Scotland’s Natural Beauty

Glencoe Pass, Southern Highlands

Glencoe Pass, Southern Highlands

Glencoe, Southern Highlands, Scotland

We’ve had a wonderful visit to Scotland, highlights being the exploration of Stirling and learning about Clive’s ancestors at Bannockburn .  History isn’t usually what makes a trip special for me, but this time it was. We both learned a lot about Stirling’s history, and in doing so gained new appreciation for this fascinating country and isssues such as independence which, centuries later, still permeate national events and the national psyche.

I’m glad we also saw Edinburgh, and hope to return one day to enjoy more of that city’s culture, parks, and gardens. But most of all, we want to experience more of Scotland’s natural beauty.

 

Country of the North

We only had time for a short trip along the lochs and mountains of the Southern Highlands and Trossachs National Park. From Stirling, we drove through Glencoe, site of a 1692 massacre, to the west coast towns of Oban and Fort William, the latter being where some of the “Harry Potter” steam train scenes were filmed. At Glencoe, we saw a few walkers in the valley and wished we had more time to see the area on foot.

I kept thinking of a scene from the movie “The Queen,” in which Queen Elizabeth drives to a remote valley near Balmoral when she needs private thinking time. Even at its edges, the Highlands landscape seems stark and wild to me, with vistas of unpopulated mountains and valleys offering unlimited scope for the imagination.

My maternal grandfather lived his life in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.A. He spent summers as a young man working with YMCA groups in the Adirondack mountains of neighbouring New York state. After his death, I found a photo album he made during those years, and inside the front cover in his distinctive handwriting:

The mountains and high places for inspiration to work

The cities and low places for work of inspiration

 

I wish I’d asked him if he ever thought about visiting Scotland. I know he would have loved the Highlands, and it’s easy to understand why the real Queen has a special love for this part of the UK. The weather is known to be unpredictable and I don’t think it would be much fun in the middle of winter, but on a sunny autumn day, the possibilities are endless.

 

A Few Factoids

These items about Scotland’s geography caught our attention:

·        Scotland isn’t on the way to anywhere (unless you’re going to Iceland)

·        its most northerly islands, the Shetlands, are at about the latitude of Juneau, Alaska

·        even northern Canadian cities such as Edmonton and Saskatoon are farther south than Scotland’s most southerly tip

·        a majority of Scotland’s inhabitants live in the central belt, about the latitude of Tomsk, Siberia

Apparently the Gulf Stream is what saves Scotland from what otherwise would be an uninhabitable climate.

Scotland reminds me of New Zealand in many ways, and it’s easy to understand why many Scots emigrated to the land of the Kiwis. Both countries have an amazing variety of scenery in a relatively small geographic area, including oceans, seas, bays, lakes, mountains, valleys, and a lot of sheep. New Zealand has invested heavily in adventure and eco-travel in recent years, marketing everything from bungee-jumping (which I can’t imagine doing) to glacier-climbing (which both Clive and I had done, before meeting each other). New Zealand’s wine industry also seems to market itself more energetically than Scotland’s whisky industry.

Geographically and otherwise, Scotland feels rather untamed and independent to me, restrained in its promotion, or lack thereof, of itself as a tourist destination. I have a feeling this may be intentional. A more subtle and proud “we know we’re quality so no need to advertise – people naturally want to visit here” approach seems to fit with the reserved, refined character of the Scottish people themselves.

 

Loch Linnhe, Scotland

Loch Linnhe, Scotland

 

Highlands and Islands

More than anything, we’d like to explore Scotland’s Highlands and islands on future trips. There are islands all along the west coast, more in the far northeast, and the Highlands seem to stretch forever to the north. In Edinburgh, we sat in a pub and poured over a map of the Isle of Skye. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to rent a self-catering cottage there for a week, and do nothing but walk, read, write, and soak up the scenery?

It’s something to dream about as we shift gears and pack our bags for Paris.  I’ll miss driving around England and Scotland with Clive and listening to Ken Bruce live on BBC Radio 2.  And I’ll miss Clive’s participation in Ken’s daily Pop Master quiz, in which Clive usually does very well.  We’d listen to Ken no matter what, even if he weren’t a Scot.
 

Island Ferry, Oban, West Coast

Island Ferry, Oban, West Coast

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