MIPTC's travel series started on April 2, 2006, so if you want to follow along, scroll down and read in chronological order.
Once out of the city, the mountains (even though the Scots call them "hills," they seemingly would qualify as mountains since they're snow-capped) loom off to the North and glisten a bright white as the sunlight bounces off snow that rests on top like a Scottish tam. The train slowly lumbers across the Scottish Lowlands, leading us up to the romantic Highlands surrounding Inverness. It's not hard to see the strong emotional ties this land generates. Even with the snow, the broad swaths of purple heather lay waiting for the winter melt to give way and the sun to signal Spring before bursting into their royal colours.
Meanwhile, trickles of dark, peaty clear water lead into "burns" (we would call them streams) that weave down the mountains like the bright colors in tartans, flowing in and out of the green pastures and fields. Long lines of lichen-encrusted stone walls try to divide the land, but the herds of meandering sheep and "Heilin coos" (we would say "Highland cows," which look like a Texas longhorn crossed with a long-haired buffalo) pay no attention, wandering where they please, as they have done for centuries.
It's the innately friendly people, however, that make this countryside come to life. In stark contrast to the grey and green moss slate-roofed, stone cottages and barns that dot the land, practically every Scot we've met adds a new meaning to the strong sense of welcome that permeates this island. From the train conductors that point out the sights and the associated history to the cabbies and drivers who ferry us around to the hotel staff that greet us, all add a new dimension to the pleasant graciousness of the Scots. Gone are the tight, thrifty Scots. These are a generous, warm people.
After crossing the Cairngorm mountains, we arrive in Inverness to the Culloden House, where we are greeted by Rose Johnstone, a royal Scot Highlander if I've ever met one. As our hostess for several days, she sees to our every whim and desire with the all the aplomb of a Duchess and the warmth of a Highland lassie. During our stay, we head off with a guide to see the Culloden Battlefield where the Highlanders lost their last major battle with the English, which resulted in a long ban of all things Highland: clans, the kilt, regalia and the pipes. I'm glad the English and Scots have for the most part mended their differences; there's no music quite as glorious as bagpipes and drums.
Stay tuned for much more on Inverness.