home to the McDonald clan until they were massacred by another clan, the Campbells, on the order of the king of England when the king was trying to get the clans under control. The McDonalds had given the Campbell clan room and board and food for two weeks as hospitality. Even to this day the remaining McDonalds in the area hold a grudge with the Campbells and refuse to have anything to deal with them.
The glen is also the place for the scenes of Hagrid's hut and some quidditch scenes in Harry Potter!

-The water is discolored in the highlands. It's a pale yellow. This is natural and is still good to drink. The discoloration is due to the peat. When it rains the water sinks into the ground and the peat. Peat is a really dark black color. So some peat sediments get carried along with the rain into the water system turning it a different color. Peat used to be used as fuel for fires. It makes a really thick black smoke that is damaging to one's health. It isn't used for common fires anymore but some whiskey distilleries us peat to add different flavors to their whiskeys using the smoke.
-Ben Nevis is Scotland's tallest mountain and the tallest mountain in the UK. It stands at 1344 meters and in means venomous mountain.
-Scottish people were very literal in naming things.
-Scotland makes a lot of aluminum. They pronounce it al-u-min-ee-um.
-Winston Churchill created a group of soldiers during the Second World War known as the Commandos. The group is still active today and soldiers go through intense extensive training. A part of their training is to live for three weeks in the wilderness with no supplies and not being able to be seen by anyone. If they are seen they have to start their training over again. We visited a memorial for the Commandos:

-Our bus!

A beautiful sky!

-Loch Ness is home of the Loch Ness monster. The lake is 23 miles long, 1 mile wide, and is around 300 meters deep. It is not the deepest or longest lake in Scotland but has the most water in it. It stays around 5 degrees Celsius year round and is so black from the peat that going down even only 5 meters it is too black to see anything. Here are some pictures from around the town by the lake and the cruise I went on:

Lock Ness is part of the canal that spans Scotland.

Hairy coo candles! Adorable!

Deer, the two small silhouettes:

Mountain goats! The little white specks:

No sightings of Nessie sadly but a real pretty boat ride!
-If you find white heather it is said to be good luck as white heather is said to only grow on fairy burial grounds or on ground where no blood has been shed.
-Some of the Scottish songs that our tour guide introduced us to:
Wild Mountain Thyme
Caledonia by Dougie MacLean
Several songs by the band Skipinnish
Mary's Wedding by The High Kings
Flower of Scotland, which is one of Scotland's national anthems. Scotland doesn't have an official national anthem but this song and a few others fulfill this role.

There were many more stories and interesting facts that I wasn't fast enough to get down but it was a really interesting day. Our tour guide, Mahri, was a really friendly and funny woman. She had a great Scottish accent, said 'wee' a lot (this is now my favorite Scottish word), and doesn't trust the seals that are around Scotland anymore after watching a documentary that said the seals were becoming cannibalistic for no known reason as of yet.
I had a great time and my only regret was that there wasn't enough time to explore Scotland further. I definitely wish to go back at some point to hike. I would love to climb to the summit of Ben Nevis and see the highlands in summer when they turn purple from blooming flowers.

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