Last weekend, I took an Arcadia-sponsored trip to Firbush retreat center (owned by the university of Edinburgh) on Loch Tay in the southern highlands. It was an amazing weekend full of outdoor activities and cultural immersion.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was a historic tour of the local area on Saturday morning. First, we saw a stone circle (not Stonehenge, but similar) in a field. The field was very muddy, and we shared it with sheep and cows. It was great to see the stones, which were huge, weighing many tons, and have been there for thousands of years. It was thought-provoking because today, people still don’t know how ancient civilizations were able to engineer the placing of these stones given their weight, and how they got to be so good at astronomy (many stone circles line up well with astronomical and geographical landmarks. The one we visited lines up two stones perfectly along the north-south line point towards the highest point of a nearby mountain). After that, another thing we saw was a castle that was home to a local highland clan. The tour guide told us stories about the flowers which were growing around it, and about the family that lived there. The castle also included a “beheading pit” in which criminals were chained down before being decapitated with a claymore. It is things like those, remnants of a violent medieval era, that American don’t get to see in our own land. The tour guide also took us to a local river, by which a man made stream was set up to help salmon get upstream of a particularly rough part of the rapids so they are able to breed upstream. This is a neat device which helps the local ecosystem! On our way back, we also saw a large pipe going up the mountain. It was explained that the pipe was put there in the 1950’s as part of a push to create industrial jobs following WWII. It brings water from a lake up in the mountains to two separate hydroelectric power plants, producing clean energy for the nation!
After lunch that same day, we climbed a mountain! By mountain, I mean a 561-meter “hill” that was very windy at the top and had a breathtaking view. I cannot understate the view from the top of this mountain. I watched the sun set, and the rays of light hit land that I could see from miles off! It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! I’ve climbed hills before, but this one was the tallest and most beautiful by far! If you’ve never climbed something similar before, please do so at least once in your life. The cold air and strong never-ending gust of wind at the top is well worth it!
Later that night, as if we weren’t tired after climbing a huge hill, there was a Ceilidh. This one featured some of the best haggis I’ve tasted so far, and it also featured a live piper for the night! There were several entertainments, including an explanation of the history of kilts, which is very interesting. Kilts originated as a piece of cloth, many square meters in size, that was rain resistant, could be used as a tent or blanket, and could be worn under a belt or used as a raincoat. Knowing this history and having seen the regularly rainy weather in the hilly local area, it is very easy to understand how the garment became so popular for highlanders, even becoming an official military uniform for highland regiments in the UK military. During World War One, when highland regiments were fighting Germans in the trenches, they earned the nickname “Ladies from Hell” for their fierce bravery. After telling us about this, the piper played us a song inspired by that story.
The weekend at Firbush will be up high on the list of things I loved about my semester in Scotland. I consider it well worth the 3-4 hours of commute time each way to get there.