There are lots of reasons to visit the Scottish Highlands: the beautiful and plentiful lochs, the stunning mountain scenery, the climbing and hiking opportunities, the cliff-top castles, and just the magic in general. There’s something about it…
And we had our own special reasons for wanting to come up here, specifically to Fort William. Partly nostalgia – Dev and I came up here this time of year back in 1996, before we got married. Before we were even engaged, in fact. We brought some Canadian friends up here because it was one of Dev’s favourite places to climb, and we ended up climbing Ben Nevis. In sneakers. In the snow. No gear. A bit of leftover Christmas cake and some orange juice in a rucksack. -20 degrees. And we actually made it to the top. That alone has to be some sort of miracle.
We have spent the last couple of days telling the kids all about this adventure, the fact that it was dark and very cold on the way down, that one of our friends fell and broke her arm, that we spent the night in a cold hostel without even a cup of tea to warm us. I told them how I insisted on a hotel the next day, despite the fact that we had very little money, because I needed a hot bath so badly. And how I could barely even get down the steps to the pub at Nevis Sport because my legs were so sore. I showed them the sticker we bought to stick on Janet’s cast that said I Climbed Ben Nevis. They loved all these tales, but to be fair, the most surprising part for them was that their mother actually got up the mountain at all. And they laughed their heads off when Dev told them he wouldn’t have married me if I hadn’t made it to the top, because he would have known I was a dud! We have had a great time sharing our reminiscing with the kids.
Another reason we came up here is for Mairi. This is where her name came from, and we have always told her about how we saw a shop in Fort William called Mairi MacGregors, and liked the name so much that we decided to give it to her when she was born. We couldn’t find that shop, but there was still one with her name on it, so she got her picture taken under the sign.
And it wasn’t just her name that made her want to visit this place – as an added bonus, there’s also a pretty significant Harry Potter connection, and so, naturally, we had to explore that too! The train journey to Hogwarts in the movies is actually filmed on the Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and other scenes were also filmed in and around the Glen Nevis area. Obviously, the movie-makers recognized the magical quality of the location, too, and used it to help create new legends.
And speaking of legends, another of the reasons for our visit was Nessie. I’ve never been, but I remember being fascinated as a child by the legend of Loch Ness, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to see. We went today, and I’m glad we did, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined. First of all, the loch is so huge! We drove along it for a good twenty minutes and I don’t even think we were half way. We had decided to go to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, which also was not what I expected. We got a discount, thank goodness, because it was over-priced, dated, and a bit boring, to be honest. And it’s not even on the Loch. It would have been far better to learn about Nessie on youtube, and use the money we saved to go into the grounds of Urquhart Castle, and get a really good look at the loch from there. Or even take a boat tour. The whole thing was a bit of a non-event really, but it was fun to find Nessie in every ripple of the water as we drove along. It’s not hard to imagine seeing something monster-like in there…
Oh, and our other reason for visiting the Highlands is because that’s where Merida is from, and she and her clan add just a little bit more magic to the area for the younger kids. If you don’t know, Merida is Pixar’s latest heroine from the movie Brave, which is packed full of Highland magic – stone circles, witches and spells, will-o-the-wisps, and even a castle based on the real life Dunnotar Castle. Merida is Liah’s favourite girl, so that further motivated us to make the trek up here.
Not that we needed any further motivation. It really is stunning. And as Darragh pointed out yesterday after snapping a quick picture of the sun setting over Glenfinnan Loch, “Up until this year, I would have only ever seen a picture like this on a calendar, and I just took this one on my iPod”.
An excellent point, Darragh.