August in the UK, Part 3: Beware the Wee Midge
On August 27 we had a big breakfast and began our day with a cycling tour. Of course, I was last place, groaning on the uphill portions. The best part of the ride was the views! We passed streams, disappeared into paths through the forest, and crossed little pedestrian bridges. We had a rest stop set up by our tour guides with snacks. In Edinburgh I'd asked one of our guides if we needed to worry about the "wee midge," the Scottish blood sucking flies that frequent the forests. He laughed and said no. I squinted at him, skeptically. When I pulled up to our cycling rest-stop it was like a scene from a horror film -- everyone was screaming and the air was black with midges. One of the tour guides was wearing a bug net on her head.
"Keep moving! Do a little dance, you know," she said with her thick Scottish accent. I decided to ride on, the midges near my ears and forehead, leaving little red bumps in their wake.
After the ride we rested and regrouped for lunch at Prince Charles' restaurant, The Rothesay Rooms, that the tour guide told me they opened just for us. We were very close to Balmoral, the Queens home in Scotland and the royals were there that week, so the running joke was that Prince Charles would join us for lunch -- of course, he didn't -- but I kept my eyes on the door.
We went to a Scotch distillery adjacent to Balmoral, The Royal Lochnagar, for a tour and tasting. That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant (where there was a Brueghel hanging!) and retired to another room for cake and champagne. A chill hit the air that night, so Alistair filled up the hot water bottle (one of the cutest things in the room), before we went to sleep.
On August 28th we went clay pigeon shooting. We were put into two groups and had four different kinds of targets to practice. I thought holding a rifle would feel more natural, but to reduce kick-back you have to press it into your chin and shoulder, and even still, it could knock you off your feet. The thrill of cracking one was amazing. I only got two and I was so surprised afterwards. I sent the video to my dad who sent it to all his relatives proudly.
I had haggis pie for lunch because, I couldn't leave Scotland without trying it. I was delightfully surprised for the second time that day, I liked it!
A light mist began to fall outside and we drove back to Braemar for a Highland Games demonstration at the only stadium for Highland Games. We got to see the Royal Box where the queen watches the games every year. They were already preparing for her arrival by stringing purple heather into garland for decoration.
Three local competitors -- who happen to be triplets! -- played bagpipe, showed us all the different types of games and let us participate in caber toss, Scottish dancing, a potato sack race and a tug of war.
The last night in Scotland was the best of them all: there would be a live band after dinner and the tour guides arranged for all the men to wear kilts. A local dance troupe came and taught us all the local party dances. I felt like I was in a film version of life, having seen nothing but stunning vistas and fine art. The next morning we had to wake up at five o'clock in the morning for a ride back to Edinburgh, a train, and a few days in London.