6/13 Highlands Day One: Spooks in St. Andrews

We set off into the Scottish Highlands after breakfast and loaded up onto a bus. Our driver, Jimmy, seemed very knowledgeable about Scotland and was a damn good driver. It is interesting to see how differently the traffic flows over here and it seems that it would take a while to get used to driving. Not only would you have to get used to driving on the other side of the road, but also there aren’t many stops, and the vehicles just seem to dodge each other. Jimmy was obviously a master at this so I felt very comfortable with him behind the wheel.
The Scottish Highlands are absolutely beautiful. The grass is vividly colored in different shades of green, and this grass covers not only the countryside, but also the lush mountains scattered throughout the Highlands. There are also lots and lots of sheep, so many in fact that it almost seems like there are more sheep in the Highlands than people. We also briefly saw a few of the famed Highland cows, with their large horns and bushy fur, but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to get a picture. Hopefully the opportunity will arise again later.
Our first stop in the Highlands was St. Andrews. St. Andrews is widely known for many things, particularly golf, but it is also rich in folklore and history. They also have a street called Butts Wynd, which is pretty humorous and I got a kick out of that. We toured St. Andrews castle, which was very impressive. Though it is in ruins and not is big and mighty as Edinburgh Castle, I actually enjoyed it more I think, because it wasn’t all touristy and it is just really cool to see ruins. One interesting thing about the castle is that it is the only castle in Europe with siege mines. Basically there was a battle down under the castle after attackers attempted to dig under it. I went down into the mine and it was a tight squeeze down there, so it was mind blowing to imagine people having a battle in such a small space. I bet it wasn’t very fun.
The next stop was crucial for my studies of Scottish folklore and it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life, the Cathedral ruins. Spooky looking towers, a huge graveyard and tombs abound, the Cathedral was something that you would imagine seeing in some spooky movie. We walked up one of the towers, which had long winding staircase up to the top, and when I say long I mean long. It almost seemed as if we would never reach the top, and when we finally did I was very winded and my legs were feeling shaky and sore. The top of the tower was a wonderful view of the city so it was worth it. I also read that there was a ghost sighting in the tower by a tourist, but I didn’t see anything peculiar.
I spoke with the woman running the ticket counter at the Cathedral and asked her if she knew about any ghost lore around the area. She told me that a woman in white has been spotted at another tower in the Cathedral, as well as a ghostly carriage that has been seen going down the road next to it. I also bought a book about Scottish ghosts in the gift shop to use for research.
Before leaving we stopped at a gas station to grab some sandwiches for lunch. I accidently left the book that I bought on the counter and amazingly the clerk chased me down across a busy street down half a block to give it back to me. That was definitely going above and beyond being nice and I really appreciated it.
After leaving St. Andrews we passed through Dundee and then stopped in Dunkeld to visit the house Beatrix Potter spent holidays in. It was pretty neat but there wasn’t much to it. We then set off for Pitlochry.
Pitlochry was a pretty small town nestled in the Highlands, and this is where we stayed the night. I was completely surprised by the dinner as it was three courses and very elegant, so much so that I felt underdressed for it. After dinner it was time to check out the Pitlochry nightlife. The funny thing about the bars in this town was that they were all playing southern American music. It seemed rather weird to be hearing “Sweet Home Alabama” in the middle of Scotland.
One greatly beneficial thing about this day was meeting these guys from Australia who gave us some advice for traveling Scotland as they had been in Scotland for three weeks. Their main advice was to get some repellant for midges, which are a kind of small mosquito, while being in the Highlands, particularly for my trip on the free weekend the following weekend to the Isle of Skye. They said that after getting eaten up by them you will have large red welts all over your body.
The first day of the Highlands was amazing and only increased the high expectations for the rest of the Highlands trip. I was thoroughly impressed.

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