I may not have seen the monster this weekend, but if getting to Loch Ness means spending the day in some of the most beautiful scenery this side of the Atlantic, I’ll take it.
This past Saturday, two of my new friends and I took a wee tour of the Scottish Highlands (btw, “wee” is sort of an unofficial Scottish unit of measurement, and you’ll hear it about 50 times a day if you ever visit the country). We hopped on a bus at the Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh to begin our 13-hour journey through the countryside. By “hopped,” I mean we straight up plodded on to the bus at 8 AM sharp, despite having been out well past 2 AM the night before, and one of us, who shall remain nameless except that his name is Jack – made it by the skin of his teeth…he woke up (very, very) late, ran the mile or so to the bus (in the exact same clothes he wore the night before) and made it to his seat with about 2 minutes to spare. The guy next to him was thrilled to spend the day shoulder-to-shoulder with him, I’m sure…
After several, much-needed coffees and a roughly two-hour nap on the bus, we all woke up and started taking in the scenery around us, and man, was it something. Seriously, there just aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe what an almost offensively beautiful country Scotland really is. There were times that I actually felt a wee bit guilty that we were driving through the picturesque landscape on major roads – I almost wished that helicopters could just pick us up and drop us off at all the sights so that we could leave everything untouched and as we found it (she says as she gazes at the stone she stole from the beach at Loch Ness…)
As it were, we continued our drive until our first stop, which was a small village called Pitlochry, where we spent half an hour walking around, taking pictures and getting some fresh air. My friends and I took a short walk past a beautiful little church before stepping inside the cutest candy store you’ve ever seen for some sweet (hangover-curing) treats, and then we got back on the bus and began our journey to Inverness, which is known as the “capital of the Highlands.” Inverness is a place to which I’d like to return sometime soon – the city itself has plenty to offer for a weekend trip, but the outskirts of Inverness are where most people flock when they visit Scotland. Just southwest of the city lies the lair of the monster, ‘Nessie:’ Loch Ness.
“Loch” means “lake,” and Scotland has about 32
thousand of them, Loch Ness being the largest by volume of water. Our bus driver (and veritable encyclopedia for all things Scotland) told us that you could fit the entire world’s population in the loch, which measures roughly 22 miles long, 2.7 miles wide and 500 feet deep. To put that in perspective, the loch contains more fresh water than every single lake in England and Wales combined… basically, its absolutely massive (and the perfect hiding place for a camera-shy monster, I suppose). In my mind’s eye, Loch Ness was sort of a haunting, dreary, fog-covered place complete with mossy grasslands, mud and creepy cabins dotting an unremarkable shoreline. In reality, Loch Ness is one of the most incredibly beautiful places I have ever seen: the loch itself is a deep, almost gem-like shade of blue, the shoreline is anything but unremarkable and there is nothing muddy or creepy about the place. We happened to see it on a clear, sunny day, and it was perfectly picturesque – more the type of place you’d expect to see a family out fishing along the water’s edge, less a place you’d expect to be famous for housing a monster.
After a 1-hour long boat ride along a small section of the loch, during which we saw castle ruins and infinite stretches of vibrant, amazing shoreline, but no monster, we departed Loch Ness and made our way through beautiful countryside to a few more incredible sights, including Ben Nevis – Scotland’s tallest peak, and Glencoe, which is home to the Three Sisters mountains. We stopped at a few (quite literally) breathtaking vistas along the drive, and finished up our tour with a drive South and East through Stirling: home to the National Wallace Monument which, for those of you who do your history learnin’ from the movies (no shame in that game, btw…my entire understanding of how ships (don’t) work comes from Titanic) is dedicated to the memory and acts of the Scottish freedom fighter popularly known as Braveheart.
We pulled back into Edinburgh well after nightfall and within a few hours I was falling asleep in bed, thinking about how much exploring I’ve left to do in this obscenely captivating and historical city. Living in a place like this is quite seriously a borderline magical experience…walking through castles has become something I do bi-weekly, ghost tours of this thousands-year-old city are going on almost every night and, if we’d had more time to stop in Stirling, I could have laid eyes on the very sword that Sir William Wallace yielded in his fight against the English Army in the 13th freakin’ century. Overall, I become more and more entranced by this country all the time, which is a gorgeous, sometimes gritty and entirely compelling throwback to the days of knights, ghosts, castles and, of course, the occasional monster.