The Hairy Coo Tour

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scotlandHave you ever seen a Hairy Coo? Well, why would you. But that is not the actual point of this post, and we’re going to get to that later. The Hairy Coo Company organises bus tours throughout Scotland and to basically any place that a tourist might find interesting. I actually never heard of them, but a friend of mine did and since they offer a free bus tour which takes up a whole day and goes to some interesting places, we decided that we would take the risk. (Obviously, „free“ is somewhat uneconomical for a full day’s tour, so they expect you to pay a respectable „tip“ for their free services – however the concept of putting the decision of how much it’s worth in the visitors‘ hands is somewhat couragious and confident at the same time.)

img_2386We started at around 9 in the morning from the very centre of Edinburgh. That may not sound too early, but it was a Sunday morning and sunrise is already getting noticeably later here, so in some ways it felt like the setting of a zombie-apocalypse-movie. After a wee bit of driving, we ended up at the famous „Forth Bridge“. (This is not the Forth Bridge on the picture, but some railway bridge next to it, which is however way more beautiful than the Forth Bridge and therefore I chose this picture.) Anyway, this was just – as would many more of the upcoming stops – a photo-taking opportunity, and ten minutes later we were back on the bus and on we went.

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img_6683Our next stop took us to the Stirling National Monument and on the way there, our lovely guide Jonathan answered all the questions we never asked about Mel Gibson, the Alien franchise, the invention of McDonalds and their connection to William Wallace, Great Britain’s most famous hero/traitor/death penalty case. Properly disillusioned about all the stuff we learned from Braveheart and our childhood TV shows, we arrived at the monument, walked around for a bit, and got back on the bus again.

(If anyone should be wondering what was wrong with my camera and/or how the weather changed so quickly and/or why he didn’t hear of the neutron bomb that was dropped on Scotland: I had my infrared camera with me, that is where all the radioactive post apocalyptic wasteland looks come from.)

img_2414Where was I? Lake Menteith. That is a lake, and that is a surprise, and you may wonder why. Lakes are quite rare in Scotland; in fact, there is only one single lake in all of Scotland. Some of you who have been to Scotland before or who even are capable of reading a map might now say something like: „What the fudge is this dude talking about, there’s a lake every 200 yards there.“ Well, yes and no; the Scottish call their lakes „lochs“, and this is why Lake Menteith is literally the only „lake“ in Scotland. And these are, sadly, the most interesting things I have to say about Lake Menteith, since it’s just a lake and we didn’t really see anything there except for, obviously, water. But it’s really beautiful, as are most – well – lakes/lochs in Scotland, and just for the picture, and to get off the bus once in a while: fair enough.

img_2426Aberfoyle, a wee town just adjacent to the first traces of the Highlands, is filled with sheep. In fact, when we went there for lunch, I had no idea how deep into sheep herding we would get here. We had an hour off the bus, so we got ourselves some tasty treats at the local butcher’s: a Cornish pasty and something that looks and tastes pretty much the same, just with a little more or less vegetable (I can’t remember what was what as they were so alike). Either way, it was one interesting experience to enjoy minced meat baked into a pasty, in which a German person from the French border would rather expect to find chocolate than minced meat and onions, but they were surprisingly good.

img_2445After lunch, we even got to watch a professional Scotsman show off his sheep and what his dog could do to a bunch of ducks close to a heart attack. This may sound like I’m making fun of this, but it was actually really impressive: With a few whistle sounds, this guy could tell the dog with astounding accuracy what to do and thereby scared this bunch of geese all around the field, through a bunch of obstacles and even down a waterslide (I shit you not). Try teaching your dog that!

img_2518Back on the bus again and we went to a few more photo-shooting opportunities, which I won’t discuss here in detail because we just stayed there for a few minutes, and finally got to the hairy coos, which some of us had believed to be as mythical a creature as Scotlands national animal, but turned out to be quite real, alive and greedy when it comes to the British national delicacy, un-toasted wobbly bread. By this time it was already late afternoon and we were slowly but surely getting tired.

img_6699img_6693But as Jonathan is a professional Scotsman and also a professional tour guide (and helicopter pilot, firefighter, Alien franchise professor, historian, though not a professional bus driver as far as I can remember), he felt our falling asleep immediately and took us to Loch Katrine, the personal loch of Sir Walter Scott (I didn’t really listen properly to this part as I was sound asleep for most of it, so I have no idea what the point of the story was, sorry guys). There we had half an hour to go on a little walk, and this prooved to be one of the best walks I have had here: All the untouched (or at least untouched-looking, when there’s no tourist boat crossing) nature and the beautiful path along the lakeside was one of the most amazing views I got of Scotland so far. As all of the tour, it was merely a first taste of what one might do here, and it immediately made us plan our return. (I noticed I didn’t develop any of the regular pictures of Loch Katrine, so you will just have to go there and see for yourselves if you want to know what it looks like through eyes without infrared-viewing capabilities.)

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img_6705img_2575img_2592Jonathan took us to one more spot, and this one turned out to be possibly the coolest: Doune Castle, which is world famous, not for a battle or anything, but because it starred in this little video. There I finally got my One-Year-Scottish-History-Museums-and-What-so-ever-Membership-Card and we got to the very top of this neat medieval castle, on top of which it is not only possible to take stunning shots of the surroundings, but also to jump down in a flightsuit and look down at the puny insects that serve us noble men. And should they ever ask for freedom, well, fetchez la vache! (If you haven’t watched the video, you probably think that this was weird, right?)

img_2490And there we have it: From Doune Castle we returned straight back home. When we arrived a few minutes before six – quite on time! – we were exhausted and quite surprised how good the day had turned out. From a capitalist’s perspective, it might seem weird that this tour exists, that it even (apparently) works pretty well, and that it seems to pay off well enough to keep it going. I must say that I developed a weird love-hate-relationship to this kind of tour during the day; I loved the guide who was passionate, humorous and amazingly well read on the things he showed us, some of the sights he took us to, and the idea of getting a taste of what Scotland has to offer; at the same time, getting on and off a bus all the time sucks quite a bit, having hardly ever more than 30 minutes to walk around somewhere doesn’t allow you to enjoy your stay too much and barely to take a few pictures, and feels a lot like being in a Japanese group that has to visit all European capitals in three days. But that’s obviously part of the concept of a one-day-ten-locations-first-glance-at-everything-tour and considering it’s principally free (though we both tipped them what we think was a fair share), this was an awesome Sunday with the Hairycoos!

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