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Published: June 19th 2007
Hamish and Stephanie
One of our students discovers her Highland ancestry.
Haggis Tours is a bus tour company offering a variety of guided tours throughout Scotland. We signed on for a day-long journey up into the Highlands of Scotland, with a stop at Loch Ness. Lucy really wanted the students to see the Highlands and compare the landscape and atmosphere there with what they were seeing in the city of Edinburgh. Our coach driver, Frazer, met us outside Budget Backpackers at 8:30 am for our tour. Our students stumbled on in a bit of a haze; the young man next to me was proud of the fact the he was both awake and prepared with some breakfast: a can of Sprite and a packet of Skittles. Haggis Tours’ marketing slogan is “Wild and Sexy,” and our driver Frazer specializes in tours targeted at the college-aged crowd. This turned out to be a good match for our group.
Frazer provided a running commentary off and on throughout our trip, a witty and informative mix of orientation to the places we saw, historical background, funny anecdotes, and cultural commentary on Scotland and its citizens. Every so often he would take a break from his talking and play us some Scottish
This is the castle that appears in numerous Monty Python skits and the Holy Grail film.
music, but this was not the traditional bagpipes and folk music piped into every gift shop on the Royal Mile. Frazer played contemporary rock and pop music by Scottish artists, and this was really wonderful for our students. Many of the songs were familiar to them - all the guys insisted on singing along to any song to which they knew the words. This wore on me a little, but I enjoyed the music as well; much of it was familiar from the radio station we listen to at home: WRSI in Northampton, MA. I had not realized that many of these groups were Scottish. We listened to music by
Â· the Fratellis
Â· Franz Ferdinand,
Â· The Proclaimers
Â· Franz Ferdinand
Â· Jerry Rafferty
Â· Simple Minds
Â· Paolo Nutini
Â· Belle and Sebastian
He also played us excerpts from some old Monty Python skits.
About two hours north of Edinburgh, we began to see the landscape change, and the mountains began. Frazer pointed out various significant sites and buildings and told us many tales about the Scottish battles for independence from the English and the fighting between the various clans. We would stop at
least once every hour or so, to allow people to buy snacks, use the loo, or take advantage of particularly beautiful photo opportunities and scenic vistas. One particular tourist stop was best known for its resident Highland cow, Hamish, who patiently posed for pictures all day long. The locals call Hamish and his cousins, “hairy coos,” and we saw many of these cows and many, many sheep along our drive.
The central glen that runs through the Highlands is called Glencoe, and this is really a spectacular stretch of scenery. In fact, if you watch the Harry Potter movies, much of the scenery used as background during Quidditch matches and other flying scenes are scenes of Glencoe. Here is the largest uninhabited section of the U.K., 50 square miles of wilderness. This area is used frequently by the military for wilderness survival training. Several well-known walking trails run through the area. There are even a few ski areas that operate here in winters with snow. On a clear day we would have been able to see Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain at 4406 feet. ( Today the weather was what Frazer called “atmospheric” - lots of mist
rolling in and out, off-and-on showers all day.) An average of 12 people die each year climbing Ben Nevis, which is more than die annually on Mt. Everest. The climbing can be very dangerous in the changing weather; with wet conditions, poor visibility, and the very steep cliffs, it can be dangerous if you wander off the path.
A little after lunch time we got to the town of Fort Augustus, at the mouth of Loch Ness. We had about 90 minutes to stop here. Some of our group walked around the town, some took a pint or two in the local pub, and some took the one-hour boat tour of the Loch. This tour is led by a scientist who has been studying the loch for many years, and in particular, studying and gathering evidence of the existence of large, unidentifiable creatures who may live beneath its surface. While the students from our group did not come away convinced of the existence of the Loch Ness monster, they did come away convinced that these scientists are convinced. And apparently they are capable of having some fun with the mystery as well; they have little Nessie stickers on the
windows of the boat, so you can take your own photo as “evidence” that the monster exists.
A great deal of the pleasure in this day-long journey was listening to the commentary of our guide, Frazer. Among the many variations of British accents I’ve heard on this trip, it is the Scottish I enjoy listening to the most. Think of Fiona Ritchie of The Thistle and Shamrock radio show. Everything was “wee,” even when it wasn’t really small. Crazy people were “daft,” nervy people were “cheeky.” And in Scotland lakes are lochs, valleys are glens, and mountains are bens.
A few themes that ran through his discussions of Scottish culture were the amazing number of important things that have been invented by the Scots, including the telephone, Scotch whiskey, and tourism. The Scots great love for drink and their well-known frugality - what Frazer called being “wise” with your money - combine in this Scottish saying: “the only thing better than whiskey is free whiskey.” On the notorious gloomy and rainy Scottish weather, Frazer commented, “Ah well, today’s rain is tomorrow’s whiskey.”
As we arrived back in Edinburgh at 7:30 pm, Frazer gave us a run-down of
his recommended tourist attractions in the city, including a climb up Arthur’s Seat and the great museums such as the Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery. The theme that held together his many recommendations: they were all free!
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