This morning we left our rather comfortable quarters at the Novar Arms in Evanton and headed out back onto the road. Oggie was in high spirits, as he’s a big believer in Nessie, and even “tempted the gods into a fight” to keep the sunshine out for all of us all day. Not sure about his role in the battle, but we certainly enjoyed another beautiful summer day in Scotland. We headed down from the Inverness area towards the infamous Loch Ness and all of her secrets!
We made our first stop at the head of Loch Ness, and snapped some photos of the dramatic and beautiful countryside. According to Oggie, the first suspected sightings of Nessie was in the sixth century. St. Columba’s records indicate that he ordered a giant monster from the loch to drop a local who had the misfortune of being chewed on. Fearful of this man’s large staff, Nessie obliged and dropped the man back onto the seashore. Perhaps apocryphal, but hilarious- this first suspected “discovery” of the monster of the Loch Ness helped to frame many of the places we visited today. As we came to another overlook, we caught a glimpse of the ruined Urquhart Castle. This set of ruins were an important stronghold in the seventeenth century but were devastated by Oliver Cromwell and his troops as the marched north as part of forcefully putting down the rebellion against the Parliamentarian authorities during the interregnum. We didn’t spend any time at Urquhart Castle, but it gave us a nice touchstone point for some of the later sites as well.
In returning to St. Columba, Oggie took us to the famous St. Columba’s well. This small spring was located off the beaten path near a beautiful creek and set of bridges. Who would have known that this was the location of a sixth century miracle? Only Oggie it would seem- as we were pretty well alone for the hour we visited. According to legend, the Pictish kings were not convinced of Columba’s Christian religion or its power. For one king, he promised conversion to Christianity if Columba could clear the disease from the water. Columba then gathered himself, walked over, and cleared the well! No one was willing to risk drinking the water today, but it does illustrate another great example of how Christianity got to the Scottish highlands! We then spent about an hour walking around, enjoying the sunshine, and taking in the beautiful scenery!
We jumped back onto the bus and headed further south along the loch. Stopped for lunch at Fort Augustus for an hour, and then continued onto one of the most impressive nineteenth century innovations. Now known as Neptune’s Staircase, we came at the perfect time to see this interlochen system raise and lower the water to allow boats to move up the river seamlessly. What is incredible about this site is the fact that it was originally dug by hand, and was operated by hand into the twentieth century! This means that to close and open the doors of the system, a person literally cranked the wheels! While we were watching the canals work, we were greeted by a familiar sound… A chug chug chug of the Hogwarts Express coming into the station. Our next stop would complete our Harry Potter circle for the day.
Onto the bus, we made our way through the winding roads of the highlands into the small area known as Glenfinnan. The impressive viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films spans a gap between the mountains, so we were better able to appreciate the Hogwarts Express as it still runs across the tracks throughout the Highlands. Hogwarts itself was actually animated into this particular area as well. For us though, we had come for a more somber note connected to our thinking of Scotland as a nation. The Glenfinnan Monument (which was airbrushed out of the Harry Potter films) was an incredibly ornate statue erected at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (1815). As a memento to remind the Scots of those highlanders who had joined the Bonnie Prince in 1745. This chilling reminder helps our students understand the significance of Culloden (the battleground we visited earlier). This was the place that the Stuart Pretender King landed in the Highlands and rose his nation to rebellion only to be brutally cut down at the field we had visited days before. Oggie perhaps tells us the story the best.
“Wee Charlie, was only twenty-six when he approached Glenfinnan and met with the Chief of the MacDonald clan. Only a thousand men had come in support of Charlie, with the MacDonalds being the biggest. That clan had lost thousands in the Old Pretender’s (Charlie’s Father’s) uprising in 1715, and they didn’t want any more violence. The chief of the clan (perhaps Alistair?) MacDonald stepped towards the Bonnie Prince and told him,
‘Sire, Go home.’
The Bonnie Prince, with all the charm and realization of the significance of the moment looked back at that the chief and said, ‘I am home.’
(Note: He had been outlawed from Scotland, and spent all of his life exiled in France).
And he was home. The rightful king was home.” – Numerous iterations from Oggie
It is clear that Glenfinnan still sits heavily as a moment of understanding and acts as a point of tremendous pride for contemporary Scotsman. Visiting this site helped our students better come to terms with our ongoing question. What does it mean to be a Scot?
Our weather was delightful today, only matched with our awesome attitude. We couldn’t get a seat at dinner tonight, and I was so proud to see all of us come together and cook together in our community kitchen. The debate may have been heated on whether or not spaghetti should be broken before being cooked….. But otherwise, we got along just fine.
Tomorrow is Ben Nevis. Let’s see how well I write tomorrow!!
Big thanks to Ms. South for writing up our summary yesterday for me- The plague may have struck me, but can’t keep me down for long!
Today, we’ll have a much shorter post because most of what we did was walk. Walk a lot.. almost 13 miles to be exact over the course of the day. We left in the rain hoping to climb Ben Nevis this morning, but the Highland rains kept any summit attempt from happening. Instead, we took the Glen Nevis way out and around the mountain and headed for the Steall Waterfall. It was a 9 mile hike up and around Fort William and through the Glen Nevis glen. Mostly we walked on footpaths, took in the scenery- heck even walked a metal tightrope over a river! The waterfalls were spectacular, but some of us managed to soak themselves pretty well in the process. This meant we only hiked back down for a bit. Wet socks are the worst! While waiting for the cab though, we took in a filming location of Braveheart until, enjoying some ice cream and dinner. A few of us left the waterfall and went down to Oban on a side trip so that we could try two different fish n chips shops. They are both world famous for their dueling owners who’ve each claimed the prize for the best fish in the area. I’ll let the kids who participated tell you which one they liked more! Of course pictures don’t do this justice, but I hope you can be proud knowing that all of us pushed ourselves to hike in this crummy weather- and enjoyed it!