Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Scotland: The Countryside

The freedom provided by having rental cars allowed us to explore the countryside of Scotland, and boy does it have some spectacular sights. On two different days we drove through the Cairgorms National Park.  Although "national park" doesn't mean exactly the same thing in Scotland as it does in the USA in terms of usage and infrastructure, the views and beauty of nature rival anything else I've ever seen. 

Burn o' Vat in the Cairngorms

Everywhere you turn, the land is there, just sitting around being gorgeous.  This place, called Burn O' Vat, had a lovely little waterfall and two shallow caves. 

This spectacular view of the Falls of Docharty was taken literally from the side of the road.  Later in the week, we put a special "photos" rule in place while driving.  It was getting pretty stressful keeping a caravan of two or three cars together, so we opted to be a bit more explicitly relaxed about it, and agreed that if one car stopped and there was no phone call or text message, then they were just taking a few photos and would catch up.  It's the sort of thing that would go unspoken between the husbeast and me, and it wasn't until we figured out this rule that we realized how much we just wanted to be able to pull over on the side of the road ALL THE TIME!  The new photos rule was especially welcome on the part of the husbeast, as he's a big one for stopping at random places to get a really good photograph. 
Here's one of my favorite memories of the trip, in the Cairngorms. Scotland has an old tradition of its residents being able to walk pretty much everywhere, as long as they're not leaving a mess or disturbing other people.  There are trails and footpaths everywhere, and we saw people using them, walking in places I would assume were off-limits if we were in the US. We did a little bit of hiking, but if we'd planned for it we could've done much more.  I think Americans have this sense that Britain is a very small place, but it certainly didn't feel that way to me while we were there.  Edinburgh during festival season felt just as bustling and alive as San Francisco during fleet week, and the Cairngorms felt just as open and majestic as the High Sierras. 

Glen Coe
And then there's this aspect of the history of the land in Scotland.  We were originally going to drive to the Isle of Skye, but unfortunately it proved to be just a bit too far of a drive for a day trip.  Instead, we opted to go to Glen Coe, which several guidebooks mentioned as one of the most beautiful glens in the highlands.  We did get a chance to do a bit of real hiking here, and the sense of the place is strong and old in a way that is no less wild, but very different, to what I've seen in American national parks.  There's certainly a lot of history behind Glen Coe, and it's eye-opening to visit national landmarks that belong to someone else.  I can feel some deeper personal connection to Mt. Tamalpais or Hume Lake, and knowing that there's another set of people who feel just as strong a connection (if not stronger) to these places helps me feel connected to those people through a shared experience.  Seeing the world's natural wonders makes environmentalists of us all. 

As a small footnote, it's hard to look at the countryside of Scotland and not notice the sheep everywhere, which live off the land, and are an integral part of life for many people in the highlands. 

Next time: From the Land comes the Cloth


wildtomato said...

Oh, wow. Those pictures are stunning, so the real deal must have been breathtaking!

Z said...

So green. It's beautiful.