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When I agreed to go a bit out of my way to hike in the Scottish Highlands, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Scotland was on my list of travel destinations, to be sure, and hiking in the Cuillins with a photojournalist sounded pretty good, despite the fact that we had never met in person before. Turns out, Scotland is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been privileged to visit, in every sense of the word.

Oban

 Here are my favorite 5 things we did in Scotland:

View in Oban


Isle of Skye (#1-3): Kat, my travel companion, really wanted to head for the hills on this trip. She’s an avid hiker and has summited a jillion things. I was game to try to keep up as well as I could, and so we took an early morning bus to the Isle of Skye.

The Isle of Skye is in the Inner Hebrides, a series of islands off the western part of Scotland. It’s also home to some of the most striking landscapes I’ve ever seen: lush, rolling hills with patches of forest, waterfalls rushing down rocks and glimmering lakes in places you’d never expect. The highlights of our trip really took place here, with no frills except those provided by nature.

How the heck can anything be so beautiful!? 

Clouds drifting in above the Fairy Pools waterfalls

After our swim in the Fairy Pools. It was COLD.

1.       Glen Brittle: Not even a true village or town, Glen Brittle is where you want to position yourself if you ever go to the Isle of Skye. It’s along only one road, at the end of which is a campground and lake reaching into the sea. We stayed at the Glen Brittle Scottish Youth Hostel, which was located minutes away from trailheads leading to some of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on. We swam in the Fairy Pools and made our way up a mountain to find a stunning lake. I think specific posts deserve dedication to what we did and saw there, so stay tuned for more on the jaw-dropping beauty of Glen Brittle. (And also, a post on how we got there…)

The Cuillin
2.       Driving through the Quiraing: One of the best things about travel happens to be meeting new people, and Kat & I sure did that. In our hostel at Portree, we were fortunate enough to meet Anna-Marie and Bas, whose plans to hike around Portree were foiled by bad weather. What luck that was for us, because the four of us ended up renting a car and driving around the island together for the day! Yes, I drove in the UK and didn’t crash/harm anyone/kill a sheep! It was quite thrilling, and one of the very cool, windy roads we went through was in the Quiraing, which is a landscape created by a series of landslides called the Trotternish Landslip, some of which still occur.
The Storr
3.       The Storr: part of the whole landslide-derived landscape, the Storr, which includes the famous Old Man of Storr, has alien-looking rock features that jut into the sky. There are sheep, too. 
Me at the Storr

4. Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Every August for most of the month, artists from all over the world descend on Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is clobbered by tourists, performers and locals just trying to get to their bus, and acts ranging from general street performers (you know, fire eaters, magic, balancing acts, guitar) to music to mime to dance to experimental theatre to whatever the heck one can qualify as “art.” Hundreds—yes, hundreds—of shows take place, many of which are free or very cheap. If you hate crowds and the risk of hit-or-miss performances, avoid Edinburgh at this time, as accommodation prices skyrocket, but if you’re interested in the quirky, thought-provoking or plain old funny, definitely check out the Fringe. (FYI: We stayed at a great hostel, Castle Rock. Highly recommend!)

5. London 2012 Olympics! We heard that tickets to soccer in Glasgow were cheap, sometimes even free, so we figured we’d break up the long bus ride from Skye back to Edinburgh with a stopover in Glasgow to catch some Olympic action. Although we didn’t get to see Team USA play that day (they were over in Newcastle or somesuch), we did get to see France defeat Sweden in a hard fought women’s quarter-final soccer match! Tickets were not as cheap as we had been promised, but when else was I going to go to the Olympics? 

Team USA during the Opening Ceremonies! We watched from a pub in Portree.
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