Meeting My New Favorite Animal
Hello lovely readers, if you’re still with me. Once again, I’m behind on blog posts. But we all knew this was going to happen. I will come back and update about my brief trip to Portobello beach last weekend and the Beltane Fire Festival I went to on Halloween, but my most recent trip is more important to blog about. Why, you ask? Because it includes my new favorite (or should I say favourite?) animal: Highland Cows, or as they’re known in Scotland, Hairy Coos. So I’m taking a much needed breath of air from my continual state of drowning in essays and scholarly articles this week to recount my day trip to the “highlands” with Hairy Coo Tours. Writing long-winded blog posts is so much more fun than trying to write a long 2,500 word essay. Funny how that works.
A group of friends and I were recommended this tour because of one main factor: it is free. That’s correct, your reading skills aren’t faulty, this full day trip in a nice bus to a bunch of Scottish sights West of Edinburgh was free. Well, on paper it was. We didn’t pay anything upfront for the tour when booking it like you would with most tour companies. They operate on a tips-only basis, meaning that attendees can pay only how much they think the tour is worth. Or in our case, being college students studying abroad on a budget, however much we can afford.
Though we stopped at many historical sites, picturesque lochs, and various tourist attractions in the Western Highlands, let’s be real, the hairy coos were the highlight. I guess there’s a reason the tour company is called Hairy Coo Tours. But before we can get there, I will talk about all the places we did stop at for memory’s sake, and also because they were also pretty awesome. We had a great driver who tried to make the best of the trip for us, and the weather was once again cooperating (what’s the catch? I keep getting nice weather for these day trips and I’m afraid of what that might mean). Our first stop was South Queensferry, a town on the Firth of Forth that boasts a great view of the Forth Rail Bridge. It’s considered an amazing feat of engineering, and the bright red metal supports of the bridge against the blue of the Forth make for a picturesque sight. It was still fairly early in the morning, and the sun lit up the bridge in a way that made the inner photographer in me happy.
We then continued on to the town of Stirling, about an hour northwest of Edinburgh, to see the William Wallace monument. It commemorates a man who fought many battles for Scotland against the English, one of the most well-known ones being the battle of Stirling Bridge. The monument is on a hill, so there were some great views of the city. I even got my exercise in for the day with the 10 minute walk up the hill! (Sort of kidding.) We then drove through the town to a viewpoint for Stirling Castle, which looks suspiciously similar to the Edinburgh Castle. But this one has pastures of sheep below it. So very Scottish.
We made our way towards the town of Aberfoyle for lunch, stopping at Lake Menteith on our way there. In the middle of the lake sits an island, Inchmahome, where Mary Queen of Scots was sent during her childhood for protection. The temperature dropped considerably lake-side, so we hurried back onto the bus quite quickly, but not before I took a few minutes to admire the autumn foliage. It’s when I’m out in the country that I really appreciate how beautiful the yellow to red ombre leaves are. Driving along the windy roads, approaching the Trossachs National Park, the countryside was slowly fading to orange and it almost made up for missing out on New England Fall this year. We had lunch in a little cafe in Aberfoyle, which is “the Gateway to the Trossachs.” I splurged and treated myself to a brie-bacon-cranberry panini (definitely making those for myself in the future, it’s such a good combination of flavors, kind of like a fancy twist on Thanksgiving), and a takeaway piece of red velvet cake (because it was the first one I’ve seen with chocolate frosting, and it was on display right next to our table).
After lunch, it was on to the main event, the hairy coos! Our bus was painted to look like a hairy coo, and when we pulled up to the pasture where they were, it was almost like they recognized our bus, because they came right towards us. Or perhaps they associated it with food, because we were there to feed them. And take pictures of course. We were warned to avoid their horns, which is why I’m a bit far away from them in the pictures. I can now say I’ve been slobbered on by a highland cow. They are such ridiculously great creatures. Their facial expressions rival some of my weirdest ones, and it was so entertaining to watch them interact with all of us tourists. I was so glad to finally see them. I was on a mission to get a photo of them for my mom, which I may have failed at in my excitement (there was also a fence in the way). There were even calves, which were so adorable, and didn’t have the horns! My friend from North Carolina informed me that there are actually cousins of highland cows in the Appalachians. I know what my next travel destination in the US is…
After the cows, we stopped at Loch Katrine, which was a repeat visit for a few of my friends and I. It was only a short stop, and we sat in the cafe staying warm while everyone else ventured out for pictures. Our last stop was Doune Castle (which ironically translates to Castle Castle), which is famous because it’s been used in many films and TV shows as a castle backdrop. Most notable are probably Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which it was used for all the castle scenes, and Game of Thrones. On our way home, we made another stop on the southern shore of the firth of forth to get photos of the Forth Rail Bridge at night.
Overall, a great taster of some of the sights of the Western side of the lower highlands. Aside from Loch Katrine, getting to see new places was great, for a minimal price. And I finally got to see hairy coos in person, up close. I may have found my new spirit animal. I would 10/10 recommend this tour if you’re visiting Edinburgh, if only to see the cows. ;)
Oh, and this happened on the bus, which was fully loaded with hairy coo props to keep us entertained. Can you tell I was excited?