7.45am – We’ve been in Edinburgh for 15 minutes and this is the umpteenth “WOW” so far. Find out more about this spectacular cathedral here.
Totally uninspired, we didn’t print any maps of Edinburgh…We’re looking for the Deacon’s House Cafe. That’s where we’re going to meet our tour guide. We booked a Free Scottish Highlands Tour with The Hairy Coo , a young company run by five enthusiastic people who deliver the best service they could think of and, at the end of the day, put the ball in the customers’ court and allow them to decide how much to tip their driver/guide.
8.00am – Found the cafe! Unmistakeable, due to the Deacon guarding the entrance. Couldn’t resist taking a photo with him and laughed my head off 30 minutes later when I discovered his dark story.
Deacon Brodie was a respectable business man and city councillor by day and a mysterious nocturnal burgler until 1788 when he was caught and hanged. His day-time business provided him with the means for the night-time burglaries. He was a smith, making door locks for the rich by day and breaking into their houses at night. The story goes that he was hanged from a gibbet he himself had built. Deacon Brodie is believed to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson in creating the famous dual personality character of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Oh, well… I picked the wrong guy.
9.00am – We’re on our way to Stirling. Our guide and driver, Nic (shortened from Nicola, aye, she’s the only ‘girl’ in the company), gives us all the information about the tour, the itinerary, the stops, safety measures, emergency exits and weather forecast, everything spiced with the typical Scottish humour. She’s Scottish – what a surprise!, she strives to keep her accent under control as she’s got 24 people on the bus, which means at least 10 nationalities, so she has to make her interesting stories well understood and really entertaining. First stop, the world famous Forth Bridge. Check out its History Timeline and Image Gallery.
The National Wallace Monument situated on the summit of Abbey Craig, commemorates Sir William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero, central character of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
The tower was built in the 19th century. It is a 67-metre (220 ft) sandstone tower, built in the Victorian Gothic style. From here Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Nic’s account of the Battle of Stirling Bridge was so vivid that we could easily imagine young Wallace leading his highlanders and luring the English into a brilliant strategic trap…
Stirling Castle is one of the largest castles in Scotland and, probably, the most important castle from a strategic point of view, as there were times when the only bridge across the River Forth was that of the castle. All trade and travelling between Scotland and England had to go through this castle. Whoever controlled it, controlled all traffic between the two countries.
And now, off the beaten track we go, into the wilderness of the Highlands, even if we’re not going to see much of the real mountains, we can make an idea of what they’re like. Well, if all the beautiful scenery we saw in 9 hours is but a glimpse of the real Scotland, we definitely have to come again.
Nic took us to the only lake in Scotland, Lake of Mentieth, the only natural body of freshwater called a lake in Scotland.” True! All the others are called lochs.
We saw Loch Drunkie, Loch Venachar, Loch Achray and Loch Katrine. For each and every one of them, Nic had at least one story to tell, all of them interesting, a mixture of myth, reality and mystery which you tend to love although you know it’s pulling your leg.
It is worth mentioning that Nic warned us from the very beginning that forecasting the weather in Scotland is done on 5-minute intervals: “What’s the weather like today? Well, now it’s raining and it’s going to last for about 5 minutes. Then we’ll see and we’ll keep you informed!” The coach driver from London to Edinburgh had told me the same thing: “Unlike anywhere else in the world, in Scotland you don’t need to graduate from university to be able to get a job in forecasting the weather. Anyone can do it, it’s the easiest job. Just say ‘Today the weather in Scotland is sunny and wet and there’s 90% chance it will rain and 10% chance it might.’ There’s no way you can be proven wrong.“
It is also worth mentioning that Nic “provided” genuine Scottish weather almost on demand, so we experienced rain, clouds, sun, warmth, clouds, rain, sun, rain etc, and every now and then patches of clear sky of the purest blue hue I have ever seen. It must have some scientific explanation, but understanding its physics would certainly spoil its magic…
‘The hairy coo‘ is what the Scottish lovingly call this fluffy cow.
“Highland cattle or kyloe are a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and long wavy coats which are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow or dun… The breed was developed from two sets of stock, one originally black, and the other reddish.” (Wikipedia)
Very matter-of-fact-ish, isn’t it?
Truth is the hairy coos we saw have names (Fiona, Heather, Alex) which they answer to by looking in that direction or coming to you. They know they’re in for a treat, they recognise the bus and they come towards the wire fence where they’re going to get their afternoon snack. We give them slices of bread which they take directly from our hands. There are four big coos, two reddish, one brown and one black, and a white calf. The two reddish ones get jealous of any other coo being fed, so we have to make sure they are given a slice of bread each at the same time we feed any of the other coos.
” Doune Castle may look strangely familiar, even to those who have never visited before. It depends on your taste in films: Doune Castle is a place of pilgrimage for Monty Python fans from all over the world who come to see the place where they filmed parts of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail“. ” Follow the link at the beginning of the paragraph and you’ll find more where this came from.
6.00pm – After 9 hours, we got back to Deacon’s House Cafe, pretty tired but so full of all the beauty we had seen, all the stories we had heard, all the magic of the tour. Getting off the bus was like stepping back into the real world. We tipped our lovely Nic, said our goodbyes and headed towards the seashore.
Along the way to the sea, among the many old buildings and sites, we took our last photos before the battery of my phone went dead. Here’s the Palace of Holyroodhouse, residence of many kings and queens in Edinburgh.
We spent about half an hour on the beach, at sunset, kindly asking the sun to chase away the rain that was threatening to pour on us as we got there. We admired the sea, the sky, the rainbow, taking in all the beauty and peace before we left for the bus station in central Edinburgh.
Did we like Edinburgh? Aye! Did we like Scotland? Aye, aye! We fell in love with Scotland and we’ll surely go back one day.