Nemo me impune lacessit
(No one attacks me with impunity)
– Motto of the Order of the Thistle and three Scottish regiments of the British Army
My jaw dropped at the start of our three-day tour of the Scottish Highlands and did not close till we pulled back into Edinburgh. Unbelievably scenic, two eyes weren’t enough to drink it all in and two ears weren’t enough to absorb its rich but traumatic history. My educated guess is that God creates his own little country in each part of the world and this is probably where he hangs out for his haggis.
Green hills opened up as we pulled out of the city, speckled with lazy gray sheep. After seamlessly wrapping around a poignant battlefield and a stone age pagan site, the landscape gave way to the dark waters of Loch Ness. It was pretty, devoid of tourists thanks to shoulder season. As we pushed westward, rough brown hills rose from the ground stealthily. Unassuming at first, they grew in stature till land eventually gave way to sea.
The islands were a whole different story. It felt like all the prettiness of the mainland – green, blue and brown – was jostling to fit into every eyeful. And it did to roaring success! Our 2.8mi hike on the ridges of Quiraing Pass turned out to be one of the most beautiful hikes that I have ever done (sorry Portland!).
Back on the mainland, the route took us south into the dramatic volcanic valleys through the heartrending site of another massacre. I felt sorry for the Scots – they’ve been beaten by the English so many times, thrown them out so many times, and yet today they are fighting to be an independent country. Such are the ways of the British Empire.
I learnt a ton of history on this tour, thanks to our guide Richard Galloway. He cursed, he swore, he educated. He stopped at off-beat non-touristy places and tailored the route like a weather savant. He showed us Scotland through a movie angle as well, pointing out scores of movie shoot locations to the extremely fun Aussie group on the bus. He was brilliant!
There is no way I can write an ode to the Scottish Highlands. I really wish I could. Maybe someday when “on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood”.