I had very personal reasons to visit the country that continues to live in its myths and legends. The Scottish fairy tale materialised in front of my eyes
By Zorica Stevanović
When someone decides to visit Scotland – he/she wishes to see beautiful landscape, to find Nessie, to listen to pipers, to drink good whisky? We decided to do it because of the First World War. It is commonly known that French people helped the Serbian army, especially young lads, by transferring them from the Island of Corfu to other countries, such as France, Italy, northern Africa, where those young boys recovered, got an education, but it is not so well known that around 400 boys have received their education in Scotland. Among them was my granduncle (grandmother’s brother (“Nana” – granny) who studied medicine in Glasgow and unlike any other of those boys stayed in Scotland, where he married a girl from the McNab clan. So, there’s the reason, as good as any, to visit a country that arouses ones imagination with cliffs shrouded in mist, with countless lakes and legends.
We started our trip with a visit to the capital, Edinburgh (in Gaelic: Dùn Èideann). Although, I am not a very romantic person, it is a city that can put a spell on almost anyone. No wonder there is a witch tour, among others. We were very lucky to visit Edinburgh at the time of the biggest festival in the world, the Fringe, which is held every August . The city lives 24/7, every square, tavern, theatre, museum, gallery, basement becomes a place where exhibitions, concerts, stand-up comedies, ballets, performances take place. The whole world is gathering and enjoying beauty, youth and art! Walking the Royal Mile from the Castle to the Royal Palaceis a real joy and a return to the Medieval Ages. Edinburgh is also known as a university town. It is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. It is full of restaurants and pubs, especially at the Grass Market, where the oldest and the smallest pub are located.
However, the real aim of our journey was the west coast, i.e. the Hebrides Islands of Scotlandor the West Highlands, with its countless islands. As great nature lovers, we wanted to see a coast that is incredibly razed, with countless islands, pretty small islands, bays, lakes, waterfalls. A photo cannot convey these shades of colours, the shapes of hills, rocks, cliffs overhanging the sea, not to mention the scent of grass in the air.
On the recommendation of our Scottish family, from numerous islands, we visited three – Gigha, Mull i Skye. Only the Isle of Skye (those who likes puppies will know the breed Skye Terrier is connected by a bridge with the mainland. All others can be reached only by ferry.
The Isle of Gigha is a very small island (less than 14 square kilometres), situated across the famous Mull of Kintyre . It has no more than 150 inhabitants. Interestingly, it was owned by one family and when they decided to sell the island, the inhabitants agreed to buy it, so now they are all residents and owners of the island. Can you imagine the faces of these people when we disembarked from the ferry with „BG“ number-plates? Scots are very curious and very friendly, so they often asked: why did you come here, where are you from? They were very happy with our answers. They knew about Serbia’s recent history. When they heard that we have family from Scotland, they promptly accepted us as one of their own and included us in their activities.
On the island of Mull we visited the castle of the Maclean clan, Duart. The castle is owned by the clan “only” 400 years. Just a reminder: this is the castle in which Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery shot the movie Entrapment (in 1999). I was lucky to meet Lord and Lady Maclean during our castle visit and I enjoyed our pleasant chat. They were in the company of their doggy, the favourite bread in Scotland, a real little proud Highlander – the West Highland White Terrier, popular Westie, and since we have also had one, of course, that conversation was mainly focused on Westies.On the Isle of Skye is the well known Dunvegan Castle, owned by the clan MacLeod for 800 years. The botanical garden of that castle is beautiful thanks to the climate which is ideal for rich vegetation – never too cold and never too warm with lots of rain.
Pleasant, smiling, witty, direct – that would be my impression of Scottish people. Men are mostly tall, masculine, but it seems to me that women are “leaders” in the house and that they are highly respected and in a traditional way very equal. On the Isle of Skye, after dinner, we went out to the main city square where the pipers were already playing music and a group of folk dancers was preparing for their performance. I remember one picture: a girl, maybe 12 years old, dressed in traditional costume, argued with her big daddy – she obviously did not want to perform and in protest, she kicked the stone pavement. Her father, being so tall, tried to persuade her, but he seemed to enjoy having a small rebel that defied him and did not want to listen to him. And, of course, the dad caved in and the girl disappeared in his grizzly bear hug.
It is hard to imagine Scotland without whisky. Every island, every town has its own distillery that produces exclusively single malt whisky. The distillery in Oban was founded in 1794, and like many other distilleries has a small museum, organised visiters’ tours to learn how their whisky is produced. The Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye was founded in 1830 (). Tastes of these whiskies are different but they are all – fierce.
In Scotland, you cannot be hungry. Here is a list what a breakfast is composed of in a normal B&B: porridge or cornflakes, eggs (cooked according to your wishes), bacon (more like ham), haggis, sausages, black pudding, grilled mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, toast, butter, marmalade, honey. Coffee and juices are always included. After the first week I had to say that I was vegetarian in order to get a slightly smaller and lighter breakfast. Haggis is the famous dish of Scottish warriors. Maybe it is better when you do not know how it is made, try it, then ask for a recipe, since it is very tasty thanks to the spicy herbs that are added and generously soaked in whisky to add to the taste.
There are a lot of restaurants. In tourist places you have to book a table in advance during the high season. It is popular to eat lobster, but one has to order it at least one day beforehand. All kinds of seafood, fish (fish & chips) are excellent, but meat, as well (famous Angus beef). Sweets are delicious and they are great lovers of ice cream, to my great joy!
The well known Loch Ness is Scotland’s largest lake by volume. However, Nessie obviously does not like too many tourists and hides in the depths of the lake. The legend has it that she is hiding near the remains of the Urquhart castle. The legend lives on and the whole tourist centre is dedicated to this lovely monster, so it is difficult to leave the tourist centre without a charming Nessie in the arms.
As great animal lovers, we enjoyed very much in Scotland. Besides many parks, the famous ZOO in Edinburgh, we have encountered everywhere the charming red hair cattle – Highlanders with long red coats, curly locks, roe deer, red deer, birds and among them Sea Eagle, seals.
These are just brief sketches about an interesting journey. Scotland awakens great feelings, you just have to let go and enjoy.