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Scotland Day Eight - Forgotten

I woke up early on day eight, I had a lot of ground to cover before catching a ferry back to the mainland in the afternoon. I also wanted to catch sunrise in a magical place I'd been to last time we were here.

For the most part, I was living out of my suitcase for the whole trip. It traveled every night between the back seat of my little car and whatever airbnb I was staying at. I'd had two nights here though and did some laundry as I was a bit more than halfway through the trip. So I had a bit of a later start than expected as I needed to pack everything up before heading out.

I didn't quite catch sunrise, but the light was still low as I climbed the hill up to the small valley of Fairy Glen. I was completely alone, other than a few more sheep (the island I think must have more sheep than human citizens). The hills of Fairy Glen are amazing to walk around, as the trails are all just the carved paths of the sheep, taking the same steps over and over. The centerpiece of this glen is a rock formation that looks like it could be an old castle, named as such, Castle Ewan. The whole area is a similar formation to the landslip that formed the Quiraing. But this area is much smaller with rolling hills all around and dense green ferns. I wandered all over the hills, following one sheep after another, still alone in this mystical place.

I eventually made my way towards the center of the hills where, at the base of Castle Ewan, people (or fairies) have created a large spiral of rocks. I walked the spiral like a labyrinth, paused once I reached the center, and took in the views from here too, then made my way back out. I climbed up the rocky formation to get a view over the whole glen. I got to the top just as the sun peaked up over the nearing mountains, flooding the whole glen in light.

I sat up there for a while, and slowly, the first group of people arrived below me in the glen, and then the next and the next. I had parked close by, but in another set of large parking lots that had been paved since my last visit. Soon I was overhearing too many conversations that were pulling at my attention and peace, so I climbed down and hike out and around Castle Ewan on the backside, a less direct route and therefore empty. I ran my hands through the ferns as I walked, this area had the most ferns that I had seen so far on the trip.

Ferns are one of my favorite characteristics of Scotland. It feels like an old world. There aren't many places where you can walk through ferns like this, feeling like you've slipped back in time and might see a dinosaur peeking out at you through the fronds.

Scotland has a long history that is woven with Fairy stories. I can understand the fascination, as there were many places I felt surely fairies would live. The Hill O' Many Stanes with its rolling fog and ancient stones grown into the earth and heather, the abandoned castles scattering the coastlines, and here too with these luscious green hills and tiny footpaths winding about. I was heading next to a place that in some ways is the home to the Fairy stories, at least on Skye.

I dove down the coast a bit further to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of Clan MacLeod. I had not made it to this castle on my last visit, but it was the main reason I came to Skye on this trip.

My Great Grandmother was born a McCabe. Her great grandfather, William McCabe, moved from Ireland to Perry County, Ohio in the early 1800s. The McCabe line is said to have descended from the MacLeods, but they left the Hebrides around the mid-1300s when the McCabes were hired as mercenaries in Ireland.

This was a much further removed form of my ancestry, but I'd wanted to see this castle since learning of the connection. It was still a place my ancestors may have lived or worked, the land around it, land they had walked.

This is also one of the most well-preserved castles in all of Scotland. Parts of it are still lived in today by descendants of the MacLeod family. It has been added onto for 800 years, and it was fascinating to travel through some of the oldest parts of the castle, built of thick stone walls that had been weathered for centuries. You could walk through the dining rooms and bedrooms, all set up to show how these rooms would have been when built in the 1600s and 1700s.

One of the oldest and most treasured relics of the clan still hangs in the dining room - the Fairy Flag. There are many stories and mysteries associated with this flag that tell of its magic and power, dating back to the 1400s at least. It was said to have been given to an old Chief by the Fairies, or was a banner used in the Holy Land, and granted the clan powers of protection whenever it was unfurled. When raised in many battles over the centuries, the clan seemed to always win. It is rumored over the centuries to have cured diseases and plagues of the clan, brought fertility to new couples, brought food during times of drought and poor harvest, and multiply the clan's fighting men in times of battle.

Needless to say, much of the fairy lore of the island stems from this long-held reverence for the clan's flag.

I wandered the gardens of Dunvegan after going through the castle. The gardens were impressive and expansive. My favorite being the walled garden - filled with herbs and medicinal plants.

I then made my way further south to the Fairy Pools (are we sensing a theme here?) This collection of cascading falls and pools is quite popular. It was an unusually warm day that day- the warmest of my trip, and the pools were quite busy. The hike up was quite steep at the beginning, and while I enjoyed the bit of exercise, the pools didn't live up to what I'd expected. Likely due to the number of people, the hot sunny day, and the low water levels at this time of year, they just didn't seem as magical as I'd hoped. I'm sure on a foggy, cold day when the falls were moving swiftly, it would be. But it didn't exactly seem like a place for fairies to dwell.

I went ahead and made my way further south to catch my ferry back to the mainland. I was ready to leave the island. While my time here had been fine, it mostly just felt necessary, but not exactly enjoyable. I was excited for the next leg of the journey and all that it was about to bring. These next few days were what I'd been looking forward to most, and I hoped after all I'd taken in so far in the trip, that they could be the best yet. Whatever that might mean.

The ferry ride was lovely, this was a much smaller boat going from two smaller ports. I drove my car on board with just a few others, and then I stood on the deck and watched as small dolphins put on a show, racing the boat as we made the short 20 minute trip across the stretch of sea.

Once back on the mainland in Mallaig, I stopped in for fish and chips from a place a woman on the ferry had highly recommended. For most of the trip I snacked and ate from a small cooler and bag of groceries I took with me. I had found that during the off-season here, a lot of restaurants weren't open, and the ones that were seemed hesitant to seat me as a single person. I'd accepted it at this point, now just ordering the few meals I did go out for to-go. It was just another opportunity to embrace this solitude that Scotland was offering to me.

This meal was one of my favorites of the trip. I took my fish and chips (which were amazing), back over to the harbor and sat and watched as a few small fishing boats came in for the evening. This was my first evening experiencing the midges. Midges are these teeny-tiny little flies that will drive you crazy. They are pretty common in Scotland during the warmer months, and I had read many blogs in my preparation warning of their swarming and biting. I hadn't happened upon them yet, but they were prevalent here down by the water. I added them to my list of those natural reasons to leave a beautiful place.

I set off then for Glenfinnan, my destination for the night. I'd hoped to stop in at a few historical Jacobite spots, but as I got about 20 miles from my destination, a low tire pressure light came on. I drove on, hoping to just make it to my Airbnb, so nervous as I went. This was the only night I really stayed with a host. All of my stays were incredible thus far (and would continue to be). I'd found tiny homes and cottages scattered along the path I'd wanted to take, all the perfect size and quiet for me. There are very few accommodation options in Glenfinnan, so I'd booked this spot in hopes that it would still be great.

I arrived and my host, Colm, came out to greet me. I told him of my tire pressure woes, and he kindly offered to top them all off with a pump he had in the garage. He was not surprised, he said that the ferry often caused his tires to deflate a bit too. The sun was rapidly setting, and he encouraged me to go hike to see it set over the viaduct. He pointed me toward the path, the viaduct was just a ten-minute walk from the house. I went as fast as I could but missed sunset. I instead had my first glimpse of the viaduct in the deepening twilight.

I made my way back to the house. Colm greeted me with a cup of tea and a blanket. Colm had one other person staying with him - Kat a friend of his who was staying longer with him as she had escaped from Ukraine a couple of months before.

I was so very surprised by this evening. Here it had been about 7 days since I had spoken to really anyone for more than a brief greeting. We sat in the kitchen for hours, I mean hours, talking. We went through I think three pots of tea. I was so excited to learn that Colm was a Scottish history teacher. It was so wonderful to talk about all that I had seen so far to someone who was so genuinely excited to talk about it all too. We discussed everything from the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie, to the myths of fairies, to the Picts, the Ness of Brodgar, the Vikings in Scotland, and even the Scottish influence and more modern histories in America and Canada. I picked his brain on so many subjects and he introduced me to incredible perspectives as we wove through conversations of the far past, the nearer past, and our present conditions. We discussed, too, the war in Ukraine and Kat's first-hand perspective of what war does to a country and its people.

Stories and histories are such a funny thing. I feel like we've become more and more obsessed with histories lately. Not always the exact history, but there's been a huge boom lately in historical TV shows and documentaries and books. I'm guilty of it too, I love a good historical fiction story. And I'm happy to sit for hours discussing all the ins and outs of wars and famines and heroes and villans and kings and usurpers.

We have the power to breathe new life into these narratives of time and place. We revise and re-awaken the stories of our pasts, of our ancestors' pasts, bringing them into our present. We create new narratives daily now, as history happens all around us, every moment it seems, feeling like whiplash.

We know that stories are told by the victors. One beautiful thing about this age of "connection" that we are living in is that we are starting to hear the forgotten stories too. The ones that had been previously silenced. And those, I think, are maybe the stories that hold the most for us. Not the stories of the victors, but the stories of the ones who waited quietly, the stories of the survivors, the stories of the adapters. These are the stories I want to be bringing into the present and breathe new life into - stories of a more hidden past that invite us to imagine a world that isn't about the victors or the conquered but is instead about the actual threads of life woven all around us, though time.

I think of my wish to know all of the stories of the women in my lineage. I traveled an extra 6 hours north, across a ferry and the sea to just step foot in a place where my ancestors walked. To imagine stories for her. And I know that she, like most of my ancestors, didn't live lives typical of the epochs we like to hear. She lived a normal life, a simple life on her small island. And that story fascinates me because that is our history, as humankind. Our history isn't the famous battles and kings and queens and castles. They seem to be the subjects of the only stories we re-tell. But our history itself is made up of the continual progress of farmers, herders, cobblers, dock workers, of everyday men who fought on those battlefields, of their lives and many children they wanted to go home to. That is where we come from. We were dazzled by stories of battle and bloodshed, and we've lost the real stories, forgotten them with time.

And those stories held a lot of these secrets I long to know about, the answers to the questions I've been asking all week as I travel through this place and time: the knowledge and wisdom we've forgotten. It's all slipped away from our greater consciousness, lost to the glory and gore.

But those ancient times, customs, and civilizations and their forgotten wisdom aren't forever lost. Those stories are embedded though into who we are. Those stories are our history. Whether we remember them consciously or not, our bodies and our souls do. And I think we have an inkling that there is more to our stories, to our greater time here on earth, and it leaves us seeking for more. Seeking the forgotten.

I think that is a lot of what I was doing there in Scotland (and maybe what we're all here on earth doing): trying to understand what I was seeking and what had been forgotten. I'd had glimpses of both, not realizing they were linked. We try so hard to keep pushing and pushing as humankind. Forward. Towards something. We seek expansion and growth and change and new science and new knowledge and more and more and more. And it's burning us alive.

What have we lost in all of this?

What if we stopped this unsustainable push forward and instead sat still and looked back? What if we sought out, instead of knew knowledge, that which we'd once known and have since forgotten? And I'm not saying we humans had it all figured out back "then", there was still immense battle and bloodshed, hunger and sickness and pain.

But there was more to those stories, more to those lives that were more in tune with the earth, with their bodies and minds, more connected with others. And there could be even more than what we expect because we don't know what has been forgotten. But maybe it is time to try and find out.


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