The curtains of our hostel were left open, so we fell asleep and woke up to the most amazing view. The following morning was a quick breakfast before we headed off to our bright yellow tour bus: Haggis Tours. It was aptly labelled “Wild and Sexy” and “Awesome”. This bus was to be our ride for our three-day tour of Northern Scotland.
On our way down to the bus, we met up with a person who would be joining us on the tour. Ruan and I were relieved when we saw that other young people would indeed be joining us.
Now, our tour guides were characters unique unto themselves. Dave, our guide, was a large red-haired and bearded Scottish man from Glasgow. Jason, also known as Jace the Race and Swiss Army Knife was the driver. We soon saw why those names were attributed to him.
We drove north out of the city and into the Scottish landscape.
The hills of the Highlands are dotted with small mounds, which are boulders that were deposited during the Ice Age which had post-glacial sediment deposits. They looked like large knuckles kneading the mountainside, which shimmered with ice and snow. Dave referred to them as Fairy Hills, home of the cheeky Scottish fairies.
Brown heather spreads like butter over the hillsides. Apparently, in July the heather turns into a brilliant purple that blankets the countryside.
The Scottish landscape is different to the English. Still green, but far more formidable. I prefer it. There is a darkness lingering in the forests and the water which probably inspired many myths and fairy tales. It is the world that inspires fantasy.
The houses here are really quaint and too cute. Movies really do them justice. Most of them are little neat cottages, all aligned with one another. Some have small brightly coloured gardens in their front yard. Others have brightly coloured doors and windows. Either way, they all try bring some colour to their grey and white abodes.
I was unprepared for the cold. It is supposed to be summer! I understand why pictures of Scotland shows perpetual rain. There is a constant grey mist-rain somewhere on the horizon, which is only emphasised by the steel grey towns.
We are on route to our whisky tasting, which everyone is excited for. We had an interesting tour at Tomatin distillery and got to sip some traditional Scottish whisky. Ruan was really excited about this part of the trip. I must admit – I was a whisky virgin.
The ever-present drizzle clung to my hair and I could feel it frizz as I stepped out of the bus at Tomatin. My socks also got instantly wet from the holes at the bottom of my boots. Needless to say I looked (and felt) a little worse for wear.
But all this was soon forgotten when we stepped into the reception of Tomatin. I stood in the presence of one of the best single malt whiskeys in the world. Even the showroom invited us into the aura of greatness. Hannah was our tour guide around the distillery, and her Scottish accent made all the boys giggle. She expertly guided us around the room and introduced us to the complex process of whiskey distilling – which I cannot recollect at all!
* They also recently won “Icons of Whisky Distiller of the Year 2016 & Brand Innovator of the Year 2017”!
The night was spent in a tiny little town – you would literally miss if you blinked. We dined out with a few friends and took a small hike with some others to a beautiful viewpoint of Loch Ness. Surprisingly, this Loch is really unimpressive compared to the others. We found Nessie!
The evening was spent in a pop quiz, fun and laughter – a great way to end the first day.
I know I will not be able to remember everything or commemorate it all. It will be a snapshot of senses that experienced the vast beauty that is the Highlands.
The hostel we stayed at the first night was lovely. The slate roof was tiled with patches of moss that looked like hedgehogs. Inside was warm and light, with a happy atmosphere.
There is a softness in the air, a kindness. Even though it is bitterly cold, it doesn’t feel cruel – save for the muggies. The air is constantly saturated too. Precipitation here seems to be mostly mis-reen, barely rising above a spitting level. And there are always towers of biting muggies which worked on everyone’s nerves for the duration of the trip.
I wish we had half a day to ourselves in this beautiful countryside. I would get lost in the forest somewhere and just sit and write. With a scenery like this, it is easy to see why so many get inspired by the Highlands. In fact, we visited a Summer House on our second day that was frequented by J.M. Barrie who drew inspiration from his nephews and nieces for Peter Pan.