Highlands Reflections

Since its premiere last summer, I have been a bit obsessed with the new Outlander television show, as well as the series of novels it is based on. Well, maybe more than a bit: so much so that a little part of me has been dreaming that a sword wielding, red haired Highlander will appear outside my window and whisk me off on some great adventure. While this is obviously absurd, I still sometimes struggle to distinguish between fantasy and reality; I firmly believe all the magic and wonder that inspires fictional narratives like Outlander must exist somewhere in this world. Perhaps that is just my inner Romantic wailing, but I cling to these beliefs precisely because I have the opportunity to travel through the landscapes that should really be just a fantasy. Thus begins the first installment of my spring semester adventures, as I was fortunate enough to spend the week of March 17th in a quaint village just outside Inverness, in the very heart ofOutlander territory.

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Thanks to the kindness of one of my closest friends Miranda, another good friend and I were able to spend the first week of our spring holiday at her gorgeous home in the Scottish Highlands. After a stressful few weeks of deadlines and, in my case, serious illness, this respite was just what I needed to restore my spirits. With birds trilling outside my window to herald the coming mornings and hearty, home cooked meals every evening, Miranda’s home made me feel a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Yet these wee comforts were only the beginning to what has become one of the best weeks of my life in all my time here in Scotland.

With the help of Mrs. Strachan’s quite extensive local knowledge of the area, Miranda, Catriona, and myself were able to visit some of the most magical and mystical sites of the surrounding area. First on our itinerary was a small walk up Cnoc Fyrish to visit the crumbling yet majestic monument at its summit.

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Built in 1782 by Sir Hector Munro, the monument is inspired by the Gate of Negapatam in Madras, India that Munro had captured for the British. Though slightly cloudy and a bit windy, we were fortunate enough to have a clear view to what seemed like across the world. While this was only the first stop on our week-long adventure, this hike was almost enough to completely relax me after such a stressful return to university. In the company of my two closest university friends, a relic from a past I so exalt, the Cromarty Firth to our front and snow-capped Ben Wyvis to our back, I felt as though I could finally just be. To get away from a daily routine of library, class, and training, away from stressed and caffeine-hyped students and to sit atop the world was the perfect way to remind me why I am in Scotland in the first place: adventure.

Our second major voyage was to the village of Rosemarkie to see its famed Fairy Glen. Rosemarkie was definitely a place I could see myself pattering about in 50 years time, clad in oversized Wellington boots and barn coat.

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As we moseyed our way through the streets, I was reminded of one of the main reasons I have fallen in love with Scotland: elderly folk coming and going with their shopping, dogs trotting happily down the beaten paths, and quiet. The pace of life in Scotland, especially in these small Highland villages, is something I’ve definitely come to appreciate, because they serve as a reminder to cherish simplicity. So, onwards we went down the quaint forest path to discover the hidden wonder that is Rosemarkie’s Fairy Glen.

As we walked amongst the delicate spring Snowdrops and bubbling creeks, Miranda was regaling Catriona and I with a tale of how she and her family would visit the Rosemarkie Fairy Glen when she was a little girl. I think perhaps my eyes were sparkling as she was speaking, as this was exactly the kind of place my childhood self would have loved. The sunlight streaming through the vivid emerald tree buds and secret hollows nestled in the hills seem to be read into life from all of my favorite story books. As we were walking, I could see the phantom of my younger self flitting amongst the trees, barefoot and a new tale of magic and adventure on my lips. To be honest, though, that was probably how I looked to Catriona and Miranda, as “Urchin of the Woodland” is I think what they christened me as I frolicked away to find the fairies….

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Though the path was only two miles in length, it probably took quite a considerable portion of our day because of my dilly-dallying. To those of you who have nae been to Bonny Scotland, the Fairy Glen is probably exactly what you would picture the whole of Scotland to look like: all I can say is that it is magic, and on this venture, I wanted to be immersed in it all. Yet what lay at the end of the path is perhaps what was best of all.

A true place of magic indeed, this waterfall is perhaps one of the most beautiful things I have ever beheld. To add to this mystical atmosphere, Miranda told us of a tree that had fallen near the waterfall whose skin is scaled with hundreds of pence coins. If one is to wedge their coin into the tree and make a wish, the power of the fairies will make that wish come true. Armed with a two pence coin for double the luck, I approached the tree with my deepest, most passionate wish in my heart. While many would say that is all blather and flimflam, there is something about these enigmatic glens of Scotland that could turn even the most bitter cynic into a believer, methinks.

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For our final adventure in the Scottish Highlands, Miranda endeavored to sate my desire to travel back in time and find my very own Jamie Fraser to love. This set us on the path of the Pictish Trail, a route that meanders through the countryside and is marked by a series of ancient stones.

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Carved by the ancient peoples of Northern Britain and Scotland, the Picts, these stones are a testament to an artistry and craftsmanship most people would not associate with “The Dark Ages.” While the stone pictured above is a replica, in order to preserve the original, some of the stones we did see are in fact the real thing, whose carvings are clearly visible despite hundreds of years of weather and age. The sheer amount of history Scotland possesses, history that is still standing and very clearly discernible, is awe-inspiring to someone whose own nation is infantile in comparison. The ability of the Scottish people to physically trace their history with these monuments, all the way back to Early Medieval times, is another one of the things I have come to love about this nation. The ties Scotland has with a past that seems more like myth than reality not only does wonders for my imagination, but also stirs me to admiration for this nation and its people.

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In my three years at St Andrews, I have created a list of what I like to call the Unforgettable, a sort of basket wedged deep within the storeroom of my memory filled with the memories of my time here that make my heart simply ache. This ache is not something terrible, as these memories are usually the times I felt most at peace here in Scotland: moseying the garden paths of Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lakes, sitting on a bench in Crail with my mother, enjoying the atmosphere of the Fiddler’s Inn with my father, gazing out at St Andrews from atop Drumcarrow Craig. When my coursework seems to great a burden to bear or loneliness eats away at me, I unearth this “basket” and muse over these images to set myself aright.

At one point on this trip, Catriona, Miranda, and I sat with delicious homemade Highland ice cream looking out to the Cromarty Firth in the afternoon sun. While I absolutely loved the whispered magic of the Fairy Glen or the grave majesty of Fyrish Monument, I think perhaps this small moment with Catriona and Miranda is the ultimate moment that will be gently placed in my basket with my other precious Scotland memories. All in all, I am so fortunate that I have a friend like Miranda who is generous enough to welcome me into her home and show me her world. As silly as it may sound, this journey was one that made a lot of my childhood dreams come true, as I had the chance to frolic in a wild place with two people I feel such a kinship with. Surrounded by the beauty of a place I have fallen so desperately in love with and in the company of the two that, I think, may be called my favorite, and the simplicity of it all are what make this time I had in the Highlands the most special and keep me yearning for it.

Originally written 2 May 2015

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