Scotland is a wonderful place to go, and generally very easy for female travelers. I only had one incident in my four trips to Caledonia, which is probably my favorite province to visit. This incident taught me a valuable lesson about traveling and life in general, not just in Scotland.
Traveling the Highlands of Scotland with my sister is the best way to go. Sarah and I are two of a kind. Two peas in a pod, “superior sisters”; she is the Jane to my Elizabeth Bennet, or maybe the Elizabeth to my Jane. For ten days we traveled by train to new places in Scotland: the beaches of St. Andrews and the forests by Inverness and Elgin.
Our last foray involved taking a scenic route westward via train from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh (in old Scottish, it translates to ‘narrow strait of water’), where the train line ends. Then we took a bus across the strait (or over the Kyle) on a mile-long bridge to the small town of Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye of the Western Hebrides islands.
We planned to strike deep into the island and see all there was to see, revel fully in it and experience all it had to offer in one day, but our trip veered a little off the beaten path when we encountered our own annoying Mr. Collins.
We stayed in a co-ed “garden carriage,” which was basically a motor home furnished with six bunks, decked out in Star Trek memorabilia in the backyard of our Kyleakin hostel.
In the bunk across from me slept a traveler—let’s call him Mr. Collins—who took a regrettable interest in me the first morning. When this Mr. Collins introduced himself the next morning, he gave me an apple and locked me with an unnerving gaze. He asked very specific questions about where we had traveled and where we were going. When we reluctantly mentioned we were headed to Glasgow next, he immediately offered to drive us. At our £2 breakfast, he asked where we were going, and if he could come along.
“We’re not sure,” Sarah said, slightly alarmed. We ducked out of breakfast early and headed back across the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh in search of a small boat to rent, both of us allured by the dense blue water and the uncharacteristically warm May day.
During our adventure we happily forgot Mr. Collins. We walked along the bridge we had zoomed over the day before, soaking in the sights of a bird preserve that had been built beneath the roadway. We stopped to take pictures of an old rusty lighthouse beneath the bridge, sadly abandoned bereft of a lighthouse keeper.
Back on the mainland, we were directed toward Plockton, a small fishing village. We took the train backwards along the main coast and explored a small provincial countryside of farms and fishing boats with their nets cast, but we never found a boat to rent.
We wandered through a marsh and across a cow path populated by roving cows and discovered an excellent little market inside a red barn. We weren’t sure whether to marvel more at the large goose eggs and fragile speckled quail eggs or the honor system the little market ran on.
Armed with fresh strawberry jam and a several quid lighter, we tried to find our way to the water’s edge. We found a small inlet, a miniature cove with clear water as blue as the Mediterranean. Instead of sand dollars and seashells, we collected tiny broken pieces of white coral. This coral debris, bleached white as bone, blanketed the beach.
We made our way back to our strange Star Trek abode, where Mr. Collins invited us to see a live Céilidh (traditional Scottish music and dance) band play at one of the local pubs.
“Let’s go, come, on” he urged.
I absolutely love Céilidh music, but his imperial tone turned me off. So Sarah and I declined, and meekly snuck off to a much quieter pub to drink hard cider. On the way to bed, near midnight, an angry and drunk Mr. Collins accosted us.
“I’ve been going from the pub to our room looking for you!” he exclaimed. “Where have you been? This music is so great, you must come listen!”
“No, we’re tired. We’re going to bed,” Sarah hedged.
“No, come on. Let’s go,” he insisted.
“No, we have to call our boyfriends,” Sarah said, annoyed.
“What?” Mr. Collins asked, and then stalked off.
I call him Mr. Collins because I don’t remember his name, and also because he was so presumptuous, dogged and difficult to avoid. But it was in fact an alarming situation. I felt anxious about sleeping a few feet from him, and seeing him in the morning. I took a small knife from the kitchen and put it under my bunk, and I did sleep better. In the morning, to our relief, Mr. Collins had gone and we resumed our trip uneventfully.
- Be assertive. These are your travels and your life; don’t let obnoxious men spoil either one. Given the chance, I would go back and spend the extra ten quid to upgrade to a girls dormitory.
- Sometimes the best days can’t be planned.
- A sister is the very best travel companion one can have.
- Even while avoiding unwanted suitors, try not to miss too many Céilidh performances.