Today was an immersion into two more things Scottish – superstitions and wilderness.
Despite the ghost of the Duchess of Sutherland roaming around, we didn’t lose a single Haggis tour member to Carbisdale Castle. There were a few unusual occurrences – my hairdryer (of course I brought my hair dryer) working only sporadically, when it was fine the day before and the day after, and a panel falling from the wall of our room.
Everyone even survived the nature walk to and from the pub – fifteen minutes, in the dark, over the river and through the woods. I am not exaggerating. On the way there, pelting rain. On the way back, unexpected clear skies and a sky full of stars. It looked like a fairy had exploded up there. There was the small matter of a group of three who missed the turn back to the castle, taking them on a slightly inconvenient detour, but like I said. We all made it back safely in the end.
The pub was a pleasing little surprise, particularly when we discovered the traditional costumes in a corner of the room. It wasn’t long before everyone was donning kilts and tartan dresses, dancing to ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’ What? Yes. You heard me right. But there was traditional music, and proper traditional music at that, when two genuine bagpipers came into the tiny room and played for us. To top it off, there was a fireplace at one end of the bar, which gives any pub bonus points, but particularly a pub in the middle of nowhere near a haunted castle in Scotland. Even though it was a trek, it was a worthwhile trek in the end.
This morning we set off for the Isle of Skye, land of the faeries. On the way we passed through the land of the bitter cold and ferocious wind, also known as the Hebrides. Haggis Adventures were not joking when they said to bring weatherproof jackets and shoes. Of course, I failed in this basic duty and have consequently found myself with wet feet for three days. No matter. The misty mountains wouldn’t be the same in hot climates. Something wouldn’t seem right.
Back to superstition. During our drive, the sun was shining. Unfortunately, I had left my sunglasses in my bag under the bus, and the sun was shining directly into my left eye through the bus window. But at least the sun was shining, and it was fantastic. Glorious, even. Once on Skye, the wind intensified and the rain clattered against the bus windows. When we got out for our stop at an enchanted stream, it pounded even harder. But this is Scotland, and a little rain never hurt anybody. Like we were going to stay on the bus.
Besides, how often do you get the chance to put your face directly into a stream that, according to legend, has been blessed by the King of the Faeries himself? Carol told us the story of the stream, and to her immense credit, kept us laughing through the rain and the cold. In the end, most of us got down on the ground and stuck our faces in the stream. Why would we do this? To gain spiritual enlightenment? To gain immortality? No. To gain eternal beauty. We are now a bus of 39 stunners. Don’t look directly at us. The beauty might be too much to handle.
I might offer a bit of advice for anyone embarking on a coach tour – do whatever you can to avoid sitting in the back seat, particularly if you are prone to motion sickness. It’s not nice. Luckily, the Scottish air will smack you in the face and cure all ills, so at the end of the day, it’s not too bad. Recovery is imminent.
And the air does hit you hard – we stopped in Skye to look at some mountains, cliffs, and ‘kilt rock,’ and every time I stepped off the bus I instantly felt like all of my clothing was made out of mesh. But again, staying on the bus just wasn’t an option. There was too much to see. If I were a better photographer you might get some idea of just how impressive this country is, but I suspect that nothing beats seeing it for yourself.
On the way to Saucy Mary’s Hostel/Bar, we had a rousing session of bus karaoke. You haven’t experienced The Proclaimers’ ’500 Miles’ until you have sung it at the top of your lungs while cruising along the winding roads of the Isle of Skye. It kept us busy until we arrived at Saucy Mary’s Hostel/Pub at the end of the day, where we gratefully dumped our bags and headed to the bar for some dinner.
Saucy Mary is another Scottish legend – a Viking princess who lived in a tiny castle on Skye, she was also an entrepreneur who devised a way to make money from local sailors. She linked up a series of boats, creating a barrier between her castle on the island and the mainland, and charged a fee to pass. Kind of like the troll under the bridge in the 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Predictably, the sailors balked at this and began sailing the long way round the island.
Determined to win back her business, Saucy Mary added a little something – with the toll payment, sailors were treated to (allegedly) the world’s first peep show. As the story goes, they came sailing back in droves, and so goes the story of the pub’s namesake. Rumour has it that any female who imitates Saucy Mary in the pub won’t pay for a drink all night, but none of us are brave enough to try. I don’t think the harrassed barmaids behind the counter would be too impressed, either.
Live entertainment starts in a little less than an hour, so I’m going to pack up and re-join the rest of the tour. It’s only been three days, but I feel much more Scottish than that. Only two days left and it’s back to England. But there’s no reason to think about that just yet. There’s still Heilan Coos, William Wallace, and the land of Harry Potter ahead.
The guides have also promised us a ‘special surprise’ tomorrow morning. More news on that later.
Oh, and as for white horses? We’ve got 35 to go. Right on target so far. The DSL is not far away.