Scottish Highlands – Beyond the Beyond…

I could have spent most of my time on this journey just in the Scottish Highlands. While not that big an area – it’s not an easy piece of country to get around in via public transportation. As in previous posts – some of my experiences – guidebooks not withstanding. No particular order or level of importance – it was all wonderful:

There is confusion in my family as to whether or not my grandfather – Stewart Thompson – was really from Montrose. Since there is no actual proof yet that he wasn’t – I took a swing through the tiny little whistle stop town to see my roots. While not much there I did hike all the way to the Montrose Golf links to view at least one Scottish course. Established in 1562 – it’s the 5th oldest course in the world. Right by the sea with attendant constant wind – I can’t imagine what manner of corrections one would have to do with their swing to manage anything resembling a straight shot down the fairway. It’s a devote religion here with prayers and penitents alike. The country has over 500 courses – 67 in Edinburgh alone. If you think about it – it’s a pretty spiritual game. You can’t be thinking about the office, the bills, the kids, not getting any the night before, etc. or you’re going to muck it up. I wonder if my brothers know they are practicing the art of ‘being in the Now Moment’ when they play…..I can hear the groans now… see the eyes roll…

On the train from Edinburgh north I got to watch two matched draft horse colts racing the train. Sorry to say the only picture is in my head – I couldn’t get to the camera fast enough.

Inverness is the unofficial capitol of the Highlands. It was here that I was introduced to another Scottish passion – flyfishing. This particular group of senior “guys” were quite talkative – sharing their favorite flys, what they fish for most, and letting me in on the secret that they also use worms. They showed me the “Rogue Gallery” in their fishing shack – photos taped to the wall of the various catches over the years – the fish reverently lined up on the ground in each picture. But, as soon as I turned on the video – they clammed up, mumbled a few hellos and that was that….

While in Inverness I was introduced to Scottish Eagle Owls. They are huge birds and not nocturnal. Amber and Skye were on hire to farmers to keep the rabbit and fox populations in check. They can also take down small deer. When they aren’t hunting they are on display for public education and outreach. The little owl is named Willow. I’m not sure of her breed but her eyes kind of bore into your soul…..

Didn’t see any sign of “Nessie” on my boat trip up Loch Ness. The 6th century castle ruins of Urquhart were the best part. I steered clear of the gift shop –

Here’s a pic of the “Barrel House” I mention in an earlier post. Recycled Whiskey kegs….

I got to try my hand at Scottish Country Dancing in Findhorn. Quite lively, a little complicated at first and an absolute riot! Not for the faint of heart – it’s a lot of work. One poor woman missed a hand off to her next partner during a reel and ended up on the floor. So be forewarned – there are ‘flingers’ in every crowd.

I spent an afternoon at the Culloden battlefield. This was the site of the battle that essentially ended the Jacobite Rising and the clan system. The museum was structured so you got the Scottish point of view and story on one side of the building and the English on the other. While walking the actual battle field there were a line of clan grave markers. Some had coins placed on the tops of the stones. The Well of the Dead is still there and flowing after more than 350 years. It was moving in ways I’m still trying to figure out.

Ever tried dowsing? I had heard of water witching but not energy dowsing. While at Balnuaran of Clava cairns – an ancient burial site predating the Picts – I got to give it a whirl. And it works! It was pretty eerie – walking along holding these two bent pieces of coat hanger and then all of a sudden one or both of them would swing strongly in the other direction – against the wind – me following behind. Some say that there are energy vortexes all over this region of Scotland. I have no idea but the pull on those coat hangers was quite insistent – that’s the only way I can describe it – so I have to think there’s may be something to the rumor…

The wind blows something fierce here. I actually watched two seagulls flying Backwards!! Not kidding. Umbrellas are useless in the rain for the most part. They just blow inside out…

Another word on Scottish pubs. While not officially a law any more – there are a few establishments that hang onto the idea that women DO NOT belong in the bar. Many pubs have a separate ‘lounge’ for women. I experienced this first hand in Forres. Amy and I decided to head down to the Red Beastie ahead of the gang who would meet up with us later. We went into the bar and as soon as we walked in – it got quiet. One of the gents said “I think you’d be more comfortable in the lounge…” We shook our heads and said cheerfully “Oh no, that’s ok. We’ve some friends coming so we’ll just wait here” You could’ve heard a pin drop. His pal said – a little louder, “Really, we think you’d be more comfortable in the lounge.” I was about to start in with a bit of attitude but Amy stopped me, took my arm and told them she was just sure we’d be more comfortable in the lounge and thank you…. Who knew…..

Finally -The Myth confirmed – at least in the tiny village of Findhorn on the Moray Firth.

During a rousing conversation at the Kimberley Pub – the subject of kilts came up. My question was “why kilts and not pants?” One of the gentleman looked at me like I was…well…New – and said “no sewing machines”. Apparently in the really old days a kilt was just a really long piece of tartan wound about the waist and then the excess tossed over the shoulder. The pleats and other fancies came later. Easy to move about it, get in and out of, plenty of activities could be performed without the annoyance or delay of removal….. I can see a few wheels grinding on that one!

Said gentleman then told our group that the next time we saw a lad in a kilt kneeling….” Ya dinna want ta be goin’ ta stand where that lad was!” Why? “Well Lass, are ya daft? He’s just finished a wee piss!” He went on to describe the difficulties of using the men’s urinal to relieve yourself. “Well, first ya hafta swing the sporran outa the way to the back of ya. Then ya need both hands for yer business right? So what do ya hafta do then?” (pause for effect) “Ya gotta hike up yer skirt like a lass under your chin and hold it there!. It’s the only way ya can grasp your parts properly.” “so, it’s easier just ta kneel” You can’t deny there’s a certain logic in that… The Myth? Yep – there taint nuthin’ but air under a kilt…..

There is a wildness that’s hard to place or articulate here in the Highlands. But it’s there – I can feel it. An unpredictability that is oddly in alignment with where I find myself in this journey. Like a wild card is in play and all I can do is keep my hands inside the ride at all times….. Happily…

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