A Letter from the Highlands

This is a letter written on the road somewhere between Glenfinnan and Glasgow, the highlands to both sides of the windows and the sky a pastel bubblegum of blue and pink. On the front screen of the bus, the Death Eaters are currently attacking the camp at the Quidditch World Cup and the second screen next to us is mocking us in bright blue, reading “No Signal”. We just started our drive back to Edinburgh, an approximately four hours journey after a day filled with so many impressions that the first muggles have already started falling asleep from exhaustion now that even the last caffeine has left our systems. We started today with the intention of chasing after the magical traces of Harry Potter, but we got to see an entirely different magic – the beauty of the highlands.

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There’s nothing magical in waking up at 6 am on a Saturday morning and sipping your tea in a state of sleepiness, nor in sitting on a packed bus only minutes after sunrise, bound for the rural areas of Scotland. There is something magical, however, in driving through the Loch Lomond national park in the early hours of the morning, watching the sun’s silver shadow on the water, and witnessing the highlands come to life under the warm touch of a late September. Our first stop in Luss, a picturesque village located on the banks of Loch Lomond, was a worthy replacement for coffee for the beauty knocked the last haze of sleepiness right out of us when we were standing on the village’s pier, marveling at how beautiful and romantic life outside Edinburgh can be. But beneath the narrow cobblestone streets lies a centuries old legend about the heartbreaking end of the friendship between to young men. During the Jacobite Uprising in 1745, the English captured Scottish fighters and executed them as a warning to all who dared to rise against them in the future. Amongst the executed was a young man from Luss, whose friend’s life was spared, and he was sent home to spread the word of what had happened to the imprisoned Scots. According to Gaelic belief, everyone will return to Scotland, even in the afterlife, and no matter where you die, a bridge will lead your spirit back home. So, while the executed returned to Luss on the high road in heaven, the surviving soldier made his way to Luss on the low road on earth. As it is so often the case with Scottish history – much of it is based on interpretation and speculation, but no matter which version of the story you prefer, the story of the friends, the lovers, or the heads of the executed rebels being carried on sticks representing the high road, I highly recommend listening to the beautiful song that emerged out of it.

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Continuing on a more positive note, we worm our way along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond on a narrow street right next to the water with breathtaking views over the loch, now bound for one of the most famous places in the Scottish Highlands: Glencoe. While some might know that the valley is famous for being the home to Hagrid’s hut in the Harry Potter films, other may be more familiar with its appearance in the James Bond movie Skyfall. I have been to Glencoe twice before but returning there for a third time makes me discover that no matter how often you visit Glencoe, it never fails to take your breath away or steal the words right from your tongue. No photographs, no words can do it justice and there is no expression for the urge to run into the open arms of the Three Sisters of Glencoe and never come back again.

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And of course, Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland if there wasn’t another tragic story lurking in the muddy green that is also known as the valley of tears. During the Jacobite Uprising from 1689 to 1692, the reigning monarchs Mary II and William III demanded the Highlanders pledge allegiance to them, but when the MacDonald clan (located in Glencoe) refused, they were treacherously slaughtered by soldiers under the earl of Argyll, Archibald Campbell. To this day, inhabitants of the valley are said to still hold a grudge against the Campbells for their betrayal, so when visiting the area, you may come across signs on pubs and restaurants stating that there are no dogs and Campbells allowed inside.

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As we leave the Three Sisters behind, the tender morning sun has been secretly exchanged for a burning ball of fire and I regret bringing my sweater and Ravenclaw scarf instead of shorts and a sun hat. It is well into the afternoon when we’re finally headed for the last and most eagerly awaited stop of the tour: the Glenfinnan viaduct, otherwise known as the Harry Potter bridge. At 15:20 sharp, the Jacobite Steam Train, which runs between Fort William and Mallaig twice a day from April to October, will cross the bridge and offer the brief illusion of witnessing the real Hogwarts train. Just like the inhabitants of Glencoe, I held my personal grudge against Glenfinnan ever since my first visit last summer when I spent five hours waiting for a train that never came, arms and legs covered in painful horsefly bites. This year, I’m hoping to rewrite my experience and when we get out of the bus and there are no horseflies swarming us, I’m starting to feel a wee bit hopeful. And this time, luck is on our side (but on the other side of the mountain) for the train does arrive, even a few minutes early, only from the wrong side, so to say – but I’m in no place to complain.

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From the early hours of the morning to the late hours of the afternoon, we have been blessed with nothing but sunshine, blue skies, and an overall unforgettable day. As we sit on the bus on our way back to Edinburgh, bubblegum skies, highlands, and the sounds from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire fading into an atmosphere of bliss, I shuffle through the pictures on my camera, surprised at how far away today already feels.

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By Leonie.