Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Travelling: the Highlands

I've just spent a few days travelling round the Scottish Highlands with M. The most brilliant fun.

I had quite mixed expectations of a package coach tour which we'd booked online, knowing essentially nothing about the tour company except what could be judged from a website run by a different agency. But actually it was very cool.

We covered quite a lot of ground, and there was a sensible balance between driving and stopping to visit sites. The guide was a bit manic, and had an irritating tendency of haranguing the participants to feel the emotions he thought appropriate, but also thoroughly knowledgeable and professional. I saw all kinds of amazing places (which I'm probably not talented enough to describe, but I'll try), learnt something, and met some interesting and aimiable people. Oh, and I've snaffled pics from around the web; if mine turn out any good I may try to scan them at some stage, but this will have to do for now.

Probably the most amazing thing about it for me was seeing so many birds, especially raptors, but also a rather lovely heron, some cool finches (bullfinches and chaffinches, and I think their wives too, but they are harder to identify than the males), something that I think might possibly have been a wren, and we heard a cuckoo. But as for the raptors, wow. Apart from the usual collection of roadside kestrels, several large buzzards, something that was bigger still but I don't know exactly what it was, and, really amazingly, a red kite. They're incredibly rare, the guide said there are only a couple of dozen pairs in the whole of Europe.

I think if I were something as elegant as a buzzard, I'd probably want to make my home in a landscape like the Highlands; the sheer magnificent inhumanity of the mountains really suits them. In many ways the road itself was more noteworthy than the places we specifically visited. It's quite incredible the way the landscape changed as we drove north out of Fife, and then again crossing to the west side of the country from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh (just across the water from Skye). And the country is currently suffering from a plague of rhododendrons; at this time of year it was almost Tellytubbyland colours! Oh, and the weather was gorgeous practically all time.

Anyway we did some of the obvious places, Culloden and Glencoe (and another battle site, Killikrankie). These people certainly chose some lovely places to get massacred; I'd have gone to Glencoe, in particular, just for the scenery, never mind the historical importance.

What really struck me was the awful familiarity of the 'your people persecuted my people' style of nationalist rhetoric. In some ways it was like seeing myself in a distorting mirror; the parallels between the Scots and the Jews are quite striking, in both cases a sense of identity based on a history of repeated persecution, a strong affinity with 'the Land', and religion lurking somewhere in the background. So if I was uncomfortable with They stood with fire in their bellies and honour in their hearts, defending the land sanctified by the blood of their forefathers, it's at least partly because I've heard far too similar stuff from militant Zionists.

One of the slightly less obvious things we did was walking in a bit of Old Forest (sounds very Tolkien, doesn't it?) It really was quite amazing, the trees were so hoary with lichens and moss (including Spanish moss, which I didn't think was found much in Europe) that it seemed almost primaeval.

Oh, and Loch Ness was very, very cool. Again, worth seeing regardless of what it's actually famous for!

Then we came back and got thoroughly soaked wandering around Edinburgh. It wouldn't have felt like a proper Scottish holiday if we hadn't been rained on at least once though!

Actually, coming home after three days of gorgeous scenery, I think there's nothing that went to my heart quite so much as the view over the Tay approaching Dundee (I can't find any kind of decent picture of what I mean; I will keep looking and add one if I do find it). I know, I sound like Dorothy now, but even so.
Tags: tourism

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