A weekend fairytale
By Tava Hoag
“And so he never met his true love again.”
I sat completely motionless as our tour guide Nory Hope finished the Scottish tale of Loch Lomond.
Nory with his full beard, twinkling eyes and booming voice sat back down once more at the head of the bus and began driving us further into the Highlands of Scotland. There were 16 of us on the bus careening through the foggy moors and deep glens, moving ever further north to our destination, the Isle of Skye.
So far our weekend away from the city had been full of bagpipe music, and traditional tales coming from a man who is fiercely loyal to his country.
The tale we had just heard was about two brothers who were captured during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745. Long story short, they had to make the impossible choice of who was going to be executed.
The lyrics of the song had never resonated with me before this tale, and I found myself deeply moved as I stared out the window at the fast changing landscape before me. The deep green of the countryside was giving way to the steep hills, and winding roads of the Highlands.
Nory Hope ran a tour company called Heartland Travel. While Gustavo and I were studying abroad together at the University of Stirling in Scotland we knew we had to make our way to the Highlands. Nory’s tour was perfect for us, especially since a lot of our friends from the university were going as well. The picture you see was actually taken before we reached the Isle of Skye, but the details of our weekend always come back to me when I see this image and so our tale begins.
The weekend getaway began early Friday morning. We made a visit to Doune Castle a filming location for Game of Thrones. Then the bus bumped along the country roads to a town called Callander where we stopped at a local bakery for a take-away lunch.
Nory assured us that the weather would most likely clear up, but alas our weekend was the rainiest and coldest of the summer. Yet despite being perpetually wet myself, Gustavo, and the rest of the tour never let the weather ruin our trip.
We spent two nights in what was then a hostel called the Station Master’s House just next to the railway station in a place called Stromeferry overlooking Loch Carron. Although it is no longer an operating hostel you can rent the entire house, something that I dream to do for Christmas one day. Needless to say, it was a wonderful couple of nights. We all claimed our rooms, grocery shopped, prepared one big dinner and ate together like a family around the large kitchen table. Nory regaled us with more of his compelling tales, and we talked late into the night around the crackling fire as the rain pounded relentlessly outside the windows.
Our second day was even rainier than the first and this was when things became interesting. When I say we were soaked I mean we were completely drenched. In our rain gear, we would climb back on the bus after doing some sightseeing and be dripping puddles of frigid water onto the floor. Nory kept our spirits high by challenging us to sing-alongs, and Scottish accent challenges, Gustavo won. We smiled through the wind and the rain and continued snapping pictures. It was at the Quiraing one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Scotland where Gustavo’s camera began to malfunction.
I was fighting the driving winds to climb to the top of a steep hill to take a photo. The rain was stinging my eyes and I could hardly see where I was going. At the top Gustavo appeared in a panic.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He was perplexed.
“My camera isn’t working! I think it got too wet”
I felt my heart drop, Gustavo’s camera is essentially apart of him. It is without a doubt his most prized possession. It is supposed to be weather sealed, but with all of the rain, it was having a hard time defeating the moisture.
“I’m sure it will be okay," I said. "Maybe if you just turn it off, warm it up in your jacket, and give it a few minutes it will work again.”
By now we were back on the bus. Gustavo was beginning to get angry with himself for letting it get so wet. I, being the least technical person around was trying to be optimistic and give him some hope that it was salvageable when in reality the situation appeared grim. The next few stops were tense. The camera remained on the bus swaddled in a sweatshirt when it wasn’t being held in Gustavo’s lap. We were anxious to see if it would begin working again.
Faerie Glen was our next stop along the tour. This place is a series of miniature hills, peculiar in the wide open landscape. The nickname stems from the glen's appearance. It's a place where small fairies could have made their own castle. The tallest rock formation that you can climb is actually called Castle Ewen. You can practically feel the energy coming from this place. So, desperate and being a slight believer in magic I found myself walking counterclockwise around the concentric rock circles of Faerie Glen, a place said to house the realm of the faeries. If you walk around all of the circles you will be given one wish which will supposedly come true. I think you can all guess what my wish was. And I’m not saying that’s what saved the day, but when we arrived 30 minutes later at the Faerie Pools Gustavo’s camera began working again. We laughed in relief.
I jumped off of the bus to be surrounded by emerald green hills casting an unearthly glow beneath the slate gray sky. The wind was whipping my hair back and forth, it was as if the spirits of Nory’s tales were making their presence known.
I walked among stones that where thousands of years old and I felt as if I was being transported. Time was irrelevant here. In this moment, I could be anywhere in history. Closing my eyes I could imagine the small, mischievous faeries coming out from behind the craggy stones and hanging from the branches of trees overgrown with moss.
I took a deep, cleansing breath. This is what air should smell like, clean, fresh, and utterly raw. With the roar of the wind in my ears, I felt alive. My heart thudded in my chest and I knew that this is what all the fuss was about.
The Scottish Highlands have been described as many things, they are otherworldly, untamed, beautiful, and frightening. You can read these words and see picture thousands of times, but nothing compares to being there in person. To take it all in. To lay down in the soft, wet grass. To stare up at the sky and listen to what this incredible place has to say. Someday, I know I will return again.