What comes to mind when one hears the words, "Scottish Highlands"? Probably a romanticized version of brave men in tartans and green hills and craggy rocks, perhaps bagpipes play in one's mind. It's a pretty picture. But though the Highlands are romantic and green and craggy... they are also cold, wet and terribly out of the way.
We had been spending the past few days in Edinburgh. Touring castles, churches, and walking the streets. We'd bought our tartan scarves and explored the museums and galleries, and somehow Terrence got the Highlands on the brain.
Without much discussion on the topic, he reserved a car, decided on a route and the next morning, off we were. The first challenge was getting out of Edinburgh, with its labyrinthine passages of one-way streets. But once we were out, almost immediately the landscape was green and the cows and sheep dotted the grasslands on either side of the car. We sang along to the radio and drove, and drove, and drove.
And drove. Our destination was Glen Coe, and a range of peaks called the Three Sisters. My companion had identified a path between two of them that was an easy walking path that we were to take to explore something charmingly called "the Lost Valley". After a little more driving, stunning scenery, and a few head-scratching moments about if we were there yet or not, we pulled the car over and stepped out.
I should have known that there was a problem when there was no sign at all that said "path to Lost Valley" or anything of the kind. In fact, there was no information at all. Just a few different places in the brushy foliage that looked as though a human may have trespassed there before. Mr. Nolandia though, was jubilant. Wasn't this wonderful? Wasn't it gorgeous and amazing and awe-inspiring?
Well, it was. But... where was the path?
It turned out that he was certain he could find it, if we just wandered away from our vehicle for a while. Farther and farther away, until it was no longer in our field of vision at all. On and on we wandered, up craggy steps and jagged rocks, through boggy grass and up, up, up. The rain came in fits and starts and the wind blew one way, and then jerked your body the other. “Isn’t this beautiful?” he called down to me. “What a gorgeous view!” he exclaimed merrily as he scrambled up ahead of me.
Now, my shoes were leather lace-ups with no traction. My coat was not rain proof and my hair was tangled up in front of my face in a hopeless mess. I was fighting tears and though, yes, it was beautiful, I was cold. I was wet. My shoes were slipping, I couldn't see the car, and I’d almost fallen off the cliff several times. The ‘Lost Valley’ was certainly up this peak we were climbing, and every step away from the car was a step I would have to take on the way back, and the path wasn’t getting any less treacherous.
And then I slipped. My body slid down a ravine, small stones tumbling down around me. I called out, voice full of desperation and fury and Mr. Nolandia's strong arms and sure feet hauled me back up. The climbing-hike was officially over. I swore and cursed through clenched teeth all the way back to the car, and most of the way back to Edinburgh.
The Highlands are a gorgeous, romantic windswept place when you see them in your mind’s eye. Beautiful to drive by, or to stop and marvel at. But if you’re looking for the ‘Lost Valley’, know that perhaps it’s gone missing for a reason.