I always thought of the Highlands as a magical place, full of legends and myths. Once I visited a part of them, I realized this was not just a misconception.
The Highlands, or else “A’ Ghàidhealtachd” in the Gaelic language*, is a famous area in the North-West part of Scotland. It was traditionally the Gaelic speaking part of the country, and had distinct traditions and history from the south part of Scotland, the Lowlands. The two areas are also geographically separated by the Highland boundary fault which creates two pieces of lands and two different physiographic terrains.
Thanks to Donald and the Hairy Coo (see end of article) we left the city of Edinburgh a beautiful Sunday morning, with a cup of hot chocolate in our hands. We passed the bridge of Queensfairy and headed north, near Stirling and the famous Wallace monument.
William Wallace was a charismatic leader, who led the Scottish army towards independence from England, which made him a national hero. The story wants William Wallace killing the son of an English official when he was only twenty years old. After that he was captured and was thought to have died in prison but a nurse took care of him and saved his life. After that he resumed the fight against the English with his biggest triumph being held in a battle in Stirling. There, William Wallace and Andrew de Moray managed to slaughter a big part of the English cavalry by trapping them on the narrow Stirling bridge. The victory destroyed the myth of the undefeatable English army and boosted the confidence of the Scottish warriors against the English invaders and has been the basic story for the famous movie “Braveheart” which although being a great film, contained a lot of inaccuracies. Nevertheless, Sir Wallace’s legend was spread all across the country long time ago and there are several stories about him, true and fictional. According to one of them, once in Tinto hill in Lanarkshire, Sir William Wallace made a hole on a rock with his thumb which still remains on the top of the hill, filled up with water. According to traditional rhymes the story is a hymn to human strength for it is impossible for a man to lift the rock and drink the water that is inside:
On Tintock-tap there is a mist,
And in that mist there is a kist (chest)
And in the kist there is a caup
And in the caup there is a drap
Tak up the caup drink aff the drap
And set the caup on Tintock-tap
(Robert Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland)
Leaving the legend of Sir Wallace behind was not an easy task. But the amazing white landscape and the sound of some great gaelic music made my mind fly away.
Sooner or later we reached Loch Katrine**. The peaceful lake creates a feeling that something magical is hiding behind the woods, while regular signs warn the visitor for the presence of fairies, urisks and other mythical creatures. The lake itself is believed to have been created by a demon. According to the myth, before the lake was created, there was a village inhabited by quiet people, mostly shepherds and their families. On one side of the village called Ben Venue, there was a sacred spring which the villagers were guarding only for their use, charging a girl named Katrine to watch over it at night. One day a vicious demon that wanted to harm the villagers came to Katrine in the shape of a man and offered mountain berries to her. The girl was seduced by his beauty and accepted his offer but soon fell into deep sleep because of the poisoned fruit. The demon let all the water of the spring to fill up the valley and all the villagers were drowned. When Katrine woke up she was devastated by the disaster she caused and threw herself into the lake, which ever since took her name. We were lucky to visit Katrine during the winter which enabled us to enjoy the quietness and beauty of the snowed hills around her. I was thinking I don’t want to leave this place again but soon my cold feet and the need to continue with our trip made my steps go faster. After all, maybe our next stop would be another magical lake.
Loch Lomond was wrapped with pink and red colors when we reached it. The calm water, white trees and the sun going down slowly is all I remember from this stop, along with a feeling that the cold wind passing through the broken button of my jacket was necessary to feel the beauty of this place. There, silent I stood, watching my reflection on the crystal water. I was trying to understand how I, a heat lover who always dreams of sunny, blue seas could fall in love with such a cold place, and wither I could describe that feeling I had during the whole trip. Mind-blowing Highlands…
*Gaelic= language that was spoken in the Highlands and parts of Ireland
**Loch=lake in Scottish
Special thanks to:
Donald and Hairy Coo, an alternative company that organizes guided tours to the Highlands without luxuries and touristic formalities and charges what you think the tour was worthing! Check those nice gentlemen here: http://www.thehairycoo.com/
Eleni, Sami and Rosa for the nice company during the trip!
The authors of the book: ” The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish legends” for the awesome information!