I mentioned in the previous post that what happened on Day Three of the Scottish Highlands tour was something I will never forget.
You see, we had been tracking the Aurora Borealis since we arrived on the Isle of Skye, as one of the guys on our tour mentioned it was active. We tried to see it the night before, but it wasn’t strong enough for the naked eye. During our drive around the isle, we asked Graeme if there was a hill we could climb to see if we could catch the lights. He showed us a hill we could go up, and around 22:00 that night, there were reports that a very active storm was happening.
We grabbed our coats and hats and gloves and walked up the hill Graeme showed us..
We stood on the hill and watched, not really believing what we were seeing. When the storm had a strong burst, the lights danced and created an undulating ribbon across the horizon. It’s not like the pictures you’ll see in Iceland, but keep in mind our location and the mere rarity of a storm this strong happening in the location I was at. Mike, one of the guys on our tour, amazingly captured the photo above, and this is my favorite picture of all time. We were really lucky to have Mike there, actually. We wouldn’t have had a photo this amazing if he hadn’t had brought all his professional camera gear.
Day Four had us sadly leave the Isle of Skye en route to Fort William. We stopped at some beautiful scenic places along the way, including the Glenfinnan Viaduct (the Hogwarts Express bridge in the Harry Potter movies) and a few filming sites from the James Bond movie Skyfall. There was a point where some hairy coos were grazing the field, and the group all knew I’m obsessed with them, so Graeme let us out to hop the fence and run out to them and I LOVE HAIRY COOS. Oh, another amazing thing about the Scottish Highlands – there are no trespassing laws. You can go where you like.
I’m not sure the rest of the group knows this, but my favorite moment of the whole trip, apart from seeing the Northern Lights, was our trip up Nevis Range. Graeme gave us an option on what we wanted to do, and we all voted to go to this ski lodge. A group of us bought some cheese, crackers and wine, and we took the ski lift up to the top and spent hours just eating and drinking in the sunny, snow capped mountains, chatting and chilling. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this moment so much. Perhaps it was because I knew this little group of ours was special, that we all just became lifelong friends. Perhaps it was the combination of mountain air and sunshine that put me in an exceptionally good mood. Perhaps it was because I knew our trip was ending soon, and I wanted to relish every single moment. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this moment so much. All I know is that I did.
We finally arrived in Fort William to our cozy hostel for the night. Remember how I said to remember the phrase “It’s nice to be nice” from the previous post? This is why:
My cousin Bryan and I were the last ones to check into our hostel. Everyone had their room assignments except us, and when we were told our room number upon check in, we realized that we weren’t with any of our group. The hostel guy noticed our disappointment and asked where we’d like to room, and it just so happened that a room with our friends from the tour had two extra beds, so he said “Okay, I’ll change you.” I thought this was really cool of him, so I thanked him and said it was so nice of him to do that, and his response was:
“It’s nice to be nice.”
I know, the explanation was a bit anticlimactic, but this became the motto for the rest of our trip. This act of kindness seemed to have a bit of a domino effect, as nicety after nicety occurred hereafter.
That last night in Fort William was way too fun. Kelly, Rhi and I bought some food at the market for dinner, then we melted chocolate to dip strawberries in and poured some wine. The rest of the group went out to eat, so it was just us three at the hostel and this Aussie guy who was also staying there. There was a ukulele in the room, and the Aussie guy ended up serenading us while we drank our wine and ate our chocolate covered strawberries (I wound up randomly running into him again in Barcelona two months later). You can’t make this stuff up, people. The others in our tour joined us later and we all stayed up until around three in the morning, drinking, talking, laughing, listening to music and enjoying each other’s company.
The final day, Day Five, took us back down to Edinburgh, where we stopped off at Doune Castle (Monty Python, anyone?) and Stirling Castle. I forgot to mention the Scottish people love their whiskey. We stopped off at around five distilleries, I think? We also had a bottle handy with us on the bus at all times (that may or may not have been illegal). We got back to Edinburgh real late, and the lot of us decided we didn’t want it to end, so we all got together again, including tour guide Graeme.
This brings me to the final point I made in the previous post. If I did this tour when I originally wanted, none of what happened would have happened. Obviously. But it kind of shows how everything always ends up working out, doesn’t it? If the unfortunate events didn’t happen last month, I wouldn’t have seen the Northern Lights on the Isle of Skye. I wouldn’t have experienced the Highlands rain-free. I wouldn’t have met the most amazing group of people.
I left my heart in the Scottish Highlands.
P.S. Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn. You’re welcome.
*Photos by Michael Mastrandrea, a fellow tour member. Thanks, Mike!