Here's a story for you, so if you'd like, grab a cup of tea and settle in.
My husband, Gord, is driving on the wrong side of the road, through the Scottish Highlands. It’s just like you’d imagine—craggy hills, ancient trees, herds of sheep in almost every field, and cattle so enormous you stop the car to take photographs of them.
While here, we’re going to be brave, ditch the luxury hotel suites, and “rough it”.
Although no longer open to the public, we’re able to spend the night in the tower room of an old castle--Kilvarock (pronounced kill-rock).
Located between Inverness and Nairn, the tower was built by Hugh Rose, the 7th Laird, in 1460. It’s near Loch Ness, Culloden Battle Field, and Clava Cairns standing stones. The mansion house was added in the 17th century.
All throughout the Highlands you can feel magic in the air, quickly understanding why so many legends come from this part of the world. I wonder if we’ll stumble upon Brigadoon, the enchanted village that appears for one day every hundred years. Believe me; I’ll dance around the heather with Gene Kelly in a heartbeat.
After arriving at Kilvarock, we are led up flight after flight of stairs through the main house, passing enormous rooms, including a dining hall that looks like it hasn’t changed in three hundred years. You can sense the ghosts of by-gone eras lingering in the corridors. Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1562, and Bonnie Prince Charlie for four days before the Battle of Culloden.
The rest of the time, it’s the strangest feeling—being in an empty castle with a handful of staff we only hear, but never see.
We reach the top floor of the mansion house, now entering the stone tower through a heavy door.
We follow a steep spiral staircase as it continues up, up, up.
Behind a low, arched doorway is our chamber. Inside is an enormous medieval looking bed, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Ebenezer Scrooge’s time.
It’s incredible, looking out the window way up in our tower. Just call me Rapunzel, because that’s who I feel like.
But, come night-time, amusement turns into apprehension. You see…I need to go pee.
Of course, there’s isn’t a toilet in the tower.
In the pitch black, the arched wooden door in our room seems eerie, like a portal.
I tiptoe over and slowly open it.
The cold, stone staircase beyond is now terrifying.
If I’m ever going to encounter a ghost…it’s going to be here. I need to head out of the room, into the stone stairwell, and back into the mansion house for the nearest bathroom. Honestly, I don’t know what’s scarier: the way the ancient tower stairs disappear into the darkness or the corridors in the house at night. They look like the setting in some gothic novel—Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.
I’ve absolutely zero intention of running into the ghosts of either Heathcliff or Bertha Mason.
I jump back into bed.
I’ll hold it ‘till morning.
There are two ways to exit the tower. Leave the room through the mansion house, or down the circular stairs, right to the bottom. Be careful though—they’re uneven. In the event of a sword fight or ambush, only those familiar with this tower know how to move up and down the steps effortlessly.
The next morning, we set sail on Loch Ness.
A lone piper plays as we drift off into the mist, searching for Nessie. The cold, inky water moves in a way that makes you feel like something is following the boat from the depths of the loch. Every ripple and wave causes you to do a double-take.
“Are those humps in the distance?” my son, Quinton, and I wonder.
Just like the castle ghosts the night before, if there was ever going to be a mythical creature on Earth, it would be here. No wonder Nessie sightings date all the way back to the sixth century.
What stands out about the Scottish Highlands most is that everything seems only half in our world—the other in some sort of fairyland. Even the sky feels different, like it’s reaching right down to touch the earth.
So, if you ever visit the Highlands of Scotland, go with a sense of wonder.
Or better yet, bring a child.
You never know…the standing stones might buzz, Nessie could appear on the crest of a wave, and it might even be the day Brigadoon and its villagers appear in our world.
And I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.