Hurry, Hurry, Hurry: Consuming the Landscape of the Highlands

How many different places can you see in 36 hours? Apparently quite a few:

Glasgow, Luss, Loch Lomond, Loch Tulla, Glencoe, the Three Sisters, River Coe, Ben Nevis, Fort William, Loch Garry, Loch Oich, Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Alsh, Loch Long, Loch Duich, Skye Bridge, Kyleakin, Kyle of Lochalsh, Castle Moil, Sligachan Bridge, the Cuillins, Old Man of Storr, Trotternish Peninsula, Sound of Raasay, Kilt Rock, Sound of Raassay, Mealt Fall, Loch Mealt, Lealt Gorge, Lealt Falls, Loch Cuithir, Portree, some of the Cairngorms… And all the places in between.

Of course, to be fair, Scotland is approximately the size of South Carolina, which I have driven through with my family many times. It is amazing how much you can pack into a single weekend trip, especially when the explicit goal of the tour you are on is to consume the landscape for all it is worth.

Here at Edinburgh I’ve been taking classes that speak to the romanticization of the Highlands and the tourism boom that followed, and has never really let up. Though I can’t see a flock of (admittedly cute!) sheep without thinking about the Highland Clearances, I must say that the Highlands were exactly what I expected and wanted: beautiful rolling hills, impressive craggy mountains capped with snow, lochs and waterfalls, breathtaking vistas (it feels weird to use that word – such a tourist-y way to describe any landscape!)… It was all there and thensome. At every stop we made – all three tour buses’ worth of university students pouring out to suck in as much of the scenery as possible in the short twenty minutes we were allotted – I was awestruck and mesmerized, indignant at the short amount of time given and also painfully aware of the fact that I was one of “those” tourists stopping on the side of the road to breathe in an unnamed person’s picturesque backyard and cultural heritage. The moments I was able to just sit and watch the landscape fly by my window or stand at the peak of a hill overlooking a large loch were the most enjoyable – they were moments when I was allowed to look and think as opposed to devour.

On such a packed tour, it was very easy to arrive at a place for the sole purpose of gobbling up as much of the heather, water, and rocks around me before I had to leave. “We have a lot to see, so don’t take too much time here, okay? It’s not even the prettiest of what we are going to see,” our tour guide constantly reminded us. Eat quickly, because before you have time to fully appreciate or even realize what you’re eating, we’ve got to move on to another course.

There is nothing wrong with savoring something new and unfamiliar and, frankly, downright incredible. As I looked over the mountains, I did not even have to wonder why the Highland landscape was so romanticized – it really is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. And we had fantastic weather, which was a pure blessing. I took relatively few pictures and have almost none of me within the landscape; I’m not sure if this was my way of appreciating the scene before me or a ploy to show how I wasn’t just there to take a selfie that proves “I’ve been to ‘x’ place.” Was I simply creating images that lives up to the expectation I had from pictures of the Highlands so prevalent today: the vast empty lands populated only by the occasional animal, an accurate portrayal of the modern lands that effectively erases the fact that historically the lands were populated? Maybe I’m just not a fan of selfies.

I don’t regret going on my tour this weekend, and I love-love-loved the magnificent Highlands I was allowed to see. But it is difficult for me to say I’ve been to the Isle of Skye still, because I feel more as if I’ve seen the Highlands. Being there feels a little different to me. I’ve set foot on the Isle of Skye, even spent a night there, but to have been there, I think I need a little more time to simply be, instead of just consuming it all in one gulp, checking places off a list. It’s definitely an efficient way to see many things – I just need to do it again more deliberately and slowly.

Which, those plans are already (sort of!) in the works.

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