Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

Heilan Coo

The Revered Heilan Coo, Hamish.

The Revered Heilan Coo, Hamish.


Before a trip out of Edinburgh to Loch Lomond I had never heard of the Heilan Coo. Then I found out from a friend that we were going to meet the most famous of the Heilan Coo, Hamish. The tour guide told all of his background information, his age, where he was from, what he does now. When we finally reached his home he did not come out. Everyone on the tour tried everything to plead him out to see us.

It failed.

I gave up ever meeting Hamish.

Then, half a year later, I found myself on my way to the House of Hamish. At first he would not come out. Cajoles, jeers, and pleads fell onto deaf ears. He was having nothing to do with us. Again.

It took the women of the tour group to successfully call him out. And out he came! He was covered in long flowing golden hair. An affectionate greeting was given to all who came forward. 

There was jubilation amidst the tour.

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In Stirling, Scotland there is the William Wallace Monument. To the Scots William Wallace is a hero, to the world he is Braveheart. There are no pictures or imagery of William Wallace so every picture, statue and engraving is based on what a scottish hero should look like.

So at the base of the Wallace Monument (it is on a hill) there is a statue of Mel Gib–William Wallace. It was donated to the memorial but there are some issues with it. The first is that it has a relatively strong resemblance to a certain actor from a certain movie. While the Scots like the movie (at least the ones I talked too) there is a very strong undercurrent of dislike of this particular statue.

Strong enough to break off noses it seems.

Since it was initially put in place this statue has been chipped, vandalized and almost torn down. Now it is monitored by CCTV (in the UK? CCTV? I am shocked).

At five o’clock every day this statue symbolizing freedom of the Scottish people is locked away behind a blue cage. 

I was told by a tour guide that Braveheart was not in fact William Wallace but rather Rob Roy. I am not sure how accurate this is since trying to find any information on the original Braveheart or William Wallace turns up the movie and occasionally some websites that only reference the movie slightly.

I will find out one day when I return to Scotland who the moniker Braveheart belongs.

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The Enchanted Waters of Sligachan

The Enchanted Waters of Sligachan

Legend has it that the waters running through Sligachan on the Isle of Skye are enchanted. Years ago there lived the greatest warrior of Scotland, a woman named Scáthach. One day word of her greatness made it to the halls of the mightiest warrior of Ireland Cúchulainn. Upon hearing this he knew that he must go and fight her. So he set sail to the Isle of Skye to face her in battle. When he arrived on island he demanded of the first person he saw, a trainee of Scáthach, that she come and fight him in battle.

She came out and they fought. The fought all through the valley, shaking the earth and the trees, causing animals to flee. While they fought Scáthach’s daughter fled to the nearby river and cried, for she knew that her mother could not win. As she cried into the water several residents of the land of faerie came through the water, for it was a gateway between their world and ours. They saw her crying and knowing the cause told her to wash her face in the water of the river. Upon doing so she gained the knowledge of how to stop the terrible fight and save her mother.

She ran up to the lodge where her mother lived and along the way gathered nuts and herbs. Once there she threw them into the fire fanning the smoke out into the valley. Upon smelling the scented smoke both Cúchulainn and Scáthach realized how tired and exhausted they were from their fighting. They both laid down their weapons and headed to the lodge. When they arrived Scáthach’s daughter had prepared a meal fit for both mighty warriors. Once Cúchulainn ate under the roof of Scáthach he became her guest and they could do each other no harm.

Since this tremendous battle it is said that if you hold your face in the waters of the river for seven seconds you will be granted eternal beauty.

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St. Andrews from above.

St. Andrews from above.

Never let weather determine what to do while traveling. Especially in Scotland.

While studying in Edinburgh I wanted to go to St. Andrews for a while yet I could never get the time or the energy to plan and make the trip north. Eventually I figured out the best way to the town (a train to Leuchars then a bus to St. Andrews). With that in mind I was going to go the next day, Saturday. When I woke up I found the familiar sound of rain falling outside my window. I had to remind myself of a piece of advice I was given at the start of my year in Scotland, “If you never do anything when it is raining, you will never do anything”. Fine then, I was going to go anywhere despite the rain.

I walked to Waverley train station, bought a ticket at the automatic machines and got on. I mistakingly picked the same day to travel as a large England vs. Scotland rugby match at Murrayfield Stadium. The streets featured a lot of kilts mixed with men in rose adorned jerseys. The train pulled up to the station, it was packed full of englishmen. So much for sitting down. But they all got out leaving a nice humid atmosphere behind. The train was now empty save myself and a few other people smart enough to get off at Haymarket instead of Waverley.

This was the first time I took the train north. On the train I could finally see the famed Forth Bridge. It is painted the same color as the Golden Gate Bridge, that is to say, red. While the train made its way north through Fife the rained picked up. When the trained pulled into my station the rain decided it would be an excellent time to fall wee bit harder. Since I was in Scotland I did have an umbrella with me. The bus station had a map depicting all of the bus lines in the area. I really could have chose any since every single one went through St. Andrews. I got on the bus with a likely looking number and about ten people getting on.

St. Andrews rolled into view, a few stops went by. Finally there was a stop on Market Street. Market Street is always a good street to be on. One thing I should mention, I had no map nor any conception of where things lay in this Scottish town. Given a choice of left or right, I went right since we came from left. With no idea where I was going I just started to wander. I found a bakery and bought a steak bake for about a pound, the rain was now a fine light drizzle, just wet enough to annoy those with glasses. Walking along I saw the most promising a wet traveler can see: Tourist Information. I was a tourist and as chance would have it I needed information. I leafed through the free brochures on the area looking for a decent map. I found one and struck out into the drizzle.

I was heading in the right direction already. I went to the castle, it was closed for lunch. I figured that the Cathedral would be as closed as the castle so slowly walked towards the pier. Along the way I stopped by a small beach, no surfers were in the water. I strolled down the path taking photos here and there, since I was taking photos a group asked me to take their photo. Something about me makes people ask me to take photos, maybe it is because they see me taking photos. Or I just look like I won’t run off with their camera.

The pier went into the gray sea. The wind blew, the rain had stopped and it was cold. I see now why beaches in California and other places are so idealized. Back down the pier I walked along the beach and only got slightly lost. Just slightly. I counted on the safety of being in a small town where I would eventually reach the edge of town. Back on the main drag I went to the cathedral.

I did not know that the St. Andrews cathedral is an ex-cathedral. It was an impressive ex-cathedral filled with green grass, tombstones and a solitary tower. I went to the now open Scottish Heritage center and got a token to go up the tower. St. Rules tower, this was a tower. Narrow spiral stone steps, slightly damp, worn down in the center. They steps slowly shrank in size, the corridor narrowed and the hand rail did not really exist at any point along the way. When I breached the top (an old wooden door) the sky had cleared. The sun was finally out displaying the entirety of St. Andrews before me through the clear scottish air. It made all the rain worth it. I appreciated being alone on top of the town as a moments rest during an otherwise busy semester at school.

Eventually I had to come down. It was still windy and cold out, but I was in Scotland. I made my way over to the castle. It was now open. I don’t know, I have seen a lot of castles during my trips in Europe and only a few really impress me. This castle did not really impress me, until I found the tunnels. The castle had been a battle involving tunnels that attempted to undermine the walls. But these defenders fought back by countermining these encroaching tunnels. One of the reason I love Europe is that their safety laws often only extend to put up a sign saying that it is dangerous. Down I went. Again I was alone in the silent tunnels of stone. Down I went hunched down using my hands for guidance. The tunnel eventually opened up to what I assumed was a staging room. At the end of the room was a small hole, probably only two and a half feet wide by a foot and a half across. With a ladder. This was where the two tunnels met. This narrow tunnel led to the bottom of shaft with the top featuring a small slitted covering somewhere outside the walls.

The whole thing was really neat.

Leaving the castle the rain was back. Not just any rain but Edinburgh Rain. Edinburgh Rain does not fall nicely, instead it falls horizontal to the ground rendering umbrellas moot and clothing wet. I gave up and got wet. By the time I reached the Old Course the sun was out again, with rainbows too. The Old Course looked surprisingly like a golf course. It was green, there was golfers and some hazards. I moved on.

I caught a bus back to the train station and slept on the way back to the city.

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Now for questions I have been asked. Well, questions I might be asked since I have not actually been asked any questions by anyone other then myself.

So Michael, what about pre-planned or pre-packaged trips like bus tours?

What a great questions. I have used four tours companies before in: China, Scotland and Ireland. The first was Overseas Adventure Travel with a three week trip in China. The next two were in Scotland: Haggis Adventures and was MacBackpackers. I then did two trips with Paddywagon in Ireland.

OAT is geared more towards travelers in their fifties and above, I was on the trip because my parents and grandmother were planning to go to China and I wanted in. It was a very good trip and I would recommend it to the older and non-hostel crowd. For the duration of the trip you have one guide (though in China we also had local guides) to help with everything.

The other three were more for the 20-30 crowd, overnights were in hostels though some (Paddywagon) allows upgrades to bed and breakfasts. All are bus tours of the areas of interest, I signed up because it was hard to get to where I wanted to go by train and I had no car. Out of the three I went on I found MacBackpackers to be the best with the best guide out all of them. Haggis was good but my trip was only a day trip without overnights. I chose Paddywagon since their tours fit into my schedule the best, they were larger and a bit more impersonal. The one in Northern Ireland was a lot better then the one in the Republic of Ireland. The alternative to Paddywagon in Ireland would be Shamrocker (a cousin to Haggis Adventures). I I recommend the Scotland tours, especially MacBackerpackers Isle of Skye trip, I think Ireland would have been better if I was traveling with someone I knew and we had a rental car.

Are there anymore questions?

Not yet, but I would like to end this series by saying the most important thing to do is relax while traveling and enjoy the trip.

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