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Only nine days spent in Scotland and I could proudly say that in-between day one and last I have witnessed the successions of all the year’s seasons – sometimes even all four in one day. Day of our landing 22nf of March– note the crew of only two this time: Dorin the brave-mind and Aura the curious creature – came with snow as I recall. Next day we had winter in the morning, spring around noon, autumn interfering with some raindrops and then summer unleashed for scattered moments. Scotland seams capricious indeed by nature. It’s hard not to notice under this circumstances that the simple tourist skin is very much in contrast with the local brand. Scots get so enthusiastic about sun that you can easily distinguish them even when the red hair and fair skin test has failed you. Here’s some inklings: Glasgow bus driver in a short sleeve shirt; outside snowfall mixed with sunrays, BMX riders in T-shirts and shorts not minding the powerful wind in Glen Coe; young lady walking in Fort William in blue jeans, a woolly but also in flip-flops versus us the genuine tourists and the other common passengers with: two pairs of trousers, fleece, windproof jacket and gloves. Not even the cap was too much for my taste of the weather.
Isle of Skye
First stop had to be Skye by all means and no wonder since there are so many things to see & do. The landmark Old Man of Storr is at only 45 minutes away by bike from Portree – the island’s capital city. The Kilt Rock (basaltic formation resisting from the Jurassic period) was found on the road to Staffin where a black sand beach was quietly waiting. Then came the Quiraing wonder path. Riding on the coast with it’s opening to the Atlantic Ocean, I recall how astounded I was by the view. To see mountain silhouettes on the other side of the water was just the peak of beauty!
Surrounding Trotternish peninsula and on our way to Quiraing what amazed me most was to see sheep with straight hair unlike the usual ones that come in sight; some wear wool socks with horizontal stripes that I find very mysterious and yet amusing. All of them in disguised freedom. You can spot one on almost all hills and wonder about their diffusion, but after a while the thin yard will outline their territory. Chocolate-brown cows will curiously take a head-to-toe look at you while wild horses won’t even be bothered by your presence.
Since we were on two-wheels on the run alongside cars, a strange thing to notice was that traffic signs will give directions but they won’t tell how many miles it will take until you reach your destination. One mountain guide with a van saved our last breath just while an imposing cumulonimbus cloud front was walking on our trace and at a faster pace. We were „warned” that people living in the islands of Scotland will be more friendly, but I believe it’s more or less the same, however in the city rules & rhythm are changing.
Next days we took revenge on the full Scottish breakfast and shortly after we were crawling to the room defeated: a pair of eggs, sausages, roasted tomato, the traditional haggis, toast with jam, muesli with yogurt, pineapple juice and the list could go on despite the heavy conscience.
In the country side time expands differently. Our host in Glen Coe (Coe Valley) was mother of two – the oldest of my age – and she was still practicing endurance equestre. She had two horses in the courtyard and also this cottage family business. In-betweens she had to answer guests curiosity: what trails to take, what is worthy to see? This way we found about Loch Athriochtan (lake Athriochtan), Loch Leven and more. Next we needed to rent bikes. How much does one pay? Wait, I’m doing my math in Cadburys chocolate bars, need to convert back in pounds. 20 pounds will be charged for a hard tail well equipped and 13 pounds for a more modest bike although is not always that you can choose between your rental shops. Loch Leven was that day encircled by bike and let dears to cross our way. Wind would blow so hard from the front that even going downhill i kept paddling to get going. Busses with the inscription “Lochs&Glens” (lakes&valleys) can take you effortless to marvelous places but us like to be challenged and with so many paths offered, it’s a pity not to give in. Surprise are found easily. For instance while for some might be true that everyone here belongs to a clan I was surprised to see people still wearing kilts still. Don’t get ideas that all do. I just spotted a few (in Kinlochleven and in Fort William) and the kilts are usually worn at weddings or at social gatherings like the Highlands events.
By walk there are interesting trials to take like the one on the 3 Sisters massif but one needs to be well equipped elsewhere the risk is too high. The mountains of Scotland might not be that tall, but they do have a reputation for the harsh weather. The ever-changing meteorological conditions are on the other hand a good training for the ones who plan big in Himalaya. Experience, a good shape and the proper gear will keep you out of trouble. Should the case be needing a mountain rescue, they will surely not appreciate a city outfit. Equipment and mountain gear can be also rented. For 20 pounds a day you can get boots and an ice ax. We haven’t adventured in hill walking but staying at the foot of the mountain was enough to notice something enough strange for the typical European: seems that in the Nordic lands, soil is humid and with each step you take, if feels like walking on a pudding. We advanced on those paths to take some more photos. Didn’t stay long as there was a sort of innuendo in the wind that was sending us home. Here houses are cooler than the average European house and when you arrive in front of the sink you notice another funny thing: hot water jet separated by the cold one. I couldn’t quite get that well the reason behind it. In other words, one hand is due to get frozen while the other gets burnt. Can’t remember exactly why I haven’t asked our host about this as I’m more of the curious type then the hesitant. Right, I said though I can’t remember – I’m an remembering person.
City of Glasgow
I have done my homework and noted the attractions in the largest city of Scotland. I knew I wanted to visit the Burrell Collection for its Etruscan sculptures, also to meet Cezanne, Rodin and then walk in the School of Art and stop at the Willow Tearooms for a cup of relaxation and sit in one of those chairs designed by Charles Mackintosh himself. First we had to arrive to our hotel across the street from Glasgow Airport. From there to the city center one pays 8 pounds and it takes about 20 min until you get there but you have Wi-Fi connection and leather skin seats. The way we traveled made us arrive 5 minutes too late at each destination. Seeing all my plans in ruins was the hardest part so we had to comfort ourselves with the thought that this episode shall continue. Another cheering thought was to visit one of the local mountaineering stores to look for some gear and compare prices. Although I believe most of the things are cheaper in my homeland, certain industries like clothing have a more mature market in the west countries and thus prices are lower. At the cash register I headed my card and I hear a reply that was more close to the sounds I would expect the monster of Loch Ness to utter then the salesman. Although I’m sure it was not Gallic, English wasn’t either. So maybe then a scotish. And to give an example on how different the sounds would be – here’s one: Och aye the noo’ (oh yes just now). He looked at my pour-tourist-understands-little face and repeated with patience and I figured that he was tempting me with the latest offer of products on sale.
Even before our landing I was curious before our trip to find some of the stereotypes for the tipic Scots and now that we were in a city and the density of humans rises dramatically with every squaremeter, I was looking attentively while stealing images from the opened street scene. I remembered to see in Glasgow’s a gesture repeating: crossing the street a young man pressed the passing button, looked right, then left and crossed without waiting for the green light to show. After all this days I could conclude now the profile of Scots: uncomfortably, however very cheerful hosts, polite in any circumstances, curious but in a discreet way, always ready to help even with information only and with a curious fashion sense (at least in the crowded cities).
Couldn’t leave the country without putting the mind at rest with the promise of a comeback. Strange or not, but all in all I feel this country starts gradually a dependency.