The Scottish Highlands (or Heelans as the Scots pronounce it) are famous for lots of things, including but not limited to:
2. Lots of old castles
3. The rugged beauty
5. Heelan Coos (or Highland Cows)
6. Braveheart (although I think this is only to outsiders and it’s best not to mention Mel Gibson to any self-respecting Scotsman - uncool)
I am happy to say that we sampled, or at least viewed all these things, bar, obviously, blue-faced Braveheart who is long gone, I mean filming must have wrapped, what, ten years ago?
There are whisky distilleries everywhere, so if you like your tipple to take the hair off your chest, this is the place for you. (Unfortunately am too weak for this most fierce of bevvies and discovered am more a ‘Cardonnaaaay’ type gal).
The castles are breathtaking, and often in various stages of disrepair from, “needs the guttering done”, to “What? No roof is totally the new black”. So gorgeous.
Next, the rugged beauty of the place cannot be surpassed. The hills, the heather, the thistles, the open plains, the immense lochs must be seen to be believed. We pulled in for a picnic at Loch Ness for obvious reasons. It was, obviously, raining so we squatted under a tree and looked out for Nessie. No sign unfortunately, and the only monsters I encountered were huge swarms of Scottish midgies (apparently a hazard of travelling there in July) with only one wish: to bite as much of my exposed skin as humanly, or I suppose midgily, possible. Luckily, as it was typical Scottish summer weather – cold, rainy and a little bit miserable, the only bits of me sticking out were my face and my hands, keeping bites to a minimum. We even over-nighted in a super-cute B&B called Caledonian House in the Ness-side town of Fort Augustus in the hope that Nessie would appear in the wee hours, but to no avail. However, Mike did utilise this stop to sample “haggis, neeps and tatties” in a local Scottish restaurant. Which basically translates to sheep stomach, sweedes and potatoes served with oatcakes. Hmmm. I had local mussels instead – my stomach couldn’t stomach a stomach.
Then it was off to Kingussie, “Home of TV’s Monarch of the Glen”, to search out some Heelan Coos. You know, those, huge, hairy, golden-haired cows with big horns and kind face. We stayed in a fab B&B called Ruthven House, that was conveniently located next to a whole field full of Heelans. Aside from communing with the local wildlife, we went hiking, although our trek to the summit of Cairngorm Mountain was cut short when the weather closed in and the temperature dropped to around zero degrees. Unfun at the best of times, but especially without gloves and a beanie, so we quickly scarpered back down again to the base where it was a toasty 13.
I should also point out that I am, through my Mum’s family, a McPherson. Mum was one, my grandma is one and so on. So it was only right that I went in search of the “seat of the clan”, which is in Newtonmore, just five minutes away. There was even a McPherson museum there, dedicated to all the famous McPhersons. And yes, a picture and a letter from Elle were proudly displayed. Bizarrely, the man in charge of the museum knew my Australian-based family, and had been matey with my great, great uncle, a soldier in India. The world is just too small, right? The motto of our clan is “Touch not the cat without a glove”. Brilliant. I’d gone around all these years touching cats barehanded, unknowingly. Or was that touching cats that weren’t wearing paw-accessories? Well, whichever, I shall try to adhere to the motto.
After a week in the Highlands, we wound our way South, to the bright lights and big city of Edinburgh. We did all the predictably touristy things. Walked the Royal Mile, clambered about the castle, went to the pub, bought a tartan scarf, listened to a bagpipe player wearing a kilt, dashed in and out of the rain. And although we had a great time in Scotland’s capital and the pretty little border towns of Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose we visited before driving back across the border, our hearts had been captured by the wild highlands. We would happily paint our faces blue and gallop across those plains any old time.