A Heaven in the Highlands

History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” ― Victor Hugo, Ninety-Three

How does one find the Holy Grail—that cup that grants us everlasting life—and how long would the search last? Contrary to myth, the road to immortality has no specific timeline and yet, the Grail lies within us. While many beliefs in the afterlife permeate human civilisation, there is unquestionably one agreement amongst them: a person’s deeds on Earth determine if they are granted immortality, whether in the Heavens or in the hearts of Man. The stories that the living tell of their ancestors helps the dead to live on, summoning the Spirit of those significant memories that a community finds sacred and unforgettable, and whether told by the campfire or the bedside, legends are the doorway between the living and the departed.

Our trip to Scotland proved that this country is brimming over with folklore. While the Lowlands feel more grounded and earthly, the Highlands exist in a dimension beyond the earthly realm. In Scottish Gaelic, it is known as ‘Ghàidhealtachd’, or ‘the place of the Gaels’, one of Britain’s many ethnicities, and within this wondrous region, visitors can find some of the most breathtaking horizons the United Kingdom has to offer. It is a place unlike anything I have ever seen—the region spans just over half of Scotland’s territory, is separated by the Great Glen Faultline, and is a massive collection of mountain ranges that runs its craggy fingers through the waters of Heaven, not simply because of the height of its mountains, but due to the actual land climbing upwards.

In every nook and cranny of Scotland, we encountered one terrific tale after another. Our trip began in Edinburgh, which, in itself, is absolutely captivating; however, the Lowland region is not the only side to Scotland’s story. Within the Highlands, one can find the true face of the Tartan-clad warriors of the United Kingdom, who resisted the Acts of Union in 1707 and still continue to weave an intricate history, of course, in the traditional hospitable fashion practiced for generations.

Rabbie's Tour Guide (Franziska)
Our lovely tour guide from Rabbie’s Trail Burners

We wanted to satisfy our curiosity hands-on, so we called upon the wise and friendly experts of Rabbie’s Trail Burners to help us learn the true way of the Highlander. After an early morning start and a preemptive bathroom break, we checked in, were greeted by our fabulous tour guides, and set off on our journey, in which we learned about these five fabulous tales:

The Kelpies, near the River Carron, the Helix, Grangemouth, Falkirk FK2 7ZT

loshadi_kelpi

[Photo: Daily Mail]

We were immediately taken aback by what appeared to be two glittering knight chess pieces in the foreground of a Scottish sunrise. Towering 30 metres above the countryside, this eccentric pair of sculptures is one of the Clyde’s rarest attractions; a masterpiece designed by Andy Scott in 2013. Weighing in at 300-tons, these mythological behemoths proudly stand guard at the entrance of the Fourth and Clyde Canal. Underneath their haunting beauty lies a fable best left to the imagination and not to experience: in Scottish folklore, kelpies are deadly fairies that are infamous for shapeshifting into beautiful white stallions. While innocently waiting by the waterfront, they lure curious victims into the deep waters of the Highland’s many lochs. It is recommended that if you see a white horse near the shore, don’t disturb it, as it could be the last thing you ever see before being dragged into a watery grave. Those that assert that “wild horses couldn’t take me away” have obviously never encountered the fearsome Kelpies.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Balloch, G83 8EG, +4401389722600

The first official stop of our tour was marked by one of Great Britain’s most treasured sites—Loch Lomond, an expansive freshwater lake that crosses perpendicular to the Highland Boundary Fault. One of Scotland’s largest bodies of water, it encapsulates over 30 natural and artificial islands and is blanketed by calico-patterned elms atop its mountainous terrain. The park itself was eerily drenched in stillness and quiet, with only the occasional chirping of birds and animals nearby, or local passersby respectfully whispering to their acquaintances. We found the perfect opportunity to snap a few photographs of the landscape, which reflect the peaceful nature of this mysterious destination. We were unaware that the dead silence we felt was the peace of Death, and that Loch Lomond is the setting of the popular folk song, “Bonnie Banks ‘o Loch Lomond”; a favourite to play at the end of festivals to commemorate one’s ancestors. The lyrics, “O ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road” refer to those who have died and must travel through Scotland before going to the next world. The ‘low road’ is strictly traveled for those placed beneath the Earth.

Glencoe and the Clan MacDonald Massacre, PH49 4HX, +44 (0) 1855 811252

Among the snow-capped mountain ranges of Glencoe lies a terrible and tragic history—the massacre of the Clan MacDonald. After the Jacobite uprisings, King William, Prince of Orange offered to pardon all clans that had taken part in the insurrections, under the condition that each one respond by New Year’s of 1692 to their exiled King James II. Messages were sent from all of the Highland clans; however, one was not so fortunate. Alasdair MacIain of the MacDonald clan’s arduous 70-mile journey delayed receipt of his message, but it was nevertheless accepted and his kin were given assurance that they were safe. Master of Stair John Dalrymple—a Lowlander elite and political muscle in passing the Act of Unions of 1707—disagreed and sought an excuse to make an ‘example’ of the Highlanders. He commissioned Captain Robert Campbell and 120 soldiers to plan a stakeout, posing as guests at the MacDonald estate, and after 10 days of merriment, they massacred 30 clan members on Feb. 13th. Many of them died in their sleep, some in the nightmare of their murders, and more died of exposure to the harsh winter as they fled their homes. Some soldiers, due to the ruthlessness of the attacks, refused to carry out the orders, and the government covered up the massacres. One of the greatest crimes in Scotland is that of ‘murder under trust’; an unforgivable offence. Despite this, word spread quickly and to this day, the Glencoe Waterfall marks the place in Scotland where the MacDonald clan’s lament flows eternally.

Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, PH32 4

Probably the most stereotypically familiar landmark in the Highlands is the Loch Ness, and one mention of the name conjures nebulous images of the elusive and frightening beast—the Loch Ness monster. Another of Scotland’s behemoth creatures, ‘Old Nessie’ has achieved fame and recognition beyond imagination and has even inspired scientists, news reporters, and psychics to comb the entire lake in search of it. One of the earliest known sightings of the mythological creature was documented in the 7th century and since then, strange reports of what could possibly be a lone plesiosaur, group of migrating seals from the North Sea, or floating deadwood have surfaced. The lake itself is also larger than life, stretching for miles and miles; as far north as Inverness and as far south as Fort William, and possessing a depth of over 230 metres. While here, although we were bemused by Nessie’s absence (although in our hearts, ‘the truth is out there’), we were delighted to simply grab lunch at the local fish and chips pub, walk across the flowing Caledonian Canal, sit by the waterfront, and snap photos of one Scotland’s most remarkable locales.

Commando Memorial, along the A82, Spean Bridge, Highland PH34 4


The Highlands are home to some of the world’s bravest fighters, and although famous icons such as William Wallace have become symbols of the country’s freedom-fighting warrior class, Scotland’s role in World War II has help it to find its reputation amongst legend. One of the United Kingdom’s most treasured attractions, the Commando Memorial is a Category A listed statue of epic proportions. It towers above the horizon at 17 feet and features three soldiers in a neoclassical style cast complete with military gear, fatigues, and stern, hardened faces. The monument itself is located near Glen Spean, just near the Spean Bridge, and gazes southward towards the Ben Nevis. It was the work of Scott Sutherland who, in 1949, was a veteran of the war and an award-winning sculptor. His statue commemorates the efforts of Scotland’s virtuous infantrymen in Europe’s battle against Fascism and Nazism. After the war ended, Sutherland was offered the perfect opportunity to share his vision of Scottish pride with his countrymen by entering a local sculpting competition—little did he know that his artwork would win first prize (200 pounds), or that scores of veterans and tourists from around the world would visit it to pay homage to their fallen comrades.

For more information on discovering the Highlands, please go to Visit Scotland. For more on our tour or to plan your own, kindly visit Viator Tours and Rabbie’s Trail Burners.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Tanja says:

    beautiful! I’d like to visit the Highlands one day. I’ve done Edinburgh and Glasgow and Stirling:)

    Like

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