Wild and Sexy Scotland: Day 68

Loch the shape of Scotland

We bolted for the Highlands. There was no stopping us. The bright yellow tour bus resembled the Coors Light Silver Bullet Train in my mind as it streamed like a beast across very green and steadily growing hills. When there was a need to stretch the legs, we stopped in a town that brings to mind the adjectives quaint, cute, and colorful. When our bellies grumbled, pubs and cafes appeared , and never did we leave the big yellow bus door without multiple recommendations for the best food to be had or the best church to be seen. On the bus, it was always learning time. If I were to pack in the amount of knowledge our guide Kyle had about Scotland into my head, surely geometry equations and verb conjugations would shove out my ears. Basically, his brain overfloweth with Scottish facts. He told stories, recounted mythical tales, and even played DJ by orchestrating an eclectic and authentic Scottish playlist. Bus time was never wasted time.

As the landscape got cooler, we began the side trips. The Battle of Culloden was apparently one that determined the fate of our future countries and cultures. Kyle explained the brutal slaughtering of the Jacobites as we stood on the very soil that soaked up the puddling blood. You can do nothing else in such a spirit-filled presence but wander solemnly and imagine mass fatalities occurring on this, currently, luminous land. Eerie.

After having a little cultural reenactment by a traditional Scottish clansmen (man, those clothes must have smelt rugged), Kyle made it possible to take an optional boat ride on the Loch Ness. We boarded as skeptics, thinking we were only there for the scenery and to joke about water monsters, but I returned to solid ground with squinting eyes and an odd sensation that I believed what the sailor aboard was telling us. There really may be a monster, or perhaps 18, in the Loch Ness. There's some pretty eerie "proof" circulating on the down low.

Day two pleased me to no end. The castle from the movie Entrapment?! Get outta town! We walked around what was once majestic, then terrorized and knocked to the ground, and is now rebuilt to its original splendor. Eilean Donan Castle is one famous little stack of rocks at the merging of three lakes, and I oggled the rooftop, trying to envision Sean Connery dropping his whiskey glass into the swampy abyss.

And with a subsequent visit to the Isle of Skye, I was then rocked by colors: slate blue ocean, yellow-green hills, pale blue skies, grey and mossy stones of yore. This day reminded me I see the Highlands permanently stuck in some medieval period, where stones are primary building materials, blood is shed in the most brutal way, and the oldest of English vocabulary is necessary for conversation (though Highlanders usually only spoke Gaelic). It's funny to think where we get these ideas, to suspend a culture in a time we never really knew or witnessed firsthand. I guess Scotland lends to it with the preservation of its medieval castles (as does Florence with the Renaissance architecture or my grandma with her 70s style furniture). We all reminisce about the good 'ol days, I guess.

I was never untouched by the view out the window. The soil of the hills held stories I'd cringe hearing, and the clouds were ever-present to keep the landscape new and changing. Glencoe was no exception to the beautiful Highland rule: this spot on the Earth is towering and begging to be hiked. And when a leisurely drive around the open land brings you past cows with teenage boy hair, you can't help but think the Highlands are hilarious. One may even call them Wild and Sexy.

Free Nessie! Day 66

Would you take me seriously if I told you I believe in Nessie, the Loch Ness monster? Crazy thing is I actually think I do. At least the old sailor on our boat trip made it very easy to imagine such a creature existed below us in those deep and murky waters of Scotland.

Free Nessie!

A few of us from the Highland bus tour decided to spend an hour of our first evening aboard a boat in one of Scotland's most beautiful settings. This lake, or loch in Scottish Gaelic, is a natural body of water created on a fault line, its depth reaching 260 meters at points. The temperature of the water is frigid, and it's hardly transparent enough to see your hand dipped in two feet deep. We were told, "If all the water in all the lakes and rivers of Scotland was poured into an empty Loch Ness, it wouldn't be enough to fill it." Water pressure is intense when people or unmanned remote vehicles submerge. The conditions of the water have made it extremely difficult to really investigate the possibilities of massive creatures in the water, but there are some, like our boat guide, who make it their life missions to prove this animal exists.

I met a few fun individuals from the tour that shared my dreams of having Nessie recreate the quintessential Free Willy moment over our heads. We even took a picture to later be photoshopped with that effect. But soon, the boat guide brought us down below to hear his tales and be convinced, not just amused.

Multiple TV monitors displayed the activity going on below the boat. One could map out the depth and appearance of the lake bed, and another illustrated the wildlife with massive blots of color. Twenty-five years of this man's life have been dedicated to finding Nessie and her pals, as they believe there are possibly 18 "monsters" in the loch. And when he began showing photos of the TV monitors picking up 3-ton creatures, our eyes opened a little wider. When a remote-operated vehicle submerged to the lake bed, they found a skeleton of mass proportions in the shape of our Nessie assumptions. Whoa.

The biggest shock came when he showed us a photo he captured while kayaking years prior. NASA confirmed this photo hadn't been altered digitally, so he claimed. And if that's true, holy cow, there is something with a huge, scaly neck in Loch Ness.

I love running into these passionate people around the World who find one thing they would die for and spend their lives pursuing one goal. Though we Americans like to be skeptical of stories like those akin to Nessie's, it's fun getting pulled into these old mysteries by the people who bleed them.

Nessie's out there, man. Go check it out for yourself.