Over the Sea to Skye

To say that Scotland was a wee bit bonnie would be quite the understatement. Leaving Pembridge behind, Tyson and I first made our way to Glasgow. We spent the afternoon walking the city center and admiring the industrial architecture before turning in for the evening at another quaint Airbnb room in East Kilbride. Little time was wasted before we’d booked a visit to a whisky distillery for the following morning, as this was an experience Tyson had been eagerly anticipating since before our departure. Our tour of the Auchentoshan scotch distillery thus served as our rite of passage into Scottish culture.

While my tastes aren’t particularly acclimatized to the brew, we both enjoyed learning about the distillery’s unique triple-distilling process. One thing I hadn’t known was that in order to be called scotch, the whisky has to be matured for three years or more in oak barrels within Scotland itself. These oak barrels, having previously contained other liquors such as sherry or bourbon, are what lends the liquid its color as the alcohol slowly dissolves the wood particles within. Of note was the small sip we were given of the 81% spirit distillate, which essentially evaporates on your tongue before you’ve even have a chance to swallow it.

Once finished with the tour – and once we’d realized that we were already halfway to Loch Lomond – we decided to spend our afternoon in Balloch exploring its shores. This was also where we first ate haggis and black pudding, served with neeps and tatties. These dishes are not as alarming as their ingredients make them seem. To me, the haggis had a similar taste to the tourtière my mother serves on Christmas Eve, and the black pudding was not unlike any other sausage out there. After such a traditional lunch we walked the trails around the lake, enjoying the beautiful views and each other’s company. Having made the acquaintance of the sweetest elderly couple in existence on our return train, still holding hands like newlyweds after fifty-seven years of marriage, our day felt wonderfully complete.

So far, I must say that Edinburgh was the first city to take my breath away. Stepping out of the train station directly onto Princes Street, the incredible cityscape immediately inspires an atmosphere we have yet to encounter elsewhere. The multi-storied impression of streets and buildings that embrace the hills on which they’re built does make for some beautifully unique views.

Our couchsurfing experience was luckily redeemed through a truly enjoyable stay with Lucy and Jon in the small seaside village of Cockenzie, approximately forty-five minutes southeast of Edinburgh. After a few pints at the local pub together, we were treated to a homemade supper and a taste of Jon’s experimental wines, notably “maiwein”; a German concoction created by steeping sweet woodruff flowers grown from their backyard in white wine and mixed with sparkling wine when served.

The next morning we ascended the strikingly scenic climb to Arthur’s Seat, which is the peak of an extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh. In my books, this is a must-do if you ever find yourself in Scotland’s capital. However, I would suggest that you trust your instincts if ever you doubt the ‘legit path’ your husband claims to have found for your descent. You might end up going down a canyon-like bed of rocks so utterly unlike a legit path that you fear for your life (and certainly your dignity as you half-crawl, half-slide down the cliff, in plain view of everyone else staring up at you from the actual path below).

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Does that look like a “legit path” to you? No? I didn’t think so either!

Rounding off our second day in Edinburgh with a visit to the seemingly never-ending exhibits within the National Museum of Scotland, we returned for another enjoyable evening spent with Lucy and Jon. We had a look at the photographs Jon would be exhibiting in the 3 Harbour Arts Festival, many of which had been taken from a unique vantage point out on the ocean, as rowing is one of their passions.

Next was Edinburgh Castle – of course very interesting, but rather expensive and incredibly crowded for a Tuesday morning. Still, we saw pieces of Scottish history there, such as St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving structure in the city (a tiny stone rectangle built in the 12th century); the crowning jewels and the Stone of Destiny on which Scottish royalty would sit in order to be crowned; and one of the largest cannons in the world, Mons Meg, once having the capacity to fire 400-pound shells of solid iron from its 20-calibre barrel.

We watched the firing of the one o’clock cannon before heading out to splurge on a delicious Italian meal of mussels, meatballs, and specialty pastas at Vittoria. Little did I know that the restaurant happens to be next-door neighbours with the Elephant House café, wherein J.K. Rowling had written chapters of Harry Potter – thus deserving a look inside. The sun made a rare appearance and accompanied us on a walk up Calton Hill to see “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”, picturesque despite the edifice’s incompletion.

After staying four splendid nights with Lucy and Jon, we parted ways to partake in the mandatory backpacking experience of spending the night at a hostel – complete with a pub crawl, wherein Frankenstein was lowered through a roof, drinks had names like Snake Bite, and company was colorfully varied. Yet the greatest highlight of our time in Scotland was still to come, and so the following morning we climbed aboard the MacBackpackers bus that would tour us through the highlands and the Isle of Skye.

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The tour itself was a whirlwind vision of wild and wonderful Scottish countryside, led by a man in a kilt named Michael and featuring three days filled with tales of Scotland’s history as well as it’s music. We quickly made friends with two French-Canadian girls from New Brunswick named Mireille and Mylène, our bond forged in the icy waters of Loch Ness after we had taken the Loch Ness Challenge together. Not surprising was the fact that the majority who opted to have a swim in the lake were Canadians – but heck, it was still bloody cold!

I cannot possibly retell all the stories from our highland tour in this already-lengthy post, so I will stick to a short description of four remaining high points. First, arriving on Skye itself to hike up the castle ruins at Kyleakin with Mireille and Mylène at sunset, looking out over the Skye Bridge – mugs of steaming hot chocolate smuggled out from the hostel in hand to warm us in the blustery wind.

Second, the fairy pools – waterfalls set against a mystical backdrop of rugged mountains and misted peaks. Our tour guide insisted that the fairies of lore would grant you gifts if you immersed your face in their waters or drank from their streams.

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The Bridal Veil waterfall, with the Old Man of Storr in the distance.

Third, Trotternish Ridge on Skye – one of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen. It felt absolutely surreal to look out over a scene that I believed couldn’t possibly exist except in fantasy and imagination, and yet there it was, right before my very eyes.

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Last (though by no means least) our drive through Glencoe, with views closely rivaling those of Trotternish Ridge. Despite the wind and rain, there was something mystical about standing encircled by mountains so vast and magnificent, watching light and shadow, mist and fog, all washing through the valley in turn.

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Back in Edinburgh, we spent one last night in the hostel and shared a final meal of pub grub with Mireille and Mylène before going our separate ways. They were headed to Glasgow where they would catch a flight home – and I must admit that their talk of all the home-cooked meals they would have and all the people they couldn’t wait to see made me a little homesick. Yet Tyson and I went on to have another pleasant couchsurfing experience in Dundee with our host, Fraser, and have spent some much-needed downtime in his lovely flat. And thus our journey through the UK comes to a close, with tomorrow’s promise of Ireland ahead.

From my wandering heart to yours,

Susie

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6 thoughts on “Over the Sea to Skye

  1. Wow Susie – great pictures and description. I could almost hear your Scottish accent! And Tyson, even I would not have taken that ill-legit path… .but you survived so its all good right? Blessings to both of you. Dad

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Susie and Tyson! Reading this makes me miss you both so much, and wish that we could be on the adventure with you! Now Dad will not only have to come to Germany and France with me, but England and Scotland as well! Who knows where else my heart will be yearning to wander by the time you are done your adventure… and I can then blame it all on you both! Love you! God bless you! Mom ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Susie and Tyson,
    Your writings and pictures Susie, make me feel like i am right there with you! You will be so happy that you have these blogs as a precious keepsake, to hold in your heart forever.. Don’t hurry home, things will all be here when you return. You will be different though, in a good way, from your time exploring the wonders our God has made from shore to shore. Enjoy Ireland, and don’t miss Dingle, on the west, if you get a chance to explore it as it’s delightful:)
    Love you heaps, Lorrie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always wanted to see Scotland based off descriptions in books I’ve read over the years; now I KNOW I want to see Scotland, based off your pictures! Incredibly.

    P.S. Did Tyson grow a pair of uneven antlers? I noticed it in the picture of you two with Mylene and Mireille…

    Like

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