When I made the decision to study abroad I choose to go through a program instead of a direct exchange. One of the benefits of going through a program, like IFSA-Butler, is that they will plan cultural activities and meals throughout your stay, and best of all every semester they will take you on an amazing trip. The trip that my program took me on was to Inverness. This post will give a run down on all that I got to see and do, and there will be a bit of Scottish history thrown in for good measure too.
I departed Edinburgh at 9:30am and loaded up on the bus with all of my fellow IFSA students to make our way to Inverness. The trip to Inverness is a little over three hours with no stops from Edinburgh, but of course we made stops along the way. Our first stop was at Pitlochry for brunch. One of the warnings we had from our tour guide is that the farther north you go the slower life is, so with about 100 students stopping in the same small area for brunch we had to be prepared for slow service and try the best we could to leave in one hour. We managed to complete this task and as far as I know no students were left behind.
The next stop was at a sheep farm called Leault Farm in Kingussie. Now when you think of the highlands you picture sheep, hairy cows, and men in kilts blowing into bagpipes, but this was not always the case. Firstly, on the entire trip I saw no one wearing a kilt and playing bagpipes. The only people I saw in kilts were the tour guides. Second, sheep did not always populate the highlands. Due to the Highland Clearances, Highlanders were paid, forcibly removed, or shipped off their land to make way for sheep farms. This was because landowners could make more off of the wool from sheep than they could on the meager crops farmers provided, but sheep need a lot of land and so many people were displaced. This led to the Highlands having a lower population than the Lowlands of Scotland and there being a lot of sheep or clouds on the ground.
At the sheep farm we got to see a traditional sheepdog display. The shepherd had about nine dogs out, but he only needs one dog to handle about 300 sheep. He trains the dogs and gives commands through shouts, movements, and whistles. For instance, if he moved left then the dog would herd the sheep left. Also, one of the dogs was blind; the dog depended on the whistle and spoken commands that were given to him to move the sheep successfully. Then we got to hold and play with the puppies!
The next stop of the day was to the Glenlivet distillery. Glenlivet is famous for its single malt whiskey around the world. The oldest bottle they have on site is 50 years old, and as a standard they age their whiskey about 12 years. Glenlivet was started by George Smith over 200 years ago. The license to distill and sell whiskey has too high for the average distiller to pay, so George Smith and many others distilled and sold ‘illicit’ whiskey. Although, George Smith’s whiskey stood above the rest, and soon he was able to procure a license making him the first to be legally licensed in the parish of Glenlivet to produce whiskey, and better yet Scotch whiskey.
We had no more stops on our way to Inverness. We arrived at the youth hostel, unpacked, and went out to explore the town.
At 9am we left the youth hostel and headed to Dunrobin Castle. Dunrobin is a gorgeous home that looks like a fairy tale castle. The castle was completed in 1845 and is the family seat of clan Sutherland. The Sutherlands were the instigators of the Highland Clearances. After walking through the castle and the gardens we sat for a falconry display. We were shown a hawk, an Eagle Owl, and a falcon. We learned a bit about the pecking order of these predators and how they are trained. Birds of prey have been used for hundreds of years to hunt game and provide food for families.
When the falconry display was over we took a quick drive to Dornoch for lunch. After lunch we walked on the Royal Dornoch Golf Course and headed toward the beach. Some brave souls ventured out into the North Sea and some played touch rugby, I just enjoyed taking pictures and walking along the shore. Looking out from the beach to the North Sea it appears that water and sky begin to merge to create an endless world of blue and white.
One interesting tidbit on Dornoch is that it is where the last woman to be tired and sentenced to death for witchcraft, Janet Horne, was killed in 1722.
To keep the depressing note going we then went to Culloden Battlefield. This is the site of the last battle on UK soil, where Highland clan culture went into its decline, and the Jacobite rebellion was laid to waste. In 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Prince from across the water, the Young Pretender came back to recapture his birthright and his father’s thrown from the Hanovers. The Jacobites were loyal to the Stuarts (Prince Charlie); they were staunch Catholics, many belonged to Highland clans, and there were many Catholic supporters across Europe. The Jacobites made their way south and captured Edinburgh and kept marching south to take London, but there was a problem. Men were tired and they were running out of supplies so they turned back before ever reaching London.
The redcoats then took the offensive and pushed the Jacobites back toward the north. Charlie decided that it was time for a large battle to turn the tide back into their favor. The Jacobites had so far been fighting in the Highland style, which worked well for them because they did not have the weapons or organized military training that the redcoats had. They used scare tactics, intimidation, and the landscape in all of the previous battles, but at the last battle, Culloden, Charlie decided to fight in an open, relatively flat field. The Jacobites were desecrated. They were tired, cold, and hungry while the redcoats were well rested and prepared for the battle. The battle lasted 45 minutes. But once the battle ended the real horrors began. The Duke of Cumberland also known as the Butcher had all the fallen soldier’s faces beaten in so that they would be unrecognizable to their family and clans, the wounded were left on the field to die of exposure, the women and children who rushed to help were beaten, and the surviving Jacobite officers were taken to a small barn and burned alive. At the battlefield a memorial was later erected for the fallen soldiers and clan markers are placed around the battlefield to give tribute to the men who never made it home. There was not another attempt made by the prince to take back the thrown.
We woke up early to pack up all of our belongings and strip the bed linens at the hostel. Then at 9am we departed Inverness. On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped by Loch Ness. Normally the loch is very foggy and has an eerie feel, but today was clear and sunny, and unfortunately there were no Nessie sightings. The first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was made hundreds of years ago. An Irishman known was St. Columba told one of his monks to cross Loch Ness. When halfway across the loch, a giant monster rose from the deep to capture the swimming monk. St. Columba ordered the pagan monster away and to leave the terrified monk in peace. So Nessie could exist or she could be made up as Catholic propaganda to convert the pagans. Also while at Loch Ness we also saw Fort Augustus.
From there we made one last short stop at Glencoe for photos of the Three Sisters. On the way to Glencoe some sights were pointed out, like the filming location for the first two Harry Potter films of Hagrid’s cottage and James Bond’s childhood home from Skyfall. We also passed a foreboding BenNevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland.
At Glencoe we were told of its historical significance in Scottish history. William of Orange had sent out a treaty for the Scottish clans to sign, swearing their allegiance to the new English monarchy. Clan MacDonald had left it to the last moment to sign the treaty, and because of circumstances out of the laird’s control, he was six days late in signing. When news reached the new king that they were late, he decided to make an example of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. Clan Campbell, the hated enemies of the MacDonalds, asked for Highland hospitality. With Highland hospitality, grudges are left at the door, and guests are fed and kept warm, to break the trust that is given during hospitality by either host or guest is sacred it is seen as the highest dishonor to break the trust made with hospitality. For ten nights the Campbells stayed with the MacDonalds, and then on the tenth night the Campbells snuck into the rooms of the MacDonalds, and under the orders of their king, began murdering them in their sleep. Women, men, and children fled for safety as they tried to escape the massacre. 38 MacDonalds were killed that night in 1692. So if you are a Campbell visiting Glencoe or meet a MacDonald in Scotland, you might not want to mention that your surname is Campbell. Grudges can last a long time. Then we got back on the bus, watched Rob Roy, and I finished my book. It was a fun and informative weekend. My favorite part was the scenery. The landscape is beautiful, mysterious, and harsh. It is awe inspiring.
Helpful Hint: Most trips you take when traveling abroad are not going to have an itinerary and everything planned out for you. So to cut costs plan ahead what you want to do. Sometimes you can save money by buying your entry tickets to castles and museums online.