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“Ughhh, gross,” I thought, wrinkling my nose. Mud was smeared on my brand new Clarks shoes.
I wiped raindrops off my glasses and then glared at the gray clouds. Looking back, I don’t know why a little rain distressed me so much. I was smack in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, a mystical, mountainous, and green wonderland, a place known for rainy weather.
“You shoulda brought hiking shoes,” one of my group mates suggested.
I mumbled an affirmative answer under my breath.
Scotland was my first solo trip. And, as a city lover who avoided hiking at all costs, I was woefully unprepared for the outdoor walks. It was obvious, too, given I packed lots of cute dresses and tights, dangly earrings, and flimsy shoes.
Cautiousness must have radiated off my body, because our Haggis guide grabbed my arm and forced me to skip through the dense trees. My feet sank into even thicker mud. And a laugh, a loud one, escaped my lips.
After taking a walk in the woods, listening to waterfalls hit the rocks, we drove to our next destination, the most famous loch in all of Scotland: Loch Ness.
Excited butterflies fluttered in my stomach even though rain still steadily hit the bus’s windows. I wanted to see Loch Ness. Badly.
Backstory: I was a weird sort of child when I was four, five, six, because monsters fascinated me. I used to pretend Dracula, Frankenstein, and yes, the Loch Ness Monster followed me around and told me secrets and threw me tea parties. Yes, I’m serious.
I cautiously slipped my Clarks off my feet, as I stood at the edge of the tremendous loch, figuring my shoes were already filthy and a little more dirt wouldn’t hurt them.
“It’s not that cold,” I said, laughing, sticking my toes into the dark water. I squinted, hoping for a sign of the elusive beast, but no luck. An adorable white Scottish terrier walked to the loch’s edge.
For once, my worries, relating to my job and my health, disappeared. I read on blogs traveling healed the mind, but I never believed it for myself until that moment on the shores of Loch Ness.
“Are there any Harry Potter fans here?” our tour guide asked, as we piled onto the bus again, drenched in rain and grinning from ear to ear.
The magical (literally) Glenfinnan Viaduct instantly evokes images of the Hogwarts Express. I could barely contain my nerdy excitement, as we climbed to the viewing point and gazed at the railway cutting through the Highlands.
“Maybe I’ll still get my letter,” I joked with some of my fellow travel pals, managing to smile even more widely. I had no idea how my face didn’t break in half from smiling so much.
Ben Nevis, the highest point in Scotland, was next on our itinerary. Meaning a short hike. Uh oh.
Fortunately, the iron clouds broke and cleared away last remnants of rain although mist lingered in the air.
As we trekked to the viewing point, the bottoms of my feet winced in protest and my entire body sweated underneath my raincoat, which I eventually yanked off and wrapped around my waist. Not cute, I know.
Our views, however, were worth every bit of stinky discomfort. Clouds rolled along mountaintops, and bright purple and yellow flowers practically littered the horizon. Tiny hikers scaled the rocks, awing me. I could even seen Loch Ness’s shore, but still no monster.
After spending a social night in Morags Lodge, we had a free day to explore Fort Augustus and Loch Ness at our leisure. Aimlessly wandering through the Highlands took my breath away – literally (again, not a good hiker) and figuratively (those fairytale views, man!).
A strong part of me wanted to throw away my passport, move into a tiny cottage, run a Bed and Breakfast, and never return to the United States again. I suppose incredible places have that effect on your brain.
“Scotland taught me how to smile again,” I confided to a few of my new friends.
Ultimately, falling in love with the Scottish Highlands triggered my desire to keep traveling – alone, if necessary.
I was so close to not booking this trip. So close. My mind tried to convince me that I didn’t have the strength to board a plane alone, not when I had to apply for jobs and save money. Yet returning to nature woke me up. Sometimes it’s easy to forget enjoying natural beauty and simplicity, especially in a densely populated area like New Jersey.
“Buying experiences and not things” isn’t only an inspirational quote, but the truth, and falling in love with the Scottish Highlands proved it to me.
IF YOU GO
Booking a trip to the Scottish Highlands? You won’t regret your choice. It’s truly magical. Here are a few tips:
- Pack for the weather. Meaning wear layers. My white Northface raincoat was my best friend on this trip. And bring a decent pair of shoes unlike me! The siren sport hiking shoes (by Merrell) are my personal favorites. And check out this comprehensive packing list for Scotland for more details.
- If you’re a younger traveler (or simply young at heart), check out the tours run by Haggis Adventures. The guides adore Scotland and all the hostels are such fun. Plus you make great friends for life. Check out Gemma and Craig’s fabulous review of the 3 Day Skye High Tour for more information.
- The summer is so much fun in the Highlands. Sure, there are midges, but you’ll survive. I did.
- Stay in hostels or bed and breakfasts instead of hotels to enhance your experience. Morags Lodge was an incredible place for me, as a solo traveler, to stay. Lots of laughter everywhere!
Are you planning any trips to Scotland? Do you have recommendations you’d like to share in the comments?
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