Invading the Scottish Highlands – Day 2

Hmm, imagine if halfway across, you realize you left your keys…

Picture a genteel castle, perched on a  solitary island in the middle of Loch Duich. Picture the classic stone bridge leading to it, that has seen both gallant knights and violent warriors. Picture a small room with tiny windows, albeit with a breathtaking view of the loch. Ladies and gents, welcome to Eilean Donan castle.

You can spend months castle-hopping around the UK, but Eilean Donan has my vote as the one that can best bring to life the castle experience of the olden times. For one, Eilean Donan is still inhabited; the owners have restored the keep but still kept its medieval feel. Our group pretty much poked around every nook and cranny — and I really mean every nook and cranny — as the owners were gracious enough to have us actually go up into their rooms for a look-see of their dining hall and sleeping chambers. But definitely, the highlight of the castle was its kitchen — they put in wax food, pots and pans and statues to recreate what a busy day here would have been like. Photography, sadly, wasn’t allowed in the castle, but I couldn’t resist sneaking off a few.

Imagine if this was your only view for months of winter spells. Our guide told us that an easy way to spot a real castle is to look at the windows — in the old times, they would keep them small as a defensive measure.

I found myself hungry for yet more Scottish tales from history and lore alike. It was a good thing our guide, Kyle, was just happy to oblige. Stories poured all day about mischievous faerie kings, about sweethearts both lucky and unfortunate, even about how Kyle came into the world (TMI, btw!). We had several stops as we made our way to the Isle of Skye, which included the home of the faerie king, which was also the Highland’s version of the fountain of youth, supposedly. By the way, one tip for the singles out there: if you happen to go across one of the British ‘kissing gates’, take a second to make sure that you’re standing next to someone you fancy; this might be your chance!

Fancy a quick facial in the faeries’ river?

Finally, we crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye; the island was actually bigger than I thought. My sisters, who were avid Highlander fans, would have absolutely loved it here; there were countless store signs harking the name MacLeod, in honor of the clan who called it home along with the MacDonalds. I had the chance to breeze quickly through the goodies at the town’s day market, before our coach whisked us to a picnic by a small waterfall.

After lunch, it was time for another hike up the hills of Skye. It was a good thing I had my Salomons on —  I couldn’t believe how much trekking we actually had time to do on this tour! Another thing that I didn’t expect to do was to cross off something from my bucket list: go hiking in a dress and hoop earrings. Check!

An adorable dog enjoying the hike up the hills of Skye

The trek was a bit tiring, but the day was far from over. We headed back to Morag’s Lodge in time for a dinner, before sprinting off to the docks of Loch Ness for a Nessie-hunting boat cruise. Finally! With spirits soaring, I had my camera ready as I believe the stars have been mostly on our side so far (3 entire days of sunny, sunny weather in Scotland. Can I hear a hell-yeah?). Remember Stevie B from my Day 1 post? He said he was just going to pass and chill at the lodge; imagine my surprise when he showed up for the boat ride in a Nessie costume (I kid you not)! Hilarious from head to foot, Stevie had the crowd doubling up in laughter and had them begging for photo-ops with him.

Spotting Nessie wasn’t that hard, apparently.

Onto the actual Nessie-hunting part, the boat was equipped with sonar equipment to track down activity within the deeps of the loch. I had to blink at the TV monitor when they showed exactly how deep the loch was; our boat was just a miniscule pixel on the loch waters which filled up more than two-thirds of the screen. No wonder so many Nessie-hunters often go back empty-handed! I’m included in that group, by the way; it was good that the boat offered this as a consolation prize:

Nighttime came, and as can be expected from Haggis tours, the party animals were out. I had my first taste of a Tartan toga party (bumpkin moment: I really thought people would be in graduation togas. Sheesh.). It was fun to see some brave volunteers (all decked in improvised tartan costumes) try their hand at the Scottish partner dances. I have to give the movies credit; they make it look so easy! It was WAY more complicated than I thought. Tears were literally streaking down my face from laughing too hard, as I watched the guys and gals attempt to master the hops, skips and swings of the clan dances. Everyone gave it their darnedest, and in the end, everybody obviously had so much fun that it didn’t matter if the dance steps kicked everyone’s ass.

Unusually, I wasn’t so much in a party mood. I lazied by the sofas instead, swapping stories with the other backpackers on our last night in the lodge.  The night was still young; one of us suggested a walk by the pier.

Stargazing by the tranquil docks took my breath away. I realized it was my first time to actually get an eyeful of the stars from this part of the world. In retrospect, I regret not sticking around longer to wait and watch for the sun to rise over the loch  — that would have been mind-blowing. That night, I was dead set on hunting Nessie; instead, what I found were utter bliss and peace of mind, which were even better.

Want more pics? Then click here.

Or, if you want to catch a view of Day 2 first hand, then watch the clip below:

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