Of all the trips I’ve taken through Europe this semester, my favorite is the most simplistic. There’s nothing more revitalizing than getting out of the busy London life to a stunning, untouched part of the world. I traveled on a three-day tour through the Scottish Highlands, visiting a whiskey distillery and many remote villages, all while learning about Scotland in a way I couldn’t have managed myself.
Wandering through the Scottish Highlands was one of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring moments of my life. Now that I’m familiar with the area, I’d love to go backpacking or camping in the mountains again, or taking the Jacobite steam train — voted the most beautiful train ride in the world. Through legends of kings and knights, myths of fairies and elves, and the Harry Potter soundtrack playing in my head, my weekend in Scotland was truly magical.
Here’s five reasons you should visit the Scottish Highlands as soon as you can:
1. The Scenery
Of course, this is hands-down the number one reason you should visit Scotland. There’s so much variety to the landscape: farmland, hills, beaches, cliffsides, rocky mountains, lush mountains… everything from the Shire to Rivendale to Mordor. The Scottish mountains are both a monster and a friend: imposing and intimidating, but enveloping and healing. The sublime is truly indescribable.
2. The History
Scotland has a long and bloody history, and our guide pointed out many of the battle sites where battles between family clans and the Jacobites occurred, or where the Scottish army was (unfortunately) defeated many times. One point of interest is the famous Eilean Donan, a stone castle on a small island, founded in the thirteenth century but rebuilt in the 1930s after it was destroyed in the 18th century. It’s magical!
3. The Mythology
Did you know that the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal? Scotland’s mythology is just as, if not more, fascinating than its history. Through the centuries, clans have created legends and myths to explain the natural wonders around them, usually involving fairies. Now, these aren’t cute little fairy god mothers. Mythological “faeries” can be cruel by turning sisters into mountains, but also kind by turning water into eternal beauty and knowledge. Dip your face into the river below the Sligachan Bridge — maybe you’ll be blessed with eternal beauty and knowledge, too! Also, don’t forget about Nessie…she’s definitely lurking somewhere in the black depths of Loch Ness.
4. The Genealogy
The Scottish Diaspora describes the more than 50 million people around the globe who claim Scottish ancestry — me being one of them! My last name, Anderson, is one of several hundred Scottish clans, meaning “Son of Andrew,” Scotland’s patron saint. Although it’s tacky, it was so fun to see my name and crest in every little gift shop!
5. The People
Finally, the Scottish people are nothing less than hospitable and a whole lot of fun. I met so many great people who take immense pride in their mountains and their whiskey, but most importantly in their heritage and country today. Also, don’t forget the Scottish cattle, “hairy coos” — they’re just as much like people, too!
Three days was certainly not enough to experience all Scotland has to offer. Only a lifetime of Scotland may do it justice. I’ll return to the mountains soon.
This post was contributed by Madeline Anderson, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in London, England.